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  1. #1
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    Teaching a 5-year-old how to ride a mountain bike with v-brakes and gears

    My son and I have a lot of fun riding together, and I just recently put down a deposit on a Fuji Dynamite 20" that should be available to pick up this week or next week. My question is, what is some advice from parents who have had similar experiences getting their youngster on a bike?

    My son, my wife and I are all people who like to play it safe, and while my son is interested in mountain bike riding and his new bike, he's also going to want to take it a step at a time. (When we first talked about taking his current 16" to the local dog park to ride on dirt, he first wanted to ride over a stick in a driveway a few times and then wanted to practice riding in and out of grass while riding along the road to make sure he could do it.)

    We've ridden at a local walking trail park, but before I take him there on his new bike, I want to make sure he's comfortable with the idea of braking with the v-brakes since he tends to stop his current bike by pushing backwards on the pedals, especially when he's nervous. I also noticed that the gear shifts require a lot of strength to change gears, at least from a 5-year-old's perspective.

    What's some good advice on getting him comfortable with the bike? Change gears while stopped until he's got braking and handling down? Stick to flat roads for a while until I'm sure he's got braking down? Take him to the local park and let him get on a flat off-road path sooner than later so he feels like he's riding with dad?

    I know it's a broad question, but I'd definitely appreciate any advice people might have from first hand experience.

  2. #2
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    I'd start off with plenty of road riding, and switch to fire roads when he's ready. Take it slow, or you risk having him decide he hates it!

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  3. #3
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    Once my son could ride on two wheels, I took him to the local trail and rode the green family trail which was flat. He was 4 or 5. Now, at 9, he's riding a few intermediate trails.
    I like turtles

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Porch View Post
    I'd start off with plenty of road riding
    The gif cracked me up, and I was planning to start with plenty of road riding, so I'm glad to hear that makes sense.

    Quote Originally Posted by NYrr496 View Post
    Once my son could ride on two wheels, I took him to the local trail and rode the green family trail which was flat. He was 4 or 5. Now, at 9, he's riding a few intermediate trails.
    How well did your son handle shifting gears, if at all, at 5 and 6?

  5. #5
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    Before you switch bikes, throw on a rear hand brake onto the 16 inch bike. Let him have the comfort of knowing the coaster brake is there if needed, but get used to the hand brake before adding in gears and a freewheel.
    13 Lenz Lunchbox punkass

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by TwoTone View Post
    Before you switch bikes, throw on a rear hand brake onto the 16 inch bike. Let him have the comfort of knowing the coaster brake is there if needed, but get used to the hand brake before adding in gears and a freewheel.
    On it!

    We picked up this bike up used from a friend last year because his 12" bike was getting too small and I wasn't ready to spend a lot of money on a bike that would last a while (the training wheels came off this summer):

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    It already has a hand brake, and he's absolutely able to use it, but it probably won't surprise you to hear that on those rare occasions he's on a downhill at the dog park that makes him nervous, the coaster brake is his default panic braking method. I'm not sure how you determine your child is comfortable enough with only hand brakes that they'll use them in a panic instead of putting their feet down or pedaling backwards.

  7. #7
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    Don't over think it - just go ride.

    I just went through this over the weekend w/ my 5 year old. Bought him a 20" Marin hidden canyon 5 days ago. He's already got it dialed.

    He'll figure it out quicker than you think.

  8. #8
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    His Gary Fisher Precaliber came with a six speed grip shifter. He was able to do it but he found it confusing.
    I swapped the drivetrain out to 1 x 8 with an early Shimano trigger, because I had it. Turned out to be the best mod I could have made. He would shift out to the smaller cogs with his index finger and back up to the climbing gears with is thumb. I would call to him to shift to an easier gear when I knew an incline or sand was up ahead. He would automatically shift to faster cogs as soon as he started spinning out. It took time.
    When he was almost 8, I built him a 1 x 10 24" bike that he's currently outgrowing. It has Sram X7 shifting, so, thumb-thumb... Took a little time to get used to but he's been rockin' it for over a year now and he shifts pretty good.
    I like turtles

  9. #9
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    My 4 y.o. son switched from a coaster brake 12" to an only-v-brake 16" with nary a hiccup. He had the handbrakes down nearly instantly.

