Rad Tools for Responsible Riding: A Story About a Bell
From parent-built, backyard trails; to bike parks; to pump tracks; to vacation MTB and skills camps, there are awesome places to get kids on mountain bikes all across the country. But what is the magic ingredient or “special sauce” to look for when exploring new mountain bike adventure opportunities with kids? For those getting little ones started, and those riding through childhood with their littles (or not-so-little-anymores), here are some takes on what to look for when you’re considering where to take a kid mountain biking.
When identifying the best places to take kids mountain biking, access to progression is a magic ingredient. Progressive trail systems have trails that include features for riders of all skill levels, in some cases from balance biking toddlers to experts. Features can include turns, flow, bridges, berms, and even rock gardens and drops, and are optional, with “B” lines available if a person prefers to avoid a feature. Progression is an intentional design component that adds inclusive options for families with riders of different levels as well as options for young people working on specific skills on different natural surfaces.
Truckee Bike Park is a great example of a mountain bike destination built with young riders and skills progression in mind. Over a decade ago, local riders in Truckee, CA brought in trail specialists from IMBA Trail Solutions for consultation, feasibility studies, and professional designs of the proposed pump park. The designs were used to help get additional funding, and fast forward to today (after a TON of effort by local riders), the Truckee Bike Park is premier, progressive riding area with robust community support, incredible features for riders of all skill levels, and even kids bike camps and private/group coaching.
Another example is the Baker Creek Preserve Play Forest in Knoxville, Tennessee’s “Urban Wilderness.” Baker Creek was designed to increase physical activity among youth, and has MTB and non-MTB outdoor play features. There is a mini, asphalt pump track that was built to introduce kids and their families to mountain biking. There’s also a kids’ loop within a few hundred yards of world-class double-black diamond downhill trails, and seven additional trails of varying degrees of difficulty making Baker Creek a unique place for mountain bikers of all ages and skill levels to advance through a progression of trails and skills.
Coming as no surprise to anyone with a tween or teenager, riding with their peers is something that motivates kids to get on, and stay on, mountain bikes. As trail systems and features are social destinations for some adults, spaces where young riders can connect, share experiences, and even compete are intentional design components for skills areas, pump tracks, and dual slalom courses.
The Gateway Green Bike Park in Portland, OR has all of these features, plus a dedicated MTB Club and Parks & Rec collaboration to maintain them. Partially funded by an IMBA grant, the park is still evolving, and underwent a revamp, reopening this summer. Check out the aerial footage of the jumpline, the pump track, and some of the other features, and some local coverage of the revamp (worth the watch!). If you find yourself near Portland, get your kids to the Gateway Green.
An IMBA Chapter in Parker County, TX, the Weatherford Mountain Bike Club (WMBC), designed and constructed a mountain bike skills area specifically for kids in their area. “The Pit” was once a dormant tennis/basketball court located at the Downtown Aledo Community Center. When the city determined resurfacing the courts would be cost-prohibitive, they reached out to the WMBC, and the WMBC reached out to IMBA to help raise funds to make “The Pit” into a rad place for kids to get active on bikes. Learn about how they did it, and how youth riders were and remain the focus of this MTB feature in Texas.
Preference and the People They Love.
Jess the Maker made us all chuckle when she classified types of riders. Scale that back ten to fifteen years, and our kids reflect different riding styles, too. Some kids are gnarnivores: chasing adrenaline, excitement, and the sickest features. Some kids eat snacks, play with bugs, and happen to get in a mile or two. IMBA parents and coaches share that the experience of watching young riders develop their own riding style and preference is in itself a magical “place,” and one that can be further developed by exploring different types of trails, in new trail systems and parks, with different features, flora and fauna. Maybe the best part of helping young riders develop their style and preference is doing it together, with the people they love.
But, don’t take it from IMBA. (We’re all at least old enough to vote.) We went to the experts, and kids weighed in on where the best places to take kids mountain biking are:
Scout, age 12, Salida, CO (Mom, Bethany) “Methodist is great for beginners with lots of loops that are easy, fun, and fast. S mountain is great to practice tight corners, but I prefer Methodist because it’s more shady and the trails are better conditioned. My favorite trails on Methodist are: Solstice, Lost, Dead Bird, Sun Up, Skull, the Spartans (W& E), and some parts of Little Rainbow. For S Mountain: Burn Pile, Chili Pepper Trails, Rusty Lung, Little Rattler, and Frontside!” (And there’s your Where to Take a Kid guided tour of Salida!)
Ian, age 14, Winona, MN (Dad, Josh) “The best place to ride with kids is at the top of Bronk’s (Cherry Hill). It’s a nice place to learn lots of skills, and have fun at the same time.” (Ian is a NICA rider for the Winona Composite MTB Team. He also likes riding off jumps in his back yard.)
Briar, age 10, Two Harbors, MN (Mom, Ryan) “Take kids mountain biking close to where there is an ice cream shop!" (#MoreTrailsCloseToIceCream)
Joni, age 4, Park City, UT (Mom, Julie) “Yabba-dabba-do…It has twists and turns.” (This little likes a good flow trail!)
Maisie, age 10, Ettick, WI (Dad, Bud) “Pump track!”
Katy, age 16, Winona, MN (Step-mom, Kate) “Trails that are downhill with a bunch of turns and bumps, with obstacles you can ride! Or, anywhere with you.” (Uphill is hard. Downhill for this blogger’s wild child! Also, *heart explosion,* That's my girl.)
Wherever you take your young riders, get out this Saturday, October 7th for Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day 2023. Take some pics, use #TKMBD, and spread the love for the next generation of mountain bikers and trail enthusiasts.
And, if you’re interested in learning more about how to build progressive, and peer-based engagement promoting features and trails for youth as well as adults, check out the following resources from IMBA:
How to Get a Pump Track in Your Town
Bike Parks- IMBA’s Guide to New School Trails
What is a Bicycle Playground?
Why Cities Build Bike Parks and How to Convince Yours