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Parent Tips > Health Care & Wellness > Stay Safe Walking/Biking to School

Mountain Biking with Your Toddler

Submitted By: Mark Davidson

Mountain biking with your toddler is a great way to share the outdoors with your children in a fun and healthy way. My wife and I are active mountain bikers and we have been off road riding with our daughter since she was a year old. We do real mountain biking with our little girl around Santa Cruz and the SF Bay Area but we have taken trips around Tahoe and other parts of California. With a little preparation, the correct bike setup and a passion for the outdoors and adventure you can explore the trails with your child.


The Child

     Many people have asked us how old a child should be to start riding. It's important that the child's neck is strong enough to support the weight of her head with a helmet. We bought her a helmet when she was 6 months old. We recommend Giro helmets because they fit well, are high quality, look cool and have a helmet trade up program for kids called "Grow with Giro". Also, Giro is based in Santa Cruz so it's great to support a local company.


In the beginning, we would all wear our helmets around the house so she would get comfortable with it. I never used to wear a helmet around town but for my daughter, I wore one just to demonstrate to her that it's normal to wear a helmet while riding a bike. Now wearing a helmet on road or off is a habit.

We started riding with a used Burley trailer when our daughter was 8 months old. We rode all over town, Westcliff Drive and out to Wilder Ranch but not off road. We didn't like the Burley since it wasn't manuverable and it situated her head too close to car exhaust. We also didn't like fact that we couldn't see or hear our child. Back there she seemed more like luggage than a passenger.


The Seat

We got a center mounted child seat at 9 or 10 months old and started riding around town. She loved it! She was so small that her feet didn't reach the bottom of the foot wells. So we placed a couple of water bottles under her feet.

The child seat we use is called a Centric Safe Haven and retails for about $100. I think it was renamed to Wee Ride. The setup consists of a large steel crossbar which attaches between the headset and the seat post. The saddle attaches to the crossbar with a single large bolt - this makes the bike easy to transport.


This seat came with a 3 point harness which attached at the back but we bought extra straps and buckles to create a 5 point harness which helped in keeping her on the bike when off-road riding. We also installed a CamelBak chest strap to keep the shoulder straps in place. This center mounted child seat design is superior in so many ways to a rear mounted seat in comfort, convenience and safety.


     Having the child situated in front of you allows you to talk with your child during the ride. It also makes it easier to feed her. She can reach the hose of the CamelBak so she can drink when she needs to.
Despite the fact that there is no "roll cage" like a rear mounted seat it is much safer because of the stability. Having the child in the center of the bike doesn't have as much of an impact of moving the center of gravity. In a rear mounted seat, all the weight is on the back wheel which makes the bike feel light up front.

     If you manage to get yourself in a situation, you can easily get off the back of the bike in a hurry - something you cannot do with a rear mount. If you crash on the bike, your arms become a protective roll cage for the child. If you go down then by instinct you will not let go of the bars and take the bruises on your arms to protect your child. My wife and I have had 3 slow speed spills out of the countless times we have been mountain biking. These spills were controlled and could have easily been avoided if we had walked instead of ridden. In each situation, we never let go of the bars and our daughter has been safe.
There is a single threaded bolt which holds the child seat to the crossbar. This bolt has a large knurled head for finger tightening. This makes it easy to remove the seat when transporting the bike.
I highly recommend the seat to anyone (off road or not). It's a great design.


The Bike

We bought two bars and installed one on a townie bike for cruising, errands and commuting (my Wife and child bike commute to pre-school) and the other on a dedicated mountain bike. Having two bike mounts makes it convenient to switch the seat between the two bikes.


     Our main toddler mountain bike is a 2001 Intense Tracer. The Tracer is a cross country full suspension bike with 4" of rear travel and a 120 mm Rock Shox Psylo Race up front. This is quite a plush and comfortable bike. The bike has a set of hydraulic disc brakes - which are pretty standard on good mountain bikes these days. Having good brakes is important if you do fast downhill riding since the child and seat will add a non-trivial amount of additional weight.


     I installed a short stem (80 mm x 15 deg rise) and the widest highest bars we can find (Azonic double wall 28" wide with 2.5" rise). Having a short high stem and high wide bars allows the maximum amount of clearance for the child's helmet and your chin and chest. Depending on the size of your child, you may not need this setup. We put the Azonic bar on last summer because our daughter was growing and we kept bumping our chins on her helmet.


     I swapped out the clipless SPD pedals and used platform pedals and lowered my saddle a bit for more control. You may have to ride a little bowl legged and the platforms allow you to move your feet more. Having platforms allows you to "tripod" and give you additional confidence when navigating a rock garden.


The Rides

     The early rides were short. We started with 15-30 minutes of riding and then we would stop for a picnic. We would always bring snacks and perhaps a small toy. Talking and singing with your child makes it a lot of fun. The point of the short rides is to get the child used to riding and to show her how much fun biking can be.


    We did our first mountain bike ride with our daughter at Waddell Creek in Big Basin just after her first birthday. Waddell Creek is a great place to take kids or beginners mountain biking. It's a gentle fire road climb through a forest where you can lock up your bikes. We parked our bikes, strapped on the Baby Bjorn and hiked up to Berry Creek Falls for a picnic.


