The Explainer: The next generation

Introducing kids to cycling is largely a matter of staying relaxed ... for both student and teacher. (Annika and Philip Pelkey in 2004)

Dear readers,
First off, let me apologize for the delay in getting out this week’s column.

I got hit with a bit of the winter-time crud, which is not a pleasant experience, but it’s also somewhat reassuring to be dealing with the normal travails of seasonal health issues, rather than those that ruined my summer and fall last year. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, eh?

Anyway, I am finally switching gears after a long, and unfortunately necessary, string of doping-related articles to answering questions that have popped up in my mailbox these past few weeks.

I’m going to start with something that couldn’t be further from tales of the dope-addled professional: my favorite, a topic near and dear to my heart, namely kids.

Dear Explainer,
I have been a cyclist and racer for most of my adult life, but I am embarrassed to admit that I was 13 before I could even ride a bike. It was not for lack of trying, but I recall being scared to death when my father took the training wheels off my bike when I was six or so and then I pretty much abandoned the things for six or seven years after that.

I am not writing to expose an embarrassing memory, but to ask how a reasonable parent might be able to make learning to ride a bike easier for my own son. I am not in a rush, but my wife and I just had our first child in January. Yeah, it’s still early, but I do want to get him on a bike as soon as is reasonable and I don’t have the childhood memories that would just let me teach him from experience.

How old do kids need to be to ride and how do you get them riding safely? What about racing?

Finally, if we were to stay in our current house, I would be nervous about letting my son ride to school, which involves a trip across a busy, busy road in our neighborhood.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.
– John

Dear John,
Congratulations on becoming a dad. To quote a past employer when I told him that my wife, Diana, was pregnant and that we were expecting our first child the following summer, “kinda makes the rest of this @#$% seem unimportant, doesn’t it Mr. Pelkey?” Truer words were never spoken and I welcome you to the sappy pappy club. I wish you, your wife and your new son the best.

I love this question for a lot of reasons. First, I think I was nine or so before I got started riding, which I think is still way too late in life. Second, I’ve run across fully grown adults who had never learned to ride and I’ve help at least two of them get started.

I had the same question come up when our two kids, Philip and Annika, hit riding age and I did a lot of trial and error in that effort. Some things I got right, some things I would do differently.

Training wheels?
When our son, Philip, started riding, our friend Portia Masterson, the owner of the old “Self Propulsion” bike shop in Golden, Colorado, was adamant about not using training wheels. I ignored her advice. I wanted Philip to ride and I wanted him to ride soon, without fear or trouble. So, thinking I knew better than Portia, I went ahead and got a nice little bike with that extra set of wheels on the back. He took to it like a fish to water.

Then it took me what seemed like forever to break him of his reliance on the things. Then I repeated the same mistake with Annika and got the same result. Portia, you were right. I was wrong.

If you’re a parent who made the mistake I did and started the kids out on training wheels, there are a couple of ways to wean them off of those things. Most training wheels are height adjustable and you can gradually move them up, so that the contact point is not always level with that of the bicycle’s rear wheel. That encourages the little rider to make frequent adjustments to balance things out, since they naturally want to be on an upright bike and they start to learn to rely on the bike’s momentum and the accompanying gyroscopic effect of the wheels to stay upright, instead of the false security of the training wheels.

That worked a little for us, but if you ask Annika how she learned to ride a bike, her standard answer is “Dad lied to me.”

I finally took off her training wheels and for about half an hour one morning I held on to the bike and ran alongside to reassure her that she wouldn’t fall down. “I got ya, I got ya, I got ya ….” Then, I stepped away. She rode off, made a turn and suddenly saw me standing at the side of our cul de sac.

She was shocked, but she kept on riding. She hasn’t stopped since. (Nor has she stopped giving me grief over the lie.)

A question of balance
In retrospect, I would do things a lot differently. I would have taken Portia’s advice to heart and never taken up training wheels. I would have also started both kids much earlier, probably around the time they started to walk.

