Mountain Biking

By Scott Graham
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Extreme Kids Mountain Biking
 (courtesy, Scott Graham)
The Best Rides, By Age
When you want to get your kids started mountain biking, keep in mind the following guidelines to determine whether a certain trip is appropriate for the age of your child:
1. Dirt-road (or "double track") riding is great when your kids are toddlers and can ride in pull-behind trailers (no added car seats and bungee cords required).
2. You can go on double-track and level single-track rides with your preschool-age kids on attached trail-a-bikes, especially those with gears and shock absorbers. "I definitely had to move up to a trail-a-bike with a shock," a friend told me. "[My daughter] kept bouncing off the first one I got."
3. Off-pavement double-track and level single-track riding is fine to do with your 5- to 7-year-old kids.
4. Moderate to advanced single-track riding is appropriate with your 8- or 9-year-olds as they gain more control over their bikes.
5. By the time your kids are 10 or 11, you will be trying desperately to keep up on stretches of steep, rocky single track as they blast up the trail, leaving you flailing behind.
6. Finally, you'll cringe in terror as you watch your kids, in their early teens, try their first freeriding moves.

A dad I know was so gaga for mountain biking that he couldn't sit still when his first baby reached toddler age. He stuck a helmet on her head, belted her into a car seat, and bungeed the car seat into a pull-behind bike trailer. He then set out to learn just how much "single track," or trail, mountain biking he could do while pulling a two-wheeled bike trailer behind him.

The answer, it turns out, is quite a bit—especially if you're built like a New York Giants linebacker, which this guy is, and have thighs that approximate those of Lance Armstrong, which this guy does. My friend rode trails so gnarly that the trailer carrying his daughter regularly flipped sideways on tight turns. Once, in fact, the trailer broke free of my friend's bike and did an entire roll.

"Thing is, she loved it," my friend said of his daughter. "She screamed with delight every time the trailer flipped on its side, and she really loved it when she did that roll."

I've never been one for turning my kids into real-life bobble-head dolls. Still, my friend's story illustrates the lengths to which some parents will go to keep pursuing the outdoor sports they love A.C. (After Children), and the pleasure kids take, even as nonparticipants, in those sports.

The great thing about mountain biking with your kids is that, like dayhiking, you can do it just about anywhere there's a dirt road or suitable trail. Though mountain biking requires more gear than dayhiking, it doesn't involve the high degree of skills and more limited locations required by outdoor sports such as rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, and river running.

Once you and your kids are appropriately outfitted (see "Gear Talk," page 174), you can throw your bikes on your car rack and head out for a day ride on little more than a moment's notice. Conversely, you and your kids can make an entire vacation out of mountain biking. If you're a do-it-yourselfer, you can drive to one of the meccas of mountain biking—Moab, Utah, perhaps, or Crested Butte, Colorado—and spend the bulk of your vacation riding with your kids. You can also fly to one of the meccas and rent gear for the extent of your vacation, much like renting ski gear for a ski vacation. Or you can sign up with an outfitter for an organized trip that includes gear.

Getting Rolling
Like our friend with the bobble-head daughter, Sue and I were dedicated mountain bikers long before Taylor and Logan came along. We missed mountain biking while our boys were little and got them started in the sport as quickly as we could.

At age 5, Taylor began riding the miniature six-speed mountain bike we picked up for him. At first he used it to tag along with us on dirt roads and level trails near our home. Not long after he turned 6, he graduated to riding his tiny bike on short portions of the Slickrock Trail in Moab. After that, there was no stopping him—nor Logan, who followed Taylor's pedal strokes two years later.

One recent family trip Sue and I took with Taylor and Logan is worth noting as you consider the mountain biking trips you might wish to do with your kids. Our trip was a multiday backcountry tour following the route of one of Western Spirit Cycling Adventures' family mountain biking adventures—this one just across the state line from our Colorado home in southeastern Utah.

Rather than go with Western Spirit on what the company calls its Trail of the Ancients adventure, we self-supported the trip. The boys rode the entire route while Sue and I traded off riding with them and driving our pickup as a sag wagon. Over the course of four days, the boys rode 70 miles of rough, remote four-wheel-drive roads through stunning country. The roads were carefully picked by the experts at Western Spirit for their mountain and desert scenery, lack of motorized vehicle use, and suitability for mountain biking.

If you're a do-it-yourself type, following the route of one of Western Spirit's trips may be as good an option for you as it was for us. Of course, simply joining one of Western Spirit's family trips is a great way to go as well.

