Grand Valley Family: Mountain Biking 101

When one of our sons was 10, my husband, James, and I made a critical error. We let him ride a mountain bike trail that was too hard. We could have said, “No, let’s choose a different route.” But we didn’t. By the end of the day our strong, young biker was a battered, fearful biker. Only, he wasn’t a mountain biker anymore; it was two years before he got back on a bike. 

As parents, it can be hard to resist dialing up the stoke. When our children express an interest in something we enjoy, it’s only natural to encourage them. We want to spend time together, doing things as a family. But sometimes we lose track of the long view. In pushing a bit too hard, we can set everyone back. 

Don’t Push It

Jen Charrette is a former Category 1 mountain bike racer and the mother of two boys, ages 12 and 3. She and her husband, Randy, spend a lot of time in Fruita riding trails with their sons. 

“We’re always biking, so our sons have many opportunities to bike,” Charrette says. “However, our philosophy has always been ‘don’t push it.’ We invite them to bike, but if they don’t want to we hang out and play at the trailhead.” 

Charrette’s sons both started on balance bikes when they were 2 years old and graduated to pedal bikes around age 3. The family’s “don’t push it” philosophy began when their oldest son got his first bike. “We kept the bike around so he could see it. We carried his bike everywhere with us. If he wanted to use it we were happy to help and support him. But we never pushed it. We didn’t want the drama.” 


Instead, they want their sons to enjoy biking and be comfortable doing it. And that’s exactly what has happened.

Families Learning Together

A great thing about mountain biking, especially on the Grand Valley’s wealth of trails, is that it’s made for family fun. It’s a sport where parents can teach children, children can teach parents, and everyone can learn together. 

Sarah Kamstra began mountain biking when her 8-year-old son, Henry, invited her to try it at his summer camp in July. “I went up a hill and it was terrible. I was huffing and puffing. When I got down, I thought to myself ‘that was awful.’ But it was also sort of fun.” 

A few weeks later, Sarah and her husband, Darrin, an experienced mountain biker, took their two children to Crested Butte with another family. Now Sarah is hooked, and this family of four rides together as often as they can.

Five Tips For Successful Family Mountain Biking

In addition to not pushing it, here are some suggestions from Charrette and the Kamstra family:

1. Be Patient. “You need to know your family’s limits and have realistic expectations about how quickly they will improve,” shares Darrin Kamstra. It’s important to start slow and ride easy trails. Introduce more challenging terrain gradually, and let your child be the trail boss. If anyone is unhappy or frightened, dial it back. This may even mean hiking back to the trailhead. Henry Kamstra also mentions patience when sharing his best mountain biking tip for kids. “When you first start, if you fall over a couple of times, just be patient and keep going. Eventually you will learn.” 

2. Keep Them Wanting More. Mountain biking is both physically and mentally challenging. It takes a lot of concentration to ride and maneuver on rough trails. Smart parents know that this means ending the ride while everyone is having fun. Keep the experience enjoyable, and be willing to change plans depending upon how your kids are feeling. 


3. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry. Charrette suggests bringing along your children’s favorite snacks when you go out riding. While she considers this “bribery,” staying hydrated and well fueled on the trail is smart advice for everyone.

4. Go Together. Make family biking a priority. If your children see you having fun biking, they will enjoy doing it more. Having fun together builds positive memories and keeps everyone interested. For an even better time, find other families with whom to ride. The kids will encourage one another, and it makes the ride more of an adventure. 

5. Get Good Gear. “Buy the best gear that you can on your budget,” suggests Charrette. “Better bikes are lighter, they shift better, and the geometry is better. They will help your children progress.” While many younger kids aren’t interested in wearing biking gloves, helmets are mandatory.

Turn Down the Stoke

As for our son, several years after his frightening ride he’s a strong, brave mountain biker. Along with his older brother, he outrides both of his parents. “It will take a while, but at some point your children will give you more stoke than you ever imagined,” James reflects. “So when they’re little, just turn it down. Just turn down the stoke.” 

Popular Trails for Families and Beginners

Highline Lake State Park. Seven miles of non-technical beginner and intermediate trails, plus a lake for swimming and cooling off. 

Kids’ Meal, Lunch Loops. The shortest and easiest trail at Lunch Loops, Kids’ Meal serves up instructional displays and sections of trail where riders can choose between easy, intermediate and more advanced options.

Rustler’s Loop, Kokopelli Loops. A one-way, 3.7-mile loop trail with instructional signs and an introduction to slickrock. 

Kessel Run, 18 Road/North Fruita Desert. A one-way trail that winds through banked turns and over small drops and rollers. This is a popular fast trail, with the option to bail out on a gravel road part way down.