Getting kids to fall in love with riding bikes is easy. Let them be kids. Let them have fun!
Throughout my childhood I attended swimming lessons at Fernie’s old outdoor pool in Rotary Park. I recall bitterly cold mornings with mist hanging in the air over the pool, teeth chattering, goosebumps as tall as the mountains, I’d cringe as I forced myself into the water which felt as if it were only a few degrees above freezing. Our instructors would have us do laps or tread water until our lips turned blue. Having fun wasn’t in the cards. Over the years, being led through drills, gasping for air, while frozen to the core, I developed a cat like aversion to swimming that has lasted a lifetime.
Whether it’s learning to swim or learning to mountain bike, providing a comfortable environment from the weather to our gear and the people around us, can go a long way toward having an enjoyable time. Nobody has fun getting eaten alive by mosquitoes or being caught in bad weather without the right clothing, nor if their chain is always falling off or if they can’t reach their brakes. When things aren’t lining up, consider a shorter adventure or save the adventures on bikes for another day when you can create a better environment for enjoyment.
When everything falls into place there are a few things to keep in mind while letting the magic unfold. As a professional mountain bike instructor my priorities are safety, fun, and learning, in that order. This can be a great guide for parents riding with kids as well, even when the kid’s abilities exceed our own.
Getting injured isn’t fun! But the thrill of riding fast and hitting more challenging obstacles is exhilarating. Regardless of age we can get carried away in the moment, taking on challenges beyond our abilities. While we can’t eliminate risk, we can manage it. We rely on the rule of three 'R's: Relaxed, Right, and Repeatable, to help keep our enthusiasm in check. When performing a skill, are we Relaxed, are we doing it Right, and are we able to Repeat the feat, Relaxed and Right, several times consecutively? If the answer isn’t yes to all of these, consider dialling back the difficulty. Parents may want to take some lessons themselves, or watch a lesson, to get an idea of what to look for.
This is the easy one. Let kids be kids. Let them have fun! We’ll often let the kids lead a game of silly challenges without keeping score or turning it into a competition. The challenges don’t even need to always be related to riding a bike properly. Because being silly on our bike helps us develop physical dexterity and being silly is fun! Letting the kids set the challenges for themselves is a great way to see what interests them, what their abilities are, and how much appetite for challenge they have.
From learning to crawl to jumping mountain bikes, we’re naturally curious and love to test our limits. Having fun, being playful, and trying silly things on our bikes, are wonderful ways to learn. But like arithmetic or a language, sometimes it’s easier to learn from a teacher. We learn best when we’re interested, and we’re usually interested when something is fun. Instructors use a combination of skill and game-based teaching mixed with adventure making it easy and enjoyable to learn and practice techniques. When practicing we look for the three Rs to ensure we’re building good muscle memory that will serve us well in even the most stressful circumstances. But remember, we don’t need to learn, practice, or progress on every ride. Sometimes we’re just riding bikes for fun!
Next time you take the family for a ride, pretend you’re a business and the kids are your customers. Keep them safe, focus on having fun, and maybe you’ll all learn something along the way. Create a little adventure that has them wanting to come back for more and falling in love with riding bikes.