Our family loves mountain biking. Many outdoor-focused resorts now offer mountain bike rentals and mountain bike single track, and we discovered the sport while traveling. Right away, our kids wanted to mountain bike at home, too. Here’s what we’ve learned about finding family mountain biking trails (at home and while on the road), how to best transport your bikes, and the gear it’s helpful to have with you.
Where and how to mountain bike while on vacation:
Even if you can’t or don’t want to get into mountain biking at home (after all, there’s lots of gear to buy), all families can try mountain biking while traveling. Look for family resorts that focus on outdoor activities and nature, ski resorts in the summer, and state parks. Many resort towns offer bike rental shops, and ski resorts will often have rentals available slope side. Our favorite resorts for mountain biking offer gear for kids, a variety of single track for all abilities, and amenities for after biking, like pools or spa services.
The Lodge at Eagle Crest, Oregon: This Central Oregon family resort has everything you’d want, including a full bike rental shop with sizing for young kids to adults. There are easy paved bike loops for those who want a tame experience, plus miles of single track (dirt paths) accessible directly from the property for those who want a challenge. Plus, Eagle Crest has golf, pools, restaurants, and playgrounds. Read a full review.
Northstar California: We love to mountain bike at ski resorts! Northstar, located in North Tahoe, CA, has some of the best gravity-based mountain biking for families. What does ‘gravity-based’ mean? It means the trails all run downhill, with lifts to carry you (and your bike) back up. The trails are marked easy (green) to advanced (black), just like during the ski season. You’ll also find fun elements like bridges and berms to play with. We recommend taking a lesson at a ski resort like Northstar. Another favorite location: Park City Mountain Resort! Read a full review.
State parks: State parks in many states offer easy access to mountain biking trails. The only downside: usually you’re on your own for bikes, so bring them with you or look for a local bike rental shop. To find state parks with the best single track, try state park pages by state, such as this one for Florida or this one for Utah.
How to get into mountain biking at home:
Once you’ve tried out the sport on vacation, I bet you’ll want to check out the mountain biking scene near your home as well. We’ve found that the best way to enjoy family mountain biking at home is to:
- Get a bike rack for easy transport to trails
- Get to know your local bike shop
- Join a Facebook group or club
You can read below for detailed info on getting a bike rack to fit your car. But first, a word on the importance of a local bike shop: these establishments serve several purposes. The staff at a good bike shop can help you maintain your bike, whether it’s a fancy model or just a starter bike, and educate you on bike tire pumps, locks, and the best trails near your home. We could learn a lot about caring for our bikes ourselves, but instead, we just bring our bikes into our local shop for inexpensive tune-ups every so often. Our bike shop also posts information about local bike clubs and groups for fun rides, plus maps of area trails.
The best way to find local single track trails is to ask people in the know, whether that be your neighbor whose always on his bike to the bike shop pros. We have several mountain bike and hiking networks within a few miles of our house, and our teens will often load up the bikes and ride for a few hours in the evenings.
Gear you’ll need to mountain bike on your own:
If you want to mountain bike at a resort, likely the only thing you’ll need is a water bottle. Everything will be provided. But at home, here’s the very basics of what you’ll want:
Mountain bike: I’m a firm believer that mountain bikes don’t have to be top of the line…to start out with. Look for a bike with good shocks, mountain biking tires, and a fairly lightweight frame. You don’t need full suspension on your first bike, and kids’ bikes can have even fewer frills. This guide to buying your first mountain bike is helpful. Our kids started out with Trek bikes with just a few gears, and grew into their bikes with more bells and whistles.
Helmet and pads: Helmets while mountain biking, are of course, essential. Do you need a motorcycle-style helmet with face guard? Probably not, at least until you start doing some serious vertical. However, it’s worth investing in a good pair of padded shorts. We have been happy with G-Form Pro-X compression shorts. These breathable, thin compression shorts fit well under athletic shorts or pants and give kids (and adults) just enough added padding to make those inevitable falls less painful. Best of all, G-Form’s shorts are versatile: invest in them once, and your kid or teen can wear them during biking, skiing, skating, and even sports like soccer. With three active boys, they’re now a staple in our closets.
We also recommend knee pads and shin guards, ever since our oldest bashed his shin hard enough to leave a scar when falling (the pedal hit his shin bone). At very least, plan to ride with long pants and a lightweight but long-sleeved shirt.
Bike rack: If you’re biking as a family, you’ll need a bike rack for your car sooner rather than later. When we got ours, we started mountain biking at least twice as often, because suddenly, it wasn’t a hassle to get out there. The easiest and cheapest way to transport bikes on your car is with a trunk-mounted bike rack. Our favorite is the Yakima Fullback. It fits on most cars, and is easy to take on and off. The downside: you have to remove it to access other things in your truck or far-back of your car. If you have a hitch mount and can spend a few more bucks, opt for a hitch-mounted rack that swings away from your vehicle for ease of use. Our favorite is the SportRack Ridge Swing. Roof-top racks are also available, but most only hold one bike per rack.
Optional gear that can make life easier:
Bike computer: Strap these GPS units to your bike, and you’ll know where you’re going, where you’ve been, and how fast (or slow) you are going. We like the ease-of-use of the Garmin Edge 200. The Edge’s GPS feature is faster than most, which means when you turn it on outdoors, it finds satellites quickly so you can get on with your ride. It also alerts you if it’s not functioning correctly, which is helpful. Edge 200 has an Auto Pause feature so it will stop the timer when you’re not moving, then restart automatically when you’re rolling again. You also can set alerts for distance, time or calories to make it easier and more fun to achieve your goals.
Cell phone holder: Base Camp Sports handlebar bag is inexpensive, but easily attaches to your bike frame. You can place a cell phone in the top dedicated sleeve, which is clear so you can see your display at any time. Below, you have space for a tire repair kit, snack, or your car keys. We like to have one bike bag at least in our family of bikes, so someone in the group can have their phone with them.
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Do you mountain bike as a family? What are your tips?