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Guest article: Take a kid mountain biking and help grow the ‘Dirt Roots Movement’

Posted by on September 24th, 2014 at 10:57 am

janksylead

Andy Jansky practicing what he preaches on a ride at Mt. Saint Helens with his two teenage daughters.
(Photo courtesy Andy Jansky)

This article was written by Andy Jansky, a volunteer trail steward with the Northwest Trail Alliance.

It’s time to start a new cycling movement. I call it the “Dirt Roots Movement” and it’s all about getting more kids on mountain bikes.

“With each kid we get on a mountain bike, demand for closer-in, off-road riding opportunities will grow. Harnessing that demand is what the Dirt Roots Movement is all about.”

Why do we need this?

The answer should be obvious: Kids are the future of mountain biking; future advocates, future trail builders and stewards, future racers, and — this one might surprise some of you — future bike commuters and everyday riders.

And with Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day set for Saturday, October 4th, now is a great time to plan that first ride.

Mountain biking appeals to the kid in everyone. When we share our love for the sport, it’s a great gift; but only if handled properly. I assure you that if you take kids who are new to mountain biking on a ride at serious trail networks like Sandy Ridge, Coyote Wall, or Falls Creek they’ll end up frustrated and might even give up on the activity altogether.

The goal is to get kids to actually like mountain biking.

Yes, you may have to lower your expectations for the ride, maybe turn back before the loop is done or spend more time prepping bikes than riding them, but this isn’t about you. This is the time to put away your Strava machine and do right by the next generation.

Play your cards right with this first dirt riding experience, and your future might include a family vacation built around mountain biking rather than Mickey.

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Not long ago, there were very few family-friendly locations for mountain biking in the Portland region. (Touring the fire lanes in Forest Park isn’t all that exciting and it might leave newbies wondering: “Seriously? Is this mountain biking?”)

The huge void in Portland’s off-road biking opportunities was the impetus behind the construction of the easyCLIMB trails in Cascade Locks. Just 40 miles east of Portland in the Columbia River Gorge, easyCLIMB is a great place for kids, marginally-interested significant others, and mountain biking newbies of all stripes. The trail system — wonderfully free of asphalt and autos — was built by volunteers from the Northwest Trail Alliance (NWTA) and designed to provide a mix of windy single-track, smooth berms, scenic views, and natural beauty over three miles — all with less than 200 feet of climbing.

On October 4th, NWTA is hosting Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day as part of the nationwide push by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) to get more kids on bikes. Last year our easyCLIMB event was one of the largest in the country, with more than 150 kids in attendance.

One kid spent the entire time attempting to ride a two-by-four in the parking lot. When he finally mastered it, there was a big round of applause. A group of Portland kids even rode out Cascade Locks to participate. They’re taking NWTA’s “Ride to your Ride” mantra seriously!

easyCLIMB is a gem and we’re lucky to have it. But 40 miles is not close enough. With each kid we get on a mountain bike, demand for closer-in, off-road riding opportunities will grow. Harnessing that demand is what the Dirt Roots Movement is all about. We encourage all of you to do your part.

— Learn more about Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day at NW-Trail.org.

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23 Comments
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    Brian September 24, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Very, very well said Andy. This Summer I had to drive my four year old all the way to Sandy Ridge to ride the loop around the parking lot to get him riding in the dirt. The first time we went he rode it four times, and was learning more skills with each time around. He now proudly mentions “Sandy Ridge” in conversations about riding bikes!

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    dan September 24, 2014 at 11:44 am

    A worthy cause, but I’m way more interested in making the city streets that we ride every day safe for riders from kids to senior citizens. MTB riding is a leisure activity — nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my highest priority for cycle-related advocacy.

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      dave September 24, 2014 at 12:07 pm

      Our cities were built by the American “love affair with the car”. You have to get people to fall in love with the bike the same way if you want to rebuild them, and mountain biking is an extremely efficient way to do that. I don’t think anybody is suggesting that we stop working on streets and safety to refocus on recreation, but it’s important that it be part of the mix as well. If nothing else, Detroit wouldn’t have been able to sell tens of millions of cars if all they did was advertise their utility and safety in getting you to work.

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      Jeff September 24, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      It’s not clear to me how your comment contributes to the conversation of the topic of this article. Could you elaborate?

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      Charley September 24, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      MTB access need not be the highest priority, but creating cyclist voters *does* need to be the highest priority. We won’t get to higher mode shares without more interested riders, and mountain biking is among the best gateway drugs into city riding (away from cars, out in the trees, having a good time). It’s one more way to get kids (and adults) out of cars and onto bikes.

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        Brian September 24, 2014 at 12:21 pm

        Exactly. As I have mentioned before, all of my friends in Portland these days own road bikes and they all began as mountain bikers.

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      spencer September 24, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      my best commutes involve riding hobo trails and urban single track

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      GorgeDon September 24, 2014 at 3:20 pm

      Not to be out of line, but if you think mountain biking is a leisure activity I’d like to invite you to come out to the gorge & ride with us. If your idea of leisure activity is burning a few thousand calories on a 25 mile ride with 7,000 feet of elevation gain I think you’ll love it.

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        F.W. de Klerk September 25, 2014 at 7:38 am

        GorgeDon I think many of us get exactly what you are saying. But the Al Sharptons of BikePortland seem to like labeling mountain biking as a leisure activity only for rich white people. It’s all about fine cigars and brandy out on the trail.

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          dan September 25, 2014 at 10:54 am

          Well, the best stats I can find on MTB rider demographics do indicate that MTB riders are wealthy men, who spent an average of $1,800 on their last MTB and drive approx. 15 miles to the trailhead. So I think we can agree that “rich people” is accurate.
          http://mmba.org/library/State%20Business/Reports/Mountain%20Biker%20Demographics.pdf

          I can’t find any information on ethnicity though, so it’s possible that you’re right about MTB riders not being overwhelmingly white, though my limited experience riding trails around Bend suggests that’s not the case.

