Making Your Grom's First Downhill Race Experience Awesome

Jul 27, 2016
by Brett Gossman  
If you’ve been to a bike park or one of your local mountains at any point in the past few years, you’ve no doubt noticed that there are a lot more kids riding these days, and riding fast. First, you’re getting older; get over it. And second, you’re not crazy - there really are a lot more kids out on the trails.

Congratulations, you’ve done it. You survived the early years of parenthood without quitting mountain biking, something that not all new parents can say. And you’ve been able to share your love of the sport with your little grom, and maybe even taken them to a bike park for what was probably an epic experience for them. Your grom’s enthusiasm is high, and you want to foster their curiosity for new things while steering them away from the dangers of drugs, goth culture, and road bikes. Instead of these horrors, I suggest you consider taking your grom to their first downhill race.


image for Making Your Grom s First Downhill Race Experience Awesome
  Photo: Ales Slíva


There are grom races pretty much anywhere there are adult races, only less frequently. The races that Crankworx puts on as a part of their ‘Kidsworx’ side festival are great, but there are sure to be local options if you can’t make it to Whistler, Les Gets, or New Zealand.

Below are some pointers on how to make your grom’s first DH race awesome for them.


Phat Wednesday 2 - June 1
  Photo: Clint Trahan


Get Them On Course

Before any mention of a downhill race is mentioned, your little grom has to feel confident that they can complete the course. Unlike their adult counterparts, the courses for grom races are normally announced in advance, so take advantage and let your racer test out the track and practice beforehand so they feel confident and ready when race day comes.


Get it in Their Head

If your grom isn’t glued to the RedBull live feed every other weekend watching Atherton and Gwin try to out-amaze everyone on the World Cup circuit, then downhill racing may be a hard sell to start. Rather than focusing on the idea that victory and glory are only three or four minutes away, tell them about how they’ll get a race plate, how the course will be closed just for them, and that there will be prizes and maybe even a t-shirt! What sells kids on the competition is the experience and the fun, not the result, so play up the community aspect of it all and that they’ll be racing with a bunch of other kids who love mountain biking as much as they do.


Force the Issue, But Not Too Much

Somewhere between first making plans and the start gate, there’s almost certainly going to be a point where your grom tells you they’ve changed their mind and don’t really feel like racing anymore. Don’t worry; this is totally natural. Unlike team sports where there is a social pressure to show up for the good of the team, downhill racing is very easy to bail on. When this happens, have a chat about why they don’t want to race. It’ll probably be either because they’re worried they won’t win, or that they “just don’t feel like it”. You can remind them that it’s not about winning, but having a good time and that they’ll have to try it first to know if they love racing or not.

Note: even after the first race, pre-race jitters can often take the form of a desire to bail on races entirely. This gets easier to counteract once you can remind the little racer how much fun they had at previous events.


Phat Wednesday - Race 6
  Photo: Clint Trahan


Set Goals, Not Expectations

Your kid is no doubt awesome, and if they’re good enough to race downhill on a mountain bike trail at any speed, then they’re better than 80% of all adults just to start with. That said, there are some pretty fast little groms out there, and some of them are going to be the competition. Try not to set any expectations for the first race beyond trying hard. Once the first race is out of the way, you’ll have a sense of exactly how your grom stacks up against their contemporaries.


Gear Them Up

If you’re riding the track already, then you’ve already got a bike to handle the course. You’ll want to make sure that everything is in perfect working order before the race, and be sure to pay special attention to the brakes. Your pint-sized racer is going to be traveling at speeds at or above their comfort level, so the ability to slow down quickly is going to be more useful than normal.

If you’re running disc brakes, a relatively cheap upgrade you might consider is to throw a larger disc on their front wheel. Small bikes all come with small discs, so upgrading that will drastically increase the braking potential for little fingers, and you probably have a few discs laying around anyway.

Good protective gear is essential. Virtually all races make full-face helmets, arm and leg protection mandatory at the younger ages. I STRONGLY recommend body armour and gloves, as the likelihood of a fall will be higher than normal. A neck brace wouldn’t hurt, either. After all, this is your kid’s safety we’re talking about.

