From tots to teens

Published 2023-03-12

Two biking dude dads share their tips for getting the kids rolling, helping them stay on track, and keeping the wheels on.

It’s so simple in theory: bung the kids on a bike and watch them take to trails like a rat up a drainpipe. But it’s not always so. Dodgy bikes, big crashes, biting off more than you can chew… there are so many ways your family biking dreams can be derailed. We asked two experts with kids at different ages and stages to give us their tips. 

Harry Escott is dad to Ruben (five) and Estella (seven), and husband to Kim. The family of four live in Lawrence, and won our Biking Buddies competition with their tale of eating and singing their way through an eight-day, 247km cycle trail holiday across Central Otago. View the full story here.

Nelson-based Damian Stones is a longstanding mountain bike adventurer, coach, guide, pump track builder and also a college MTB instructor. Damian and his wife Catharine are well into the teen zone, being mum and dad to Rosa (15) and Zac (17). You can see more of Damian's biking adventures on Instagram (@damianstones), and his website.


We started out with chariot double buggy and a Weehoo (tag-along bike) double when our kiddies were six months and two years old. Our oldest would ride the Weehoo in morning and then after lunch the buggy, normally for a little nap. This worked really well and allowed us to ride greater distances. – Harry

Followme bike connectors are amazing pieces of kit. They allow the littlies to ride independently, then we can attach them to our bikes and tow them when they get tired. – Harry


Team Escott & friends on the Twin Coast Cycle Trail (Harry Escott)

It’s really important to set up the kids’ bikes right including checking that the brakes are in the right place so they don’t have to reach too far for them or turn their hands into little claws; and that the gear levers are super-light and easy to shift. It’s small stuff but it’s key to a positive riding experience. – Damian

We’ve shown the little ones how to ride step by step, slowly building confidence, reassuring them about their capabilities. If we reach meltdown time, we just stop and restart another day. – Harry

We weren’t in a rush to get the kids off their little (16-inch) bikes. They learnt so much on them. Rosa doesn’t cycle as much as she did but the skills she got on her small bike are embedded in her now. – Damian

We’ve taught the children to be aware of the dangers, to listen to their instincts. But we always let them know we’re there to back them up. I normally ride at the back as it allows me to keep an eye on them. We teach them everything we know – with the exception of a few things that give us the upper hand! – Harry

Riding around a pump track is a great way to build core skills. I built a pump track in a reserve near our home back in 2007: it was in Ngatimoti and one of the first in New Zealand. Having a young family meant I had so little time, so this was perfect: we could go and enjoy 20 minutes of exercise together, burn some energy, progress our skills, and still be home in time for dinner. The kids even helped with the build, digging in the mud, and many years later, during lockdown, Zac and I built a pump track in our back garden. You can see the video here. – Damian


Rosa rides the Firepit Pump Track, the one she helped build with Dad and brother Zac (Damian Stones)

Always make it fun. We made sure they were comfortable on their bikes before we took them on bigger journeys. We turned one family holiday into a pump track tour of Wanaka and Queenstown. The rides were short and fun. – Damian

We adapt our riding to the weakest team member, which varies day to day. With our 5- and 7-year-olds, we have found that about 45 minutes or 8–10 km is about the maximum we can go without a stop. In reality, we actually stop a lot more often – to take in the surroundings, stop for drinks, snacks, the toilet and a million other things. Our shortest stretch was just over a minute (250 meters) – that’s all part of the fun and games. – Harry

When it comes to longer trips, you’ve got to be super-comfortable in the environment yourself so you can focus your energy on this little person. Rosa was 11 when she did the Old Ghost Road. I was acting as her guide, looking ahead to anticipate what’s coming, advising her on when to brake or change gear. – Damian

If I’m a bit worried about the terrain, I'll check it out on my own first. We tend to stick to Great Rides graded 1–3, and have luckily been able to ride in some awesome places. – Harry

I pile plenty of high-energy food into the kids on longer rides. We each have a daily snack bag: this helps the children know what they’ve got and what they need. I always carry an extra couple of snack bars or some soup. Hot food is really good so I always take a little cooker. – Damian


Estella and Ruben toasting marshmallows on a camp stove on the Remutaka Cycle Trail (Team Escott)

Your carry-weight is critical on overnight trips. I often see the parents struggling with heavily laden backpacks when they should be on their A-game, making sure everyone’s safe and having fun. I’ve set myself up with proper bikepacking kit, but there are all sorts of tricks to strap stuff to your bike. Dry bags are cheap you can improvise with them. A handlebar roll is enough to spread the weight on your bike, and you can set up small ones for the kids. As they get older, they can carry more and the adults can be less of a mule. – Damian

Kids are smaller so get colder quicker than you – it’s important to have good jackets, and warm gloves that still allow them to shift gears and use the brakes. I also recommend a pair of bike pants they can take off when they’re all muddy. – Damian


The Stones family well kitted out for their Heaphy Track adventure (Damian Stones)

We engage the children in trip planning – where, how far, how long it will take. We try and choose trips with plenty of stops to curb the boredom factor, such as playgrounds and beaches. When the kids were little, we also packed a selection of little toys such as a teddy, whatever can fit into their top-tube bag, but also a tablet loaded with movies and games. – Harry

To keep the wheels spinning, we chat, sing, and play I-Spy and spot-the-biker, and stop for cuddles. The most common solution to problems is bribery with ice cream. Emergency jellies are useful for the final push. – Harry

When it comes to riding up hills, stick with the kids and distract them with chat about all kinds of stuff. – Damian

We never leave home without a very big sense of humour. And a mirror is always useful so you can see if the kids are still with you. – Harry

I love riding with my kids because it’s great family bonding time. Every time we mention the Heaphy Track it evokes such great memories. The kids have now got this great affinity with the backcountry and cycling, which is such a positive association. I’ve also loved seeing them progress. – Damian

Looking for some inspiration for your next family biking adventure? Why not check out Our best family bike rides blog.


Edited by Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater (