Drafting my Family into Mountain Biking and Sharing the Stoke

My daughter tells an entertaining story when prompted that never fails to leave listeners aghast.  “For my 10th birthday, my dad gave me a mountain bike wheel.”
File photo / Credit: Road It Up Location: Hurricane, Utah

My daughter tells an entertaining story when prompted that never fails to leave listeners aghast. 

“For my 10th birthday, my dad gave me a mountain bike wheel.” 

Listeners, typically not mountain bikers, look at her incredulously: “A bike wheel?”

“A mountain bike wheel,” she calmly corrects them. She knows the difference between a “bike wheel” and a “mountain bike wheel.” 

“Did… you want a mountain bike wheel?,” they ask.


“Then why did he give you a wheel?”

“Because my dad is addicted to mountain biking,” she answers.

Never let a family member’s lack of shared mountain bike exuberance get in the way of your passion… on their behalf. It was a fantastic replacement wheel for the mountain bike she used (on occasion), and the weight savings could easily lead to a more enjoyable ride that would (in my mind) lead to her joining me on more weekend outings. While this thought process ended up being a failure, I did provide her with a show stopper of a story.

If my children do one day end up working the stage at comedy clubs, they will undoubtedly have me to thank for the stories they have to share, and many of those will surely relate to the forced passion for mountain biking I foisted upon them.

Now, let’s be honest here — the fact you are visiting this website reveals that you have the “bug” also. Not to fear, though: this passion, bordering on addiction, for all things mountain biking is mostly healthy. We get extreme exercise (that my cardiologist loves and instructs me to continue doing; I am merely following orders). We get time in the outdoors — which is also exceptionally healthy. In many instances, we share our time riding with friends socializing before, during and after, which is also considered healthy. It’s just that sometimes the passion does go a tad bit far. 

This type of committed behavior is expected of surfers, who love their sport so much they will relocate to places with great “break,” whether employment opportunities or affordable accommodations are available or not. Van life started (as far as I can tell) with surfers for precisely this reason; the waves aren’t always rideable, so when they are, you’d best be ready to roll, and employment better not interfere. Ski bums share this passion. Living out of a car in the mountains to be close to the trailhead for the days when the snow is perfect, once again, employment be damned? Warren Miller was doing it at Sun Valley in the 1950s, and can’t we all relate to his mantra: “If you don’t do it this year, you’ll just be one year older when you do.” I blame Warren for my expensive bike travel bag purchase… I’m doing the fly-to-bike trip this year. Maybe. 

I’m not at the live-in-the-car level of passion (at least until I can pioneer living by the trailhead in a station wagon into a lucrative career making movies). But I am close. We mountain bikers do tend — like our ski and surf bum relatives — to live lives oriented toward riding bikes on trails. Our internet search history and frequently visited website pages are full of what my co-workers refer to as “bike porn.” 

“He’s always looking at pictures and reviews of bikes.” 

“It’s true,” I admit, “but look at the lines on that new aluminum frame, you can barely see the welds…” 

They don’t get it. Despite my best efforts, they are not mountain bikers. Even when we get close, I lose them at: 

“How much did you say a bike costs?”

We tend to try and share our stoke with all those around us, like a recipe for caramel flan that’s so good they just have to try it. What is not to love? Exercise, outdoors, socialization? The joy of conquering a dangerous trail feature? The thrill of a quick pop into the air with a safe landing? The satisfaction of a completed endurance climb, sitting on a rock scarfing down energy gels? The adrenaline of a long and flowy downhill? The payoff of an incredible view that would take hikers multiple hours to reach that you got to in an hour? Why would I not want to share this?

Whether fortunate to be the one shared with is the question. Family was my first target. They had little choice; once dad went over the edge, they were getting pulled whether they wanted to or not. “Fortunate,” they may ask? 

My wife, kids, and dog used to love to camp. Then, I nearly froze them to death on three camping trips dedicated to…mountain biking. There was also a fourth trip that was only slightly warmer than “almost freeze to death.” The dog looked at us afterwards with curiosity: “this is what you do when you leave the house? What the hell is the matter with you people?” 

They eye me warily and hesitate before answering when I ask if they have any plans for the coming weekend.

“If I say nothing, he’s going to try and get me to go biking with him,” is the silent conversation in their head.

“You guys want to take a trip for spring break?” They know better than to answer right away. That trip likely means a bike trip. “Trips” sound lovely, until they reveal: we are riding at far different levels of stoke about the difficulty of the trail and the features (my wife refers to as “obstacles”) that we will tackle. 

Photo courtesy of Jan Smith

“Why is she walking again? This is not a hard trail.” My kids used to hear this and knowingly look at each other; this was destined to be a good one. There was a time where I was less experienced and less patient. Those days make for great stories of dad’s excess now that we can look back and laugh at…me. 

If not weather, there is always a good vomiting story to fall back on. My daughter does a robust re-enactment of the trip we took where I did not almost freeze them to death, but did come down with a serious case of “Montezuma’s revenge” (from both ends) while deep in the trail network and during the drive back to the campsite. Vomiting from the bike was a new one for all of us.

Perhaps their favorites are the journeys where I planned ride routes that left them delirious with exhaustion and dehydration. My sherpa of a wife would appear last at the top, hauling all the gear and extra clothing the kids had dropped along the way in their “summit attempt.” Leading a ride does have the advantage of being unaware of the entirety of the desperate operation going on behind you.

The family gets bike upgrades they had no idea they needed and had no idea were even happening. 

“Where’d my bike go?” My daughter asked.

“This is your new one. I built it with some of the parts from your old one.” 

“But I liked my old bike.”

“This one is better.”

“But I liked that wheel. It had sentimental value.” I know when she starts busting my chops. When we visited her cousins last summer she saw where her “hand-me-down” bike and wheel had ended up, giving her yet another audience for the “birthday story.” 

Every lesson I learn about riding gets mandated upon them. They just don’t know they should be thanking me for the more ventilated helmet that will keep them cooler in the summer or the lighter and more rigid wheel that will make climbing easier. Yet, no matter what the bike issue is, my wife loves getting laughs from the kids by chirping, “yeah, but is it a 29er?” She’s got the lingo down, the bike equivalent of “pow” or “break.” 

The best comedy, and the best stories come from experiences lived. Toward that end, I recently had my Pink Floyd moment. Going through old photos I called my wife over and together we watched the thread of biking weave together years of shared memories. Ten years had indeed “got behind” us, but we had been fortunate not to have “missed the starting gun.” We hadn’t waited “until next year,” but had jumped into all the great descents and challenging climbs together, on mountain bikes. And a funny thing happened along the way: the kids may be on their own, or nearly there, but they ended up loving the stoke of mountain biking. My son is shopping for his own upgrades now. My daughter chose to start racing. They have made it part of their lives even without me around to ask: “so, um, what you got going on the week before Thanksgiving…”

Passion. Payoff.