    I would say just keep the bike in an easy, all-rounder gear until hand braking is second nature to him.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by peteer01 View Post
    On it!

    We picked up this bike up used from a friend last year because his 12" bike was getting too small and I wasn't ready to spend a lot of money on a bike that would last a while (the training wheels came off this summer):

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    It already has a hand brake, and he's absolutely able to use it, but it probably won't surprise you to hear that on those rare occasions he's on a downhill at the dog park that makes him nervous, the coaster brake is his default panic braking method. I'm not sure how you determine your child is comfortable enough with only hand brakes that they'll use them in a panic instead of putting their feet down or pedaling backwards.

    Well based on this bit of info, I'd say make the switch, he'll adjust. I thought you were going from coaster only to Vs and gears. You've done what you can and are over thinking it.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by htek View Post
    Don't over think it - just go ride.
    This^^^^
    "foot to pedal, wheel to dirt, there is no substitute for the act of riding "

  12. #12
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    The bike arrived!

    Teaching a 5-year-old how to ride a mountain bike with v-brakes and gears-img_2417r.jpg
    Picked it up last night! Some trepidation this morning, but he's definitely excited. Not sure how much we'll ride before it gets warmer in the spring, but I'm not sure he's going to really fit comfortably in the bike between now and spring, so no rush!
    Last edited by peteer01; 11-15-2013 at 06:44 PM.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by peteer01 View Post
    Picked it up last night! Some trepidation this morning, be he's definitely excited. Not sure how much we'll ride before it gets warmer in the spring, but I'm not sure he's going to really fit comfortably in the bike between now and spring, so no rush!
    Awesome. How tall is your son and am I correct in observing he has long legs for his height?

    Both my boys have short legs and long torsos so fitting them is a bit tough. The only good news is that even if a bike gets a bit short for them they still have plenty of room between the bars and their knees - but stand over can be a problem.

  14. #14
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    Get some small cones or marker posts that you can take with you to the park where its flat and practice skills
    Riding slalom; Small circles; Stopping in between; setting off; getting on & off etc etc

    Make it fun and use the basic techniques above to increase the skills as he progresses to trails. Hell soon learn how to use the brakes and also control the bike at slow speed.
    Reward with stickers or other treats
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by CJH View Post
    Awesome. How tall is your son and am I correct in observing he has long legs for his height?
    I believe that's probably true. I've never really paid attention to how he leg length compared other kids his age or really thought about before you asked.

    Quote Originally Posted by griffter18 View Post
    Get some small cones or marker posts that you can take with you to the park where its flat and practice skills
    Riding slalom; Small circles; Stopping in between; setting off; getting on & off etc etc

    Make it fun and use the basic techniques above to increase the skills as he progresses to trails. Hell soon learn how to use the brakes and also control the bike at slow speed.
    Reward with stickers or other treats
    This post is awesome. There's a lot of stuff there I hadn't considered, and I really appreciate you taking the time to share your ideas! Thanks!

  16. #16
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    Went out to some single track trails this morning with friends to try out dad's (my) new Manitou fork, which was amazing. After lunch, my son and I hit a paved bike trail around the same area, and I was floored at how fast he picked things up.

    He is very intrepid about starting, as the standover height isn't as friendly as his old bike, but once he was riding, he was trying to catch up to some road bikers on the trail because his new bike is "way, way faster". On the way back to the car, he was shifting up and down, and telling me which gear was fastest.

    We'll definitely play around with different exercises and keep it fun, but between the instant progression he showed today and advice and ideas in this thread, I'm feeling very good about him enjoying the new bike, and significantly more confident that he'll be riding off road with me sooner rather than later.

  17. #17
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    I wonder about gears fr kids that age. My daughter (6) never shifts, just rides. Makes me wonder if kid bikes should be ss.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by brianW. View Post
    I wonder about gears fr kids that age. My daughter (6) never shifts, just rides. Makes me wonder if kid bikes should be ss.
    I definitely think the gears are a good idea, the off-road uphills are just too difficult to do on his current bike due to the gearing, and since it's going to be the same bike he rides on pavement and flat/downhill offroad, I think it will be more than worth the weight/cost/complexity it adds to the bike.