I don’t use this column as a vehicle for product endorsements, but I do have to make a recommendation, which I unfortunately did not follow. Don’t opt for a tricycle and don’t get a bike with training wheels. Instead, start looking around for one of those cool little wooden “balance bikes” for the little guy to use in about 18 to 20 months.

These things don’t have pedals and are powered solely by the kid kicking his or her feet on the ground in a manner quite similar to the original Laufmaschine (“walking machine” in German), the world’s first real bicycle, purportedly invented by Baron Karl Drais Von Sauerbronn in 1817. (For those of you who still buy into the Leonardo da Vinci bicycle legend, it’s been shown to be a more contemporary fraud.) Like the Baron, a little one will naturally begin to lift his feet off the ground when the momentum is such that the thing will stay upright on its own.

I’ve seen these priced anywhere from $70 all the way up to $300 for the really fancy German-made versions. The design, though, is really simple and it would be a relatively easy project to take on if you have a wood shop at home.*

For one thing, if you end up building your own – and you do have time, John – it would make a pretty cool family heirloom.

The Laufmaschine: A great start.

Obviously, the number safety one rule is to get a decent helmet that fits properly. You may have to buy several over the years, but it’s a good investment. We made a habit of sharing and trading helmets with other families when our kids outgrew theirs.

There will be setbacks and there may be scuffed hands and knees, but kids are pretty tough and they are natural athletes. Have fun with it.

The daily commute
Once they are up and about and fully able to ride, then you get the real worry, namely when and where to let them ride on their own. I used to think the sleepy little college town where we live was a perfect place to let kids ride … until they were old enough to ride on their own. Then I suddenly saw the streets as a war zone, filled with inattentive and/or insane drivers in way-too-big cars and trucks and with no regard for anyone but themselves. I can only imagine how those who live in larger cities feel.

Mostly to allay my own fears, I made a point of riding with my kids when they rode to school. We, too, have a busy street between our house and their daily destination. It was easy for me, because I rode to law school every day and their school was on the way.

Eventually, though, you have to let them go off on their own. It’s a matter of trust and it instills confidence in the kids, but it’s admittedly nerve-wracking. One thing you might want to check in on is an organization devoted to that very question, the National Center for Safe Routes to School.

Odds are, though, you’ll never get over worrying when they’re off on their own. Nor should you.

Racing?
My opinion on kids’ racing – or participation in any sport – is pretty short: wait and see if they’re interested. As an old roadie, I would love to see my kids compete, but I have been reluctant to push too hard to get them into it. As you might imagine, my kids have access to an array of bikes. Indeed, at 17, Philip is now 6-foot-3, so he’s just an inch shorter than me. That means he has full access to all of my bikes. He does dabble in it, too, but his sport is cross-country ski racing. Annika? She’s a figure skater and a volleyball player. The bikes are there if they want them, though.

I like the approach Davis Phinney took with his kids. He offered them opportunities in all kinds of sports. I remember visiting his house many years ago and the back yard was pretty much a playground with all sorts of toys, games and equipment available for the kids. His young son seemed to be completely enamored with soccer at the time and we joked about how the offspring of two Olympic cycling stars may never become a bike racer. Davis seemed cool with it and said he would never pressure his kids into taking up his own sport.

“If they want to, though,” he said, “we’ll certainly give them all the help they want.”

I guess Taylor reached that decision in his own time, eh?

If you want to provide your son with the opportunity to try it out, you can always organize a kids’ event in conjunction with a local bike race. Being a tall guy, who loved time trials and road races, I was personally never a big fan of racing criteriums, but those relatively short and closed courses offer a terrific opportunity for kids of all ages to test their legs in a fairly safe environment.

Even little two- and three-year-olds scooting around on those little balance bikes can make for a great one- or two-lap event. Besides, they’re cute as hell then and the promoter may be more than willing to give you the chance to help set that up. (I’d sure prefer watching little kids on wooden bikes over a bunch of guys my age riding $10,000 carbon wonders and getting amped over finishing on the podium in the masters’ 50-55 category.)

