I’m just back from vacation with my boys. We did a fair amount of riding, which is to say, three days out of five. I’ve been asked how to get your kids riding. I’m feeling more qualified than ever to address this question, not because of my successes, but because of my setbacks. My boys love playing games on their tablets—it’s mostly Roblox for the tech-savvy parents out there. Getting them off their tablets can be really difficult.
My first suggestion is one that is unlikely to apply to our audience, and that is to ride with your kids. Don’t just try to send them out to ride. Go ride with them. Show them places you think are cool, places that are special to you. Again, I suspect anyone who is reading this doesn’t need this advice.
My second one is to make sure they have a good quality bike. I learned many years ago that when someone really enjoys their bike they ride it more. Working in a bike shop, I counseled my customers to take test rides on progressively more expensive bikes. Back then, that often meant bikes that went for $800, $1000 and $1500. I told them that when they reached the bike that didn’t seem any better than the last one, then buy the last one. With kids, if they are on a boat anchor that handles like a sunken galleon with six speeds and no gear low enough to get up a hill without walking, they won’t ride much. So, invest in a good bike.
Third, find a fun destination for the ride before returning home. Be that ice cream or something as mundane as getting Slurpees at 7-Eleven, a little treat will go a long way.
Number four will probably seem obvious, but it bears saying: set your own riding fun aside while out with your kids. This past weekend, we rode at the mountain bike park Duthie Hills in Issaquah, Washington. The place is a delight. There were times when I led and other times I followed. When I led, I often did so to show one of my boys the best line to take either up or down. And when I followed, I kept an eye on what they were doing and tried to make suggestions that they could actually hear, but I’m dad and in their eyes sometimes the last place they want to get information. With my older son, Philip, I would challenge him a bit on the hills, putting down a firm-ish pace and then pulling over to let him catch up. I probably stopped every 100 meters. And I did the same thing on descents, only getting a bit ahead of him and then stopping to let him catch up. It gave him repeated opportunities to see what my line was.
My fifth suggestion may be the most important of the bunch: Find a way to make each ride a win for your kids. This one has been very hard for me with my son Matthew. He has no problem diving into a turn. Unfortunately, he has a really poor feel for traction and I’ve had a very tough time trying to help him develop a feel for that. He turns in hard and goes down frequently. He also has a tendency to look at stuff around him, veer off course and then violently correct his line, which, in loose gravel, leads to bad things. Matthew has more losses than wins, and I feel terrible about it, but neither of us has given up. What Matthew needs are 20-in. Downhill tires pumped to 8 psi and nothing but hero dirt. That or pure gravel surrounded by foam pits.
Suggestion number six is to go places that you might not go to on your own. If you have a local pump track or mountain bike park, take them there. If not, maybe there’s a skatepark that allows bikes. While some kids will really thrive on routine, i.e., going to the same place over and over, if getting your kids to ride has been a challenge, the novelty of someplace new can make a big difference.
I can’t say just yet, but I feel like I’ve turned a significant corner with Philip and his riding. With Matthew, I’ve made progress, but he does not love bikes yet. In that I see what may be the most important lesson of all: Keeping cycling in play at all, keeping a kid interested enough that they will go out, is a win, full stop.