Things you can do without include backpack, water bottles, handlebar bells, etc. Some kids are used to always riding with a Camelback, so if that makes them more confident then let them ride with it, although I don’t recommend stopping mid-race to re-hydrate.

Goggles will help as well, not just as eye protection, but to help the groms feel like big-time racers. I’ve known more than a few groms who’ve taken to wearing goggles when they started ‘getting serious’ about their downhill ‘career.' Whatever floats their boat!


Phat Wednesday - Race 4
  Photo: Clint Trahan


The Course

There are generally two types of grom races; those that are held in conjunction with a larger adult race, and those that are their own standalone or series. In either case, the course is generally held on a beginner or easier intermediate run. As mentioned above, you’re going to want to be as comfortable with the course as possible, and a few runs should suffice if it’s not logistically possible to spend days practicing it.

Just like any other race, it’s highly recommended to ride the course at least once after it’s been taped. This will give your grom an idea of what to expect, what lines won’t be available, and give them a little more comfort/confidence.


Race Day Prep

So this is it, the day of the race. The culmination of all the practicing and preparation - the pressure is on!

Scratch that; remember that this is going to be an exciting day for everyone and it’s the race that counts, not the result. This isn’t advice from some ‘everybody’s-a-winner-and-deserves-a-trophy-for-participation’ parent. Remember that all but a few of the racers aren’t going to win, unlike team sports where 50% of competitors emerge victorious. And unlike most team sports, there’s not going to be another game a week or less away. Downhill racing is about seeing how you compare to others, and then seeing if you can build on that.

Plate pickup will either happen before the race or even the day prior. When you’re picking it up, confirm the starting format as well. Most races at this level don’t have a starting list with specific start times, but it’s best to confirm.

On the more practical side, if you’ve got a checklist of what gear to bring out on a ride, be sure to use it, or make one if you don’t have it. Helmet, gloves, shoes, armour... Double and triple check that you’ve got it all.

And don’t forget about yourself! Depending on the age category, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be racing down the hill behind your grom. This means that you’ll also have to have your own gear together.

You’re going to want to play Boy Scout on race day and be prepared. Even if you don’t normally, take a kit to fix or replace a tube, a bottle or Camelback of water, and anything else you might need while waiting at the start gate. Mechanical issues and flats have a weird way of happening just before a race run, so bring along a multi-tool as well.

Get there extra early. You’ve raised your grom to this point, so you know how little things always make you late, now compound that with race-day nerves and gear issues, and you’ll be happy for that extra time buffer.


image for Making Your Grom s First Downhill Race Experience Awesome
  Photo: Ales Slíva


Racer Ready, On Your Mark...

While waiting to start, keep things light, but also be sure to talk a few things over:
• How the race is started. In most cases, racers are counted down a 5-second window and can leave anytime within it, but some will have a more traditional ‘on-you-mark-get-set-go’ start.
• What gear to start in.
• Remind them of any issues they have on the trail, like slowing down for a particular rock face or corner.
• How much fun it’s going to be.

You also might want to look ahead and behind you and make a bit of a judgement call on how fast the riders look and if you think they’ll catch up to you. If you think they might make the gap, let them go ahead of you. Likewise, if you think your grom might catch up to the rider in front, feel free to ask the starter for a longer gap ahead of you.


And They're OFF!

While you’re on course, trailing your pint-sized racer, your job is to be their personal cheer department. Feel free to yell encouragements and reminders of what’s coming up if needed. This may be a few of the most intense minutes of their short lives up to that point, so be positive and encouraging.

If a rider does catch up to you while you’re on course, make sure that your little racer understands that they need to pull out of the way as soon as possible and let the rider pass. Conversely, if you catch up to someone, make your presence known so they have enough time to pull over safely.

Aside from a few encouragements, reminders, and general safety, your work is pretty much done, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. There aren’t many other sports that you can actually experience with your grom at a competitive level.


Whistler Bike Park Phat Kidz round one 2016
  Photo: Clint Trahan


Finished!

