First off a disclaimer, I work for a different bike store and not REI, but this probably holds true industry wide.
The 100-mi check is mostly a safety check, that nothing has come loose and that the shifting is still good. Generally if everything was tightened properly to torque to begin with, it should stay tight and we don't usually find serious issues during these checks (which at least for our shop is a free service for bikes purchased from us). Small adjustments to shifting is the most common action we take during these, as the act of using the bike normally instead of just in the repair stand can cause cable "stretch": nothing is actually stretching, but the cable housing ends may slightly shift and settle better into the stops on the frame that they sit in, which affects the tension on the cable.
Sometimes we come across little things like the tires are way underinflated and find out that they don't have a pump at home and didn't realize tires can lose a PSI per day. Or they've put their quick release skewer back in the wrong way on their front wheel after car transport. Got to remember that some of these things are catered to all folks, even those that are new to owning bikes. If you're a seasoned cyclist that knows how to tweak your shifting a little, and everything is working well with no unusual noises, you're probably okay.
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Gripshifts don't actually interface with the rest of the grip at all, so there should be no compatibility issues aside from having enough space on your bars. When grips are designed specifically for use with gripshifters, it mostly just means they are made in a shorter length just to keep the whole length of the two together from getting too wide. In fact, Ergon makes short versions of the two models you listed for exactly that purpose, but the regular size versions would work all the same.
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Although I haven't done any bikepacking or truly long rides (yet), I also would not worry too much about hydraulics. As long as they are up to date on service, and the brake hose is secured well to the frame so that nothing can snag on it and rip it open, it's a closed system so dirt and contaminants shouldn't be able to affect it's performance. If you're particularly worried, couldn't hurt to have a fresh bleed done just before your trip (but also leave enough time to get a short ride or two in as well to confirm all is well after the service).
The one thing I might still think about is being mindful that your bike is heavier laden down with gear, and if you're on any significant downhill where you end up riding the brake, the excess heat buildup can result in brake fade where the fluid reaches it's boiling point and stops performing as well with a loss in power. But most bikepacking routes tend to be a bit mellower on elevation profiles so it's not a huge concern either. If you really anticipate it might be a problem, it can be mitigated with larger rotors if the frame can fit them or pads with cooling fins.
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@REI-JohnJ has already mentioned Barnett's which is pretty much considered an industry standard to measure against, and works more or less like a certification (like how a computer programmer can get certs in certain coding languages like C# or Python, CCNA, etc.). Like most certifications, it is a paid course. An employer may cover this cost, but if you're taking it on your own before landing a job it's coming out of your own pocket.
That said, Barnett's is by no means required at entry level: I have not taken it myself. My experience is mostly from watching all of Park Tool's repair help YouTube series starting about 2 years ago, or reading from sheldonbrown.com (ancient web graphic design aside...), and working on my own bikes at home. These excel at the process of doing a repair, but something I've found that really only comes from experience is diagnosing when you need to perform the repair in the first place. I started working at my shop about 3 months ago at entry level, so I'm still quite green professionally, but I can handle most of the bikes that come through our doors. I still have plenty to learn when it comes to hydraulic bleeds and suspension service. But the most important thing to landing the job was just putting myself out there and applying, a solid grasp of basic mechanical concepts like leverage and torque, and a willingness to learn.
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Some more options 😉
Elm Creek [Maple Grove/Champlin] or Hyland Hills [Bloomington] or Carver Park Reserve [Victoria] are great for more loops options rather than out-and-backs. They all also offer plenty of other activity like hiking and XC skiing.
Lebanon Hills [Eagan] and Whitetail Woods [Farmington] are also some gems of Dakota County for hiking/skiing, though they don't have much biking. Well, Lebanon does have one of the best and most popular mountain bike trails in the area, but not paved biking anyways!
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I thought of another thing to add that's been great in our family is the Kids Ride Shotgun Mountain Bike Seat, this has the kid riding on your own frame between you and the handlebars on their own mini saddle. They are not strapped to it in any way, so they must rely on their own (and your) balance. It's a great way for them to learn how a bike feels at speed as it dips and leans and maneuvers around without having to worry about the propulsion. AND it's my understanding that they're now stocked at REI... 😏
As far as training wheels, I just want to be clear it can be done that way, but some of the main points against them in more detail:
To do it properly, you have to constantly raise them as mentioned above, and from my observations most people don't seem to realize this. I see training wheels on/barely above the ground all the time.
Whether you do it consciously or unconsciously, turning a bike is done primarily by leaning the bike slightly in the direction of the turn, not just by turning the handlebars. Training wheels, especially if set too low, inhibit this and may lead to letting the bike lean the incorrect way in turns, so it's not just about balance it's also about proper technique. This is lessened if you raise the training wheels, but see #1. When kids are able to really lean the bike and make sharp turns, they also just seem to have more fun! My girl had a few jackknife incidents at first but quickly corrected that.
The basic idea of both training wheels/balance bikes is to separate balance from pedaling, but balancing is the real crux of biking while pedaling is comparatively much easier to grasp, and can be done on any pedal bike with a stack of books under the bottom bracket. I've heard tricycles are also sometimes used to teach pedaling, but I'm not a fan of them in general either. Coaster brakes throw a bit of a wrench in the works here too, but that's a whole other can of worms involving the CSPC...
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Some of my suggestions then!
