Free to Ride: GR Dirt Dawgs Make Mountain Biking Fun for Kids

Growing up, Danielle Musto tried different sports, but nothing really clicked for her.

The first time she rode a mountain bike changed all that.

“I felt like I was in my own skin for the first time,” she explained.

Giving kids that same sense of freedom and fun inspired Musto to start the Grand Rapids Dirt Dawgs, a non-profit mountain biking organization for kids in West Michigan. The group focuses on inspiring kids to live an active and healthy lifestyle, building self-esteem and teaching trail stewardship.

This past summer 130 kids were active members of the group, which has riders ages two to 15. Younger members of the group use strider bikes with no pedals, which teach balance and basic biking rules until they’re big enough to pedal off down the trail on their own.

The Dirt Dawgs hosted their first kids-only race this summer, but Musto said winning races isn’t the main goal of the group. Sportsmanship, teamwork, and a sense of community for riders and their parents are a much bigger focus than first place finishes.

“The atmosphere’s all about fun,” she said.

Five-year-old Bennett Kunnath agrees. He said his teammates are his friends and can’t pinpoint his favorite part, exactly.

“I like all of it,” he said. “I like riding and going over roots.”

His dad, Steve Kunnath, works as the inventory control manager at Grand Rapids Bicycle Company. He said he wants Bennett and four-year-old daughter Marin, also a member of the group, to enjoy biking as much as he does.

Steve Kenneth says being on a mountain bike builds confidence by providing a sense of pure freedom, while also testing limits and control. The advantage of participating with the group is that the accomplished instructors are sometimes able to break through to his kids better than he can, plus they get to make new friends in the process.

“They listen to the coach more and they’re riding with their peers,” he said.

Watching kids learn to ride and experience the same kinship with the sport of mountain biking are the realization of something big for Musto.

“It has exceeded my wildest dreams,” she said of the group.

Want to check out the Grand Rapids Dirt Dawgs? They’ll be hosting an event celebrating Take Your Kid Mountain Biking Day on Saturday, Oct. 1 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Cannonsburg Ski Area in Belmont. 

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Photo credit: Jack Kunnen Photography

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