Jack and I are mountain bikers. From the moment we met our little kiddos we thought “I can’t wait to go trail riding with you.” Reality soon set in and we realized it’s time just to survive the sleepless nights, bottle cleaning, and dirty diapers. Around 12 months later sleep returned (kinda) and the thoughts came back on how we could get the little munchkins riding trails with us as soon as possible. Below are the steps I took to get my oldest son railing berms and hitting jumps in the Whistler Bike Park with me by age 5. Warning- this is not for everyone as the time commitment and initial investment is high. For me, the effort and investment was worth it. My son and I now have a hobby which we both love.
Step 1: Introduce to Bikes with a Toddler Seat
We chose the ibert front mounted toddler seat to initiate our first born into the world of bikes. We started him in the seat in early Spring when he was just over 12 months. We took him everywhere in the seat- to the grocery store, to the park and it was his preferred transportation to and from daycare.
Step 2: The Beginner Balance Bike
We went for one of the lower stand-overs available and one of the lightest balance bikes on the market. We made the plunge when our little guy was 17 months. He was large enough and had a long enough in-seam to get on the bike comfortably and walk with it around the neighborhood til winter came. He turned two and spring soon arrived, this is where things really got going; Coasting down hills, breaking with his feet, and wheelie’ing the front end. He was obsessed with his bike and I entertained his calls for “Bike Bike Bike” whenever he barked the words at me.
Step 3: The Suspension Balance Bike
Just before age 2.5 we researched and found a bike which blew my mind in how a specific bike can progress a toddler’s skill and comfort level. The Like a bike Jumper has exceeded all my expectations on what is possible for kids at such a young age. From ages 2-3 we spent most of our free time in the back alley, the bike skills park or the local trails. The light weight, ability to adjust tire pressure and the rear suspension made it possible navigate terrain like no other balance bike. We did however go through a ridiculous amount of shoes!
Step 4: The First Pedal Bike- 14 inch
I had planned to keep Sam on a balance bike as long as possible to build his confidence and make the transition to a pedal bike an easy one. The plan was to hopefully keep him on a balance bike until age 4 and then transition him to 16″ wheel pedal bike. When spring came and he turned 3, the questions started to come- “Dad, why doesn’t my bike have pedals?” “Can we go buy some pedals Dad?” With an in-seam to small for a 16 inch bike, I started to research 12 and 14 inch pedal bikes. At the time I could not find a 12 inch wheel bike with a free-hub and hand brakes. I was adamant he would not start on a coaster brake (see say no to coaster brake post). What did surface was the 14 inch alloy pedal bikes from a handful of small direct to consumer companies (Prevelo, Woom, Spawn, Frog, Isla). When our 14 inch arrived, I marveled at its miniature alloy frame and kid friendly components. One push and Sam was off pedaling down the side-walk. The freedom he felt was very apparent from his smile. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life with kids to see his wonder and passion to keep the pedals turning. Another summer spent at the bike skills park!
Step 5: The 16 inch pedal bike
The problem with 12 and 14 inch bikes is they only last a year in most cases. The beauty of a quality bike of the brands mentioned is the ability to resell them at a good price. The spring Sam turned 4 I sold the the 14 and upgraded to a 16. With a larger wheel, bigger gear, and longer cranks, he was cruising. The geometry and weight of these bikes are truly remarkable. The progression in the bike skills park was remarkable again.
Step 6: BMX Racing
I found an inexpensive used 20 inch Micro mini race bike to let Sam have a go at the track. We had been to track once at age 3 on the balance bike and he enjoyed it. After some research, I realized I would be able to sell the BMX race bike at no loss if he did not show interest so I pulled the trigger for $150. Apparently interest was there and the bike skills went through the roof. The position a BMX race bike forces you to, standing up on pedals, weight centred over hands and feet is perfect for kids progressing into trail riding. The transitions, corners and whoops on a track installs a confidence most kids never get pedalling around the neighbourhood or parking lot. Further, the BMX racing environment is so family friendly its easy to find yourself at the races every weekend.
Step 7: The 16 inch dirt jumper/trail bike
These bikes are truly remarkable. From the geometry, to the weight, to the welds, to build spec, no expense is spared to make these the best mountain bikes/Dirt Jumpers for the littlest of bikers. Make note, these are a specific tool for a specific job- ripping trails and boosting jumps at the local skills park. These are the bikes that will make you shake your head when you see the confidence and skill a four year old can have on a bike. Hydraulic Disc brakes and suspension forks allow the kiddos to rid longer with comparatively less arm pump or fatigue than rigid bikes with mechanical brakes. They are not light on the wallet by any means. Most non-mountain bike parents will be offended by the price but don’t worry if you take the plunge as resale value on these bikes are incredibly high. Good luck finding a used one, I tried for months to find one until literally one fell in my lap by clear chance (a trip to the local bike park and a conversation with another bike dad).
Step 8: The 20 inch Full Suspension
Even more specific a tool and even heavier on the wallet, are 20 inch Full suspension Bikes. Pretty much dedicated to lift access bike parks, most MTB kids would be served better with a 20 inch hard tail. That said, when it comes time to hit the Whistler Bike Park with your 5 year old, a 20 inch Full Suspension is the way to go (renting an option here).