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How we became a mountain biking family in just one year
A year ago, Islabikes asked us if we would do a long-term review of the Creig Mountain Bike (which we happily obliged with). However, what I hadn’t been prepared for was how the arrival of these two bikes would change our lives. This is the tale of how, in the space of a year, we’ve gone from being a cycling family to a mountain biking family, enjoying incredible rides in some stunning locations. I hope that when the time is right for your family, this article gives you inspiration to give mountain biking a try with your kids.
Some background on our mountain biking and family cycling history
Chris and I used to do cross-country mountain biking before the boys were born. We bought ourselves matching Specialized Rockhopper Comps in 2000, and had 5 years of regular weekend jaunts before my pregnancy put a stop to it. We were self-taught and always rode bridleways, usually in the Peak or Lake District (trail centres and digital cameras didn’t really exist way back then!).
Over a decade of family cycling followed, and the Rockhoppers became our workhorses, pulling trailers and tagalongs (or riding alongside balance bikes!) Those fabulous cross-country rides seemed a lifetime away. I did not dare contemplate when we’d be able to get out and ride to the middle of nowhere again.
Suddenly though, our boys were growing up. Our youngest, T, was 7 when the Creig 24 arrived. Up until then he’d been riding 20” wheel bikes. Whilst he was a very proficient young cyclist and we rode most weekends, we’d always been constrained by the distance and speed we could go. His little legs span round so quickly and he had to work twice as hard as the rest of us to keep up.
We had enjoyed a decade of cycling as a family along forest trails, disused railways and flat, traffic-free paths, but still the open fells and dales seemed a long way off in the distance.
Becoming a mountain biking family
The moment the Creig 24 arrived for T (with the matching Creig 26 for his older brother), there was a feeling of excitement that we could finally get out on rougher terrain. We headed off to trail centres and started out on some of the easier Blue routes, which got us used to climbing and riding single track.
We quickly grew to love trail centres with small training areas, where the boys were able to practise their skills before going out. Our favourites quickly became Gisburn in Lancashire, Whinlatter in Cumbria and Kirroughtree in Dumfries. All three have great little areas where you can get some practise time in before heading off on some fast and fun blue routes. Over time we started to venture onto some of the red routes. Because the Islabikes Creig was so light, it meant it could be picked up and carried if the trail got a bit too technical.
To reduce the travel time and facilitate the riding we bought a tiny Wild Country 4 man tent and developed a love of going camping near trail centres. We discovered that if you visit Scotland outside the school holidays you can have the campsite virtually to yourselves!!!
After a while we'd gained confidence at the trail centres, and we learnt that there was a short stretch of bridleway within riding distance of our house, so we got togged up and out we headed. There was a moment of realisation that we were doing “proper” cross country mountain biking, albeit only over a short stretch of bridleway.
And guess what? As the hours in the saddle increased, it was me, old mum, who was struggling. As the main breadwinner in a family of 4, it’s hard not to have thoughts of weeks laid up at home in bed with broken limbs. A number of times I got the “fear” and had to be helped over it by the boys. There was no way I was going to ride down this - however much encouragement I got!
At this point I had a choice - stay at home or do something about it. I didn't want to miss out on the action, so decided to take some lessons with our local mountain bike instructor. He diagnosed too many years riding nothing but a road bike as my affliction, and prescribed me some drills that involved unsticking my bum from the saddle and shifting my weight around. At the same time, the boys also did a course of mountain bike lessons at our local Go-Ride club. Suffice to say within a couple of weeks they developed far better technique than I can ever hope to have.
So, equipped with varying degrees of skill we headed off on our summer holidays to Vancouver and the mountain biking mecca that is British Columbia.
There’s too much to put into this post, so I'm just going to say we spent weeks travelling round camping and riding the most amazing trails. Definitely the holiday of a lifetime.
Sadly, the holiday had to end and we returned to the UK. The boys were delighted to be reunited with their Creigs (despite having ridden some awesome hire bikes over in Canada). We managed a couple of days back home before feeling the need to get back out on the trails, and we found ourselves in our tent close to Kirroughtree and Glentrool. This was the point at which I realised that mountain biking had become an integral part of our lives.
When T declared that he didn’t want an 8th birthday party, but wanted to do the family cycling training day at Whinlatter instead, I knew mountain biking had been etched into his psyche too!!
