I sing a lot when I’m climbing. Usually it’s in my head where only I can hear, but when my children are with me I belt out the tunes and encourage them to join me. I do this to help motivate them on those nasty hills – the ones that suck the life out of you and seemingly take forever. Eventually though, and almost always on cue, I hear the dreaded words, “Are we there yet?” At this point, I praise them for taking one more pedal stroke and tell them they are awesome and almost at the top, while reaching into my “bag of tricks” to ready my next ploy.
My bag of tricks has lots of “carrot” and “stick” resources, including lies. Well…white lies. Like, “The top is around the next corner! Oops! I meant that corner up there, not this one!” I even resort to logic and remind my kids, aged six and eight, that what goes up must come down and that climbing will make them stronger and faster.
When I’ve exhausted the verbal incentives, out comes my next trick – some M&M’s or Smarties. Kids love them. My young grasshoppers will do anything for a red Smartie. Does this make me a bad parent? Looking at the big picture, I think the fun family time spent enjoying the outdoors more than compensates for a few candies.
I think back to when I was their age. Fun was climbing trees, playing tag with friends, and riding my bike on the neighbourhood “rollercoasters” (basically an old construction site littered with gopher holes and snaky mice trails). Riding bikes or running wasn’t about endurance, it was about short bursts of energy. That’s what most kids want – a fast-and-furious type of action.
The exact contents of my bag of tricks changes often, but it usually draws on some of the following concepts:
- Mix It Up – Ride BMX, jumps, downhill, skinnies or the local park. Keeping things varied means riding is not synonymous with uphills, and uphills are then just another aspect of the variety.
- Give Them the Power – Teach your kids how to read a map (legend, symbols, contour lines) and then let them choose the route. Kids love being in control. It also beefs up their confidence and leadership skills.
- Snacks – Take frequent breaks and offer some dehydrated fruit, nuts, GORP, and yes, a bit of candy here and there. And water, always water.
- It’s Adventure Time – Play games while riding, look for animals, whatever keeps it fun!
- Say Yes to Zen – For kids, riding is an activity, not training, so keep expectations light. For example, why not get off the bike and push from time to time? It changes things up and gives little legs a break.
- Encourage Hero-Worship – Okay, maybe not “hero-worship,” but giving kids some inspirational models can help motivate them. Watching videos of awesome riders like Danny MacAskill and others show us all what is possible on a bike.
It’s equally important to set the stage for a good ride. As adult riding enthusiasts, we know how a good-quality bike lays the foundation for an enjoyable experience on the trail, and the same goes for kids. My own two kids are fortunate to have a Spawn Savage 1.0 (20” wheel) and a Norco Fluid (24” wheel). Basically, they’re real, scaled-down versions of decent adult mountain bikes. In purchasing a good bike, you’re giving your kids design ergonomics, mechanical reliability, and lightweight components, which all translate in to easier climbing and descending. Seeing your child develop and become more confident with each pedal stroke is the best pay-off.
I’ve also learned to do a little “parent-prep” when it comes to my kids’ riding in general and climbing specifically. When we ride as a family I try to remember to keep my kids’ interests a priority. This can mean, for instance, not overdoing the climbs, as I know it’s not always their favourite. I also try to avoid being a “back-seat driver,” which means focusing on the fun and leaving the lessons on technique or position for another session. My hope is that in time they’ll learn to enjoy climbing as one of the challenges of mountain biking, but for the moment I don’t want to turn them off the sport before even getting started in it.
As parents we need to be mindful of a bigger danger than making our kids lose interest – namely of doing them actual harm by pushing them too far. Although kids seem to have bottomless physical reserves, if they do too much, like climbing before their young bodies are ready for the constant grind against gravity, it can hurt them. An excerpt from Canadian based ‘Sport for Life’ is shown on the chart below and provides a breakdown of physical activities and the average age ranges when kids are sufficiently physically developed to grow those skills. Keep in mind that the chart is a guideline and that every child is different. Be attentive to what you particular child is able to do and use discernment in deciding when to push and when to hold back. Ultimately, we want to teach our children to lead healthy, active lives – not break them.
In other words, let’s all relax if our children don’t want to climb or prefer to walk some sections of trail. So, who cares if someone else’s child can climb like a fiend! When we make riding fun it helps foster a lifelong relationship with cycling and a healthy approach to activity. And if a few little white lies and Smarties along the way help us out, then so be it.
Cécile is a freelance Action and Portrait photographer living in North Vancouver, BC. Honing her skills from riding all sorts of bikes her photographs are a fusion of Fine Art and Action to create vivid, exciting and engaging images. Her work has been featured in exhibitions, and has been published in national magazines. For more of Cécile’s work please visit www.cecilegambin.com