About a month or two before Baby Z’s arrival, my then 3 year old son transitioned from balance bike to big boy bike. I cannot sing the praises of balance bikes enough, as the skills he learned there made for a seamless switch to pedals, without the need for training wheels. And while we’ve undoubtedly done about a zillion laps around our neighborhood, the local mountain bike park has been the best outlet we’ve found for channeling his “inner ripper” while keeping the rest of the gang content (whether it’s a 9 month pregnant Mommy or a Mommy/newborn babywearing pair.) Here’s why…
1. CONTROLLED CHAOS – Our family is of the mindset that kids develop a healthy attitude towards risk when they are able to explore those boundaries for themselves in a relatively safe environment, rather than constantly having risk assessed for them. Yes, there are obstacles and sometimes daunting features scattered throughout the terrain. And sometimes there are other bikers, trail runners, or dog walkers sharing the trail. I always make sure to bring this bike lock in case I want to get off my raleigh tokul 3 bike and walk around. But none of these are coming at us at 35 mph on a paved road. The beginner trails are just fast enough with obstacles just big enough to make him think without putting him in any real danger. Meanwhile I’m not worried about keeping up with C in case he inadvertently blows through an intersection. He bikes a little ways, then rests to wait up for me.
2. CONFIDENCE BUILDING – Learning how to mountain bike has been a great metaphor for my son to learn the lesson of “practice makes perfect.” He’s learned that sometimes when he goes for it he surprises himself, and other times he falls. And that’s okay. (Learning to fall safely is a skill in and of itself, and one that is most easily acquired as a child when you’re not that far off the ground!) Most of the times when he falls he cries, but 9 times out of 10 it’s because he’s frustrated he fell, not because he’s scared or hurt. But then when he’s successful (whether it be the next time or weeks later), it’s fuel for great conversations about how most things worth having in life are worth working hard for.
3. FAMILY-FRIENDLY – Obviously if one parent bikes, this activity is easy. But it works out surprisingly well with a parent walking along side. C of course decided to pick up this sport when I was 9 months pregnant and well-past the stage of mountain biking safely with an unsteady child in front of me…and now we’ve got a newborn in the mix! But I quickly found that my walking pace is equivalent to C’s uphill speed (and often I can offer an encouraging “boost” with a hand on his back that can help him pedal through the harder climbs.) When he blows me out of the water on the downhills, he knows to wait at trail intersections to let me catch up. I wear Baby Z in a Boba carrier on my front (awesome little contraption, reviewed HERE), and a small backpack on my back. If we need to stop for nursing, diaper change, or snacks/water break, we just cop a squat just off the trail.
4. GREEN HOUR TIME – I’ve written numerous times about the importance of a “green hour,” aka unstructured outdoor play time for kiddos. A morning at the mountain bike park offers the perfect medium for hours spent just “playing in the woods.” Whereas most adults would spend the same amount of time on the trail focusing on their workout while decompressing from the stress of the day, a child uses this time to get their creative wheels turning just as fast as their bike wheels! Some days my son pretends he’s Lightning McQueen racing in the Piston Cup, other days he’s on a motorcycle saving princesses (that would be me and Baby Z…) from all the bad guys. I never know what it will be from day to day, which is a large part of the charm!
5. GREAT EXERCISE (FOR EVERYONE!) – This is probably my favorite part of our family mountain biking excursions. I love that we ALL get a workout together. By the end of the 3.5 mile loop, everyone’s legs have gotten a workout…but if C is feeling spry, we can always hit the playground to run off any extra steam.
6. LIFELONG HOBBY – Hopefully mountain biking is one of many ways my husband and I can encourage C (and Baby Z) to pursue a healthy, active lifestyle, but also to instill a love and appreciation of the value of the Great Outdoors. And who knows, maybe by the time our kids are grown-ups, their dad and I will be still in good enough shape to keep up with them…on their warm-up lap at least!
So what are you waiting for? Spring is the perfect time to brush the dust off the bikes and hit the trail! And if your kiddo needs to see a fellow pint-sized ripper for motivation, check out the video below of C from one of our first excursions at the bike park, taken a few months ago! (or click here if it doesn’t show up in your browser) Or to really get your adrenaline pumping, check out this 10 year old from Squamish, BC…currently my son’s favorite video 🙂
What about your family? Do you bike, and if so, is it on the road, trail, or both? Is it something for the whole family to enjoy, or an activity mom or dad sneaks off to do in their free time?