Gear Review

Mountain Biking

By: Jeremiah Doty

Personal Choices For Our Family Mountain Biking Adventures.

Balancing Fitness and Family Fun Two Wheels At A Time!

Although Stand Up Paddle Boarding is hands down our favorite family fun fitness activity, we also enjoy many other activities together. Mountain Biking is def in our top 5 family adventures, and if you asked my 8 year old son, Payne, he’d probably say it was his favorite! Many of our fitness lifestyle hobbies are very inexpensive; quality snowshoe’s can be purchased for under $200, hiking shoes & a decent backpack are a fairly low investment, and time spent playing at our local park is free. Our Stand Up Paddle boarding hobby can definitely start to add up to some $$$ between the boards themselves, quality paddles, life jackets, etc. We “voted” as a family to make Mountain Biking a frequent adventure, but also agreed we needed to stay within a reasonable budget. Keeping a reasonable budget in mind, Michelle & I started off with matching HARO Flightline Mt Bikes, both with the standard 26″ tires. We initially purchased a Mongoose Youth Mt Bike for Payne. We started off with some easier local rides and a few trips to the Coast. Payne was 5 years old at the time, so naturally we kept things at a moderate pace and didn’t try any of the more challenging Mt Bike trails

Fast forward to February of 2017, on a family road trip from our home in the foothills of Mt St Helens to the outskirts of Phoenix Arizona. We packed our 2 HARO’s and Payne’s cheaper Mongoose and hit the road. Payne was almost 8 years old now, and like most boys his age he was doing “tricks” and jumps on is bike that made us cringe (with a smile on the outside for encouragement). We had done some more challenging Mt Bike trails by now, including the Siouxon Trails above Chelatchie Prairie and much of the trail systems around Bend Oregon. Payne was keeping up with either of us, and loving every minute of it! Based on how things were going and how much we were enjoying our Mt Bikes as a family, we decided to allot 2 days of our trip back home to spend time riding the Slick Rock trails in Moab Utah. We pulled into town too late to do any serious riding, but the few trails we hit were a blast! The next morning we ventured out to the famous Slick Rock trail system, ready to test ourselves on some legit Mt Bike trails.

I’m typically a “research and do your homework” kinda guy, but this Moab stop was kinda an afterthought. Just to play it safe, we decided to start on the “beginners trail”, or at least what we thought was the beginners trail. What it actually said on the sign was “practice loop”, which afterwards we realized meant it had a bit of every type of challenge you would encounter on a hardcore Moab trail! So yes, we took our 7 year old son on over 7 miles of brutally challenging terrain with everything from downward slopes so steep my knees felt like they were gonna explode to uphill climbs that none of us, not even Michelle, could ride our bikes up.

We spent over half the time walking our bikes, with Michelle & I taking turns to come back for Payne’s bike on all the extra steep sections that he couldn’t push his bike up by himself. All 3 of us had blisters on or hands & feet, sunburns, and were exhausted by the time we got back to our truck. Payne was convinced we had a vendetta against him, and this Mt Bike ride was somehow a trick to see just how much punishment he could handle. He’s a tough lil guy tho, and we all made it home in one piece. We learned a lot on that trip. A “high end” department store Youth Mt Bike was NOT made for Moab. I was at least 30 lbs too heavy for the suspension on my HARO, and my bars were much too small. All of us had problems with our feet slipping off the pedals, especially the more fatigued we got. Michelle’s hands were throbbing from the stock HARO bars & grips. We’re not the types to give up on anything, and we don’t like getting our butts kicked like that! After that trip, I was on a mission to get us the right gear to conquer Moab! I honestly don’t know how many different Mt Bikes I tested before finally purchasing myself a new Specialized Rockhopper hard tail 29er. As soon as I rode the 29er around the block, I knew it had to be mine. The Rockhopper was $850 as-is. Bone stock it came with push button lockout front suspension and the adjustable¬†SR Suntour XCR-Air fork was just amazing!

