Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Bow Valley Biker Gang

Last weekend we met up in Bow Valley Provincial Park with 9 other families for a preschool bike-hike. With the Bow Valley Campground still closed for winter, we knew we'd see nothing but pedestrian traffic past Middle Lake and would be able to fully enjoy the wide open roads.  There were no cars, no campers, no RVs - just us, and our junior bike gang.

5 Members of the Bow Valley Biker Gang

We turned off Hwy 1 just past the Hwy 40 turnoff for Kananaskis and headed for the Bow Valley Provincial Park Information Centre and Headquarters for the park.  We then parked at the winter gate closure by the Middle Lake Day Use Area and gathered the troops.

Some of the younger ones showed up in diapers or training pants and some showed up with a stroller or bicycle seat mounted on the  back of mom or dad's bike, but every child above the age of 2 showed up with their own bicycle.  The majority of kids were between the ages of 3 and 4 and not one of them had pedals or training wheels on their bike.  We had 10 preschoolers on balance bikes and they were ready to hit the open pavement and take over the park!

Middle Lake - the start of our journey
Many people take this opportunity in spring to bike the closed highways around Highwood Pass or down in the Sheep River area of Kananaskis but we've never considered this as a family because of the steep hills involved that would be much too challenging for a novice cyclist such as our son.  Even parents pulling children in bike trailers would struggle on some of the hills.

Bow Valley Provincial Park on the other hand is the perfect place for a beginner rider to get out and even those on little run bikes will excel here.  While there are a few hills as you make your way to the Many Springs Trailhead and the Whitefish Day Use Area, our children never had to get off their bikes and just had to exercise a bit of caution.  (It helped to have a few parents on bikes who could keep up with the ring leaders and encourage a slower pace on the steeper hills.)

Even a 2 year old can ride a bike in Bow Valley with Daddy at his side

As you can see from the photos, the kids had a rare opportunity to ride on a wide paved road, side by side, and on whichever side of the yellow line they chose.  (So far this hasn't been a problem now that we are back in the city.)  Us adults loved the fact that we didn't have to worry about the kids getting hit or run over.  The only concern we really had was over wildlife but we stayed as a fairly tight group in the front so I'm sure every bear in Bow valley was LONG gone after hearing us coming! 

Gliding down one of the gentle hills in Bow Valley

We reached the Elk Flats Playground and met to regroup.  It was a great destination for the kids at maybe 1.5km one way from Middle Lake and snacks were definitely appreciated at this point.  A couple families decided to turn back but the rest of us continued on towards the Many Springs Trailhead for a short 1km loop hike.  The total bike and hike distance for the day was about 5km which was ambitious, but we knew the older children would be able to make it.  The younger kids would jump into their Chariots or hop on the back of a parent's bike when they tired out.

The trail started to get much wetter past this point
The Many Springs hike is always a spring favourite for us and it's become an annual family tradition.  This was the first year we slightly "cheated" and allowed the kids to take their balance bikes on the trail if they wanted.  While there is a "no bikes" sign at the trailhead, we knew nobody would object to a family pushing small children in a stroller or Chariot.  Therefore, it wasn't much of a stretch to assume that hopefully a kid without pedals could take a very small pre-bike on the trail as well.  (They do have one less wheel after all and a smaller footprint than a Chariot).

The kids had a blast, the hike was very bike-friendly for little riders, and we definitely didn't have to worry about knocking out any pedestrians on the trail.  We met one other hiking group on the trail but our children were moving slowly enough that nobody was at risk of a collision. We left all adult bikes at the trailhead and many of the children continued on foot as well.

Riding on the Many Springs Trail
The biggest challenge of the hike was navigating the boardwalk section over the small pond that the trail circles.  The water level was higher than I've ever seen it, causing the boardwalk to sink as we walked across it.  We learned rather quickly that we had to spread out and take turns getting across.  The first group I was in was bunched up tightly together and I was walking through ankle deep water.  We also learned that if you are carrying rubber boots in your backpack - just in case - that this would be an excellent place to put them on!  Before crossing the pond and not after!

Trying to get to the boardwalk - in sandals
Crossing the boardwalk - again in sandals
Taking a Chariot across the boardwalk that is normally well above the water level!

We got separated out a bit on the hike and had planned to meet up again at the viewing platform on the far end of the pond.  As you can see from the next photo however, there wasn't much of a platform to stand on at this time of year.  Wow!

Unsafe Parenting Since 2009 (my husband's joke)

Fortunately the rest of the hike was uneventful and drier.  Much drier!  The kids were able to enjoy some easy riding or hiking and we all reconvened back at the trailhead for the ride back up to the parking lot at Middle Lake. 

My son having the time of his life on the Best.Trail.Ever!

Most of the families made their way back up the paved road to Middle Lake.  We couldn't resist trying out one more hiking trail though that paralleled the road en route to our final destination.  Worst case scenario, we'd end up carrying our son's light weight Strider bike and just hiking the trail.   (Have I mentioned that these amazing bikes weigh so little you can easily carry them for miles?) Fun scenario, we'd introduce our son and a couple of his preschool friends to single track mountain biking.  No breaks, no pedals - how hard could it be?

Navigating a flat easy section of the Elk Flats Trail

The trail soon became quite rocky, rooty, and steep in sections (by 4 year old standards) as we made our way from the Elk Flats Group Campground to Middle Lake on the Elk Flats Hiking Trail.  Bikes were carried, pushed, lifted over a fallen tree - and ridden!  The kids really did want to ride them as much as possible and thanks to the no-pedal concept, walking their bikes up the hills while straddled over them, was relatively easy.  Getting down steep twisty sections was also do-able with some feet-dragging action to slow down.  Convincing Noah's friend that she should slow down was another issue however!

Noah tackling one of the bigger hills
This truly shows how light a Strider bike is!
No Fear!
It was a fabulous day and I was left on a huge high after watching the kids come down the final hill - in one piece, and with no blood.  We watched one minor fall but overall it was a very successful first attempt at single track riding.  We can't wait to continue with our bike-hikes over the next few months and you can expect many stories to follow on the best local trails and our adventures trying them all out.

Noah making his way down the final hill on the Elk  Flats Trail
An excellent photo that demonstrates the balance learned on a Strider bike


  1. I've been eyeing up a strider bike for my little one who turns two this summer, this post has completly convinced me that its the way to go. Looks like you have a great time!

  2. Love our Strider! Small boy can carry it up stairs by himself. He's just about ready for pedals too but I suspect we'll be buying Strider's new-this-year larger bike too, just for trail riding. I love watching him play with his balance & I REALLY love that I can carry the bike without killing myself.

    1. Agree, love that I can carry the bike too. I'm not the strongest person out there so a bike that I can carry when the hike gets to gnarly is important to me.

  3. That looks like a lot of fun Tanya! I enjoy the "bad parenting since 2009". That's funny!

    1. My husband really should do all the photo captions. He's funnier than me. ;)