Tips from the Pros
Off-Road Motorcycles and Children
Off-Road Motorcycle Riding Gear
Buying a Used Motorcycle or ATV
General Tips From the Pros
Off-Road Motorcycles and Children
1. Positives about children riding motorcycles
Riding motorcycles can provide great benefits to your child:
Call it parental blackmail if you want, but we have seen minibike-dreaming children reach goals and behaviours envied by other families. A minibike can be a wonderful carrot to dangle towards improved behaviour, better grades, and enhanced responsibilities. Children who help pay for and maintain their own minibike will normally be more responsible in its use: we appreciate more what we work for.
Next to soccer, motocross (at pro levels) is the most physically demanding sport. A good stretch and warm-up is recommended before riding. Computers and video games are fun, but fresh outdoor air and exercise are wonderful.
Not all children like or excel at all sports. Perhaps off-road riding will by your child's cup of tea. It builds character to have something that is your own and which you feel you are good at.
Quality Family Time
Off-road riding is a fun activity which can be shared by the whole family. At our main training site, Horseshoe Valley Resort offers activities for those family members who do not share your interest in riding motorcycles. You can check them out at Horseshoe Valley Resort.
2. Should your child ride motorcycles?
You must take into consideration the physical (height, strength and physical endurance) and mental makeup of your child and their bicycle-riding experience to determine whether off-road riding would be a good sport for them.
An average-height child of five to seven years of age will comfortably fit on most manufacturer's smallest minibike. The child should be tall enough to reach the ground with both feet while sitting on the minibike. If they are too tall for the minibike, their knees will be in their face and their seat will be at the back end of the bike's seat. Too-tall-for-the-bike translates into an uncomfortable ride and possibly even an unsafe ride. When seated, most off-road riding is done with the rider positioned towards the front of the seat (you may have noticed that most modern off-road bikes have the front of the seat continued up onto the gas tank).
Despite the fact that the vehicle has a motor, off-road riding can be very physically demanding for people of all ages. Children should have enough strength to hold the bike up when stopping. If it falls over on them, they should be able to move it off themselves and stand it up on the wheels again (a lesson we teach during our training).
Physical Endurance Considerations
We carefully monitor all children for fatigue. A tired child will have less strength, balance, and judgement skills. The more tired the child becomes, the more likely they are to fall down. Falling is frustrating and it can hurt. We all learn better when we are having fun!
It is better to have short riding sessions between snacks and refreshments (water or real juice is better than pop). At our training location, we will suggest booking shorter lessons for the young beginner's first ride. The instructor can then confer with the parents regarding further lessons on the same or another day.
Mental and Emotional Considerations
Being mentally and emotionally equipped to ride is even more important than physically fitting the minibike. Experts in child physiology and psychology believe that most children do not develop awareness of their actions and the consequences of harm caused to others until school age. Preschool children will have trouble riding and conceptualizing that their actions may cause harm to themselves or others. This no-fear attitude will help children learn skills, but the parent or adult monitoring them should provide the sometimes-missing safety filter of caution. Where this breaks down is when the parent lacks the sense to be the safety monitor.
Age and Bicycle-Riding Experience Considerations
As instructors, we have been approached by many parents (mostly dads) who want their child trained on a minibike. After meeting many of these dads, we wonder if there should be a license requirement for parenting!! (Just kidding). We have heard all the stories: How a motocross star began riding while he was still in diapers. Or the story about the two-year old who races with training wheels.
The prerequisite we preach is that the child should be of school age and be very capable on a two-wheel bicycle without training wheels. The child should also safely fit on the minibike. We have trained a few, very physically and mentally advanced four-year olds who met the skill demands for riding a minibike—they were the exception.
3. Things to consider before buying a minibike
The following should be taken into account before choosing a minibike for your child:
The Minibike's Intended Use
There are minibikes designed for racing motocross, trials competitions, or just pleasure riding. Many children have started riding on a minibike that is designed for racing motocross but we do not recommend it. It is a steeper learning curve. If the novice rider gets frutstrated by falls and/or injuries, they may not want to try riding again. We believe that technique should be acquired before speed is introduced.
The Minibike's Power and Speed
We strongly feel that young riders should start on machines with very little power. And the bike's power should be governable until the skill level of the rider matches the bike's speed potential. It helps if the child's first minibike has a throttle-governing device (a throttle screw or exhaust restrictor). The bike should also have a smooth, easy power band that is easier to control and master with practice. The second bike should be purchased only when the rider can ride their first bike to its full potential. The way most people buy their bikes makes no sense: just look at most street riders who can't even handle the full potential of a 250 cc street bike yet buy much larger machines anyway.
The Place(s) Available for Riding
Do you have a spot for riding the kind of bike you are thinking of buying? For the reasons mentioned above, a motocross bike in its pure racing form is not a good trail bike.
4. Children's off-road motorcycle riding gear
It is very important to wear protective gear while riding a motorcycle. The most important element is proper fit. You can use second-hand gear except for the helmet: buy the helmet brand new and spend what what you think the rider's head is worth. Kids grow quickly, but buying gear too big so that it will last longer is a terrible idea. Proper fit equals better control and less chance of injury.
The guidelines for choosing protective riding gear apply to both children and adults. Please refer to our Off-Road Motorcycle Riding Gear section for the details.