Another good starter option is to rent bikes for a day at a ski area. You can then ride the lift to the top of the mountain with your kids and rented bikes, and take off from there. Virtually all ski areas rent mountain bikes during the summer months. It's worth noting, however, that mountain bike rentals are generally available only down to the smallest adult-size frame with 26-inch wheels, which are appropriate for good-sized 10-year-olds and up. For anything smaller—a bike with 24-inch or 20-inch wheels—you'll be faced with providing your own.

You can also contact mountain biking clubs and organizations in your area such as the New England Mountain Bike Association ( and its many local chapters for suggestions, local tips, and dates of group "fun" rides. The International Mountain Bicycling Association sponsors an annual Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day. The event, held at sites around the country on the first Saturday in October, provides an excellent opportunity to introduce mountain biking to your kids in the company of other youngsters. See for the site nearest you.

If you spend much time mountain biking with your kids, the subject of freeriding—extreme mountain biking—is sure to come up.

In recent years, mostly male teens and 20-somethings have been tricking out their mountain bikes with heavy-duty components, then using their beefed-up bikes to jump off cliffs (called "wheelie drops"), ride log bridges, and conquer formerly unrideable sections of backcountry, both on-trail and, to the consternation of many, off.

Having seen the potential for profit offered by the new sport, mountain bike manufacturers have developed freeride-specific mountain bikes and released them to the masses.

With youngsters and bikes, just about anything counts as freeriding. Descending steep inclines, jumping small logs, splashing through puddles—any bit of mountain biking can be "freeriding" for your kids if you declare it so.

Using the term to encourage your kids to challenge themselves on their mountain bikes may not be a bad idea. Just be prepared for the day they ask you to buy them freeride bikes so they can really go freeriding. If you and your kids are curious to learn more about freeriding, visit

1. Moab
Nothing beats mountain biking the official Slickrock Trail and other incredible slickrock routes around Moab, Utah. Yes, Moab is overrun with mountain bikers (and Jeepers and ATVers for that matter), but for good reason.

Sue and I have biked Moab's smooth sandstone trails regularly since the mid-'80s. Crowded as the slickrock around Moab has become, we still head there with Taylor and Logan as often as we can. Riding Moab's slickrock is too fun to let the crowds scare us away.

If you really want to get your kids jazzed about mountain biking, take them on a mountain biking vacation to Moab, which is the center of the mountain biking universe. One particular multiday mountain biking trip in the Moab area is worth considering: The 100-mile White Rim Road, often called the White Rim Trail, follows four-wheel-drive roads through a remote section of Canyonlands National Park on rock shelves above the Green and Colorado rivers. Families and groups of families often ride and camp along the route in do-it-yourself fashion by providing their own sag wagons, which parents take turns driving, and in which youngsters—tired of riding—spend time as passengers.

The five members of the Lloyd family, including father-son canyoneers Leo and Kendall (see page 136), have ridden the White Rim annually since Kendall was a 7-year-old who spent most of his first "ride" in the sag wagon. Kendall now has ridden the White Rim six times. The last time he rode it, at age 13, he pedaled the entire route.

Private-party permits to ride the White Rim must be secured via lottery as much as a year in advance. For details, go to (keywords: Explore the Park). Outfitters such as Moab's Rim Tours ( also run trips on the White Rim. Visit for more information about the region.

2. Crested Butte
Was mountain biking founded in Crested Butte, Colorado, or in Marin County, California? The debate still rages. Crested Butte, however, offers plenty of charms for a family mountain biking vacation.

Located at the head of the Gunnison River valley in the heart of the central Colorado Rockies, tiny Crested Butte offers oodles of serpentine summertime single-track rides heading into the backcountry in all directions from its four-block-long, Disneyland-perfect Victorian downtown.

If the riding alone isn't enough, try visiting the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in town to further stoke your kids' enthusiasm for the sport. For more information about Crested Butte and the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, visit and

Other Meccas-on-the-Make
Arguably, Moab offers the finest mountain biking, and Crested Butte the finest "mountain" mountain biking, on the planet. But other locales around the country offer great mountain biking as well, and many of these places are worth a visit with kids. Two websites, (keyword: Destinations), and Beyond Moab from GORP, offer tantalizing looks at a few of these meccas-on-the-make.

