The Kids Are on Wheels

youth cycling program starts ‘em young

Tori Johnson, photos by Michael Bartsch

“I wish they had this when I was a kid” are the words printed on Wisconsin High School Cycling League T-shirts, accurately summing up the awesomeness of youth cycling. To address that feeling, a few local residents have taken the initiative to create a more inclusive, organized cycling community for kids K-12 by establishing Eau Claire Youth Cycling. The need and desire for youth programs that encourage individuality, hard work, and community is made clear by the massive growth in participants since the group’s founding.

In 2017, Eau Claire Youth Cycling’s first year, there were 16 members. Two years later they have reached their (current) maximum capacity with 90 members, 38 coaches, and a waitlist. Tiffany and Nate Tibbitts, creators of Eau Claire Youth Cycling, chalk up the explosion in the number of riders to the all-around positive nature of the organization and to the joy of cycling itself.

“This is a sport where nobody sits on the bench,” Tiffany Tibbitts said. “You get out of it what you put into it. If you’re there for friendship, you make friends. If you’re there to compete, you compete.”

5 Things to Remember When Biking:

  1. Always wear a helmet

  2. Respect the trails! (Leave no trace; leave the trails better than when you found them)

  3. Always tell someone where you’re going or ride in groups.

  4. Do a quick maintenance check before biking (brake, tires, etc.)

  5. It’s totally normal to pretend like your bike is a horse or a large buffalo who loves giving rides.

Some kids race and some just use the meet-ups to learn more about cycling and be part of the supportive community. Those who choose to compete have five races at the end of the season, and they compete in the above-mentioned Wisconsin High School Cycling League. The biking season for Eau Claire Youth Cycling runs from July to October with two practices a week. At practice, the kids take part in drills and learn basic bike repair and safety, but most importantly, they ride. The group frequents the trails at Lowes Creek, Northwest Park, and Otter Creek.

Eau Claire Youth Cycling does have a waitlist, but there are more opportunities for summer biking. Parks and Recreation is offering an Introduction to Mountain Biking course, available to those in grades 4-12. (More info can be found at https://bit.ly/2L9PhCa.) Another option is to just start riding! If you have a bike and helmet, get friends or parents together and hit the trails.

Mountain biking is not just for adults! (Although there are no real mountains in the Chippewa Valley – and if you WANT, you can say this is really trail biking – these programs are recognized as mountain biking.)

“For many years there has been a strong adult community for biking, and for us we see this as a natural branch of that,” Nate Tibbitts says. The WHSCL has a total of 56 teams, and has seen its number of participants skyrocket as well. According to the league’s website, in the last five years the league has had more than 700 new members, proving the likability and importance of cycling options for all age groups.

Learn more about Eau Claire Youth Cycling at facebook.com/ecyouthcycling.