Congratulations, you both (presumably) survived! There are few sports that combine thrills and focus with pure cardio like downhill racing. Shortly after catching their breath, there’s going to be a window where the exhaustion fades and the endorphins start to kick in. Seize that opportunity to ask if your racer enjoyed the race. The answer will probably be ‘yes’, so grab on to that and help them cement the positive memories associated with what they just did and it’s magnitude. After all, not many kids can say that they’ve raced a bike down a mountainside.

There’s often a time gap between the end of the race and the awards, so you might want to have an activity prepared ahead of time. Meet the family or other racers for a bite to eat, head up for a few extra laps, a dip in the lake, whatever, just be sure you’re back for the awards.

Once it’s all over, it’s time to bask in the glory of the day. It could be on the long ride home or over the dinner table, but your grom will no doubt be talking about certain parts of the course, lines they took, and thoughts they have on the race for a few days. Just in time to start making plans for the next race!


Check out www.grompatrol.com for more info on little ones tearing it up.


37 Comments

  • + 78
 You could replace all the "groms" in this article with "girlfriend" and it's just as informative and useful.
  • + 25
 maybe in your case boyfriend
  • + 15
 @Grmasterd: Good one chief.
  • + 5
 @DirtyHal: ha - was just teasing, I personally gave up on trying to get GF's into riding if they aren't already
  • + 5
 @Grmasterd: It's all good, I got lucky and met a xc girl that is just starting to enduro and DH. She wants to learn so it's fun.
  • + 6
 A lot of this translates to every racer, no matter how experienced.
  • + 1
 @Grmasterd: this - dangerous.
  • + 15
 I have a little one on the way (boy - TG) and I'm thinking BMX racing is also a good stepping stone before bringing your kid to a DH race, especially if you don't have a local kids specific race.
  • + 1
 When I was a 3 year old, all I wanted to do was ride with my brother. I would dirt jump with him and do the races when his birthday was at a bmx track. If you introduce him young he'll want to do it. He doesn't even need to race, just having fun on the bmx track was enough for me
  • + 2
 that's what Gwin did and look at how he dominates
  • + 13
 I have a 3 week old daughter and every time I hold her I dream of us going to races as a family and having fun!! Cool article
  • + 4
 When my little girl turned 3, I bought her a bike with training wheels. At 4 we took them off and started just riding at the park on the grass so when she feel it was softer than concrete or asphalt. That was the best thing I did in her learning curve because she wasn't afraid to crash anymore and when it happened she would pop right back up. I think the strider bikes are very good at bridging the gap for the little ones, I only learned about it after she already knew how to ride. At 5, we started with BMX and mountain bikes at about the same time and she became very fast. Today at 9 she's already competed in a 50 mile road race, won several BMX and DH age group championships but sadly for me she spends more time at Soccer field than anything else these days... But it's always exciting when she does join me for a weekend ride because she makes some of the adult riders question there own skill set after riding with her... proud daddy. This is a very good article for new parents wanting to get their kids into racing bikes of any discipline...
  • + 12
 You could replace "goth culture" with golf culture.
  • + 5
 Strider at 18 months, micro mini BMX at 3rd birthday, Lil Shredder mountain bike at 4th birthday. BMX track time really helps them learn bike handling at a young age. You don't have to go all the time or travel to races. Couple of practices and clinics a month along with a few races.
Whatever you do don't send a kid down a course that they and/or their bike are not ready for. Seen a few bad crashes at local races due to misjudging kids abilities.
  • + 1
 nice words Dominic. From UNCK!
  • + 7
 Man how I wish I started riding when I was 2
  • + 2
 Great article. I have 8 and 10yr old girls that have both raced a few XC races, and they love it. That being said, even with a rider sweeping it is a weird feeling to let your kid out into the woods without you for 3 miles (half an hour!)

