What Two Parents Hope Their Kids Will Learn Through Mountain Biking

The International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) celebrates Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day (TKMBD) each year on the first Saturday in October. The annual holiday was created in 2004 to introduce kids to the joys of mountain biking and to help cultivate the next generation of riders, racers, and trail advocates.

This year, on October 2nd, local bike clubs will sponsor events encouraging riders to take kids out on the trails. Singletracks tech editor Gerow and contributor Richard Shoop, both parents, know firsthand how great it is to take a kid mountain biking. We wanted to share our own experiences to encourage others to share mountain biking with their children or with the children in their local communities

Shoop wants to give his son the riding experience he never had as a child

I never learned to ride a bike as a kid. My father wasn’t in the picture when I was growing up and no one else stepped in to teach me how to ride a bike. I decided to learn how to ride a bike and how to mountain bike on my own when I was in my early 30s. After innumerable bumps, bruises, and scrapes, I succeeded.

When my son was born, I knew I wanted to give him the experience of riding a bike as early as possible. I started towing him behind my bike in a trailer when he was 6 months old. He got his first balance bike when he was 2 years old. Last year, while I was working from home during the pandemic, I saw him use pedals for the first time during one of my lunch breaks.

We’ve started riding some gravel and double-track trails together. I walk up the hills with him and then follow him down the descents. He makes me nervous at times but I love hearing him laugh and squeal when he bombs down a hill.

I’ve taught him how to size up an obstacle and walk a section of trail that makes him nervous before he attempts to ride it. I point out lines to him and cheer him on when he tries something new. It pains me to see him fall and hurt himself. He gets so mad and frustrated because he is such a perfectionist, much like his old man. I’ll brush the dirt off him, check out his bike, and encourage him to try again. Falling is a part of learning, I tell him. Just ask your Dad.

I hope that he will look back on all these moments some day and realize how important they were. When he successfully navigates a major life decision or rebounds from a crisis, I hope he recognizes that the skills he employed were the same ones he learned on our rides together.

Mountain biking has changed my life for the better and, whether my son knows it or not, it will benefit him too as he grows up. It does indeed build strong minds, bodies, and character, as NICA believes. That’s why I always make time to take kids mountain biking.

Gerow hopes to offer perspective through trail challenges

My daughter, Penelope, was born fourteen years ago, and this is the first season she decided to try mountain biking. She grew up covered in greasy chain marks, being pulled in blanketed trailers behind me on training rides, and I haven’t been in a hurry to indoctrinate her with the dirtbag flag. I feel like she needed to come by it on her own if there is any chance she would enjoy MTB culture and sport.

Thanks in large part to her stepmom’s natural teaching gift, Penelope leapt onto the trail this season with a level of fervor and grit that I hadn’t previously seen from her. She quickly learned about scrapes and bruises, and she’s now advancing to drops and jumps. Like any teenager on the trail, she wants to ride like Myriam Nicole by tomorrow, and, impressively, she’s also putting in the skills work to create a solid base for those coming acrobatics.

A primary reason I’m stoked for my kiddo to enjoy trails is that it gives her grounds to spend more time in nature. The more time we spend in the forest, the more we will appreciate and protect that natural environment. Given her generational penchant for screen-time, there are barriers between her and the trees that I didn’t have as a kid. Mountain biking has piqued her interest in all sorts of flora and fauna outside the home and phone, and her stoke for getting dirty all day is steadily growing. It’s heartwarming to see her appreciating and learning about the world alongside the trails, and I hope she carries that forward through life.

I’ve repeated ad nauseam that I love how progression in mountain biking has no end goal. It’s all in the current and future process. There will forever be new things to learn and others to improve, higher hills to climb, and steeper ramps to launch. These endless challenges present allegories that we can filter our lives through. When things feel hard in our relationships or at work we can look to the trials we have overcome on the trail for reminders of what we’re capable of and how life’s difficulties eventually soften and become manageable. In this way, mountain biking is a life skills toolkit for kids, whether they realize it or not.

Most mountain bikers I’ve met have a core friend group who all have bike-packed garages. This sport has provided me with more community than anything else in my life, and I want that to be true for my daughter, no matter how deep she decides to dig her trail career. She’s already using her ability to ride tricky trails as cultural capital with friends, sharing her pride around overcoming fear and learning skills. She gets to feel cool as a mountain biker and has something cherished to share on her social media channels. She’s consistently looking for other kids who ride and occasionally scheming ways to get other girls on bikes, which should eventually pile into a large loving community she can support and be supported by.

A patently obvious piece of the MTB puzzle for kids is that the sport is a sport. It allows them to learn about their competitive spirit, to build strength and endurance toward their riding goals, to fail and then ride again, to experience improvements and gains, and to generally feel healthier than they might have playing video games in the basement. Penelope’s decidedly active and health-conscious stepmom and I have worked hard to exemplify a healthy relationship to fun-physical-fitness for our kiddo that she is starting to embrace as her own. I have no doubt that her ability to conflate fun outdoor activities with feeling good will serve her as an adult.

Penelope is also learning to negate harmful gender norms and to assert herself in a traditionally male-dominated culture through mountain biking. She loves the fact that she’s faster and braver than the boys, and that she has loads of positive female athletes to look up to as role models. She sees women in the burgeoning slopestyle and freeride scene as people she wants to ride like and be like, and I couldn’t be happier for her to have those strong examples to look toward. As a staunch feminist parent, seeing my kiddo stand in her truth as a strong and confident young person despite gendered expectations brings me a mountain of gratitude.

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