Words by ambassador Jon Strom. Graphics by ambassador Kate Strom.

We’ve all been a new mountain biker at some point.  For some, it happened as kids or teenagers ripping through the woods on hand-me-down bikes.  Others, like the two of us, hopped on a bike as an adult looking for a new way to explore the outdoors and stay healthy. One likely constant is that most of us fell in love with the sport by struggling down local trails that seemed both exciting and probably a little scary at the time. That rush hooked us all and it wasn’t long before what used to scare us became achievable and even commonplace. Soon we were off to bigger thrills and tougher challenges. Admit it, you have a local trail that was very important to you as a newbie, that you now consider beneath your skill set and not worth your time anymore. 

Unfortunately, a dismissive attitude towards a backyard trail can inadvertently impact the experience of a fledgling mountain biker. Seasoned riders, present company included, are notorious for unintentionally belittling a good time by saying things like “if you think that was fun, just wait until we hit _____, you’ll love it!” or “That’s nothing, you should see ____.” Sound familiar?  Don’t be too hard on yourself, we’ve all done it. While it’s easy to forget the struggles of a brand-new rider, we have a suggestion on how to remember—take a kid for a ride.  Borrow one if you have to!  A recent trail ride with our friend’s seven-year-old daughter, Emery, had us laughing all afternoon and helped us see some all-too-familiar dirt through eyes a little closer to the ground. Let’s just say she has a way with words…

Remember the first time you rolled over a tangle of nasty roots? Or tried to double some rollers? Bet your heart was in your throat and certain body parts were puckered up real tight. But you did it!  And then you did it again. And again. Now it’s a no-brainer, right? It’s easy to forget that panicky feeling and inadvertently push someone past their comfort zone. Older riders may not articulate their fears to you because you make things look easy. This makes it hard to know what they’re struggling with or how to help. We’re all guilty of waiting—often impatiently—for our friends improve so we can get back to the “real trails” but riding with a kid is a good way to help you remember what it’s like to be a new rider experiencing things for the first time.

As we listened to Emery’s non-stop stream-of-consciousness experience, we began to better understand what was scary, what would be fun for her, and when to encourage or teach. Soon, the roots and rocks that hung her up were whizzing beneath her tires and she was pestering us to go faster or she would pass us. A good time is contagious and even though we weren’t hammering miles, chasing KOMs or logging airtime, we realized we were having just as much fun. 

Don’t we all? 

Riding with Emery helped the two of us recalibrate how we introduce new folks to riding singletrack and we’ve had more friends take to mountain biking as a result. Take the time to ride with a grom, listen to their struggles and successes and really appreciate the way their confidence grows. We’d be willing to bet it rubs off on your next no-drop ride and rekindles an old flame with your backyard trail too.