How to prepare for a family mountain bike ride

Check out our tips before heading out on your mountain bike with the kids!

For peace of mind, and to get the most out of your group mountain bike ride, there are a few essentials to prepare in advance. Don't worry, it's not rocket science! But better safe than sorry. Just remember to take these few precautions for bikes and riders alike before you rush out the door! 


1 - A well-planned route

If you know your route, you know roughly what to expect in terms of technical difficulty, type of terrain, and any restrictions. It's important to choose suitable paths and trails based on the ages of the cyclists in your group. “Think about what you want to do, how long you want to ride for, and what the weather is like, then come up with an itinerary before heading onto paths you've never been down before,” advises Ufolep instructor Vincent Bouchez. “There are plenty of websites that list signed cycling routes, and they often indicate the distances and technical difficulty involved too. When you're going out cycling with young 'uns, this can be a godsend. It's also worth checking for any points of interest along a particular route. You might want to use this to give your ride a focus, for example, by aiming for a given viewpoint.” Planning your ride means not just choosing which type of terrain you want to cycle on, but also picking a route that's suitable for everyone in the group: a forest path won't be as busy as a country road. Lastly, get creative and be inspired by the different possibilities of wherever you find yourself…


2 - Be prepared for mechanicals

We don't want to jinx things, but it's always best, before heading out on paths and trails, to put together a little bike repair kit. “A pump, a puncture repair spray, a tyre lever… A repair kit is there to get you out of a sticky situation,” says Vincent. Just when your ride is taking a turn for the worse, the right equipment can save the day, meaning you only need to pause briefly before you're back in the saddle. “Ideally, you'll also know how to actually use these tools,” says Vincent. “Before going out and finding yourself stuck for real, practise doing some repairs in your garage: teach yourself to repair an inner tube and remove a tyre. Then, when something happens, you'll be ready for it and will know what to do.” Having the right kit is all very well, but knowing how to use it is even better… Plus you'll be able to feel all smug about having come to the rescue!


4 - The right kit

To enjoy your bike ride to the max, with nothing to worry about, be sure to choose the right clothing. “You should check the weather before going out so you know what it's going to be like,” says Vincent. Whatever the forecast, you should always take a small windproof jacket which will really come into its own in open, exposed areas. As for your other gear, opt for breathable clothing made from synthetic fabrics that will dry quickly. “Cotton is a no-no. Instead, wherever possible, choose clothing that fits snugly and is slightly elasticated so you can move around easily.” For Vincent, gloves are an absolute must for family mountain bike rides: “you want ones that are slightly longer so they protect your entire hand from branches or from grazes if you take a tumble. On certain paths, the vegetation can be quite rampant and kids often find themselves at the exact height of the branches and brambles lining the route.” For this reason, it's wise to wear long-sleeved jerseys. For your bottom half, avoid baggy trousers and tracksuits as they won't be very comfortable to pedal in! “I really like running tights for this kind of cycling: they protect your whole leg, and you can always wear cycling shorts over the top if you want!” And you're good to go! As for your feet, fairly lightweight trainers will do the job. Vincent's advice for cooler temperatures is to wear a neck warmer so the air doesn't rush into your clothing… Brrrrrr!

3 - Liven up your ride

As well as your repair kit, there are a few other essentials to shove into your backpack. Make sure you take a few snacks to recharge your batteries if necessary, or just to have a nice mid-ride break. “It's worth packing a few cereal bars and water, at the very least,” says Vincent. If you decide to take a picnic, don't forget the sandwiches, otherwise there'll be severe disappointment (and tears before bedtime!) when it's finally time to eat! Plan ahead, particularly with young children: a first aid kit with a small bottle of disinfectant, a few plasters and some saline solution, among other things, will avoid a snappy return back home. “When mountain biking, it's not unusual to get the odd scratch,” admits Vincent. He also recommends bringing a survival blanket, which is something he's used multiple times: “it keeps you warm if you're not moving, and takes up very little space. I've even opened it out a few times to use as a rain shelter.” Last but not least, even if you want to switch off during your ride, remember to bring a phone to use in case of any mishaps. There's nothing stopping you from putting your phone in "airplane" mode when you don't need it so you won't be disturbed. Because while accidents are rare on family rides, it's better to be safe than sorry. And for that reason, it's best to have all the right equipment… 

5 - Protect yourself (continued)

When it comes to essential protective gear, it goes without saying that you should have a helmet that's the right size and correctly adjusted! You may also want to wear glasses to stop mud and water spraying your eyes! And don't forget to protect yourself from drivers: being visible is absolutely vital when cycling. Make sure your bike has reflective strips. If they aren't very visible, you could add some extras to your saddle or your bag. “In winter, it gets dark surprisingly early,” says Vincent. “In the interest of safety, it's essential that you can be seen by drivers. You can even get windproof jackets with reflective elements on them.” And in terms of protection, it's always best to go over the top, even if you end up looking like a Christmas tree! 


6 - Good habits before and after your ride

It's nearly time to set off: the little one has been hopping up and down with excitement and is already astride their bike! But take a minute, before you set off, to check that everything is in good working order. “Start with a few quick safety checks, particularly the brakes,” says Vincent. “Spin the wheels and squeeze the front brake, then the back brake, to make sure they're working properly.” You should also check the tyre pressure and that the wheels are secure. Any play in the handlebars? Is the saddle height right? Is your bike stable? Then you've got the green light to set off! When you get home, take care of your equipment by spending a few minutes rinsing your bikes in clean water. Dry the chains thoroughly and grease them if necessary. Then quickly check that your mountain bikes are in good condition before debriefing over a yummy mug of hot chocolate! 

What are your essentials for family mountain bike rides? Would you like to share a particular memory, adventure or experience with us? Lets us know your top tips… We look forward to hearing from you! 

This article was co-authored with vincent, a ufolep instructor

Ufolep is a multisports organisation offering a wide range of activities.

Using its network of volunteers and professionals via 7,500 clubs and 350,000 members, Ufolep aims to make sports and physical activities accessible to everyone, from the youngest to the oldest members of society.