Have fun, John and, once again, congratulations on the new arrival. You’re in for an exciting ride.
– Charles

 

* P.S. – My friend Andy Shen at NYVeloCity.com sent me a note this afternoon. He built his own balance bike and did a mighty fine job of it, too. Click on the link or the picture below to see the product of his labors.

The Explainer is now a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

Follow me on Twitter: @Charles_Pelkey

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29 comments

  1. dstan58

    For my son Aaron (now 19), I bought an inexpensive size-appropriate two wheeler when he was 3 or 4. I took the pedals off and let him kick himself around a cul de sac. When he started clamoring for a “real bike like Dad,” I put the pedals on and off he went. He’s a tennis player and now rides once or twice a week with me as off-day training. The best conversations we have, and the best silences we enjoy, are during those couple hours a week we ride together.

  2. corinne

    This could have just been a me-problem, but my parents got me a bike with coaster brakes when I was a kid, and I just couldn’t do it. It didn’t work for me, I think maybe I didn’t trust it to stop? Anyways, eventually they got me a bike with some sort of hand brakes or other, and I was all over it. Then we got two tandems, and the family rode together pretty much every weekend. If you’ve got to spend time with your parents, it’s a good way to do it=)

    Oh, I don’t know if kids have this problem, but every person I’ve seen in DC that didn’t start biking as a kid doesn’t seem to realize that it’s WAY easier/more sensible to get off the seat when you have to stop, so they stand their balanced on tip-toe or with their seat way too low so they can just put a foot down at every light. So…maybe mention to your kid that that is super stupid?

  3. Derek

    A very slight downhill, maybe even something softer than pavement can help them get the forward motion concept and make it easier to get going. I have a friends kid who can ride one of those push bikes just fine, as long as he is going backwards. He has more trouble than the other kids avoiding things but seems to be having fun and has no desire to move in the opposite direction.

  4. grolby

    corinne, the getting off the seat thing is a direct consequence of rules made by the Consumer Product Safety Commission requiring the bottom bracket to be a certain height off the ground so that the pedals won’t strike in a corner. It’s sensible for road bikes, but pretty silly for comfort and city bikes. I don’t think it’s stupid to want to put your foot down, it’s totally reasonable. Old English 3-speeds had a low BB that let you have the seat at the right height and still put your foot down. They’re wonderful. As a practical issue, yeah, people have to learn to get up off the seat when they stop in order to have the seat at a comfortable height for riding, but being able to put your foot down at a light or stop sign is a pretty reasonable thing to want to do, and most city bikes in other places allow for it.

  5. Michael Dao

    My dad actually did something very similar in practice. He got tired of teaching me how to ride my bike, so he took one training wheel off. I learned to balance with the one wheel, and soon after, he removed the one training wheel and all of a sudden I could ride my bike training wheel-less! It was probably the best feeling of my entire childhood.

  6. Rich Wilson

    A good source of balance bikes is thrift shops and yard sales. We got my son a 10″ chainless (crank was on front wheel, kinda like a 2-wheel trike) for a couple of bucks, and cut off the cranks. And dropped the seat all the way.

    Unfortunately, we didn’t stick with the no traning wheels. Fast forward 2 years now he has a bigger bike with training wheels. We should have made the jump right to pedals without training wheels.

  7. WV Cycling

    Funny you bring this up. I was reading a thread on Weight Weenies about parents building the lightest mini-bmx bikes available.

    This brought me to the conclusion that children’s bikes are enormously overweight as compared to their body weight. I’m 5’6″, 135lb, and my bikes barely go over 25lbs.

    My nephew is 4’3″, 72lb, and his bike is like 32lbs! I can’t imagine lugging a bike half my weight :( When and IF I ever produce offspring, I’m going to be sure that whatever bike they have is FUN. (Fun in size/shape/weight, according to my wallet.)

  8. Scott Gilbert aka ScottyG1962

    No training wheels for my daughter just a properly sized bike and the proven method of holding the seat and then letting go when you feel they have it balanced.Of course you DO NOT tell them you aren’t hanging on. In less than an hour she was riding up and down the street. She was 8

  9. Smokey Pastel

    I grew up in a large family. My parents developed a convention: When we demonstrated we could ride a big bike (26″), they would buy us one. They bought tricycles (usually 2nd birthday, but didn’t go for small bikes. My big sister was kind enough to let me use her bike. Girls bikes were easier than boys bikes if you couldn’t reach the pedals sitting on the seat. I got my green Schwinn when I was in 3rd grade. I rode it to school (about 1 mile on village streets with crossing guards at busy intersections).
    With my kids, we went the Big Wheels, small bikes (no training wheels) route. When they outgrew the small bikes, we left them at my parent’s house for nephews & nieces. When they hit double digits in the mid 90s, we got them mtn bikes for one Christmas. I got myself a hybrid and got back into cycling.

  10. Rich

    I remember Getting my first bike Christmas day and my Dad pushing me back and forth across the backyard until by the end of the day i was riding on my own.
    I did the same thing with my daughter except we went to the school track which is rubberized and doesn’t leave a scar when they fall over. In a couple of hours she was riding.

  11. Michael

    My daughter has cerebral palsy, so her learning to ride took a bit longer than most, I imagine. We had a rule, the no-thank-you-bite, for food that said she must try a bite of anything, and then could say “no, thank you”, if it was not to her liking. That way, she put up no resistance to trying something new, and there were no control issues. She rarely said “no, thank you”, I guess because she knew that she could whenever she wanted to. We did the same with bikes. She liked riding on the trail-a-bike, and learned a bit of balance there. We also would go to a gentle grassy slope outside my office and practice riding her own bike downhill (seat was quite low). She was willing to ride and crash, until she wasn’t. We would stop then, immediately. It took several years (she can’t feel her body well, so balance is a bit tough), but eventually she was confidently coasting to a stop. We then graduated to the neighborhood streets. I imagine this process would be a lot faster for most kids, but keeping it fun, and the kid in control, is pretty important. Finally, one other thing I learned about busy streets. At the pace kids ride, walking across at crosswalks takes little time, and you don’t have to worry about wobbly starts or veering lines.

  12. Chromatic Dramatic

    Great article…

    I pretty much agree with everything you say…

    My eldest is 3.5 years old and has been on a balance bike for the last year and a bit. We have a biggish back yard, which is made of concrete and is perfect for hooning around on a balance bike / scooter / whatever. It was after about the 3rd or 4th ride that I started to chase my son, that he got the concept of balance. He is probably still a little bit off (maybe end of the year) riding properly, but I can’t imagine him needing pedals. Certainly I’ve heard stories of people who had their eldest learn to ride with training wheels and their next on a balance bike, and the younger was riding a bike before their eldest.

    My daughter will have her first go later in the year.

    As to racing / doing sport competitively. I also agree. Both my parents were very good at sports (my Mum swam in the Olympics, and at the time was the youngest person to have some for Australia), and my Dad was very good at rugby (apparently could have played at the highest level if he wasn’t so interested in drinking and chasing skirt…)

    Neither of them ever pushed my Brother, Sister or myself into any particular sport, nor to play it at the highest level. Whilst I wanted to, and have been generally good (ie not great) at most sports, I never knuckled down for anything. I just loved doing sport of all persuasions. Riding is my thing now, given my body has given up on playing rugby.

  13. Marc

    I’m a believer in balance bikes. After seeing the success of friends we bought one for our son when he was three. In just 2 months of use he is now zooming around so quickly I have to jog to keep up and he loves to go to the local pump track.

    One of my riding friends had a son who was too old for training wheels but scared to take them off. We put his seat all the way down and removed the cranks from his bike. In less than a week he asked to put the pedals back on and has been riding great ever since.

  14. Champs

    As much as I enjoy riding a bike now, it’s pretty funny to think how much I hated learning it. I was five years old and getting along just fine with my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, thank you very much.

  15. David

    My now 7-year-old son learned on a Skuut wooden balance bike when he was just 30 months. He rode that bike everwhere including shopping malls, grocery stores, parks, and even jumped it off porpotionately large jumps. He transitioned to a 12 inch pedal bike on his fourth birthday with no training wheels needed. His Skuut bike was so used that I ordered some replacement parts to hand it down to my daughter and the company ended up sending us a whole new bike for free. My daughter pulled up both feet on the new bike and coasted over twenty feet at just 25 months. Kids and parents at the local park are amazed to see her zooming along and embarassed that kids four times older than she still have training wheels.

  16. JohnG

    I lived in a cul-de-sac when both of my kids came of riding age. The major point I tried to teach them when they went off the training wheels was keep pedaling, don’t stop pedaling or you will tip over. So to have a round street in front of your house made all the difference. They both kept pedaling and kept going round and round. The second child normally went by easier than the first but that was due to my experience the second go-round. I still remember seeing my son, peadaling and twitching alot holding the handle bars. I left him riding as I went to an errand (my wife was watching him from the driveway); and when I returned about 25 minutes later, his control of the bike was smooth.

    The not having to go in a straight line to the end of the block and having to either stop or turn around is the easiest way to teach a young child how to ride. Chapter 2 was teaching them to start pedaling on their own and how to stop and not drop the bike or themselves. Another entry for Charles……

  17. sam findley

    A point that needs to be re-emphasized is the crap that seems to pass for kids’ bikes these days: a 30 lb. bike is not going to make a child a happy rider. I wonder who still makes good kids’ bikes (aside from redline?). And my daughter still has not learned to ride. We’re not pushing it, because there’s no place for her to ride anyway…stupid cars.

  18. rpb2

    Balance bikes are the best! I bought my daughter an Easy Rider for her second birthday and she now zips around on the thing like a pro, and is comfortable lifting her feet for extended periods. She is already asking for a bike with pedals (nearly three now), and experienced her first skinned knee and elbow last weekend going way too fast down a little hill in the park. I cannot recommend the balance bike enough–they’re great fun. I am interested in hearing others’ thoughts concerning the hand brake. My daughter is not quite big enough for a bike with pedals, but is getting too fast on the balance bike to be able to slow down safely using her feet only. I think she could get the hang of a hand brake pretty quickly.

  19. Derek

    Used BMX mini’s are a great place to pick up high quality lightweight kids bikes. They typically have pretty low standovers too. Swap the racing seat for something padded and voila!

    1. Padraig

      Everyone: It’s been terrific reading all your experiences with getting your kids into cycling.

      My Philip is two-and-a-half and he’s been zipping around on a Razor scooter since he was 22 months; that turned out to be crucial in helping him understand leaning to turn. We got him a Skuut for his second birthday. What a lot of people don’t understand is that the frame is reversible so kids can get on one at a very early age.

      The biggest limiter is often finding a helmet small enough, but Bell and Giro are doing a really great job on that front. Philip loves his helmet and even insisted on wearing it to pre-school one day. It was at pre-school that he encountered tricycles, so now he knows how to pedal … and high-side. He makes turns at speeds that simply won’t work for tricycles, so I’m seeing the other side of what happens if you don’t introduce training wheels. He’s pretty adept at just jumping off.

      I’m not sure if anyone caught it, but Andy Shen’s design is killer because it gives the kid a place to place their feet. It has been funny to watch Philip try to decide just what the best approach to keeping his feet off the ground as he rolls.

