How to Get Your Kid to Love Mountain Biking

He doesn’t know where his helmet is, and he is not looking for it. He doesn’t have a water bottle either, even though it’s one of the hottest days of the year. “Dad, what shoes should I wear?” he asks. Other than that, he’s practically mute. There are grunts, and the eyes communicate what I’d call “extreme reticence.” Honestly, RedBull levels of reticence.

I have seen this show before, and I will be really honest with you; it has never ended happily. I know I can do it differently, though. As long as I keep breathing and don’t say too much, we have a chance.

We’re in the car now, bikes on the roof. Helmets. Water bottles. We’re both wearing shoes. “You feeling ok?” I ask. He gives me side eye, “Just tired, I guess.” I resolve not to speak again.

I have been mountain biking my whole adult life pretty much, so roughly thirty years, and I grew up on BMX, so I probably take a certain level of bike skill for granted. This is patently unfair to him who far exceeds me in XBox skill and draws better anime characters than I do. On past rides, even my mental adjustment for how poor a bike rider he is wasn’t nearly enough to mirror our reality out on the trail, where I had trouble riding slowly enough to keep him in sight behind me.

I know better now.

We expect our kids to love the things we love, and this is an unfair start for them. We believe, if we expose them enough, they’ll come around, they’ll see what’s so good, because it’s right there. It’s right in front of them. We expect and assume, and they persist in being their own people, which is only heartbreaking if you are a self-centered prick.

And I am one, but I know better now.

So I didn’t say anything. I drove to the trail head. I took the bikes down off the roof. I handed him his helmet. I tried not to look at him or outline anything like an ambition or desire.

Finally, I said, “Ready?” And we rolled out. I pointed out a few easy lines he could ride. We moved slowly across the meadow. I didn’t stand into the pedals once, just soft and steady. And he stuck with me.

We crossed the wooden bridge, and I chose the middle path, and I waited for him when he slowed down, but then pushed off again before he reached me, so he didn’t have to stop. We spun around the simplest loop, and I offered him the chance to take the switchbacks up the hill, but I didn’t say anything when he said no, just turned back into the main loop and kept rolling.

We managed to swerve through some stretches of narrower, bumpier single track, and he had to stop a few times, but he didn’t complain. I headed us back to the car early. I’m not sure we were on the trail half-an-hour, but we got away without arguing, without anger or frustration.

Back in the car, I didn’t ask him how he liked it. I just shut the hell up. And we went home, and it was fine.

This is not how you get your kid to love mountain biking. I don’t actually know how to do that. The title was clickbait, and you took it, because you want to share a thing with your kid, too, and so while I can’t tell you how to do it, I can tell you that you’re a good parent. You want to share the things you love with your kids, and that’s love too.