Youth Mountain Bike Equipment Suggestions

What equipment do younger or beginner riders need for mountain biking?

For riders under age 12 or riding bikes with wheels up to 26″, here are some tips to help them have the proper gear to have fun and be safe on the trails.

Let’s begin with what gear does not always work well for young riders and why:

These examples above show equipment that will work but is not ideal for younger / smaller / beginner riders.
These are much better!
  • Helmets: should be adjustable to fit well, have good coverage of the front, sides and back of the head; and must have air-flow to prevent over-heating while pedaling. Un-vented helmets are not appropriate. Full-face helmets are great if they are vented, relatively light and don’t limit visibility. MIPS or other impact protection systems are a good idea but are an added cost. Visors are great for reducing glare while riding in mixed light.
  • Shoes: should be closed-toe and smooth to small tread. Large or cushioned tread make it hard to find the correct foot placement on the pedals.
  • Water: 16 – 20 oz is usually enough for our rides. Soft bottles in a cage on the bike or in a pack are the best option. Metal bottles are a hazard to other riders if they fall out. Hydration packs have issues when kids use them: long hoses get tangled as they ride, the valves get full of dirt, kids chew on them and they leak and 100oz is too heavy. If you decide to use one, make sure it’s only 20 oz of water and the hose is short and secure, or tuck it in the pack for riding.
  • Eye protection: very important to keep riders safe from dust, sticks, mud and bright sun. Dark glasses are not ideal because we’re often in mixed shade / light. Light colored lenses or clear are best. Goggles are not appropriate.
  • Tools & Tube: please carry a tube of the correct wheel size, width and valve stem type & length for your bike. All 4 measurements must match. Put it in your pack, saddle bag or attached to the frame. A compact metric multi-tool and hand pump are great, too. SAE or heavy multi-tools are not appropriate. If the bike does not have a quick release, or it’s a low end model, you might also need an adjustable wrench.
  • Gloves: should be full-finger year-round for off-road riding — light weight for summer, heavier for winter. Hardware and sporting good stores often have thin full finger gloves at a much better price.
  • Pads: are not needed for our youth rides. Some riders enjoy wearing knee or elbow pads, as long as they are soft and don’t restrict pedaling it’s OK. Pads are mandatory in some races and highly recommended while riding at the bike park.
  • Pack: large, floppy backpacks are not appropriate. Waist-packs are great for kids because they’re easy to adjust and have a good center of mass. Saddle bags are great for getting the weight off the body and onto the bike — tools, tube, pump, a $5 bill. Coaches cannot carry every child’s equipment, snack and water, so riders must be able to carry their personal items.
Brake levers are often adjustable in their position and reach. Try to get 1 or 2 fingers aligned into the curves of the levers.
Grip shifters can often be very tricky for young riders. If it’s too stiff, options include: upgrade the cable & housing, take it apart to apply synthetic grease the sliders, or swap it out for a compatible trigger-shifter. This shifter went from barely moving to super-smooth after internal greasing and new cable routing.
Trigger shifters are much easier for small hands to use. Easy to find better quality for 10, 11 and 12speed.
Carry a tube! On the bike with a strap, tape, saddle bag, or in your rider’s pack.
Seat height should be “about full extension” — which means many riders will only be able to put down 1 foot, or they will have to slide forward off the seat to reach the ground; this is correct. Low saddles inhibit pedaling. Quick release levers on the seat collar are highly recommended, swap out the bolt-kind at your local shop.
Mountain bike tires should have knobs regardless of a rider’s age. Install the widest tires that will fit in the frame for better traction, control, comfort and flat-resistance.