11/2/2010 7:12:19 PM
Sometimes safety is an over used term, and often ignored activity. Mountain biking trail riding is not your "go out in your neighborhood" bicycle ride. Once on a single track, skills, judgement, confidence and strength will be tested. You prepare your children for the obstacles of life, but have you taken similar consideration for the obstacles on the trail? I didn't, and I was unprepared for that first nerve racking ride, so were my kids. It doesn't have to be that way, and there is no need for fear, but caution, with deliberate planning, and equiping for the ride of your life! The first and most safety device is, you, the rider. Prepare your kids for the not only the thrill and exhiliration, but for what to expect on the trail to negotiate the trail with reduced risk for injury, or a broken bicycle (good excuse to upgrade!). (This will be a separate topic within the article title "Strength, confidence, and skill").
The second most important (in my opinion) safety device is a dependable, good quality bike in good repair. The bicycle is both the instrument for getting through the trail, but also in avoiding obstacles, and dangers. Parents must inspect the condition of chains, wheel alignment, and most critically, brake adjustment prior to trail entry. Accelerating down a hill is not the time to find out you forgot to reset your son's/daughter's front brake after reinstalling the front wheel after transport. Do not use a standard kids bike on the trails or a bike that is of questionable quality, it will inevitably breakdown and possible injury. As your kids grow in skill, speed, confidence and aggressiveness, they will need a bike that can perform as well as they do, good to plan ahead. There really is a difference in quality of components, frame, design, and manufacturing experience and customer service and parts availability for local bike shop bicycles vice mass retailers. I use not to believe this, but I do now. You have to have a bike that you can find repair parts for, and can maintain yourself and have a shop willing to make a repair if you need to. The mass retail store bikes are essentially disposable. (My friends have found this out the hard way). BMX bikes are ok for first starters, mine did, but you must have dual brakes (front, and rear). Rear only caliper brakes or "coaster" brakes will not provide enough braking efficiency and control in speed and acceleration management. This will result in a skid and rear wheel slide out resulting in either a fall, or an overshoot into sometimes nasty terrain. If you are just starting on flat, or dual track trails with very light rollers, you will likely be fine, but use your judgement. Make sure brakes are neither overly tight (little lever play before maximum friction is applied) or overly loose (excessive travel that might lead to not achieving maximum braking friction). Overly tight brakes can lead to child panic braking with a squeeze that could result in a flip over the handle bars (this will put gray hairs on a dad's face). Know your bike, know your child's bike, and be able to make pre-trail, and in-trail adjustments to the bike if you have too. (Plus, your kids will think you are super man and can fix anything!)
Next, the cranium safety device, the helmet. Choose your favorite color, but don't skimp or take for granted the value of a helmet. Most children's serious injuries on bicycles are head injuries, and most are preventable, wear a good fitting helmet that actually is fit for the child, and adjusted properly to mfg. instructions. If the helmet is crushed or cracked in any way, or straps are frayed or inoperative, discard it. The childs attention should be focused on the trail, and not on a floppy helmet.
Fit the bike for the child just as you do for you to your bike, its just as important, if not more so, because they need the additional help to control the bike, and they must be in the right position to do so. Adjust seat height, seat angle, stem height, handlebar and brake lever position that allows for natural reach and activation of bike controls. (You must become one with your two wheeled stallion my young padawon..).
Mountain biking fun includes inevitable falls, plan for them, they will happen. So far my son's crashes have been mostly low speed spills NOT carrying enough speed into hills and other trail challenges. When I ride my motorcyle, I am usually fully geared up, so are my kids when they ride with me. When riding an MTB, you are a bit more exposed, and most of the time your rider safety gear is relegated to a good helmet and gloves. If your son or daughter wants to wear some elbow pads and knee pads just to give them confidense, and real fall protection, let them. Mine wore his one, maybe two times, then he was off down the trail like a rocket. Helmets we spoke about, but good gloves (I prefer full finger, but that's up to you) will offer hand protection for fall offs, and also from potential hand bashes on tree limbs and other things that poke its way onto the trail. For simple trails in the open, you likely won't need these, but I ride, and my boys ride with safety glasses. (you can't put your kids into a Nerf suit, but hey). In wooded trails, there are branches, sticks, leaves, etc. that can batter into your face, or bugs or debris kicked up by the front tire will inevitably cause you to eat part of the trail (good for minerals, but bad for the eyes). One last item, if you fall, you can't always control where you land, and there are things out there that I would prefer out of the eyes. Therefore, safety glasses are not really over the top. It's your No. 1 senory tracking device.
Finally, take gear with you on the ride. Repairs and adjustments are inevitable including repairs to scraped knees and elbows. Pack water, micro tool, air pump, patches (tube if you want to), and a first aid kit. Yes, I pack a first aid kit. It sometimes can make the difference between staying on the trail or heading back to the truck. Amazing how a dab of neosporin and a bandaid can heal a boo boo on the bike to keep the kids riding on. Sometimes, it helps if the kids can carry the gear and kit on their bike (just like their dad and moms do). On the softer side, all of this safety gear, although seems voluminous, is just being a good boy/girl scout, be prepared. It also demonstrates to your child that you care, love them and are there to protect them. It's all part of being family, and achieving trust. It will pay big dividends in the end.
Next long article to encourage the family to go Mountain Biking is related to "Fun and Family" the next important step in achieving your goals as a family through cycling.
Note, your local bicycle shop is a wonderful resource for quality bikes, gear and advice. They have families too, and have similar passions for their riding experience that they can share with you.
edited by MTB29Pilot on 11/2/2010