Fall trail riding tips for families with young riders
Single file: Many trails can accomodate side-by-side riding, but families should practice sliding into a row in the event other riders or pedestrians need more space on the trail. And kids should always be encouraged to ride on the right side of the trail.
Pedestrians: Riders should call out loudly as they approach pedestrians from behind. Those wearing headphones can become startled by riders zipping past.
Fall conditions: Wet fall leaves and acorns can become a slippery obstacle for young riders on paved trails, particularly on turns. Riders of all ages should always wear a helmet, travel at a safe speed and maintain an awareness of the trailís conditions.
WAUSAU — Rob Mentzer of Daily Herald Media asked me several weeks ago if I'd like to join him for a bike ride around the Wausau area's new trail system. I'd serve as the cameraman for the video portion of the project and I knew that I'd likely find some fodder for a column.
Rob and I were joined on the trip, which began in the Menard's parking lot in Wausau, by Phil Valitchka, Aaron Ruff and Dennis Helke. The trio are avid cyclists who've played a role in establishing the trails in Wausau.
Though we were invited to travel the full 26-mile loop from Wausau to Rib Mountain to Rothschild to Weston and back through Wausau, Rob and I had decided we may need to shorten the journey up a bit to fit it in our schedules.
Instead, we finished our morning with about three hours of cycling and 28 miles on the odometer (and, for me, an inability to move properly for a couple of days).
My bike riding history is a bit rough.
I didn't learn to ride until second grade. My brother, who is two years younger than me, got the hang of it one morning and by that afternoon I was shamed into riding. For a long time, I didn't like to stand to peddle up hills. This was a problem (and a source of much ribbing in the years since) on a family trip to Mackinac Island as I trailed behind the rest of the family ascending several steep climbs.
Despite growing up on a treacherous span of county road (Highway M south of Wittenberg in Shawano County), my family did plenty of biking. I don't know that I'd be as brave as my parents in riding a similar stretch of road with my kids, but we avoided any accidents.
Until my dad bought a new bike.
I was probably 12 or 13 and my brother and I borrowed dad's new bike and took it for a ride down to the nearby cemetary. We blasted around the gravel lanes that bisected the rows of gravestones for a while. I don't remember who was riding the new bike when we wiped out, but the pristine fenders of the green bike were marred by scratches as the gravel dug in.
We rode home dejected, knowing that we'd hear about this bike damage. We rarely rode side-by-side on M (now a Rustic Road), but did that afternoon. As we decended a newly straightened portion of the road, I heard a car coming from behind and hit my breaks to let my brother go by. My brother was riding my dad's bike and I wanted to behind him on as the car passed. Instead, I was too close and ahead of my brother and we collided.
The fender damage from the cemetary didn't look so bad compared to what we found after we picked ourselves up in the road. Bent fenders, scratched paint and bloody elbows and knees.
And thanks to my parents' seemingly limitless patience, my brother and I survived damaging another nice thing that didn't belong to us.
A new bike
Outside of the occasional ride to Mission Lake for a swim when I was in junior high and high school, my cycling never evolved into many long trips.
Until it was my turn to buy a new bike.
I decided to replace the bike I bought as a teen (complete with dinosaur stickers and a color scheme that looked like Andre Agassi had thrown up on it) with a new bike in July of 2001.
Within a week of buying a nice 21-speed Schwinn mountain bike, I spent a day riding the Mountain Bay and Wiouwash trails. I rode from Eland to Tigerton and back.
Later on this same day, I received a call from a woman in Chicago asking if I'd like to meet for a blind date the next day. I agreed. To make a long story short, we eventually married and the bike went unridden for the better part of the next ten years as wedding plans, home ownership, parenthood and a million other things got in the way of another long ride.
My kids both learned how to ride a couple of years ago (following my pattern, both siblings learned to ride on the same day, the one who learned first motivating the other into it) and we've ridden around the neighborhood as a family many times.
I was excited at the opportunity to spend a morning riding around Wausau when Rob suggested I join the group for the trip.
We started down Highway R from Menards on a foggy and chilly trip at about 9 a.m. The guys we rode with were obviously experienced riders. They had the proper gear (no gloves or locking shoes or even inflated tires for this guy) and quickly introduced me to a riding technique that I had shunned since my mangling of dad's bike many years ago. We rode (gasp!) side-by-side for miles.
This conversational approach to riding was something new. The roads I traveled as a kid weren't wide enough to safely ride in this way. But we pedaled and talked and it was clear to me that this network of trails around the Wausau metro area offered more than just interesting vistas. It offered a safe route that I will revisit with my family and enjoy, side-by-side.
But probably not a trip 28 miles long on our first time out.
Brian Otten blogs about his experiences in the outdoors. Brian is the content manager of www.wisconsinoutdoorfun.com. If you have questions about the site, you can reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or (715) 845-0702.