T also used the Creig 24 for a cyclocross race, but didn’t enjoy this form of cycling as much as mountain biking, so we returned to the trails.
Then, we hit lucky with the boys. Our regional British Cycling coach arranged a holiday club during the October half-term, involving two full days of tuition out on the trails for kids aged 8 to 16.
The upside was this gave Chris and I two days to ride together. The downside was the boys skills just continued to improve and they were now SO much more skilled than me (and it would cost me a small fortune in private lessons to get anywhere near their level!)
With their newly equipped skills we had a few days away where we tried out our first UK bike park.
And then a pattern emerged for the autumn and winter months. Check the weekend weather forecast. If it’s not torrential rain get out to one of the three trail centres close to us – Grizedale, Whinlatter or Gisburn.
In an attempt to keep up with the boys and to find some new routes near our house, I went on my first ever Breeze Ride. This was a mountain bike ride along various bridleways and lanes in the area, but I’ll be damned if I could ever recreate the route (these were the days before we'd invested in a Garmin!). But I survived, and kept up with the other riders!!
On the topic of survival, we’ve only had one big off all year – T went over the handlebars of the Creig 24 during the Christmas holiday when going far too fast over some rollers. Thankfully he was fine, but the Creig needed a bit of TLC to get it back in action. This shot was taken on the Red route at Whinlatter about 2 minutes before!
It’s surprising how many decent weekends there were during the winter months, if you make the effort to wrap up warm and get out the house. If we didn't have enough time to get to a trail centre, then we'd head out to the local bridleway for a short, sharp spin and a bit of mud!
Come the spring another British Cycling course for the boys took place during 3 days over the Easter holidays, and Chris started doing his British Cycling Mountain Bike Leaders course. Any lingering doubts that we weren’t totally hooked on MTBing had totally vanished.
Then came my birthday in mid-April and the day I’d dreamed about for over a decade, but hadn’t expected to see for many more years, became a reality. It was a glorious spring day and we decided to go and do a “proper” cross country mountain bike ride in the Kentmere Valley.
All those dreams of one day riding the Lake District classics with my boys had materialised much quicker that I’d anticipated. It really was the best birthday present I could have had.
And guess what? The boys agreed with me that whilst the MTB trail centres may offer easily accessible fun and adrenaline, getting out for the day and not seeing another soul can’t be beaten. Thus, a couple of weeks later we had an epic ride near Askrigg in the Yorkshire Dales where we rode, quite literally, into the middle of nowhere without seeing another soul for hours.
At this point, I had thought I’d reached the pinnacle of our year of mountain biking. We’d definitely put the two Islabikes Creig's through their paces, and it was time to start writing the review. However, our mountain biking year wasn’t quite over…..
We got invited for a family cycling holiday in the Southern French Alps during the Whitsun half term, and spent three days exploring some amazing trails.
The hire bikes the boys were on weren’t quite up to the specification of the Creig, but none the less my little boy, who a year before was on a 20” wheel bike and riding flat trails, did the 33km descent from Col du Lautaret to Briançon in the French Alps (obviously far faster and with far more skill than I did).
So, our year-long test of the Creig’s has transformed us from a family that enjoys cycling into a family that LOVES mountain biking, wanting to get out on the trail at any opportunity (apart from those days when we’re riding our road bikes – but that’s a tale for another day……)
I do hope this has inspired you to continue to cycle with your kids no matter what age they are. I'm sure it was the years spent riding with them when they were little which has helped shape them into the great young riders they are today. We've got a number of other articles on mountain biking which may help you, and we'll be writing more all the time, so why not follow Cycle Sprog on Facebook and Instagram, or sign up for our newsletter.
This post was first published on 1st August 2017, and updated in May 2018 to refresh some out of date links.
Other posts you may find useful:
- Review of the Islabikes Creig 24 and Creig 26
- Buying a kids mountain bike – things you need to know
- The best kids 20″ wheel mountain bikes
- Children’s bikes – what’s so good about Islabikes?
- The best kids 24″ wheel mountain bikes
- The best kids 26″ wheel mountain bikes
Disclosure: We were provided with the Islabikes Creig 24 and 26 on long term loan. Some of the links in this post contain affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase we may get a small commission. This doesn't affect what you pay (or what we write), but does help us to keep the website going. Thanks for your support.
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