Ever wanted to teach your children how to ride a dirt bike but not sure where to start? Here are a few things I like to teach the youngsters when they are first starting out. These things can also be used for teaching anyone who is new to the sport of dirt biking, but this will only focus on the really young ones. I am by no means a professional trainer and don’t claim to know it all. I have however learned a few things I believe are fundamental in building confidence and creating good, natural habits.
We always hear, the best way to learn is to teach. I’m always looking for ways to improve my riding technique and skills. I am definitely still a student myself and learn the most when I’m thinking of ways to teach others. While teaching my own children, I find myself focusing on my own riding a lot more because I want to be a good example of ‘practicing what I preach’. Sound familiar? If you’re a parent or teacher of any kind, you’ll know what I mean.
Most items here will pertain to dirt bikes, although they can be applied to ATV’s as well. A few things I will mainly touch on here are:
- The Right Gear
- Stopping (Handles and controls)
- Looking Ahead
- Keeping it Simple
- Let Them Learn
The Right Gear
First and foremost, get the proper gear. You would never think to send your child out on a football field in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, right? It’s the same with dirt biking.
Choosing the right size dirt bike or atv for the rider is also essential. The rider should be able to reach all of the controls of the machine while sitting in a neutral body position. If it’s a dirt bike, the rider should be able to reach the ground and hold the machine upright without significant effort.
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General list of Gear:
- Jersey (or something with long sleeves that breathes well)
- Chest protector
- Elbow pads
- Knee pads
If the budget is tight and a full set of gear is not possible at the moment, the first two things I would say should be mandatory are a helmet and boots. Long sleeve shirts and levi’s work well to cover the elbows and knees.
Helmets should fit snug on the cheeks and should not allow any movement of the head inside the helmet. Measurements are usually taken around 1″ above the eyebrows and around the widest part of the back of the head. It may be tempting to go a size larger and try to get more “life” out of the helmet. Be sure to take some time to determine what is best. We know how fast children grow and odds are they may out-grow the helmet in a year or two before it even starts to wear out. And who can buy new gear every year?
Boot sizes are a little different than regular shoes sizes. Some sizes fit true to size and others are typically a little larger. Similar to helmets, odds are they will not be worn out before your child grows out of them. (Depending on the care given and how much the child rides of course) I’ve gone one size larger to allow a little more time between purchases. Sometimes, other riders may have a set from their children that are still in good shape. This may make it a little more affordable and a larger size may also make it a little more difficult for the rider to manage as well. So it’s best to take some time to determine what is the best fit for the rider.
Stopping (Handles and controls)
Before you ever teach someone how to go, I believe it’s more important to teach them how to stop. Most people, especially children visualize in their minds what it’s like to give it gas and go and think all will be well. But they usually do not have a concept of what it’s like to stop. We’ve all seen it happen when someone lets loose with the throttle and gets out of control and does not know what to expect or how to react. This is when someone usually gets hurt.
Teaching the Controls
If the child already has a good sense of balance, have him/her sit on the bike with their feet flat on the ground. If they cannot touch the ground, this is a good indicator that the bike is too large (that’s a different topic). A crate, cinder block, or a couple 2×4’s can give them something to balance with if a smaller bike is unavailable. With the bike turned off, show them where each of the controls are, especially the brakes. Have them show you how each of them work.
Next, this works best on a small slope. Something that will make the bike roll but not too quickly. If there is no slope, you can give a slight push from behind. Have the child sit straight with the bike turned off and let the bike roll forward.
Choose a stopping point and have the child stop on that point. Teach them to use both the front and back brakes. Have them practice this until it becomes natural and they don’t have to think about it much. Some bikes have two hand brakes, some have one hand brake and a foot brake and a shifter and so on. It can get confusing to remember which hand does what and which foot does what. Again, it should become instinctive.
Once they’ve mastered the brakes with the bike turned off. Have them practice the same stopping techniques with the bike running while also teaching them smooth throttle control. Start in short, straight lines and then introduce turns gradually.
Looking Ahead and Standing
In this video, my boy is looking ahead and standing on the pegs. Looking ahead means looking farther than the front fender. It’s important to remember to look far enough ahead to be able to adjust body position or maneuver around objects before it’s too late. Standing helps to use your feet and legs to control the bike too, not just your arms and upper body.
Here I’m teaching my boy how to dismount his bike on a hill if needed. Many times during learning, they may not make it up the hills very easy and will need to turn around. It’s important to help them understand how to turn around before they run out of momentum or if they get stuck.
Dismounting up-hill of the bike
Below is an example of what usually happens if you do not turn out of a climb.
Here is a good example of turning out of a climb before it’s too late.
Keeping it Simple and Let Them Learn
One big thing I’ve learned is to keep things simple and short. Only teach a few concepts at a time and continue to coach. Attention spans are usually kind of short for children, but they also usually do things very well when concentrating. It is also very important to let them learn and try things on their own.
They will have to learn some things the hard way. We should keep them safe, but also let them explore and continue to advise and teach as needed. They will eventually learn to ride with confidence and it will become more “fun” as they learn new skills and can tear it up wherever you go. Isn’t that what it’s all about, having fun? But remember, once you teach them and they master their skills, they will most likely grow up to be better and faster than you, so you better continue to learn and improve yourself or you will ultimately be left in the dust!