The geometry of the Rockhopper was very unique, it’s a 29er so of course it has an overall larger feel to it, but still felt every bit as nimble and controllable as any of my 26 inch bikes. The Shimano Deore rear derailleur feels crisp and tight thru all the shifts, and with an 11-36t gear range cruising the straight stretches was almost as easy as climbing the trails! It handles my frame effortlessly, and the larger tire size allows me to roll right over obstacles that would have taken me some effort before. Before I even brought it home, I upgraded the bars to a taller & wider stance, nice new grips, and of course some aggressive pedals to keep my feet planted firmly. This bike has changed my entire riding style and taken my confidence to new levels. I’ve got some hard miles on it now, and it’s never left me stranded once. https://www.specialized.com/us/en/rockhopper-comp-29/p/115498

For Michelle, we opted to keep her HARO as the frame size was perfect for her. Bang for your buck, the HARO flightline One is hard to beat. Stock disc brakes front & rear, decent front forks (especially for lighter riders) and the frame is surprisingly light for a bike selling for under $400. She’s never had any issues with the stock derailleurs as long as we keep everything tuned up. We added new bars & grips, and top of the line DMR Vault pedals to keep her feet planted. Finishing things off with a set of aggressive trail rubber and new contoured seat, and she loves her HARO. If your not going to Moab, the bone stock HARO Flightline is a great entry level Mt Bike that can handle most of the Pacific Northwest trails. With a few key investments, it can be made into a very trailworthy bike on a reasonable budget. https://haromtb.com/products/flightline-one-2018

Paynes bike was basically destroyed on that last Moab trip. The deraileur was garbage, the cable had split, the front brakes were warped. It’s pretty much a “ride around the yard” bike now. We wanted Payne to have fun and be able to keep up with us, so we decided it was time for a “real” Mt Bike. After several test rides on various bikes, we ended up purchasing the Trek Precaliber 24. It doesn’t have disc brakes, but for just over $300 it was by far the best value. Surprisingly, the brakes have held up well. Still on the factory pads, even with an 8 year old thrashing it every chance he gets. Payne felt very comfortable on the new Trek, even tho he was jumping up to a 24″ tire. Most of the other 24″ tire bikes we tried had a much higher saddle height. The Trek’s seat post and frame geometry has allowed Payne to grow into the bike, while still being comfortable at the beginning. What an amazing difference a real bike made! He went from keeping up with Mom & Dad to us keeping up with him. We’ve done some rides with our 8 year old son that I bet many teens would balk at. The Trek has been 100% reliable, literally nothing has ever so much as come loose on this bike. By far the best $300 bucks I’ve ever spent on a kids bike! https://www.trekbikes.com/us/en_US/bikes/mountain-bikes/kids-mountain-bikes/precaliber-24-21-speed-boys/p/21907/?colorCode=black

Having quality Mountain Bikes for the whole family has been a true game-changer. Every camping trip is a new adventure, the bikes go in the back of the truck or RV on every road trip. Mountain Biking has been the perfect fallback activity for all those days it’s just not warm enough to take the Fam out on the water. It’s a killer workout, and a great way to cover more ground and therefore see more of the sights. If you’re on a budget but want to hit the trails, check out the HARO Flightline series. If you’re budget-conscious but willing to spend enough to get something that will let you hit any trail you can find and a hardtail will fit your needs, check out the Specialized Rockhopper 29er, you won’t regret it! When you’re shopping for the kiddos, dropping serious cash on a bike you know they’re gonna thrash is tough. When we bought Payne his new Trek, we let him keep his old bike for a daily ride-around-the-yard thrasher, and his Trek sits in the equipment shed with Mom & Dad’s bikes. Spending a few extra bucks to get your kid a real Mountain Bike that actually has geometry built into the frame and derailleurs that shift right every time will build their confidence faster and help ensure they continue to live a fun & fit lifestyle long after they leave the nest.

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