Jackalopes can ride bikes, right? Welcome to Cycle, a weekly feature where our own fanatic, Jason Franz, tells tales of rides and routes, and cycling dos and don'ts, as he spins pedals across what Bicycling Magazine calls the 15th best bike city in America.
You know what you hardly see out on the many miles of mountain bike trails across Phoenix? Kids. Sure, most trails are not fit for kids (heck, some make even the most macho men cry), but there are a few out there that'll get any kid stoked on the dirt.
Last month, Cycle featured a couple trails that are good for beginners in the heart of town. This week, we head west to the Estrella Mountains for one of the best Disney-like E-ticket roller coaster trails in town: Fantasy Island North Singletrack, a.k.a. F.I.N.S.
To get to the trailhead, take Estrella Parkway south (10 miles from the I-10 offramp) to Westar Drive. Follow Westar west half a mile and park at Westar Elementary School, then ride your bike another half mile west on Westar to the trailhead (look for future street turn barricaded off with the trail to the left of the barricade).
F.I.N.S. is on private land (just waiting for an upturn the housing market to be scraped for new houses) in the Estrella Mountain Ranch development south of Goodyear, and was built and maintained by local riders. Because of the locals' personal investment in this trail system, it is incredibly well signed and maintained.
REAL DEAL BIKE TIP #7: Make sure the kid is mountain ready. Mountain biking is a whole different beast from riding on the road or even BMX. Confirm that your child has a sense of what they're about to do. Warm up on easy trails and practice braking (remind them: don't stop with their feet).
Bikes are no longer an issue because almost all kids bikes are made to be burly beasts built to take a beating. But make sure that kids have at least a cluster of gears in the back to make the uphills easier, and make sure they understand the concept of shifting. No matter what, there's going to be some hiking, but it's best for everyone if the hiking is kept to a minimum.
The first half-mile in is a nice rolling intro to the desert with a couple of good jumps to get the legs pumped. Quickly, you come to Base Butte and the heart of the F.I.N.S. trail system. Here you will see a nice trail system map and a sign outlining the various difficulty levels for each stretch of trail. On this trip, my son Lucas (age 9) and I opted to follow the big loop around the area, making sure we finish with Lucas' favorite stretch - Superman Swoop.
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Signs are regularly posted throughout the trail system, and pretty much each trail leads back to another so there's little risk of getting lost, but it's a good idea to print a map to take with you. Just beware that the center of the area is the high point so if you don't like climbing, keep to the outside trails.
There is one trail that is clearly marked as highly difficult and for experienced riders only: Grunt. It is a little over one mile along the spine ridge of the main hill that intersects the F.I.N.S. area. Keep the kids away from here.
One trip around the big loop takes about an hour and a half, so gauge your kids' level of fitness and ability and plan on riding as much as possible. It's some of the most fun track in town.
Fantasy Island North Singletrack (F.I.N.S.) at Estrella Mountain Ranch
Route Type: Basic singletrack with loose gravel/dirt and mild rolling hills
Trip Distance: 6 miles for the big lap
Trip Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes per big lap
Difficulty: Moderately easy. Great fun for kids
Route Map: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/26892878