My 9 year old son Ian scored his first two wheeler at 4 years old - a Trek Jet with training wheels. He pedaled around our cul-de-sac (that's fancy talk for dead end) like most 4 year olds. At 5 years old, the training wheels came off and he was riding around a bit more. By age 6, he seemed to have a genuine interest in riding and I'd take him around the block or on the Burke-Gilman Trail to ride with me. He handled rides of 5 miles or so without a problem and enjoyed it. I didn't push any of this and made sure it was all fun. He also tried a kiddie race at the Redmond Derby Days crit. By this time he was watching the Tour de France coverage with me and was interested in the racing.
For his 7th birthday, we picked out a Giant MTX 125 mini-mountain bike. That's right - a Giant mini-mountain bike - get it? It had 20" wheels, 7 speeds and a suspension fork that sort of worked. It was a bit of tank, like most kids bikes, but not too bad. I debated between the Giant and a Redline race BMX bike that was much lighter - but thought the single speed BMX bike would limit its use. Ian instantly knew how to use the gears and dual hand brakes. I was impressed. Rides up and down the cul-del-sac were a lot quicker now and we started venturing on longer rides together.
By this point, 10+ mile rides on the Burke-Gilman were the norm. We also started exploring the local trails at St Edward State Park and he really dug that. Sounds sappy, but I'd get a little teary eyed following him through the woods. He'd get out of the saddle for climbs, helmet bobbing back and forth - just like a real rider. I'd yell out occasional encouragement and instruction. "Okay, shift down now before the hill". "Slow down a bit for the downhill". "Nice job!". Fun stuff. We also hit the gravel I-90 trail a few times, complete with 2 mile train tunnel. He entered a few more kiddie races at local 'cross and crit races. Kiddie races included kids on training wheels and up to kids 9 years old or so on bigger bikes. Ian didn't win any of the races, but finished towards the front and thought all of the races were too short. He wanted more.
Ian is fairly tall for his age and the limited gearing on the mini-mountain bike was holding him back a bit. So when he was 8 years old, Christmas included a new Specialized Hardrock FS - a nice kids hardtail mountain bike. 24" inch wheels, RST suspension fork, triple crankset - the real deal. A very exciting Christmas morning that I'm sure he'll remember. This bike really expanded his riding abilities. He was riding much faster, cleaning hills that he couldn't before, and taking on tricker technical sections in the woods. Took him no time to figure out the additional shifting capabilities with the triple set up.
At 9 years old, he rides fast enough in the woods to be a nice cruise for me. If I'm pulling my daughter Amy in the Burley trailer on the Burke-Gilman, I have trouble keeping up with him at times. If I give him a choice on what he wants to do on a Saturday, the answer is usually go for a ride. He reads all my bike magazines when they arrive, knows all the pro team riders and watches the Tour coverage with me - all of it. He really wants a road bike. Maybe this summer.
I of course encourage him, but don't push it at all. We occasionally do mountain bike group rides with the local mountain bike club (www.evergreenmtb.org) - and he keeps up fairly well. I can tell he also gets a kick out of riding with the adults, since he becomes the minor celebrity.
His racing has increased also - he competed in the Indie Series mountain bike race series last year - in the 10 and under class. A great experience I'll detail in a later posting. For race info, check out www.indieseries.com.
My wife jokes that I now have a little riding buddy. I can't think of anyone I'd rather ride with.