Luce Line State Trail stretches from the west metro out to Hutchinson and beyond
Gateway/Brown's Creek State Trail heads out from the NE cities all the way to Stillwater
Lake Minnetonka LRT between Hopkins and Excelsior
Mississippi River Trail particularly the section from Spring Lake Regional Park into Hastings
Big Rivers Regional Trail runs along the MN River from Eagan up to Mendota/Lilydale past the confluence with the Mississippi. You can keep going all the way to downtown St. Paul as well it just is no longer technically under the regional jurisdiction past that point.
Ft Snelling--Minnehaha--Chain of Lakes I don't actually know if this has an official name (probably) but it's a fun one through the heart of the city
Cannon River Trail from Cannon Falls to Red Wing (they do charge a small wheel pass fee). I recommend starting in Red Wing and riding west so that the return trip is more downhill when you're tired.
And up north, the Gitchi Gumi that runs along the shores of Superior going through many of the state parks, and Willard Munger that runs all the way from Hinckley to Duluth!!
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I'm more on the southeast side but still the Cities (Eagan/Apple Valley area).
What sort of biking do you do, paved, gravel, or dirt? There's lots of good options for all of them around the metro.
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Our kiddo is in balance bike land still and not onto pedals yet, but I do have some thoughts:
Make the bike available This might mean, yes, having the bike indoors, especially at first. This gets them more exposure to it earlier on. If it's hidden away in the garage except when you bring it out, it can feel forced on the child. When it's available to them at any time, they can go check it out when they're interested, even if it's only to spin the wheels while it lays on the floor.
Be patient. No, really, be patient Many of my other parent friends comment that their kids are "only walking with the balance bike, they're not even sitting on the saddle". This is normal, they'll stand and walk, then sit and walk, and only then will they begin to experiment with picking up their feet. Let them learn on their own pace, and they will mostly teach themselves. This may take months to over a year. It feels slow in the moment, but by starting early, the end result is going to be full on bike riding well before they ever would be with training wheels. We started the whole process at about age 1.25, and only now at 2.5 is she really starting to glide much. Even if it takes another year to move onto pedals, that would still be a fully fledged biker at just age 3.5!!!
Avoid training wheels More than just not teaching balance, they can actively teach unbalance, so that when you take them off, a child has to unlearn before they can start learning the right way. Training wheels are a solution to a problem that didn't need to exist (poorly designed frames with seats too high off the ground and high centers of gravity), and are obsolete. They may have some uses for children with special needs, but I simply cannot endorse them for most kids.
Be a cyclist yourself / Focus on the fun It can be tempting to think of it as just teaching them a life skill, something that they should be learning only for the sake of learning it. Instead, keep it more to the tune of how the bike can take you on adventures, either faster than walking, or maybe even places you couldn't get to by walking. If they don't see you ever biking, why should they want to? Ride it to the park/playground, ride it to the beach, ride it to go watch some frogs in the pond. Kids also love riding bike/skate parks or "pump tracks" where there is undulating terrain, whether dirt or paved.
Bring snacks, but avoid bribing Snacks are so so important for any small kid outing, but they should want to ride their bike for biking itself, not as a means to an end.
Spend a little more This one is maybe a little controversial, and I know everyone's financial situation is different, but seriously, consider going a little higher budget than what you maybe initially think. A kid's bike isn't just a throwaway toy, it's a gateway to fun and independence that they crave. In particular go for something from a dedicated bike shop rather than Target or Walmart if you can. Your kids are worth it. More expensive bikes are generally more lightweight and better designed in the way they are shaped. A general guideline is that a bike shouldn't be any heavier than 30% of their weight. Can you imagine if me, a 200 lb. adult had to ride a 100 lb. non-electric bike (50%)? Yeah, not fun, and it's not so fun for the kids either, they just don't know any different if they've never experienced a bike truly designed for them. Check out this Instragram video where even proficient riders struggle with cheap bikes https://www.instagram.com/p/CH0IllxjLyT/ . When your kid outgrows it and it's time to sell, more expensive bikes also hold their value better, so once you factor that in, you're also probably not spending all that much more net (compare getting an $80 bike that you end up having to give away free vs. a $250 bike that you sell for $150: in the end you've spent a little more, $20, but your kid has had a much better experience). Any bike is better than no bike, but if you can swing it I seriously have to urge going up a little in price.
Go give a look to twowheelingtots.com This is my ultimate resource for everything kids biking related. It is so comprehensive, unbiased, and thorough. Every review they have they have personally tested, and they have tested hundreds, maybe even thousands of bikes, bike trailers, and other bike accessories. The Instagram video above is from them.
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And I have also worked in the MN ski industry for around 5 years and would love to be able to hear people stories or help out anyone with questions in that area! I’m so excited to be a part of this!
Well I can share my story of how at the ripe old age of 28 I had the biggest wipeout the ski instructor had ever seen on the bunny hill at Lutsen! We had won a 3-day ski and stay package from donating blood: I hadn't skied since childhood and my wife had never been, so it was an adventurous (re)introduction to the sport for sure... We're a bit better now, though far from expert, and most times we stay local at Afton or Welch. Hoping to introduce our little this coming season, we tried this past winter and she was okay with stomping around in her 16.0 boots just fine in the house but hated every time we clipped into the skis.
We're very much a biking family, and I now work at a bike shop, so I'm happy to share my knowledge and experience in that realm back!
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👋🏼 from one Minnesotan to another! Our State Parks are so great, though lately I've found myself staying closer to home with my county parks. More to do with logistics of a potty training toddler than quarantining...
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