Friday, March 12, 2010

Bikes 'R' For Kids - Well, They Used To Be

My son Ian, currently 10 years old, has been bitten by the mainstream sports bug over the last year or so - much to the amusement of his non-mainstream sports Weird-O-Dad (that be me). He signed up for basketball and that multi-week program just ended. Now little league baseball has started - his first year ever trying this out. The wife and I have now entered the "drive kids around to practice" routine a few days a week. It gets loopy with coordinating who drops off, picks up, cuts out of work early, eating dinner late, and squeezing homework in.

Still, Ian enjoyed basketball and is digging the baseball deal so far - which is cool. The coaches all are dedicated folks who appear to really enjoy coaching kids with sports. Nobody is making money off this, it's for the good of the kids and the love of the game. I've yet to see over competitive or psycho adults thinking their kid will be the next big sport star. Everything has been focused on learning and having fun - they way it should be.

Me, being bike geek and racer fan, wonder why programs like this don't exist to get kids riding and racing bikes. Yeah, some programs do exist - like Rad Racing, but compared to mainstream sports - face it - bike racing for kids doesn't exist. Ian and I hit almost all races of the Indie Series the past two seasons and I'm always amazed how few kids race mountain bikes. There's a few hundred adults racing and just a handful of kids - same deal at cyclo-cross races.

I know BMX is fairly big and very kid oriented. This hasn't been on our wavelength, though maybe we should check it out. Having to compete or practice on a manicured track with a bike that's fairly useless for anything else, kind of turns me off though. Still, at least there's other kids involved.

Without even putting racing into the picture, many kids don't even ride bikes period. On school field trips or during sports practices, I've asked Ian's pals if they ride bikes at all. Some do, usual up and down the street kind of thing, others mention occasionally doing a ride with their family. A few don't own bikes and have never ridden - we're talking 10 year old kids here. Scary. Most parents I chat with at sports practice, when I mention Ian also races bikes, have no clue what I'm talking about. They only know about soccer, basketball, baseball and football.

This is too bad. Most kids love to ride bikes. Most kids love to be in the woods. Most kids have insane amounts of energy to burn off. Shorter mountain bike races on less technical courses are perfect for kids. Cyclo-cross courses are also perfect - even remove the barriers if needed. If more kids were exposed to this, they would dig it for sure. It's also a different and good companion to team sports - since everything depends on the individual - not a team.

The other day, after hanging around Ian's baseball practice - watching several fields full of kids practicing baseball drills, with endless streams of parents picking up and dropping kids off - when I got home, I emailed the local mountain bike club email list (a few hundred members) inquiring if any parents were interested in meeting once a month or so for a kids ride. Easy fun woods cruise, length depending on who shows up - just to get some kids together.

I received 3 responses - one woman who's kids (11 and 13) road race - inviting Ian for a training ride. Very cool offer, but we're sticking to dirt for now. One offer of maybe, but his 9 year old son might not be ready for this. The last response indicated his son was too young at the moment, but had the same idea of organizing rides for kids in the future. That was it, since then - nada.

I'm not giving up however. I'll try again and see if anyone responds. It would be cool to get maybe 5 kids, who could handle a 5 mile or so singletrack ride. Meet once a month or whatever works. Phase II of this could involve creating a low key race team. Something like Rad Racing, but way more beginner oriented. I'd totally dig getting something like this going.

Until then, I'll visit the mainstream sports world via my son's interest and support him the best I can. We'll also continue to ride together and hit some races this season - said he's still interested. I'm glad for that....


  1. I also wonder why more kids don't get into Bike Riding. I was hoping my Grandson would be my biking buddy, but every time I see him he asked me to buy him a Fourwheeler, ugh.

  2. Zactly my thoughts. I've pondered with all the emphasis on soccer, football, basketball, all good stuff. But where is bicycling, now from my point of view, bicycling is multibenifitial, like transportatiion, energy conservation, a sport you can much easierly carry into your adult hood. Opps I gotta go, my bike is hollaring at me. :-)

  3. The bike culture just doesn't exist in the US. There's pockets of it - for adults - but not much for kids.

    My kid's school doesn't even allow bikes on school grounds. How's that for wacky? I guess it's too dangerous with the SUV/Mini Van parade that's scheduled every morning and afternoon to drop kids off and pick up. The no bikes rule is completely ignored on weekends however, since families use the playground and large lots for younger kids to ride around.

    Last night my son visited this facility with his little league team - place that provides coaching for baseball and football. Field with lights, indoor batting cages, pitching instruction with radar guns - all kinds of stuff. Place was packed with kids getting instruction from various coaches. This is a paid gig, though our visit was a freebie look see deal. Place was just another reminder for me how big these sports are for kids in the US - since I've basically ignored the mainstream sports since age 12 or so.

    I also get a kick out of the some of the dads - most packing a few extra pounds, wearing a sports cap and sweatshirt for various pro or college teams - watching their kids practice. "Normal" sports guys - though they obviously don't do much themselves. How many adults actually PLAY baseball or football? Percent must be in the negative range. Not that I'm Mr. Super Rider/Racer, but heading towards 50 myself, can't help but to feel a little smug. This now ends my coming across as Jerk section - which is not my intent - but anyone who rides a fair amount, knows where I'm coming from.

    Cool thing about bikes is the fact it can be a lifetime sport - something you actually do, instead watching other people play.

  4. Goofy update on this....

    We attended a science fair at our kids school last weekend. While I was chatting with a person I know - noticed some guy walk in carrying his kids school project - and he was wearing an Ibis t-shirt. I didn't want to be rude to the person I was chatting with, so we continued our conversation.

    After the chat I excused to myself to hunt down fellow Ibis guy - the dude must ride - an Ibis shirt I tell you. Plus, his kids must attend this school and they probably ride. It must be! Maybe an actual riding pal for Ian.

    I cruised the crowded gym at least 3 times - no sign of Ibis dude.