Three Generations of Mountain Biking
By Jan Lasar
The two young girls threw all of their weight against the burly man who appeared to be doing pushups in the parking lot by the lake. They shoved. He resisted, but struggled to stay upright. Finally, his arms buckled and he fell onto his side on the tar. The girls giggled.
“And that is why the wider you grip your handlebars, the more stable you are on the bike,” said Byron Adams, co-owner and mountain bike instructor at North Star Mountain Bike Guides. He and his partner Tara-Reddinger-Adams had come up from Minneapolis for the day to teach a private beginner mountain bike class at the Cuyuna Lakes State Recreation Area.
Sam Catlin got up and brushed himself off. He had brought almost the whole family: His wife Ashley, his parents Tim and Gretchen, and ten year-old Emma and friends Claire and Marjory. They were ready to learn some basic mountain biking skills on an overcast and cool October day.
The lessons started at the Portsmouth Mine Lake Parking Lot with a safety check and parking lot drills, but the kids were eager to get to the part where they got to ride the trails. The goal of the clinic was to learn body position, braking and basic bike handling with coaches Tara and Byron observing, encouraging and giving feedback.
The Catlins have been a mountain biking family for a while now. After Sam bought his first mountain bike, Ashley and Emma started riding, too. Then, grandparents Tim and Gretchen Catlin joined in. Now, between May and October they ride once a week, matching t-shirts and all.
“A lot of people have a positive reaction to seeing the kids on their mountain bikes,” he said. Sam decided to take lessons with the family after he and Emma participated in the I Can Ride! program the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers. “We thought we’d take more lessons to improve our skills and make it more enjoyable,” he said.
The group rides have helped family dynamics. “It gives us a hobby to do together outside, versus sitting at home and coming up with things to do. The kids ride together a lot, too. We don’t have to prod them, they take the initiative,” he said. Grandparents Tim and Gretchen Catlin enjoy the time outdoors with the whole family because, as they put it, there aren’t many activities everyone can to do together. “A lot of our friends are surprised we do this,” said Gretchen, “and some of them even think there’s a lot of risk involved, but we do it because we enjoy the time outside with everyone.”
This was the first time coaches Tara and Byron had worked with an entire family, but Tara says she’s seen an increase in women and baby boomers picking up mountain biking.
“I think people are looking for more ways to stay active as they age and riding is a great way to do that. It’s also something parents and grandparents can do with their kids and grandkids, just like the Catlin family,” she said. “Women’s clinics started really popping up in the past ten years and have been highly successful. Women see other women riding, coaching, and encouraging one another and it is a very empowering experience,” she said.
When it comes to mountain biking with kids, Sam and Ashley have learned lessons beyond bike handling and climbing hills. “We had to understand the difference between riding by ourselves and riding with the family,” Sam said and pointed out that you’ll need lots of patience when the kids are along. “Our goal is not to ride fast, just to be outside with the kids and have fun,” he said. “It’s better to have them follow you so they can observe what you’re doing. When you ride in the back and try to coach them from behind, it puts too much pressure on them and they get discouraged,” he said.
With a tilt of the head he adds “And snacks are very important on the trail.”
The Catlins have a full calendar. Not only do they want to continue their weekly family rides, but they also plan to take more trips out to Cuyuna Country and the mountain bike trails in the Duluth area. Emma and Sam want to compete in the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series: Emma in the Kids Comp and Sam in the Citizen division. Ashley Catlin may try the Salsa Oremageddon race in Ironton, but she’s not sure, yet. “I think if I get her signed up, she’ll have to go,” Sam said and laughed.
This story was originally published in the 2017 Spring edition of Minnesota Trails Magazine.