Mountainbiking with kids – from balance bike to black trails by the age of 5

Hi, I'd like to share my experience with raising a little rider from his balance bike to my riding buddy doing 25km / 3 hour rides with me by the age of 5.

12" balance bike - Early Rider Allery Runer 12

Little guy loved to ride his toy plastic trike from very young age, so as soon it was possible, we started him on a balance bike when he was about 2 years and 3 months. We chose Early Rider Alley Runner 12 for it's top level quality contruction and low weight. Wheels use sealed cartridge bearings and are super smooth. It doesn't have a brake though:)

We kept bringing the balance bike everywhere we went, whether it was a 5 minute walk to the park, or a day trip. Sometimes, this was annoying as we had to carry both the kid and the balance bike, but he was learning fast and there was less and less carrying.. I think this was the most important part of the whole process as it did set him up for a very fast progress later on.

First 16" pedal bike - Early Rider Belter 16

He started riding his first pedal bike at the age of 3 years and 2 months. Low weight was our priority when choosing his bike. After some research we picked the Early Rider Belter 16". We already knew the brand from his balance bike - the Alley runner 12. The build quality was amazing and the same applied for the pedal bike. I've swapped the original handlebars for carbon and made a final weight of about 5.5kg (±12 lbs).

The whole switch to pedal bike took him about 5 minutes thanks to his balance bike skills. We hid the balance bike and it was pedal bike only from that point. I think this is the second key thing, as many kids refuse to ride on a new bike, if the old balance bike, which they are comfortable on, is still available.

I'm not a big fan of training wheels. I rather prefer walking behind the kid and supporting him by his back, not the bike seat, so the kid has to keep the balance on his own. I've successfully tried this method with friend's kids and they all rode without the training wheels withit minutes.

For the next season, we swapped the road tires for knobby ones and off to the forest we went (june 2019, 4 years a 1 month)

There were 2 problems that emerged quite soon: original pedals didn't have much grip and his feet would slip. Also his hands would get tired very quickly by using the cable V-brakes, that came on the bike, even with child specific levers. We changed the pedals to Xpedo Traverse 9. They work much better and match his foot size better too. We later moved them to his bigger bike.

As he got stronger over the fall and winter (he rides all year long as long as there's no snow outside) we started doing longer rides in the spring (April 2020, 4 years and 11 months)

As the bike used a belt instead of a chain, the energy loss in the drivetrain was much lower and he could pedal up some serious hills even with a singlespeed. When the gradient got too steep, I'd ride next to him and push him up the hills. Later we found that a bungee cord works very well for towing. We connected 2 thicker ones with loop to loop connection and put 2 carabiners at the ends. This could be easily attached to his headtube and my seattube. The elesticity takes away any jerkiness when pulling him. Hooking him on and off takes about 15 seconds and I wrap the rope around my frame when not needed (piece of it can be seen in the video below). Ha manages to ride up to 25km (16 miles) and 3 hours like this.

With towing, it really important to talk the kid through what's going to happen and establish some clear instructions, that you repeat every time you are about to start or stop. That way, the kid is always focues and knows what 's gonna happen next.

We had a hard time finding high quality knee pads that would fit his tiny knees. We ended up with POC VPD Air elbow pads, which suit his knees very well in size Small and he can pedal in them comfortable despite them beeing elbow guards. We use O'Neal Peewee Elbow Guards for his elbows but we'll upgrade them soon as they tend to slip when he crashes.

Moving to 20" wheels

Early Rider Hellion 20 inch kids mountain bike

We picked up a new 20" bike for his 5th birthday. Weight was again a high priority, together with hydraulic disc brakes. 2 bikes made it to the final selection:

  1. V-pace MAX24 - weighing only 7.5kg with a carbon fork, 29" wheel geometry, high level components, but higher price
  2. Early Rider released a new Hellion 20" this season with rad geometry for trail and DH riding, wide tires, usable air fork and reasonable weight (9.5kg). It was also cheaper than the Max24.

We chose the Early rider Hellion 20" mainly because of it's geometry, better manoeuvrable 20" wheels and availability because of Covid (Max24 was on backlog for months).

At first I was worried that the air fork will be just a dead weight with such a light kid (he weight just 17kg/38lbs) but the RST Spex air fork works rather well and he even manages to use the full travel on it. The compression setting make significant difference too.

Hydraulic Shimano Deore brakes solved the problem with sore hands and he can also modulate the power rather nicely.