          Don’t get me wrong, MTB riding is fun, I love renting a boing boing that costs what I make in a month and riding the Phil’s Trail complex. It’s just not a priority for my advocacy efforts. And yes, it is a leisure activity, like other outdoor sports.

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            davemess September 25, 2014 at 1:10 pm

            I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess there are a number of people on this site that have one (or more) bicycles that cost $1800 (and some of those bikes are commuter bikes).

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      Alex September 24, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      Perhaps the goal should be more commuting on dirt and less on streets.

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      GlowBoy September 25, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      To me this isn’t just about getting kids to fall in love with biking or even with exercise, but to get them to fall in love with nature.

      Our increasingly urban population is increasingly disconnected from the natural environment – a process that I think is about to accelerate radically in Oregon as more people start moving here for the Portland lifestyle as opposed to the beauty of the northwest natural environment – as people like I did.

      We need more events like this to take kids mountain biking, take them camping, take them hiking, take them skiing, take them paddling, take them orienteering, whatever.

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      Matt September 26, 2014 at 11:15 pm

      True, mountain biking can be an expensive leisure activity – just as road riding is for some. But I think you miss the point of the article. The argument being made is that if you introduce kids to bicycling in a safe and healthy environment, like a trail for instance, then they are more likely to embrace all forms of cycling and grow up to become tomorrow’s advocates for making our city streets safe.

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    dave September 24, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Amen! We talk a lot about the lack of singletrack near Portland, but less about the lack of truly beginner-friendly singletrack. I feel like I always harp on Bend in these conversations, but Phil’s should be a template – a huge network of beginner to intermediate trails, where someone can push themselves as much or as little as they feel confortable with. Sadly, as long as FP remains off the table I don’t see any realistic options for building something of that scale and quality in PDX.

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      davemess September 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      Powell Butte is incredibly beginner friendly (though maybe a little hilly for some beginners). And there is space to grow there, if there was a will. Also there is exponentially less pushback than around FP.

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        pdx2wheeler September 24, 2014 at 2:46 pm

        Powell Butte is a fun ride. The approach from the south, just off the Spingwater Corridor, is a bit steep. I took a girlfriend up that trail once and she struggled a fair amount and wasn’t happy, she never went back… It was more difficult than I thought it would be for a beginner. For beginners I would recommend riding in from the trailhead on the west side. It’s more gradual with less curves, roots, and rocks, etc…

        Regardless, it’s not what it used to be since they started the reservoir project up there. They’ve completely scalped the top of Powell Butte and added gravel riding paths. Those are nice, but I really liked exploring the older more natural trails. Also, there are signs at the trailheads asking people to not ride on the trails when they are wet. So don’t go on a rainy day. I’m hoping that once they wrap up the reservoir work things will return to a natural state and be more fun.

        I haven’t been there for several months so I’m not sure of the current conditions.

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          davemess September 24, 2014 at 4:18 pm

          There are actually about 4 different trail options from the springwater, some are steeper than others. Probably the least steep (for sustained periods) is if you hang to the far left (furthest west trail).

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      Tad (ScientologyDad) September 24, 2014 at 3:41 pm

      It doesn’t even all have to be contained within a single park, to make for a good MTB trail system. I spent a lot of time in Knoxville, TN, and their Urban Wilderness MTB trails at Ijams is a fantastic example of how you can use strips of woods adjacent to other nature parks to make for a fantastic trail system.

      Map of such: http://ijams.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Ijams-Trail-Map-2013-Quarry.pdf

      It’s a concatenation of a dedicated nature park, plus a reclaimed rock quarry, and other folks back yards. It’s FANTASTIC to ride in, and is within the Knoxville city limits – so is only minutes from the downtown.

      Something like this could be accomplished in multiple areas around Portland / Beaverton / Oregon City / Lake Oswego if someone had the gumption to.

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    davemess September 24, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    I was thinking about this the other day? Is it possible to get kids bike demo’d for these events. Seems this is in its current form is just catering to kids who already have mountain bikes (and likely have bikey parents). I have a little guy that I mentor and would love to bring him to this, but he doesn’t have a bike. I understand that if kids want to get into MTB, they’ll need a bike, but seems like it would be great to be able to at least let them try it out outside first.

    Wonder if the Lumberyard would be any help with making some bikes available.

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    Tad (ScientologyDad) September 24, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    I just wrote an article promoting the event as well:

    http://www.scientologyparent.com/international-take-a-kid-mountain-biking-day-is-october-4th/

    The best way to ensure our kids will be responsible stewards of the environment is to get them out there experiencing it. Also, it’s an awful lot of fun to be able to be out there being active with your kids, as opposed to just watching them at a soccer match.

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    Dmitriy Zasyatkin September 24, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    NWTA is doing everything they can to get more urban trails anywhere, but we’re up against some strong and extremely vocal opposition, so we need mountain bikers to come together more to form a stronger voice.

    Keep in mind that NWTA is volunteer run, so we need your help to make this happen. You have to due your part for the mountain biking ecosystem to exist and this is a good reminder that we’re also paying it forward for our kids generation.

    If your interested in advocacy or helping in other ways, please email volunteer@nw-trail.org.

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    Andy jansky September 26, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Want to dig into some numbers based on a comment above? Check out the survey results from the new Columbia Gorge Survey. Decent balance between road/mtb, the age spread is interesting. Also interesting is the economic impact we have. http://industry.traveloregon.com/research/cycling-research/

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