Part One - Finding the right first bike
After our first Whistler trip in August of 2011 it was clear my son (7 years old at the time) was hooked on downhill mountain biking and bike park riding. We knew there were bike parks in the Southeast (Beech & Snowshoe at the time). We also knew there were some fun downhill tracks to be ridden at nearby Clemson/Issaqueena. But we only had lightweight cross country bikes at the time, and we knew we needed something up to the task. He was still small - about 4'5" and approximately 70 lbs. What were the options at the time? Basically, it boiled down to the Kona Stink 24 and Specialized GROM Hit. The Stinky was used in rental fleets at Snowshoe and Whistler - so he had a chance to ride them, and that gave me the confidence that would be the right bike to start with. At the time, my mechanical experience was limited and the Kona was one of the only complete bikes available that fit him well. We paid $1,225 for a new 2011 we ordered through a LBS, and the fun began! I would also like to note here that this is where I started to follow the fundamental: I would ride the same bikes as my son. Recognizing it would be years before he would be experienced enough to give me decent feedback on how things were working, I decided I needed to be familiar with what he was riding.
Before long, it was evident this bike had some limits in its 'out-of-the-box' configuration. It was very heavy at a bit over 35lbs. The suspension was coil sprung, and the dirt jump forks had a very heavy spring rate intended for adult riders. It was basically a tank with small brakes. There wasn't much tunability to the suspension and there were really only one or two choices for 24" tires.
I have always followed my son on the trail. It made sense for safety-sake, was fun to watch him ride, and it gave me the chance to see how his bikes were working for him. I could tell the stiff coil suspension was barely functioning. The frame had a decent design and he was comfortable with the size of it, but I couldn't get the ride supple enough for him to get good traction and stability. During one trip to Snowshoe I was trying to fine tune the tire PSI to help him with traction at high speeds, and in order to keep things under control, the psi was so low he was flatting. I started researching options, and determined we needed to change over to an air shock and fork and lower the spring rate. It quickly became obvious that Local Bike Shops don't carry inventory of the components I needed, nor do they have expert advice to offer. I started surfing Ebay, Pinkbike, and other online merchants to find deals. After a bit of research I decided to go with Marzocchi primarily due to cost and availability.
The new fork would be a Marzocchi DJ1 ($160) with the coil spring removed. In conversation with Marzocchi Tech Support I had confirmed I could run the fork without a spring and use air pressure within the stanchions (only) as the 'spring'. The rear shock would be a Marzocchie Roco Air. We dropped some weight and got much needed adjustability for a rapidly growing rider.
The Stinky was a good bike to build confidence on, and get started in a sport without too much investment. He rode it for a portion of the 2012 Season and we sold it for $1,100 after building an SX Trail to help him get to the next level