The best of the up-and-comers in the East is West Virginia ( Mountain Biking magazine rates West Virginia as one of the top five mountain biking destinations in the country. The compact mountainous state is known for its challenging—and, admittedly, wet—rides on single track and logging roads.

The two best riding locations in West Virginia are the protected, 70,000-acre New River Gorge (, and the 900,000-acre Monongahela National Forest (; keyword: Monongahela).

Other meccas-on-the-make include Bend, Oregon (; Sun Valley, Idaho (; Custer, South Dakota (, Park City, Utah (; and my hometown, Durango, Colorado (

Western Spirit Cycling Adventures' Family Mountain Biking Trips
There's probably no better way to experience backcountry mountain biking with your children than on one of Moab, Utah-based Western Spirit's five-day, four-night family trips. The easygoing trips are pure fun for kids and adults alike.

The trips run $700 to $900 per person. Those prices include all food, gear, and transportation to and from a town near each trip's start and end points. Child care is included for parents who want to get in some extra riding while their kids hang out in camp. Children as young as 2 are welcome on the trips, which are tailored to meet the needs and wants of participants.

Western Spirit currently offers eight family-specific backcountry mountain biking trips each summer, with more in the offing. The eight trips are scattered across the country, many near mountain biking hot spots discussed earlier in this chapter. The company offers two trips in Wyoming's Yellowstone/Grand Teton region, two in Utah's canyon country, and one trip each in California's redwoods, West Virginia's mountains, South Dakota's Black Hills, and Arizona's Grand Canyon area.

Every Western Spirit family trip features day rides spiced with non-biking activities such as a hike to an ancient Indian ruin or a ride on a steam-powered train. Evenings are busy with skits, coyote-howling contests, and other campfire-based activities.

Western Spirit offered its first family trip in 2000. The Moab-based outfitter's eight trips now account for a third of the company's business. Why have Western Spirit's family trips taken off? Certainly the outfitter is riding the same wave of interest in family vacations as the rest of the travel industry.

But Western Spirit's added secret, owner Ashley Korenblat believes, is its emphasis on the "extreme" aspects of biking trips. The kids on Western Spirit's trips don't leap off 20-foot cliffs on freeride bikes. Rather, the company finds the word "extreme" in a less outrageous way—in simply making each of its family trips as backcountry-oriented as possible. Unlike adult mountain biking trips offered by other outfitters that feature day rides followed by cushy nights in inns and bed-and-breakfasts, Western Spirit's family mountain biking trips are all about experiencing the outdoors. Not only do the trips involve camping; as often as possible, they involve camping at backcountry sites far from campgrounds, pavement, and crowds.

Western Spirit's family trips sell out quickly each year. If you want to go on one of the trips with your kids, you'll have to plan ahead and ante up your deposit money early. For more information about Western Spirit, call 800-845-2453 or go to

Gear Talk
Good mountain bikes are a major financial investment. A basic full-suspension bike runs $1000, and that's before you throw in clipless pedals and shoes. Add a helmet, biking clothes, and a Camelbak, and you'll easily approach $1500. And that's just for you, never mind your kids.

If you're new to mountain biking, the best way to start is by renting. If you do decide to gear up, you'll save significant money by buying quality used gear or shopping for new gear at end-of-season sales.

Here are some other suggestions:

1. Don't buy bikes that are too big for your kids. You'll only end up with frustrated children riding bikes that are not safe for them. Better to buy high-quality used bikes and resell them when your kids outgrow them.

If you get your kids started mountain biking early, you'll be looking at three preadolescent bike purchases as they grow:

Ages 5 to 8: A small, six- or seven-speed bike with 20-inch wheels. Price: about $200.
Ages 9 to 11: A midsize bike with 24-inch wheels and 18 to 21 speeds. Price: about $300.
Early teens: A small-framed adult bike with 26-inch wheels. Price: $500 and up.

2. If your kids get serious about mountain biking, don't be afraid to get them clipless pedals as soon as they move up to a 26-inch bike. Those pedals will make increasingly difficult trails easier.

3. Invest in good helmets with sun visors.

4. Insist that your kids wear sunglasses when riding single-track trails to avoid injuries caused by branches that might otherwise poke them in the eye.

5. Good hydration is as important to kid mountain bikers as it is to adults. Camelbaks or Camelbak knockoffs make great presents.

6. Pick up stylin' jerseys and bike shorts for your kid riders. They'll love looking the part of a "real" mountain biker, and they may be more likely to stick with the sport as a result.

Published: 27 Apr 2007 | Last Updated: 20 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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