Traveling with kids gets a bad rap. Add hauling mountain bikes and gear into the equation, and it’s easy to feel like you should leave the family at home and stick with your guy/gal mountain bike trip. But shredding singletrack with little rippers in tow doesn’t have to leave you feeling like you’ve wasted a weekend. On the contrary: start ’em young, get ’em hooked, and you’ll have riding buddies for life.
When our son was a mere two months old we starting taking family mountain biking trips to Fruita and Moab. By three he was riding easy singletrack, by six he was riding intermediate trails, and now at the ripe age of 13 he’s an expert that can rip down and up anything we can. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Here are 4 key tips and one bonus idea to help make your family mountain bike trip a success.
Manage Your Mindset
It’s not just about you anymore. You’ll be trading in all-day marathon sessions, but don’t worry–you’ll still have time to rip. This trip is very much about you and your spouse getting in your fair share of riding, so don’t fret. Remember: you have from sun up to sun down. Cat Forest and JF Rolden and their three daughters (12, 13, 13) are from the Yukon, and they’ve enjoyed family mountain biking trips for the last 5 years. “When the girls were younger, JF would pre-ride the trails, which also allowed him to do a longer and faster ride by himself, and report back on the trails,” said Cat. This approach encouraged the entire family to mountain bike, and now they ride and race together all over the US and Canada.
Before your trip, sit down with your spouse, a trail map, and make a tentative riding schedule. Plan who rides first, what trails are best for each family member, and how long each ride will take. This will save you energy and frustration when you get to your mountain bike location. That said, be prepared to throw all the plans out the window and roll with it when the unexpected happens. Lastly, always end the day together telling stories and cementing those fun memories of mountain biking.
Location, Location, Location…
Sure, the Monarch Crest Trail is a great ride, but is it really the best place to go for your first family mountain bike trip? Probably not. For the first few trips, pick areas that offer a variety of riding options, camping/lodging near trails, and some activities nearby for the family to enjoy.
In the west, places like Fruita, Colorado make for an ideal family mountain bike trip. The trails near 18 Road in Fruita offer riding loops that revolve around a campground. The trails are beginner to intermediate and they offer something for everyone in the family. The best ride for young rippers is Kessel Run, and Mom or Dad can run shuttles to the top to make it more fun! Fruita gets bonus points for a dinosaur museum, first-class recreation center, and delicious pizza back in town. To learn more on where to ride, eat, sleep, and explore check out this article.
In the east, the Kingdom Trails in Vermont offer family-friendly trails and areas for all ages. For more advanced rippers there is a skills trail next to the pumptrack and for little rippers, there’s a balance bike flow trail and an instructional skills course near a playground. In addition, the trail network and riding options at the Kingdom Trails will challenge and excite Mom and Dad. There is no shortage of lodging adjacent to the trails, so rolling out and getting everyone’s rides in will not be an issue. Kingdom Trails gets bonus points for offering a $5 guided kids ride for kids age 7-11.
Manage Your Gear
Don’t take everything you think you might ever need, but also don’t forget a few basics. Bring a lot of snacks that your kids enjoy to fuel and motivate them. Kids are not usually motivated by kale, got it? Pack extra clothes, because mountain biking and playing in the dirt is a messy combo. Bring proper shoes if your child is going to be riding. Kids on balance bikes rip up the front of their shoes by dragging their feet, and older kids need to be able to grip the pedals. Opt for the bulging hydration pack filled with these 50 essential items versus going light. When camping, bring a hammock, outdoor toys, and s’mores to keep them busy when not riding. Oh and the helmets, don’t forget the helmets.
Let Your Kids Rip
Don’t tell your kids they’re going on a bike ride. The idea of a bike ride like Mom and Dad do often resulted in comments from my son along the lines of, “that it was too hard,” after the first five minutes. And this is a kid that can rip and has boundless energy. Instead of having a goal on their rides—like making it five miles or cleaning the downhill—turn it into an adventure. If we want our kids to have a lifelong love of cycling, then we have to start small. Make it fun. Don’t worry about how far they get or if they need to walk a few (or many) sections.
If you want to teach them skills, do so in a fun way by building jumps or gaps at camp, or let them take the lead on the trail and see if they want to stop and session a section. If you want to build their endurance, think about making a treasure hunt where you hide and find treats or other fun things along the way. In Crested Butte, the town has built a story into the Lower Loop trail where you can stop and read sections during your ride. Think fun!
Pumptracks are also a gold mine when it comes to family mountain bike trips. “We try to find a pumptrack or skills park in every new location we go,” says Kristen Bonkoski, mother, and owner of Rascal Rides. “It’s a great place to meet locals, find other kids to ride with, and entertain the whole family. They are also usually close to a larger trail system, which makes for a good base camp for the family to hang out while you and your partner take turns doing longer trail rides.”
Bonus: Take a Village
We all know that mountain biking is better when shared with friends. If you have a group of families that all mountain bike, plan a trip together. With a group, your kids will always be entertained and you’ll be able to ride with other adults. These trips usually involve bonfires, shared meals, group shuttle rides, jump building, and tired kids ready for an early bedtime!
Remember that getting out the door is the hardest part. Kids adapt, so it’s up to you to not to worry about this and that. Once you get out the door and commit to a trip, you’ll be making memories that will last forever.