     My wife and I used to race cross country and downhill so we are definitely advanced riders. We ride with our daughter most days around town and off-road at least once a week (less in the winter months). We have ridden on terrain with 8" drops, rock gardens, fast downhill and some A-frames. I've stopped riding the A-frames now that our daughter is 32 lbs - too tippy. Believe it or not we have ridden with our daughter at the North Star mountain bike park. In fact, we may be the first family to ride part of "Sticks and Stones" - a double black diamond run - with a child seat.


     Our daughter loves mountain biking. Like her mother and father, she has a preference for tight and twisty singletrack in lush redwood forests and sweet downhill trails. She doesn't care much for the long exposed fireroad climbs. Sometimes she gets cranky about them - like her father.


     You don't have to be an advanced rider to go mountain biking with your toddler. Non-technical singletrack and fire roads would be adequate for novice, intermediate or cautious parents. Know the terrain and trails that you will be riding. Watch the weather, bring adequate food, water and tools. Ride within your limits. Most of all, enjoy the time you spend on the trails with your children.

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6 steps to stay safe walking

1) When walking, stop at every curb or edge.
2) Always look and listen, especially while crossing. Look left; look right;then left again, before stepping past any curb or edge.
3) Always wear a helmet when riding a bike.
4) Always ride in the same direction as traffic.
5) Know what signs say. When walking or riding, follow all traffic signs andsignals.
6) When riding, always stop; look left; look right; then left again before pulling out of a driveway.

Safety Tips for Walking and Bicycling

Remember-children are not ""little adults."" They:
Can't judge how fast cars are moving toward themBelieve that motorists can stop immediatelyGet distracted easily and act unpredictablyForget to look for traffic if they're playing or thinking about something else like the ice cream truckDon't have as full a range of vision as adults doAre shorter and smaller than adults, and hard for motorists to see

Safe Walking Tips
1)Set a good example. When crossing the street with a child, always:
Stop at the curb or edge or a parked car
Look left, right, and left again before crossing
Keep on looking before you reach the other side
2)Remind children to:
Never dart out from between parked cars
Never play in the street
3)Point out examples of ""Edges"" like curbs and driveways
Edges should be thought of like cliff edges. And edge is a driveway, curb or other barrier to vision such as a bush or fence. You always stop, look and listen at an edge EVEN if you are at a curb and there is a green pedestrian light. Stop, look left, right and left again to look for moving cars before moving past an edge.

Safe Bicycling Tips
Helmet Safety & Fitting: In the State of California it is the law that everyone under 17 must wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, scooter, skateboard or anything else with wheels because it will greatly reduce your chance of serious injury in a collision. When fitting, helmets should be level on the head with room for only 2 fingers to fit between strap and chin. When strapped, they should not ""wiggle around"" when the child shakes their head.

How old is old enough to ride safely?
There is no ""magic age"" at which a bicyclist becomes safe. Some ten year olds are accomplished road users, while some adult riders are ""accidents looking to happen."" Nevertheless, it can be said that before the age of ten, few kids can really understand traffic. They can be taught certain specific skills but they will have trouble understanding concepts like ""right-of-way.""If you are an experienced cyclist, you can take your child out for training rides in abandoned parking lots or bike paths. In Santa Barbara, it is actually illegal to ride on the sidewalk at any age because it can be dangerous to pedestrians and to the bikers themselves crossing driveways. Below are some important rules:
No playing on the road.
Stop for all stop signs.
No riding on busy streets.
Ride on the right with traffic.
No riding at night.
Always wear a helmet.

Accident Facts- 4 Common Crashes

1. Driveway Rideout: When a youngster rides out of the driveway and gets hit by a car, that's a ""rideout"" accident.
What you can do: The most important thing you can do is teach your child about driveway safety. Take your child outside to the driveway and have him or her practice the following steps:
1)Stop before entering the street.
2)Scan left, right, and left for traffic.
3) If there's no traffic, proceed into the roadway.

2. Running the stop sign: Most riders who get hit riding through stop signs know that they are supposed to stop. They just don't see why…or they get distracted. The thing to impress upon your child is that, while he or she may not get hit every time, running stop signs will eventually result in an accident.
What you can do: Take your child to a stop sign near home. Explain what it means emphasizing the following points:
1)Stop at all stop signs regardless of what is happening.
2)Scan both directions for traffic.
3)Wait for any cross traffic to clear.
4) Proceed only when safe.

3. Turning without warning: Another major accident type involves bicyclists who make unexpected left turns. They neither scan behind for traffic nor do they signal. The key factor here is neglecting to scan to the rear. If the cyclists had looked, they would have seen the cars coming up from behind.What you can do: Of course, you ought to teach your child to walk across busy streets with their bikes- at least until he or she has had some advanced training and is old enough to understand traffic. But in the meantime, for residential street riding, you can teach your child to always scan and signal before turning left. A big part of this lesson is teaching the child how to scan to the rear without swerving. Take the child to a playground to practice riding along a straight paint line while scanning behind. Stand alongside and hold up two fingers on your hand after the child rides by. Call his or her name. After 15 minutes of practice a 10 year old should be able to look behind and identify how many fingers you are holding up-all without swerving more than 6 inches in either direction!

4. Wrong-Way Riding: This type of crash happens most often when a cyclist surprises a motorist by “appearing out of nowhere” riding against traffic.
What you can do: Teach your child to always ride with the flow of traffic. Remember a bicycle is a vehicle and the same rules apply.
--submitted by the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST)

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