    I originally thought I'd only change gears when he was stopped, and that the gears were something he'd have to grow into, but it's probably the one thing he's most excited about on the new bike, which surprised me. I was definitely nervous because a few of the other bikes, particularly the Diamondback he got on in Dick's, were so tough to shift I don't think he'd have been able change gears while riding, but the Dynamite's shifter is surprising easy for him to use so far.

    The real test will be when we head to the local walking trail/dog park and he tries to ride up some of the slight inclines that he wasn't able to ride up on his old bike. If the gears enable that, I'm very glad he has them now. If they don't, at least he likes having them.

    If there were one thing about the Fuji and similar kids bikes that I would change, it would be the fork. Replace the "suspension fork" with a rigid fork and lower the price accordingly. The suspension fork may look cool, but I'd rather have a lighter bike, and don't think it's going to add any meaningful suspension, nor does the average young child need any.

  19. #19
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    I thought the bike looked familiar. We gt my daughters from Dick's also but it it purple/pink.

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    Quote Originally Posted by brianW. View Post
    I wonder about gears fr kids that age. My daughter (6) never shifts, just rides. Makes me wonder if kid bikes should be ss.
    Just depends on the child. Both mine were on geared 20inch bikes and loved it. Shift all the time. Help that we are top of a hill, the street in either direction go down, so the only way back up is a fairly steep hill.
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by brianW. View Post
    I thought the bike looked familiar. We gt my daughters from Dick's also but it it purple/pink.
    The bike is a Fuji, which I bought at a LBS, Dick's doesn't carry Fujis. Dick's does carry Diamondbacks and there are three separate 20 inch models they make. The 20 inch children mountain bikes do all look very, very similar.

  22. #22
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    My 5 year old daughter rides a lot of easy single track with me. From the point where she was able to ride without training wheels, it didn't take long to hit the dirt. She has a 6spd specialized Hot Rock.

    Key thing is to keep it fun for them. When they can't ride up a hill, offer free tow service. Yesterday was the first day she was able to ride through the creeks by herself. She loved it.

    They progress fast, so go with the flow and be patient. Expect somedays where their confidence will be lower than the day before, and that will slow them down on the trails. However, if you stay cool about it, they'll learn to love it more each time.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by brianW. View Post
    I wonder about gears fr kids that age. My daughter (6) never shifts, just rides. Makes me wonder if kid bikes should be ss.
    My daughter had trouble shifting at first, too. Turns out she didn't have the hand strength to work the grip shifter on her bike, so I swapped it out for trigger shifters and a set of good cables. She was able to shift fine after that.
    Speed solves all problems, except for those things it makes worse.

  24. #24
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    Single speed is better, but they can get fed up to the point of giving in if it gets too tough going up hill.
    If you can fit gears it does make the ups easier however you also need to consider the strength needed to use (grip/trigger).
    My daughter is 4 at the min and I fitted her 16" Hotrock with a 3 speed with trigger.
    It means that we have the option to ride up slightly steeper stuff rather than having to walk. All we do is stop before it gets steeper and have a drink/rest. Whilst there I click through the gears for her.
    Once at the top she has the strength to change the other way no problem, and I know as she gets a little older she will be able to do this herself.
    The main thing is her number 1 priority needs to be control of the bike (steering & brake), number 2 is how easy to make the pedalling.
    If its only a short up hill I can always give her a slight push whilst I ride at the side of her
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    I started to teach my son to brake correct step by step - the first few times I just tell him he "can" try to use the brake. After a couple of rides in the garden I try to let him stop very close to a target (drinking bottle). For him it is like a game, so he really learned it quick. Next step was a steep part of a cycle road (is that the correct term?) We tried a couple of times and after about 2 weeks he is very confident in what he is doing - and I am very proud of him anyway.

    Now I am sure he can ride and stop at anytime and I have no problem to drive together trough the traffic of the city (it is a small one).

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