I took my 7-year old daughter out mountain biking for the first time, and by a curious turn of events it turned out to be at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah, Florida.
The curious turn of events was that my daughter got sick the day we were planning to go to Santos in Ocala, Florida, (much, much closer to home) and also that we just happened to be in Miami for the weekend.
It all worked out and Amelia Earhart turned out to be perfect.
Not So Sure About Amelia
We came in off I-95 and took 9 and 916 in through Opa Locka, and baby was I ready to turn that car around.
It is a heavily industrialized area we drove through, and many of the homes that fronted the street had iron fences, tall chain link fences, barbed wire and even concertina wire in one case.
So I’m thinking that this isn’t going to be a safe place to park a car or take a kid mountain biking.
But when we got to the park it was really nice. There were lots of families with kids in the playground and petting zoo section of the park (yes, they have a petting zoo). And the mountain bike section of the park had a good mix of riders and first timers.
Like most trail systems, Amelia had beginner, intermediate, and advanced trails.
Since I was taking my daughter out for the first time we stuck to the beginner trails.
That’s the trade off when you take kids or any first timer: No rough stuff. Better not to ride at all than to put someone on trails they aren’t ready for (and ruin the sport for them).
The beginner trails were what I would call “advanced beginner” with some short drops into bermed corners, but that was a good thing. It gave her a taste of future things. She also rode her first straight drop, white knuckled and with her feet frozen on the pedals, but she rode it and finished it.
I showed her how to walk through a feature the first time if you’re not sure about it, technique for looking through a corner, and gave her plenty of encouragement. She really started to get the hang of it.
We accidentally ended up on an intermediate trail through the swamp (lots of hairpin turns and small roots) which was challenging for her. She was riding a department store bike with a gigantic gear which made it hard to keep momentum.
But she really loved it, which was gratifying and a bit surprising.
There were signs up marking the trail for the next weekend’s Goneriding Cocunut Cup race, too, so it made her feel like she was on a real race course.
An Early Finish (or) The Difference Between Department Store Bikes, a.k.a. “Junk Bikes,” and “Real Bikes.”
My little girl’s bike broke down about three quarters of the way through the beginner trail system.
Her chain kept falling off, and it kept falling off because it was a lousy bike.
Basically, due to chain length, the rear wheel wasn’t snug with the frame. So whenever she put any extra torque on the wheel (like you do in mountain biking) it inevitably pulled the wheel forward on the chain side of the bike. This put the single gear (did I mention she was riding single speed…whoa!) out of alignment, so that when she backpedaled to brake the chain would fall off and then freeze the pedals.
She was getting so frustrated. We ended up just half-walking, half-riding back to the car.
It wasn’t anything a 15mm wrench wouldn’t fix, but I left my full tool kit at home. Even if I went to Home Depot and got another wrench, I figured it would probably happen again as we were riding beginner trails, which (should be_ relatively easy on a drive train.
So this is the real difference between the purpose-built bikes you find in bike stores and the bikes you can buy in Wal Mart. The purpose-built bikes can handle the terrain, and because they have derailleurs, torque and chain length aren’t issues. Neither is gear size: real bikes are geared correctly for use.
I bought the girl a junk bike because they run about a third the cost of a real bike and I wasn’t sure if she would dig real mountain biking. Now I know.
The upshot to all this was that I had to nix plans to check out the trails at Oleta State Park and Virginia Key, also in Miami.
But as we already had the hotel room booked for a whole ‘nother day, we found other things to do.
There’s a lot to do in Miami if you’ve never been there. If you have kids, check out Billy Bagg State Park on Key Biscayne or Pinecrest Gardens in Pinecrest. Both were great.
And next time we’ll be back with better bikes.
See Strackacobra’s mountain themed T’s at Strackacobra.com.