Tykes on Bikes

Tykes on Bikes

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Harrison, Melynda

If you live in the Gallatin Valley, you know that biking is pretty damn fun. What you might not know is that biking with kids can be just as much fun—even though it takes a little more work and planning. But few family activities rival a good old-fashioned bike ride, and there’s no better way to introduce a child to a life of outdoor recreation and adventure. Here are some tips to get you started.

Choosing a Bike
The most important thing when choosing a bike is getting one that fits, says Dale Sexton, owner of Timber Trails in Livingston. Parents may be tempted to buy a little big—hoping the bike will last longer as the child grows into it—but a poorly fit bike is harder to ride.

Balance bikes and training wheels help little riders get the feel of biking. Balance bikes, aka run bikes, are pedal-less bikes—the kid sits in the saddle and runs Flintstone-style. Training wheels attach to a child’s bike and allow your little one to move forward without worrying about tipping over. “The training wheels provide instant gratification,” Sexton says. “The balance bike takes a little longer to get the hang of, but they are a great stepping stone to riding a regular bike.”

Trailer bikes are a great option that piggyback onto a parent’s bike in lieu of a front wheel. They give the child the sense they are riding a bike. The child holds onto—but doesn’t steer with—his own set of handlebars. Although there are pedals, the child doesn’t do a whole lot to propel the bike forward, and it’s a good stepping-stone to the road to your child’s biking independence. It’s also great for longer rides where the kids may otherwise poop out early.

Another way to involve kids in bike riding is to team them with a grownup on a tandem—or for the very brave, a triple bike. On these bikes, the child’s pedaling really benefits both riders, but they can still take a break and let you do all the work if necessary.

Hitting the Trail
Have fun! As with any outdoor pursuit, start easy and make it fun for the kids. Watching your child ride back and forth along the bike path might be boring for you, but it builds an enjoyment of the sport that will last a long time.

Be safe. Sexton stresses the importance of a helmet, as much for making it fun as for protecting wee noggins. Just like the bike, it should fit the child properly. Model good behavior and wear one, too.

Bring snacks and drinks. Everyone is happier and more motivated when they are hydrated and satiated. Kids love to eat, drink, and ride at the same time or in close proximity to one another; it will take everyone's bike-riding experience to another level.

Take breaks. Rest, enjoy the view, watch wildlife, sniff flowers, and remember why you came out in the first place. Turn it into a grueling, mini Tour de France and your kid will hate biking more than green beans.

Where to Go
Sexton recommends the bike paths and flat trails in Livingston and Bozeman for learning to ride a bike. While sidewalks are full of cracks and end every block, bike paths are smooth, mostly flat, and go on and on. You can download a map to Bozeman’s Main Street to the Mountains trail system at gvlt.org/trails/trail-maps.

Melynda Harrison regularly pedals her two kids around southwest Montana in her land yacht: a cruiser bike with a baby seat in the front and a trailer in the back. 

Off-Road Kid's Rides

When your kid is ready to graduate from beginner status and take to the hills, try one of these (relatively) easy trails:

Bozeman Creek / Sourdough Canyon—mileage varies
This local favorite (you’ll see ten people you know, and their dogs) is an easy introduction to mountain biking. The closed-to-motor-vehicles Forest Service road follows Bozeman Creek up the canyon. Mystic Lake is about ten miles (one way) and the bridge is about five miles, but you can turn around before anyone gets too tired.

Moser Creek, Hyalite Canyon—4.1-mile loop
This is one of the easier trails—actually a dirt road—in the Hyalite drainage. The “trailhead” is just before Langohr Campground; ride up the road about half a mile and veer right at the fork. After 2.2 miles, you’ll reach the top of the climb and a junction. Go straight and take a right just .2 miles later. When you come to a gate at 3.7 miles, point your wheels downhill to Hyalite Canyon Road.

Lone Star Geyser, Yellowstone National Park—5 miles roundtrip
Located 3.5 miles southeast of the Old Faithful area, this mostly level trail follows an old service road along the Firehole River through unburned forests of lodgepole pine. The final 100 yards to the geyser is on foot. Lone Star Geyser erupts about every three hours, but it’s worth the ride even if you miss it.—Melynda Harrison

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