5. Transporting your child's motorcycle
Can you get the minibike home, to and from the riding area or competition? You may have to look into buying a truck, van, bumper-holder, or trailer. Some minibikes may fit into the trunk or back of a station wagon, but be careful: gasoline fumes can be very dangerous in an enclosed area. Secure the bike properly with tie-down straps, available at motorcycle shops, designed for the purpose.
6. Teaching your loved ones how to ride off-road motorcycles
Sometimes we don't listen and learn as well with our loved ones as we do with professional instructors. And the more your child practises the wrong way, the harder it will be for them to acquire proper techniques. At SMART Programs we offer many years of teaching experience, all the protective gear, and a safe training area.
7. Selecting a good off-road bike training spot
Choose a large field which is free of obstacles, distractions and steep inclines. If there is only one tree in the field, it could be hit as a result of target fixation. Make sure you are allowed to practice there and that you have insurance and an off-road plate if required.
8. Instilling motorcycle riding safety
The habits we learn at a young age will become instilled over time and with practice. It will be hard for your teenager to suddenly start riding safely if you haven't insisted on it all along. It is equally foolish to expect your children to do what you say if you don't do it yourself. Children will model the behaviours they see. This includes wearing your helmet done up every time you get on a motorcycle or ATV.
9. Legal and insurance requirements of children riding motorcycles
Please refer to our Province of Ontario's legal and insurance requirements for off-road vehicles section.
10. Motocamps (motorcycle camps)
There are a few motocamps that operate in the province of Ontario. The only one we know personally is Lino Zecca's camp, which is held at the Ontario Camp for the Deaf, in Parry Sound, Ontario. In addition to being a very solid motorcycle skill-building program, it provides the children with a wonderful camp experience. There are lots of water sports, activities, and the fantastic exposure to hearing and/or physically challenged children. Meeting and interacting with children seen by some as less fortunate is a life-enhancing experience. Please visit our own information page, Summer Camps, and/or the camp's website, motocamp.ca, for more information.
Off-Road Motorcycle Riding Gear
It is very important to wear protective gear while riding a motorcycle. The most important element is proper fit. You can use second-hand gear except for the helmet: buy the helmet brand new and spend what what you think the rider's head is worth. Kids grow fast, but buying gear too big so that it will last longer is a terrible idea. Proper fit equals better control and less chance of injury.
The following guidelines for choosing protective riding gear apply to both children and adults.
The helmet is the most important piece of safety equipment. We recommend that you buy a brand new helmet from a professional who can ensure a proper fit. Used helmets may have damage that can't be seen by the naked eye. Full-face helmets designed for off-road use should be your only option.
2. Neck Collars
Many young motocross racers wear a neck collar under their helmet. The weight of the head and helmet can injure the neck and spinal column in certain falls. Neck collars help prevent such injuries.
We have a rule that if the bike is moving the goggles must be worn. Glasses or sunglasses don't provide enough protection from dust and flying debris. Ensure proper fit when you are buying goggles.
4. Knee Pads
Most off-road motorcycles have steel-serrated foot pegs for proper grip. If the rider falls onto the foot peg or sharp rocks, a knee pad could prevent nasty injuries.
5. Elbow Pads
The more pads the better... Elbow pads can prevent injuries in certain falls. Some hockey gear may be better than nothing but the best protection is what has been designed for motorcycling.
Motocross or enduro riding boots have good ankle support, strong soles, and shin protection. If you are buying used boots check for: torn inside heels, foot peg wear on soles, sole separation from the boot, rotted stitching, and missing buckle parts. Once the rider is aggressive enough to be getting air off of jumps, good boots are essential for protecting the feet from the foot pegs on landings.
Proper fit is important for dexterity and control. Gloves also prevent injuries from falls, burns (touching the wrong parts of the bike), and abrasions. Some gloveless riders have had a small branch remove finger nails on the trail.
8. Pants and Jerseys
Pants and jerseys provide abrasion protection, can keep the rider drier, and provide some padding. Most are designed to fit with knee and elbow pads.
9. Chest Protectors
Some chest protectors are designed to be worn over the jersey and others are worn under the jersey. They provide some protection in falls. They also protect the chest from flying debris (e.g., stones and mud) that could be flung at you by the rider in front of you. Chest protectors have prevented injuries from handlebars and levers which could impale the rider in some falls.
Buying a Used Motorcycle or ATV
1. Buying a Used Off-Road Motorcycle
We are currently in the process of writing this section. Please come back at a later time for information on how to buy a used dirt bike.
General Tips From the Pros
1. Joining a motorcycle association or club
Besides being a wealth of information, motorcycle clubs and associations will help you and your family enjoy the sport to its fullest. Enthusiastic members will help all those who are new to the sport. It is the associations and clubs of our country (Canada) who are working towards keeping riding areas accessible. For the province of Ontario please visit the Ontario Federation of Trail Riders
Province of Ontario's legal and insurance requirements for off-road vehicles
In Ontario, every minibike, motorcycle, or ATV that is used in other than private land (or in sanctioned competitions) must have public liability and property damage insurance. The 2016 maximum fine for not having insurance is $5,000.
Street-legal minibikes (some older models are street-legal) and enduro motorcycles that are licensed for on-road use, the license plate must be registered to the owner of the vehicle and have a valid sticker.
If you are planning on riding your street-legal motorcycle in the trails, you should first ask your insurance agent if your policy covers you for off-road use. Many policies don't and you can expect to pay much more for off-road insurance than for on-road insurance. Twelve years old is the youngest age that most insurance companies will cover as the named insured in the policy. The Off-Road Vehicle Act states that the riders under twelve must be closely supervised by an adult.