There were some minor adjustments needed on the bike that I'd expect to be sorted out directly from the factory at this pricepoint.

  1. I had to move the bottom bracked washers to adjust the chainline, so he could easily shift to lower gears.
  2. Derailleur cable enters the frame on the right side which meant the arc from the shifter was too steep. Also, the Shimano Deore shifter has too long free throw. Little one couldn't push the lever far enough to shift to a lower gear. I reinstalled the cable with sligthly longer housing and swapped the shifter for Shimano Saint and now he's able to shift up 3 gears at once. He also has Multirelease for shifting down 2 gears at once and he really likes it.

I also swapped the original 560mm aluminum handlebars for 620mm carbon one and lost about 140 grams. I wanted to shorten them first, but the extra width helped with his arms position as it pushes his elbows out and it gave him more control in steeper terrain.

I removed the heavy BMX tubes that came on the bike and converted the wheels to tubeless with Stan's NoTubes sealant and some tubeless valves. This removed another 400 grams. One might consider theese changes over the top, but for kids, this makes a huge difference. You can see the results on the videos bellow.

Moving to 20" wheels was smooth again and he adjusted within a day. The minimum child height recommended by the manufacturer is 117cm, but my kid is only 112cm and manages to control the bike and get on and off on his own. His saddle is already up about 3 inches for good pedalling posiion.

Check out or detailed review of Early Rider Hellion 20" with more pictures.

We tried a local DH trail after about a month on his new bike (June 2020, 5 years, 1 month)

It was necessary to upgrade his helmet at this point. He was picking up speed and the hornet colored Little Nutty helmet was not fitting as I'd like anymore. After some research and a good online deal, we've bought a Bell Super DH with a removabla chinbar and spherical MIPS system. It fits his 51.5cm head well in size Small and we use the chinbar regularly as it's easy to install or take off without removing the helmet from his head.

These days he manages to ride some slightly more technical trails at good speed (July 2020, 5 years, 2 months)

The loop we did had about 25km and took us 3 hours. With rides this long it's super important to keep his spirits up and keep him motivated. And snacks, many many snacks:)

We also started traveling to discover trails further away from our home as part of our video series Peťko rides. Following is an interesting short trail called Boky which belongs to Sekaninské endor traily.

We made another small trip to check out Turzov flow trail above Bojnice, Slovakia.

There are also some nice trails above the village I grew up in called Sekaninské enduro traily. The little one bugged me so long to take him there, until I finally surrended. I was a bit worried how he'll handle the steep stuff and rocks on his 20" wheels, but he showed some true will and perseverance.

We recently started practicing leaning the bike while cornering and you can see some hints of this in the latest video:)

And practicing some jumps. It'll take a lot of practice, but it's coming together nicely around 20 seconds into the clip:)

Little guy made some nice progress over the last practice sessions

After some autumn practice we gave his first black diamond trail a go. Mud and wet leaves didn't make it any easier, but he made it down with a huge smile.

Slalomka was a love at first sight. This trail has all the features but there are plenty of chicken lines too.

There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing... and wrong tires:) We have been riding in the mud the whole December, so it was a nice change to be able to ride something different.

Driver 8 and top of Rohatka quickly became his favorite trails. He dares to jump bigger jumps and really likes to ride techy sections.

Recently I've been trying to pick trails that would push him out of his comfort zone, with mostly steep, off-camber stuff. So far it worked really well with an occasional crash or two. He manages his fear well and even if he stops and is worried about a feature first, he will give it a try once he analyzes and goes overy it in his head. We also picked up some new photo/video gear and gave it a little try..

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Published 16.07.2020 by Peter Pech

  1. Jon

    What an absolutely stunning write-up. Thank you so so much for this great detail. It has really helped us out. I’m so glad I stumbled across your page because I’ve been trying to research this area (my boy will be 5 in a couple of months and seems to be just a few months behind yours). As you probably know, most of the information available for this area of the market is all from the manufacturers so this real-world experience is absolutely invaluable. And in fact, I think you’ve convinced me to get the Hellion 20 for my boy’s fifth birthday.

    Thank you again.

  2. Stipan

    Thank you for your Blog.

    Just ordered a Hellion 20“ for my 4 years old son.
    He rides a Early Rider 12“ with pedals since he is 2,5years old.
    Now is time for a change.

    Cheers, Stipan

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