Mountain Biking offers young people the freedom, to explore the outdoors be it on simple trails or more challenging as their skills progress. Bikes aren’t just fun for kids; they also offer huge benefits.
- Riding helps fine tune motor skills
- Tutors kids about independence
- Keeps them physically active
While it may seem extreme, Mountain biking is a safe option for young people because unlike the streets around town, there are no cars to worry about on mountain trails.
A balance of having fun and keeping kids safe is at the top of the list, as is making sure they don’t embark on a ride that’s too challenging for their skill set. Some kids feel comfortable on a bike by the time they are 5, while others are closer to 10 before they feel confident.
The Dark Stuff
I’m sure you’ve heard the line, “we can’t protect our kids from everything” and while that may be true there is plenty we can do to minimize risk and injury.
Risk and injury go with the territory of mountain biking and we need to understand that children are more prone to injury than adults. Child injuries can be more serious too because unlike adults, children still have growth plates (soft cartilage near the ends of the longer bones that are responsible for bone growth). Parents are often surprised to discover their child has a fracture because they assume they have rubber bones that don’t easily break. This is not true.
“Growth spurts can make some children more awkward as growing can throw off balance and coordination, even when the child has been previously agile. Growing can also cause decreased flexibility for periods of time. Bones, as they grow, cause the muscles to become tighter than normal during growth spurts. In other words, as bones grow, they pull the muscles, which respond by constantly stretching until the muscle accommodates to the new bone length.
Young athletes are particularly vulnerable to injuries because the decrease in flexibility increases the risk of muscle imbalance problems. Training that overemphasizes one muscle group may also expose the growing athlete to injury. Every child needs to exercise regularly to ensure normal physical growth and development. Youngsters who spend their free time watching TV or engaging in other sedentary pursuits may have impaired bone growth. Recent studies have shown that when weight-bearing physical activity is increased, bones become progressively denser and stronger. Children who take part in weight-bearing physical activity also have denser and stronger bones when they reach adulthood”.
(Dr. William MacIntyre, Ottawa’s Children’s Hospital)
A recent study in The UK shared some data but note that this covers children and adults.
- Head injuries. 13% of all sport related head injuries in emergency departments are from cycling incidents. Helmets can reduce the risk of head injury by 39% and facial bone fracture by 28%.
- Upper limb injury. These occur as riders attempt to stop a fall with an outstretched arm. Typically, bikers damage the collar bone, shoulder or wrist.
- Abdominal injury. A blow to the abdomen can result in spleen damage (49% of cases), the liver (15% of cases) or the small intestine (13% of cases).
- Lower limbs. Lower leg injuries often result from failure to release a quick release pedal fast enough to prevent falling off. Resulting injury can vary from skin being caught in the chain wheel and lacerations to sprained, strained fractured or dislocated ankles.
- Cuts. These are normally light scratches but may cause bleeding. Dirt in the wound can cause infection. For cuts and abrasions in the outdoors a tetanus is required if the injured person is not already protected.
In the USA, approximately 500,000 children visit emergency services every year for treatment of traumatic brain injuries; the single largest cause of emergency room visits for adolescents. Of course, not all of these are mountain bike related but what is essential to know is that diagnosis of concussion in children is more complicated than adult diagnosis. If in doubt, check it out and be vigilant for unusual behavior.
Young children are more susceptible to concussion than adults because they are more likely to be active and involved in sports and, because their brains are not fully developed, they are more vulnerable to injury.
There is good news, however. Children who sustain a concussion almost always recover completely in a relatively short period. The best way to achieve a good outcome is to ensure that a child is evaluated and assessed by medical experts as quickly as possible.
It’s Not All Scary
Mountain biking has many benefits and so long as kids have the right equipment and are properly instructed in the basic skills, many will catch this beautiful bug and never want to let it go. My 13-year old daughter doesn’t much like riding uphill but she is completely addicted to downhill riding after I introduced her to MTB and taught her the basics.
The Right Bike
You know the phrase, “they will grow into it”, right? Well this is something that must be disregarded when choosing the right bike for a young person. If they can’t stand with their feet on the ground and the top bar beneath their crotch, the bike is too big and will present a greater risk of injury and a difficult ride that will offer little development of confidence.
Dozens of Gears
How many gears you should be looking for depends on their age and what they can process. A simple guide is the younger they are, the fewer gears they will need until they can demonstrate skill and confidence at a basic level. It’s about knowing your child too; some will get it faster than others.
If the best deal is a bike with 3 front chain rings, you could always fix the chain on the second ring and disable the front derailleur until they progress.
While riding with my daughter (I don’t need to do it now), I would call out the best gear for the approaching terrain. It didn’t take her long to get the idea and make me redundant.
This is an excellent habit for all riders. Before every ride, check that the bike is properly set-up and maintained. It’s a wonderful opportunity to instruct kids too.
- Are the brakes working properly?
- Is the tire pressure correct?
- Are the chain and gears working properly?
- Is the saddle firmly in position?
- Does anything need tightening?
A decent quality and perfectly fitted helmet are essential. Please be aware that remarkable offers in superstores may not offer the protection your child will need even though most countries have strict safety standards.
Help with grip, keep out the cold and offer protection in the case of a crash or minor collision with a tree-trunk or thorn bush.
Full Range of Safety Gear
It may not be necessary at the start, but it is possible to cover most of the body with protective gear. If you feel anything is necessary from the outset, consider knee and elbow pads but make sure they fit properly and are comfortable.
Check Out The Trails
This is necessary if you’re taking any child or new rider out on the trails. Will their level and age enable them to cope? The last thing you want is to scare them away because the trail was too difficult and full of unexpected challenges or too technical trail features.
While you’re out with kids on easy trails, it’s a perfect time to take advantage of the time to teach some of the basics.
- Do they know the basic body position?
- Can they ride in a straight line while keeping their eyes on the trail?
- Are they able to see far enough ahead to see what’s coming?
- Can they slow down or stop when they must without using their feet?
- Is it possible for them to control their speed on descents?
It’s easy to get carried away when they and you are having an exciting time but teaching the basics will return even better rides very quickly.
Like with many sports that require equipment, getting started isn’t going to be cheap but taking advantage of offers like those found on Black Friday deals will potentially save a fortune.
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Comments and Questions
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