People responded to the challenges of the pandemic in a lot of different ways. For a group of Inland Northwest mountain bike coaches and parents wondering how to help their kids, bikes became the answer.
After Covid lockdown, says Spokane mountain bike coach Frank Burns, “We saw that kids were withdrawn and excluded, for many good reasons, from the interactions that are so critical to the development of adolescent brains. My buddy is a pediatrician and my wife is a psychiatrist, and hearing them talk about what they were seeing with depression, anxiety, and withdrawal in adolescent populations was scary.”
But once kids were able to get back out riding together in the spring of 2021, he says, kids thrived like they had before.
After some thought, Burns says he and his fellow coaches came to the conclusion that bikes are the answer. “Armed with this new found insight, we secured the Bikesaretheanswer.org domain name and put up a website to make it easy for everyone in our region with kids to engage in youth cycling teams.”
Youth mountain biking programs in the Inland Northwest are not new, but navigating the confusing acronyms and disparate programs didn’t make it easy for families to find the right programs and races for their kids.
The Bikesaretheanswer.org site simplifies the region’s youth cross-country (XC) mountain biking team and race options and brings them all together in one easy-to-use web portal. The volunteers behind the effort went a step further and also helped fill the gap between the existing spring youth mountain bike teams under the Washington Student Cycling League (WSCL) and the fall youth cyclocross team (School of Cross); they brought a summer team under the banner of the National Interscholastic Cycling League of Montana (NICA MT) into the fold.
From the Bikesaretheanswer.org website, parents can now find all the info and registration links for Inland Northwest mountain bike team options for spring, summer, and fall, plus optional race dates throughout the year, all in one place.
Simplifying the process for parents has huge value, but the addition of the summer league that brings kids from around the region together into one team has also had a tremendous impact on the kids, coaches, and families that are now so much more connected, explains Burns.
The addition of the summer league really opened the coaches’ eyes, says Burns. “All the kids from the region were put together into one team and thrived. The kids, coaches, and families became friends, and we competed as one group against other teams in the larger multistate league.”
It gave everyone a taste of what a successful regional approach to youth cycling can deliver, says Burns. “We began to ride trails in CDA, Mount Spokane, Mica, Saltese, and Riverside together too.”
An unexpected outcome, he adds, was that kids saw themselves as part of a region, as opposed to a small friend group in a school or neighborhood.
For kids and families, Burns says youth bike teams are a great regional community-building tool, all while delivering fun, friends, health and inclusion. Kids in grades 6–12 can participate in the spring and summer XC mountain bike leagues, and ages 6–18 can take part in the fall cyclocross season.
Youth of all abilities are welcome, and Burns points out that kids typically self-sort whether they are more interested in riding for fun and being social or competing and racing. “At the start of the season, we had some kids who had not ridden much at all,” explains Burns, “and after six weeks, these kids do multi-hour rides and see themselves as part of a mountain bike team and are ready to race if they want to.”
Originally published as “For Some Pandemic-Weary Parents, Bikes Became the Answer” in the May-June 2022 issue.