Mountain biking with kids – mud, sweat and tears

We were mountain biking with a group of adults who hadn’t ridden with our children for ages and one of them had never even meet our children. The adults and I were catching up to my husband and the kids who had gone on ahead. We started riding up a solid 20 minute uphill trail ( Sidewinder for those of you that know the Redwoods ).


We have ridden it with our kids once before and there was a bit of bike pushing but it’s all part of the experience. The guy who didn’t know our kids was saying ‘your kids can’t be on this trail’ and at one point he actually stopped and said I should call my husband to find out where they were because there was no way they were on this trail.  Not sure if he was questioning my navigation skills (which are questionable ) or my children’s fitness levels. So we got to the top of the hill and there were my little mountain bikers with big contented smiles on their faces. ‘I rode all the way’ says my 8 year old – and then I had a big contented smile on my face.

Ok, so I am pretty proud of my kids. They love mountain biking and we love mountain biking with them but it wasn’t always like this. I can still remember the first time we went riding with the kids, they were 5 and 8 years old. I almost didn’t change into my bike riding gear because I thought it was going to be a short ride. Of course we started off on the easy trails and there was a lot of bike pushing and moaning…and not just from the kids. After about 6 km we headed back to the café for a refuel and probably thought that was it but after some cake they were keen to go out again so we ended up riding 16km the first time.

We started going to Rotorua on a more regular basis and took the kids riding about once a month with varying degrees of success and lots of perseverance. We spent a lot of time getting their confidence and fitness up on the kid’s trails. And then gradually the moaning decreased, the enthusiasm increased and we ventured onto harder trails.

And they aren’t just fair weather riders either – one time it was pouring with rain when we set out and didn’t stop the whole time we were out. Not only was it wet, it was cold. When we got back to the carpark after 2 hours ride we were covered in mud, soaked to the bone and freezing cold with the biggest smiles on our faces, kids included. Nothing more bonding and character building than a shared adventure.

So it might not happen overnight and there will probably be a few tears but it’s worth it to share your love of mountain biking or tramping or whatever form your adventuring takes because as the good memories grow the challenges of getting there fades. In fact the challenge of getting there are part of the good memories.

So when our friends thought there was no way my kids would be on the steep uphill trail I knew they would be because we had put in the mud, sweat and tears to get them there.

Top tips

🚲Try and get out on a regular basis. Just like us adults, the more your kids do something the easier it becomes.

🚲 Don’t think that your children need to be great riders before they hit the trails. There are many family friendly trails around the country that are a great place for kids to get their confidence up. Start slow and easy and focus on the fun.

🚲 Urban cycle paths are also a great way to increase your child’s confidence on their bike and ability to ride longer distances without having to drive to a mountain bike park. We did lots of training for riding the Timber Trail with the kids on our local urban cycle paths.

🚲 It’s important to have the right size bike for your child. A small bike doesn’t necessarily mean easier and neither does having the seat lower. As bikes gets bigger so does the wheel size which can make it easier to maneuver over rougher terrain. Having the seat at the right height is key too and enables the child to get better return on the stroke effort. Pop into your local bike shop and have a chat to your expert to ensure you’ve got the set up right.

🚲 Invest in gear that makes the riding more enjoyable for everyone. Obviously a good helmet is key, but also gloves, and cycling shorts are beneficial. Trade Me and local buy/sell pages are great for picking up deals. You could also suggest to friends and relatives that they buy gear as gifts for your kids.

🚲 Think outside the box with helping younger kids up tougher inclines. Inner tubes are great as tow ropes or I have even seen someone using a retractable dog lead to tow a child up a hill!

🚲 Be patient – both on the trail and with your child’s progress. While it might not happen overnight and there may be a few tears and frustrations, your child will get the hang of it. Give loads of encouragement and praise along the way.

Check out my blog on training for Tongariro Crossing with kids.