  20. Peter Lin

    Both of my kids started with training wheels and had no problems transitioning. We took both of them to a large empty parking lot on the weekend and they were riding on their own within 20min. Both transitioned around 5 and never looked back. My wife and I both love to ride, so we’ve always gotten trek or specialized bikes for the kids. They aren’t the lightest bikes, but given they out grow the bike every year for the first 3-4 yrs, that feels reasonable to me. Once my son reached 9, he was big enough for a real mountain bike with multiple gears.

  21. Big Mikey

    My daughter, who has difficulty with agility/coordination in every other sport (bless her beautiful heart), learned to ride a bike at 4 years old.

    Balance bike as soon as she could fit one, then bigger bike, I’d suggest w/o training wheels. We unfortunately started her on her pedal bike with training wheels, which delayed us a bit. She picked up the no training wheels after about two separate trips around the block. She’s never looked back.

    When she was on the training wheels, I never missed a chance to tell her that the big kids rode without theirs, and Daddy did, too. One day she mentioned that maybe she’d like to try without, and they were off in 5 minutes.

  22. Jesus from Cancun

    What a good article and comments! I am happily surprised to see more comments here than in other articles.

    My oldest daughter had no problem learning to ride a bike at 10; just a few tries and off she was. She’s always been a fearless and adventurous kid, but it was until we moved to our cul de sac that she decided to give it a try.

    At the same time, my 6 year old son had a big dependency on the training wheels. But eventually, I used the step by step rising the wheels technique, and then the little lie, of course.

    Right now I am looking for a little bike for my 3 year old. My idea is to remove cranks and lower the seat to make it a balance bike until he is ready for more.

    Problem is, he is not interested. He is extremely active, and even rides a foldable scooter up and down the cul de sac, but every time I have shown him a bike I would like to buy, he says he doesn’t want it and even kicks it away.

    I don’t worry too much, I am happy as long as he is active doing whatever he likes. But I am wishing for the day when I can go out on a ride with my 3 kids.
    One of these days.

  23. Robot

    At our house it was/is kid dependent. My oldest learned at 4. No training wheels. Straight into the breach. Old school method, with dad holding the seat back and forth up the street.

    Younger kid refused the established method. Insisted on training wheels, which he is still riding a season later. Can’t push him. He’ll get there. Smiles like Halloween pumpkin when he’s riding, training wheels or not.

    It’s all about the smile.

  24. nrs5000

    This probably echos a lot of other comments but for our older son we got a skuut balance bike at 2 and a half.

    He’s small and we initially tried flipping it over like Padraig suggests but this really alters the fork rake/trail to the serious detriment of the bike’s handling so we cut a notch out of the frame to get the seat lower, which worked great.

    Then at 4 he got a 12″ pedal bike. It was a cheap hand me down and weighed as much as my two road bikes combined — i.e., more than he did. That didn’t work but we ditched it for a reasonably light Big 3 brand 12″ that weighed less, which he loves and was worth every penny. The key in transitioning from the balance bike to pedals is to leave the training wheels at the bike shop. Parents of his friends made the mistake of training wheels after balance bikes and once you introduce them they are hard to get rid of.

    I haven’t gotten to racing yet, but this time of year we spend a few Saturday mornings watching the spring classics on an internet feed, which he loves.

  25. David Huntsman

    1. No training wheels.

    2. Never, never, never touch your child’s handlebars. Try not to touch anything but the back of the seat. And only enough to balance him a little bit while he gets rolling.

    3. Don’t push; “pull”. While your child pedals, hold the back of his t-shirt while he pedals away from you. You actually provide resistance, not acceleration. This keeps him upright and applying positive force to the pedals without overspeeding.

    4. Let go of his shirt.

    5. Enjoy every moment of this because if you do it this way he will be riding, and your presence will be heartbreakingly superfluous, before you get around the block twice…

  26. Dan O

    Great post and comments. Being the dad of a 12 and 8 year old, have some experience…

    My son showed interest in riding at age 5 or so. Bought him a 16″ wheel Trek Jet with training wheels. Tried pulling the training wheels off a few times – he wasn’t getting it – reinstalled training wheels. One day I noticed he was balancing his Razor scooter without a problem. Pulled training wheels off and boom – was up on two wheels in minutes.