I just took my 10yr old to a downhill track for her first full suspension ride. She had a blast, but still isn't keen on getting into the air. As long as your kid has good bike control, a decent bike, and listens to you, you can watch them progress in the sport. And isn't watching your child surpass your skill, in whatever the category is, what being a parent is all about?!
  • + 5
 Got me 3 daughters here, aged 3-2-1

Pretty sure the middle one is going to be my lil shredder Big Grin
  • + 5
 I'm gonna print this out and give it to my dad. I'm 35
  • + 2
 My kids have been DH racing for a few years now and in my experience the first few times are 80% mental and 20% skill. I have learned to say only 3 things before each race:

1. I love you
2. I am proud of you
3. Have fun
  • + 1
 This article was great. I am taking my 11 year old to Northstar this weekend for his first Downhill race. He has been racing BMX for 5 years and we are transitioning to gravity games. I am nervous and excited at the same time. something I would add to this article id get on you tube and search for the trail the race is on. I did that and found some great footage of the trail. He and I watched it together and he said he mentioned the areas he thought he would struggle with and the area's he thought looked super fun. He feels like he can race the trail no problem. That being said we will be going up there Saturday and riding together. We will run the course a few times to make sure he is really ready to race it. It is my understanding that I will not be allowed to follow him down the trail but I think that is a great idea.
  • + 1
 As a parent of a 8 year old downhill racer, I couldn't be more proud of my son, the feeling of following your kid down a jump line or a dh trail is terrifying and amazing at the same time. You will end up burning thru brakes pads in the beginning , but before you know it, your little guy is riding with the pack. Clearing all the jumps, finding new lines. It doesn't get much better than that. Memories of riding together and having a good time are priceless.
  • + 1
 great article, however taking off my mini-me's pink & glittery streamers that she demanded be added to her latest bike would be a huge no-no!...maybe their will be a category for "Style"...though she mutters that it makes her faster at only 4!
  • + 1
 My 11 year old daughter is in her second year racing DH and claimed last night that it's her sport for life. Crossing fingers that it's a true statement. So happy to get her into it but it wouldn't be the same without her team of 8 other little girl racers and her awesome coach Kat Sweet! I was a little too pushy at the start but have learned just to support her and let her do her thing on race day.
  • + 1
 having started riding at age 32 (I'm 34 now), this makes me fault my parents.

Kids who race mtb, are in bands, and other cool sh!t, tend to do pretty well in social circles and often in life. So "push, but not too hard" does sound a bit stage-parent, but doing things you don't want to do are just a part of life. hopefully the fun stuff sticks and your kid is focusing on saving money to buy a bike instead of a dime bag.
  • + 4
 Article should have started with...buy them an awesome bike. Watch it sit on the porch gathering get dust for a year.
  • + 1
 That was one of my thoughts exactly. I've tried every possible angle with my boys since they were about 2. Oldest is 6 now. Neither one has the least interestin any of the bikes if gotten them. It bums me out but I'm hoping for a change of heart one of these days.
  • + 1
 My son and daughter both got striders for their first birthday, my son loves bikes (2 years older than his sister) and was riding a 12" before he was 3 with no training wheels...got him a 16" with a freewheel to teach him how to use hand brakes, then graduated him to a pw50 before he was 4 years old. My daughter could care less about bikes and we are trying to follow the same timeline. But hopefully it will be something she grows into loving and we can shred as a family.
  • + 1
 My kids have been BMX racing for 3 yrs. Wanted them to have a good starting base for MTB and it's proving to be a decent decision. Watching them hit the trails now and how they excel, they'll be blowing by me by the end of the season!
  • + 4
 I wish my parents could have seen this article when I was just starting out
  • + 1
 Let's make a bunch of hockey kids.....no wait bike kids......part of the mtb culture is self discovery....."push it on them but not too hard".....really?.....again mountain bike culture disappoints...

CM!
  • + 3
 My daughter is a Goth Roadie. Am I disqualified from FOY?
  • + 1
 I'm sorry but yes
  • + 1
 This is the opposite for me I'm trying to be able to do DH racing but my dad doesn't want me to so I'm trying to convince him to let me
  • + 2
 In whistler, it's considered child abuse if your kid doesn't have a leatt.
  • + 2
 Mini dirt bike and bmx . Before any kind of mtb
  • - 2
 Also, teach the groms podium skills...1 hand up-hopefully holding trophy, award with extra and down to side or around competitor. Basically, refrain from doing the two empty handed superman.

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