It is no secret to most of you that frequent the pages of Singletracks.com that mountain bikers can be, at times, “overwhelmingly enthusiastic” about their sport. I recently turned 37 years old. I am a husband of almost 15 years, a dad to 7 1/2-year-old twin girls, and I have been a veterinarian for almost 10 years. My identity in life is pretty much defined by those three things and the fact that I am a mountain biker.
I joined the ranks of the “overwhelming enthusiastic” in 2011. I was late to the party! I rode several mountain bikes as a younger person, but I never really made it to the trails until I bought an entry level 29er and discovered some purpose-built singletrack not far from my home in eastern Pennsylvania. When I discovered trail riding, a passion grew for a sport I had always known about but took too long to truly discover. Since then, I have expanded my bike collection, progressed significantly in skill level, plunged head-first into the world of mountain bike media, helped add to my local trails on build days, participated in races, and ridden in every place I can reasonably travel to with my bike and my budget.
As my passion for the sport of mountain biking started to grow, I naturally began to share some of it with my loved ones. When I started in the spring of 2011, my kids were only 3 years old. They had tricycles and bikes with training wheels, so trails were out of the question. While my wife did show some interest, she didn’t always love my newfound need to be riding trails whenever I had a free moment. The solution was to get her out on the trails with me, and now she is a burgeoning member of the “overwhelmingly enthusiastic” who happened to take 5th place in the beginner category of the our most recent race. (For perspective, I took 13th place in the sport category and would not have been in the top 5 in the beginner category for the men.)
In the last 2 to 3 years, we have brought our girls into the fold as well. I think I can confidently say, we are now a mountain bike family; and that makes me a mountain bike dad. My hope is that there are others out there who are interested in introducing their loved ones to the sport my family has embraced as its own. For that reason, I would like to share some of the things I think you can do to encourage your loved ones to become “overwhelmingly enthusiastic.”
Share the Stoke
“Being a geek means never having to play it cool about how much you like something.” -Simon Pegg
Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. When your kids see you get enjoyment from anything, there is a natural curiosity, and they are more likely to enjoy that same activity.
Our world is awash in media. Sometimes that is problematic. Kids should spend more time outside doing anything than they spend in front of a screen. However, there is a huge amount of media that relates to the mountain bike world. There are videos detailing adventures to foreign and sometimes forgotten lands. There is coverage of the mountain bike race scene. There are pictures and descriptions of the bikes you want (even if you can’t afford them). There are magazine articles about trails and ride centers, with stories about mountain bike history and mountain bike culture. The resources are almost endless in the digital world.
For the most part (language is sometimes an issue), these are kid-friendly productions. My kids love to page through my magazines looking at the pictures and asking about the articles. They will spend an early weekend morning watching coverage of the World Cup Downhill and Cross Country Eliminator races with me on Red Bull TV, and they love to watch the incredible tricks performed at the various freeride events. They are able to appreciate the natural environments and the beauty of the trails that they see in print and digital formats alike. They have favorite racers (Rachel Atherton, Kate Courtney, Ratboy Bryceland, Gee Atherton) and they have favorite freeriders (Brandon Semunuk and Brett Rheeder are rockstars in the minds of my girls, and Danny MacAskill is a magician on a bike).
These people are their sports role models, and from what I have seen, they are role models that I would be proud to have my girls emulate. Especially the women. Little girls look up to their older counterparts, and the group of women in this sport could not be more exceptional. They are competitive but have camaraderie with each other and compassion for one another. The women in the downhill circuit are particularly good role models as they are doing things on a bike that many men in the top levels of their sport cannot do.
Share the Trail
Riding on trails in the woods, especially well-crafted trails, is the thing that gives me the most pleasure in my mountain biking world. Learning new skills, getting bigger air, riding faster and more aggressively, these are all things that add to the experience; but even a quiet, flat rail trail can provide the most serene experience and pleasurable ride possible when there are towering trees to ride through, streams to cross, wildlife to see, and beautiful skies overhead. In the same way they can appreciate the mountain bike media, kids will appreciate the trails, especially with your guidance.
These rides are adventures for kids! They may see an animal they have never seen before. They may do something on their bike they thought they couldn’t do. They may experience a natural event like a sunset in a way they have never experienced if before. They will create memories that will last their lifetime.
Sharing trails with kids, especially young kids, is often a pleasure, but it is sometimes a challenge, and it definitely requires a significant amount of patience. Regardless of how enthusiastic you may be, sometimes the child or children are just not into it. The key to those situations is to park the bikes and do something else. Play in the creek. Hike instead of riding. Look for animal tracks. Examine the trails that you want to ride off of the bike, and talk about how you can successfully ride them. Be creative, but don’t push the riding if your kids are telling you (in their own way) that it is not going to happen. Losing patience is the key to the kids losing interest. I know because I have made that mistake.
I am not saying you should never push your kids. The reality is that you know them better than anyone else, and sometimes a little push is what is necessary to help them get to the next level. This is particularly the case for learning new skills on the bike. There is no better feeling for a parent than seeing your child light up when they do something they had no idea they could do. It gets even better when you see them effortlessly add it to their skill set after two or three successful repetitions.
You also need to know when to get out of the way and hide some of your own anxiety about what your kids are doing on the bike. An acquaintance in our local mountain bike club has pointed out to me that, even at a very young age, kids can do a lot more than we think they can on the trails. She has raised three girls that are successful cross country racers on the national level and she is 100% correct. Spend some time just hanging out and sessioning certain features and areas on your local trails. You will be amazed at the progression young kids can achieve in the course of an afternoon.
Share the Community
The mountain bike community is filled with people who are good-natured, out-going, enthusiastic, and helpful. You will have the opportunity to expose your kids to races, group rides, fun rides, build days, and fundraising events. All of these experiences and interactions will allow them to develop a sense of community and a sense of responsibility to other riders. These experiences are not only important in developing kids as mountain bikers, but they are important to developing them as adult human beings living in a world that requires social interaction, team work, competition, and the ability to have fun in a community environment.
Share the Race
Mountain bike races are experiences that allow a person to push the limits of their ability and discover their strengths and weaknesses. Like any other race, there is only one winner, but there is a podium that often stretches to 5th place. Structured competition is good for young kids, especially when it takes place in a positive environment where everyone may not go home with a medal, but everyone does go home with a sense of accomplishment.
Unlike many other races, mountain bike races contain people who are there for the experience of the ride and, maybe more importantly, the environment of the ride. A race can often be looked at as a way to introduce oneself to new trails without the necessity of a guide and without the fear of getting lost. People are sometimes there to explore their own limits rather than compete against others, or to feel the sense of community that a mountain bike race fosters.
The bottom line is that mountain bike races are fun. Costumes are so often a part of mountain bike races that I sometimes have to look again when there is no mention of costumes on the Bike Reg page. Many races have prizes that have nothing to do with being the fastest, and often there are alternative events that showcase other skills on the bike and have prizes of their own.
The focus of this approach to mountain biking and family living is to do just that: share it with anyone, because it is the greatest sport on the planet.
“Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad” -Wade Boggs
Over the years, various people have put forth that notion. I think what defines a dad is his ability to share with his family his love of life while at the same time being able to provide for them, help them develop their moral compass, help to groom them to be successful adults, and love them unconditionally. For those of us that can define ourselves as mountain bike dads, I think that love of life exudes from us when we put two wheels to dirt and lead our pack into the woods.
How’s that for “overwhelmingly enthusiastic”?