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I recently taught my two boys (ages 8 and 6) to ride a dirt bike. I made lots of mistakes in the process, but I successfully got them confident on their bikes and they absolutely love it!
Here are a few of the lessons I learned along the way:
Start on a Flat, Straight Dirt Road
I made the mistake of googling where to ride dirt bikes the first time I took my kids out. I ended up at a very sandy place with deep ruts in the tracks. The kids never made it more than 25 feet without crashing. They had been very excited, but they quickly got frustrated and the bike scared them after the first time.
For the next trip, I found a flat, straight dirt road to teach them on. It was just a long dirt road without any traffic and they had SO much fun! They were able to stay on the bike easily, they hardly crashed, and they were WILD with excitement! For your first trip out, I’d recommend just finding a dirt road and practicing going straight and not falling down. Don’t have them do any 180 degree turns at all. Just go straight and stop.
Ditch the Training Wheels
Unless you’re teaching a 3 or 4-year-old, I recommend ditching the training wheels. If you start them with training wheels, they’ll be just as scared to take them off as they would be just starting without them.
I just didn’t even tell my boys what training wheels are, and made them ride without them. It was a good choice. In 3 or 4 rides they were confident and riding quite well.
Don’t Start Them on Too Large of a Bike
Be certain you start the kids on the right size of dirt bike. Most kids would do well to start on a 50cc dirt bike (click here for my recommendation on brand of 50cc), because it’s smaller, lighter, and less intimidating. If you have access to a 50cc bike–even if it’s technically too small for your kid, it’s wise to start on one.
Larger bikes may more “properly” fit your kid, but they are usually very heavy and that is tough for a kid to handle when they are used to only driving the weight of a bicycle. When they try to turn or stop, they almost always dump the bike. Don’t buy a 50cc if it’s too small for your kid because they’ll outgrow it too quickly, but if you have access to one for your first practice runs, it’s really helpful.
After I got my 8-year-old riding the 50cc dirt bike 3-4 times on trips out to the desert, I switched him to a 110cc dirt bike that is a much better fit for an 8-year-old. Because he started out on the smaller bike, he was slightly intimidated to ride the 110, but he quickly got the hang of it. I’m glad I started him on a 50, but he was ready to graduate in just 4-5 rides.
Teach Only One Fundamental Each Trip
On the first trip out, I gave my kids a class on how to ride a dirt bike. I taught them basic form, I showed them how to start it, I showed them the kill switch and the gear shifter, etc. That wasn’t smart. It overloaded them with information.
I changed my teaching and I decided to just teach them ONE thing each trip. On the first trip I just taught them how to go in a straight line. I showed them the trottle and the foot brake and that was it. I put them in first gear for this trip and kept them on first gear the entire time.
On the second trip I taught them how to turn 180 degrees. We went straight on a dirt road, and then I walked beside them as they learned to turn around. This is more difficult for kids than you might think, because when they start leaning to the side to turn and they slow down, the weight of the bike often overpowers them and they fall. I kept them in first gear for the entire trip.
On the third trip, we increased the speed slightly. I put them in second gear for the entire trip and they got used to the feeling of going a little faster and they enjoyed the feeling of freedom.
On the fourth trip, I showed them proper riding position and form. I taught them to put their elbows up and out, to straighten their back, to sit forward on the bike to squeeze the bike with their knees and turn mostly with their knees instead of their arms, etc.
I’ve continued to just think of one tip each trip to help them, and they seem to really like that.
Find a Large Open Field to Practice Turning
Teaching the kids to turn 180 degrees has really been a challenge. The weight of the bike makes it more difficult for kids than you might think.
It really helps if you can find a large flat open field where the kids can practice. This way they have as much space as they need, and then you can work with them to get their turns tighter and tighter until the point that they can turn 180 on a dirt road and not need to go off the side of the road.
Read Up On How to Keep Them Safe
There is so much interesting information out there about dirt bike safety. In this post, I researched about 20 different studies that have been done on dirt bike safety. Turns out that if you just make a few small adjustments to the way your kids ride, you can prevent 90% or more of the common injuries. Also check out my post with the best inexpensive dirt bike protective gear that we’ve found. We found ways to save a lot of money on the boots, gloves, and other gear for kids.
Make Them Stop for Water Breaks
The boys began loving their dirt bikes after a few trips. They just rode and rode like crazy. When they are riding, their bodies sweat like crazy from handling the heavy bike, adrenaline, and the heat in the gear. However, they usually feel cool because the wind blows through their clothing and wicks away the sweat. This easily leads to dehydration.
My youngest son kept getting frustrated on his dirt bike. He wasn’t having very much fun on a few trips and so I started focusing on how I could help him. I stopped to talk to him and took his helmet off so he could rest (he was crying). His face was BRIGHT red and he was SO hot! Turns out he was just frustrated because he was too hot. Now, I stop the boys every 20 or 30 minutes and have them come over to the truck for a nice cold drink of water. This has kept them much happier.
Get Them Excited About Cool Gear and Wearing It
My boys have always been a little picky about their clothes. If their shirt doesn’t fit just right, it drives them crazy. I was a little apprehensive about them getting “picky” about the heavy dirt bike gear they would need to wear.
Before we went out shopping for the gear, I got them excited about the cool stuff. We looked at Youtube videos of the pro riders jumping, we looked at pictures of the cool helmets and jerseys, etc.
This made them excited about dirt biking and gave them more confidence before we ever started riding.
Never Get Frustrated, and Teach them It’s Okay to Crash
The worst thing you can do is to become frustrated with your kid when teaching them to dirt bike. They are already apprehensive and intimidated by the powerful and heavy bikes, so if you show a lack of confidence in their abilities or put extra pressure on them to get it right, they’ll clam up.
Start your ride by kneeling down by your kids and promising them you won’t get frustrated and assuring them that it’s 100% okay if they crash. Tell them they WILL crash. My kids were nervous about getting hurt, so we started by me showing them how it didn’t hurt. I told them it didn’t hurt to fall, and that we should practice. So I playfully pushed them over so they fell on the ground to test out their pads. We all laughed and it took the concern off their faces. They had been given permission to try something new and mess up, they weren’t afraid of falling, and they knew I wasn’t going to get frustrated with them.
Set Their iPod Screen Background to a Photo of Them on the Dirt Bike
Sneak over to your kids’ iPods sometime during the week and set the background picture to be one of them on the dirt bike. Help them to feel like they are good at it, and that dirt biking is their “thing.” A little encouragement goes a long way.