A partir du 1er Janvier 2021, le marquage des vélos neufs est obligatoire.  En savoir plus

The Benefits of Mountain Biking for Kids

by April Katz

I am a multi-sport kind of gal. I am a mom, love to mountain bike, cyclocross, surf, SUP, and snowboard. I'm just a beginner. Honestly, I have only been mountain biking for the last two years, but riding bikes goes back to early childhood. One of the great things about sports is participation defies disability.

At nine years old, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I struggled because teachers and family members talked me down and said I couldn’t read or write. It wasn’t until I met a teacher who gave me the tools I needed that I learned to navigate this crazy life path. The right tools and the right environment let me pursue adventure, which feels epic.

In 2019, I started a local non-profit called The AIROW Project (Adaptive and Inclusive Recreation of Whatcom County). We create community-based outdoor recreation opportunities for those with disabilities. A large part of our focus is adaptive cycling, as well as creating biking programs for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As an ICP adaptive level 1 bike instructor, I coach individuals, showing them that their ability is more substantial than their disability. We are spreading the message that riding is for everyone; everybody can and should cycle.

a woman riding mountain bikes with her daughter

Do you remember that feeling the first time you rode a bike? The sheer joy of accomplishing your first long ride or climbing the local hill? Remember how it wasn’t about the miles you put in? It was about the feeling of accomplishment and independence. With my experience riding with kids with ASD, it’s about adapting to their needs in a way that assures success. One success leading to another, and another is what it’s all about. In many ways the lessons I’ve learned with the AIROW Project have helped me assist my daughter with her journey in mountain biking. These are lessons that I believe could help any parent, caregiver, coach, or mentor get kids riding mountain bikes in a positive way.

positive reinforcement while riding with kids on the trail

Benefits of Mountain Biking for Children

One of the greatest things about riding with my nine-year-old daughter is the quality time we get to spend together. Putting the phone on DO NOT DISTURB and seeing my girl accomplishing going over a couple of roots and a small little jump is the coolest thing I’ve witnessed. Here are a few of the positive impacts mountain biking has made for her and the children I work with: 

  • Confidence. When kids conquer an obstacle on a mountain bike they didn’t think they were capable of, you can almost see them grow taller with confidence. These kids take that confidence with them into other aspects of their lives – relationships, the classroom and other activities.
  • Community. One thing about the bike community is the inclusion it brings. Here’s a little story. I was riding with a 13-year-old who was anxious to ride that morning. She was worried everyone would tease her and notice she can’t ride. But that wasn’t the case at all. Everyone that passed us said something positive to her or little affirmation while climbing. “You’ve got this,” and, “don’t give up!” At the end of the ride her mindset went from negative to positive.
  • Exercise. How do you feel after a ride? Or any exercise? You feel epic – like you accomplished something. If you were in a bad mood before, that’s certainly changed by the end of the ride. The benefits of exercise are the same for everyone, from improving your long-term health to boosting attention, memory and overall happiness. Being active outdoors gives kids an added sense of exploration and opens them up to a greater variety of experiences.
choose the right mountain bike trail for riding with kids

Tips for Introducing Kids to Mountain Biking

  • Choose the right trail. Picking the right trail before the ride is important for ensuring safety and good times. If you’re riding with a child you don’t know, you can ask questions to find out about their ability such as, “How long have you been riding for? What trails have you ridden in the past?” Before any ride, do some basic bike drills to get a good idea on where to start. Length of ride: Depends on the rider’s fitness level, time restraints, hours of daylight, weather. Having prior knowledge of the trail will allow you to make decisions on difficulty and distance. A three mile loop at one trail system could be doable while two miles at another is very challenging. Always check in to see how the rider is doing and watch out for non-verbal cues of low energy or frustration. Communication is the key to success!
  • Focus on positive reinforcement. In my experience with children with ASD, positive reinforcement can go a long way. This is certainly true for all kids when encouraging them to try something new. Praise your riders when they act appropriately or learn a new skill. So, always have candy, chocolate bars, chips, or non-food related treats like stickers, fist bumps and high-fives! 
  • Stick to a schedule. Children and youth with ASD tend to thrive with a consistent daily routine. Who wouldn’t benefit from a little consistency? Consistency reduces stress and reduces disabling (or challenging) emotions. For example: we will ride to this park, stop and have a snack, and ride back.
  • Keep it fun. Play games in a controlled environment like: Red light/ green light, or stop before hitting a chalk line. One of my favorites is a scavenger hunt on bikes. Before you go on the trail, hide simple items for the rider. The best way to engage the rider is to show them a visual of where the hidden treasure is or a clue like “near a trail post or a sign.” This helps the rider be engaged while also improving their skills!

keep it fun while riding bikes with kids

Meet April

“My whole life I have had the desire to prove people wrong, to show them and myself that I could do things others didn’t think I could do.” April Katz is the owner of Adaptive Life Coaches, president of The AIROW Project nonprofit, and a lover of adventure. Follow April’s journey HERE>

April Katz