Riding bikes is a lifetime sport that’s perfect for families to bond over. From riding on paved bike paths in town to bouncing around the hills on dirt trails, the Black Hills have a great variety for you to explore.

Getting started

Safety is a concern with biking, especially for younger kids who are just learning. Luckily, kids can safely hop on a bike before they’re even a year old with proper supervision. The trend in recent years has been to start kids on a balance bike without pedals, rather than a tricycle or a bicycle with training wheels. They’re often smaller and lighter so kids can use them effectively at a younger age than they would a traditional bike. Learning to balance first also teaches kids the confidence they need to maneuver a bigger bike with pedals. 

Once everyone in your family can ride on their own, there are different types of biking you can look into. Most families enjoy simply riding on the paved paths or streets around town, which is suitable for almost any bicycle. Make sure everyone is outfitted with helmets and knows proper hand signals for turning and stopping before heading out. 

For a little more of an adrenaline rush, check out mountain biking — also known as trail biking — or BMX. Mountain biking can be done on a hybrid bike, which allows you the flexibility to also ride comfortably on bike paths or streets. BMX bikes are a little more specialized and generally smaller than a standard bicycle. They’re great for pulling tricks and racing on dirt tracks, but not for a family cruise through the park. 

When you’re ready to get out and explore, the Mickelson Trail is a great place to start. It’s perfect for families and beginners, since the steepest grade is around 4%. This means the trail gains 4 feet in elevation over 100 feet of distance, which is relatively easy going. You’ll need a pass for anyone riding that’s 12 years or older — a day pass costs $4, and an annual is $15. The entire trail is 109 miles long, but there are over a dozen trailheads around the Black Hills so you can pick your favorite section.

Ask the expert

Mike Franke is the Bike Specialty Shop Leader at Scheels and is excited to help your family get out on two wheels. While it comes as no surprise the most popular bikes they sell are suited for terrain, Mike says, “For most families I recommend they look into a hybrid or a Dual Sport bike. These bikes allow families to go out in the hills or Skyline Drive here in town, but also comfortably ride on pavement.” 

For kids just starting out, Strider bikes have become more popular in recent years than traditional bikes with training wheels. These bikes teach kids balance first, and as they grow and get more confident, parents can get an add-on kit to add pedals. “We typically see kids from 18 months to about three years old start with the balance bike,” Mike says, “and then around age four or five they graduate to the bigger size balance bike, and eventually add the pedals. From there, kids can start getting into the hybrid or more specialized bikes like what their parents are riding.”

Zac Soetmelk is an Assistant Store Leader at Scheels, and he and his family enjoy
exploring on their bikes as much as possible.
Photo courtesy of Scheels.

While most of our communities have trails specifically designed for bikes, riders in our area are usually headed out to places like the Mickelson Trail. It may seem daunting at first, but the Mickelson is a great combination of easy trails and great scenery. Mike says, “I think it’s a great place to take kids out to see the Black Hills. You can treat it like an out-and-back trail; you only have to go as far as your family wants and then turn around and come back.” There is so much to see along the Mickelson Trail that your kids will be too excited about the next rock tunnel to ask how much further they have to pedal. 

If you want to outfit your family on bikes but you’re worried about kids growing out of them, Scheels takes trade-ins in their bike shop. Whether the bike isn’t quite suited to the type of riding your family enjoys or your kid has simply outgrown it, Mike and his team are happy to take a look and get them on something they’ll love.

WORDS: ASHLEY JOHNSON
PHOTO: JESSE BROWN NELSON