    My daughter showed some interest in riding at age 5 or 6. Bought her a 10″ wheel Specialized with training wheels. After reading about “balance bikes”, removed the chain, pedals and crank to create a homemade balance bike. Lowered the seat and she paddled around for a bit. Soon was balancing on two wheels with no problem. Reinstalled the drivetrain and she pedaled off, no problem.

    If I did it again, would completely skip the training wheels routine. Go for the balance bike route. They learn quicker without the associated crashing learning curve.

    Kid’s bikes tend to be tanks, but some of ‘em aren’t bad. The little Specialized I bought for my daughter was actually quite light. The Trek I bought my son was used by him for awhile, handed off to a neighbor’s kid to use, then back to us when my daughter grew into it. When she was done, back to the neighbor for their youngest son to ride. Well worth the money for that little Trek.

    Lucky for me, my son’s interest in riding remained and continues. After the 16″ wheel single speed Trek, a 20″ wheel Giant (mini) mountain bike (7 speed), then a 24″ wheel Specialized mountain bike (suspension fork, triple crank, etc) – which really elevated his riding at the time – fantastic bike for kids.

    When he outgrew the Specialized, a garage built (by me) 14″ hardtail 26″ wheel mountain bike. Bargain Performance frame with old XTR and Fox fork from my Pile-O-Parts. A used Redline 700c cyclocross bike followed. This weekend, I just swapped all his mountain bike parts over to a 16″ hardtail mountain bike. New Sette aluminum frame for $100. My way of keeping up with his growth and riding decent bikes.

    Mixed in with all this, he races mountain bikes and cyclocross, started at age 8 or so. Last year, raced on a team for the first time. Very cool. Besides racing, the best part – the many, many rides we’ve shared together. We ride in the dirt 99% of time, he seems to have to no interest in road riding. As long as he enjoys riding, that’s fine by me. I don’t push any of this and try to keep it fun as possible. For bike geek dad me, has been fantastic.

    Most of his outgrown bikes/parts hang in the garage waiting for my daughter to grow into. She’s still not super interested and may never be. And that’s cool too. I can always sell or give away the stash for some other young rider.

    For kids racing, cyclocross rocks. Short, not so technical courses, can view most of the lap and cheer ‘em on. They don’t need a true ‘cross bike at that stage. Mountain bikes work just fine. I’ve seen kids do well on racing BMX single speeds. Anything works for the experience. It’s fantastic for kids (adults too). We’re lucky to have a very healthy ‘cross scene here in the Seattle area with plenty of races in the fall.

    Mountain bike racing is also great for kids. When my son was younger, I’d follow him around the course – since we’re talking a few miles around. Pretty common for the younger racers and a great front row seat to the action. In the beginning I’d offer advice and praise as the race progressed. Later, I’d hang back a few minutes and let him go at it alone. That ended a few years ago, though I actually miss it! Great memories.

    Kids can road race as well, though we haven’t tried it. From what I hear, the junior fields are so small, no real pack riding. Still, you’re crashing on pavement. The dirt scene – mountain bike and ‘cross are lot more accessible. My view anyway.

    If interested, like a digital cascading wallet, plenty of kid related riding/racing pics on my blog. Click on my name to access.

    To conclude this ramble fest: Buy used or quality new stuff, save/reuse for other siblings, keep it all fun. Kids rides, especially when younger, need to be short and include stops – lunch, poke around local stream, ice cream, etc. When a bit older, depending on ability and personality, you’ll be shocked how fast they become and how far they can ride. Awesome to witness.

    I’m now 50 years old and been riding for decades. Riding with my kids is the best cycling experience I’ve ever had – by far. I’m a lucky man.

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