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Getting down and dirty: Exploring kid-friendly mountain biking in RVA

Sally Fraser

October 3, 2014 1:38pm
Preparation can help lessen the chances of this result when taking a kid mountain biking.

Preparation can help lessen the chances of this result when taking a kid mountain biking.

Richmonders can consider themselves lucky to be surrounded by some of the best mountain biking trails in Virginia. As cycling in RVA continues to grow in popularity, it’s the perfect time to round up the family, pull out the bikes, and start exploring the network of amazing trails in our regional backyard. The local parks offer opportunities for even the youngest cyclists to begin honing their single track skills. Mountain biking provides riders with many opportunities to improve their technical ability. Skills such as balancing, braking, shifting, climbing, descending, choosing the best line and getting over or through obstacles will all come into play on the trails. Not only will your young riding partners have a blast learning this adventurous sport, they will emerge from the trail with improved bike handling skills for any type of riding.

GETTING STARTED: To get started on trails with the kids, be sure they are on a geared mountain bike that suits their size and they are wearing a properly fitted helmet. Cyclists fresh off their training wheels will need to gain leg strength for trail riding.

WHERE TO GO: Trails such as the Flats section of Poor Farm Park in Hanover County provide a great area for building strength. As its unofficial name implies, this section is flat but rooty and offers the young novice great opportunities to practice sighting ahead, riding off seat with pedals parallel, and navigating curvy single track, all while building strength and endurance.

Deep Run Park in Henrico also offers a great area for beginners. Inn the front area of the park, you’ll find single-track descents, which, in the opposite direction, offer a nice challenge for climbing and the opportunity to master shifting. The park also boasts a set of V-ditches ranging from the most modest pitch to a steeper, more adventurous V-ditch. These offer an opportunity to practice the hips-back descending position and quick, back-to-front weight transfers needed to successfully navigate this type of terrain.  The V-ditches are a guaranteed kid pleaser! Other areas in the park offer opportunities for practicing creek crossings, log obstacles, rock gardens and tougher hill climbs.

Who knows, your kid might have the talent to do this. Credit: Va. Interscholastic Cycling Association

Who knows, your kid might have the talent to do this. Credit: Va. Interscholastic Cycling Association

Belle Isle, in the heart of downtown Richmond, offers a fantastic skills park where young and old alike can practice a variety of techniques needed for tackling the downtown trail system. Here, you’ll find rock gardens; short, steep ascents and descents; log obstacles; rock obstacles; and the two pump tracks, which every kid (and kid at heart) will love. Outside of the skills park, along the eastern side of Belle Isle, you will find the Lost trail. This flat trail provides skill-building opportunities and off-road adventure for young riders. For more experienced kids, the top of Belle Isle provides a fun challenge and an opportunity to use the skills they’ve acquired down at the skills park. An ascent up the fire road in the middle of Belle Isle will definitely provide practice in the areas of shifting and climbing. Turning left at the top leads to single track that will include short, steep ascents, descents, root beds, and log obstacles. This short loop finishes with a long descent of twists and turns over cobblestones where descending and braking competence are crucial. A challenging exit requires braking, turning and balancing skills as you make a hard left turn and find yourself back down at the skills park. Once a young rider feels comfortable on this trail, they will be ready for the main attraction…the adventures that Buttermilk, Forest Hill and North Bank trails have to offer.

 

The skills park on Belle Isle is a great place for kids to learn basic MTB skills. Credit: Greg Rollins

The skills park on Belle Isle is a great place for kids to learn basic MTB skills. Credit: Greg Rollins

Pocohontas State Park in Chesterfield County is a mountain biking treasure you should place on your “MTB to do” list. Offering miles and miles of trails, Pocohontas Park was recently awarded a grant to help it become part of the official Richmond Regional Ride Center, approved by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). Currently there are only eleven IMBA Ride Centers in the world. The grant will improve existing trails and help build many more miles of trails with the goal being to provide something for riders of all skill levels. The mountain bike trails at Pocohontas currently are rated Green, Blue and Red. The Green trail is the easiest and is great for building strength and endurance for the young kiddos. The Blue Trail requires moderate technical skills, as riders will encounter climbs, drops, log crossings or rocky areas. Red trails are designated for experienced riders, offering obstacles such as skinnies, jumps, and other technical riding. The miles of double track fire roads at Pocohontas are great for enjoying ride time together and building strength and endurance for all skill levels.

Mountain biking is an exciting sport that can bond a family through mud and adventure! By starting with the proper equipment and the appropriate trail level, young riders will gain experience and confidence that will allow them to enjoy the multitude of trails that help make RVA the great cycling town we love!


About Sally Fraser

Sally Fraser is a long-time endurance athlete and coach at Endorphin Fitness where she focuses on helping kids of all abilities learn to challenge themselves and grow in confidence as well as athletic ability. She is married and has three awesome kids who all share her love for endurance sports.


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