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Here’s a dilemma many mountain bikers face: Joe Schmo wants to take a vacation and get some dirt under his tires, but the wife and the kids aren’t really all that interested in this painful sport we call mountain biking. Most of the time, Joe the mountain-biking dad thinks it’s a loss: either the vacation will entail him taking off with his buddies to ride (and let’s face it, that might never happen), or it will be Disney Land with the kiddos.

But it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. Enter Dominion Riverrock.

"Freestyle bike show at Dominion Riverrock festival in Richmond, Virginia." Photo: mtbgreg1.

Dominion Riverrock just might be the most family-friendly outdoor festival to include mountain biking. Located on Brown Isle in the heart of downtown Richmond, VA, the festival is literally within walking distance to a wide range of excellent hotels, so your family won’t have to rough it with you in the woods.

Attracting over 50,000 attendees and participants this year, Dominion Riverrock is the largest outdoor lifestyle festival in the United States. That means there are plenty of other non-bike-related activities to see and do.

The crowd at the freestyle bikes competition. Photo: Jesse Peters.

Some of the spectator-friendly crowd favorites include competitive freestyle slacklining, bouldering, competitive air dogs, and the freestyle bike competitions. These are all entertaining events everyone can enjoy without having to actually participate.

Bouldering is a great spectator sport. Photo: Dave Parrish.

If the kids are interested in getting involved (and most are), head over to the Interactive Village. There, kids have the chance to try many of these same activities such as bouldering, slacklining, and kayaking.

Slacklining at the Interactive Village. Photo: Dave Parrish.

After a full afternoon of activity, if you’re looking to wind down and relax, be sure to check out the live music and refreshments on Brown Isle every evening.

Mountain Biking

Of course, the wife and kids (or the husband and kids, for our female audience) might also be interested in mountain bikes. In which case, you’re in luck! Just head across the bike/pedestrian bridge to nearby Belle Isle to access some beginner-friendly trails and a brand-new mountain bike skills park. Built on the same general principles as Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, Belle Isle offers some great places for the kids to play and learn, but also has some advanced features for experienced riders.

Delicious, legal urban singletrack. Trail: Northbank. Photo: mtbgreg1.

Bridges on the Buttermilk Trail. Photo: mtbgreg1.

Belle Isle is a part of the fabulous James River Park System. Along with the Northbank, Buttermilk, and Forest Hill Park trails, the JRPS forms a network of 15 or more miles of legal singletrack trails… right in the heart of Richmond. Literally within pedaling distance of skyscrapers, this trail system is a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Unlike some other less-official urban trails you might have ridden, the JRPS trails are well-maintained and extremely well-built. Since they circle the James River, there isn’t much in the way of elevation gain or loss aside from a few short, punchy climbs. But what these trails lack in vertical challenge they make up for in flow and technical challenge.

Sometimes it can be hard to believe that trails can flow and be technically challenging at the same time, but JRPS accomplishes just that. Some sections swoop like an eagle and flow like a river, and then drop a technical rock garden or a skinny bridge on your path. Add in the historic sites, views of the skyscrapers, and views of the river, and one thing is certain: you won’t get bored riding at JRPS!

Rock-armored switchback. Photo: mtbgreg1.

Making use of this great trail resource, Dominion Riverrock runs the Urban Assault cross country mountain bike race and the Dirt Crit short track race, as well as a couple of trail running races. Three hundred people entered this year’s Urban Assault race, and I was one of them. Stay tuned for an upcoming race report.

Dirt Crit race. Photo: Robert Hunter.

The James River Park System isn’t the only place to mountain bike in the greater Richmond area. The festival doesn’t get started until about noon each day, so if you have a car with you, mornings offer a great opportunity to head out of the city to check out some other trails. Stay tuned for an article on Pocahontas State Park.

While Dominion Riverrock provides great fun for the whole family as well as some quality two-wheeled entertainment, unfortunately the mountain bike side of the festival isn’t as popular as some other parts of the event. For instance, last year Trek was in attendance with a full demo fleet, but this year they were markedly absent. Also, while 300 people entered the Urban Assault mountain bike race, 1,000 people entered the James River Scramble 10k run and 1,700 participated in the Filthy 5k run.

But if you are looking for a place to combine your two-wheeled passion with outdoors-oriented family entertainment, look no further than Richmond, Virginia!

Many thanks to Sports Backers for making our trip to Richmond possible.

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