Getting teens into cycling


By Robert Annis
Most teens today daydream about becoming the next Gabby Douglas or Eli Manning; all too few imagine being the next Jeremy Powers or Kristin Armstrong. But could that be changing?
Where are kids learning about bike racing? Although middle and high school programs are popping up around the country (check out the NICA racing leagues!), schools continue to push traditional sports and it’s a safe bet that two-wheeled racing will never overtake wrestling or basketball in the schools.
Despite cycling not being the most popular high school sport, the number of teen racers has been steadily increasing in recent years. Juniors licenses jumped from 4,921 on this date in 2011 to 5,572 today, in 2012. This is an increase of more than 13 percent, so where are these new racers coming from?
Talking to several young racers, it seems most were introduced to the sport by their parents, who ride at least casually, if not competitively.
“My mom and her boyfriend are cyclists, they race a lot also, and our closest family friends are all cyclists,” said 17-year-old Forrest Conrad, a category 1 mountain biker from New Jersey. “My parents were crucial to my cycling. They brought me to races that they were going to, paid a lot of my entries, helped me cut down costs on bikes and maintenance, and helped me with a lot more. 
“I first started riding on a 40 pound LL Bean mountain bike that my grandparents bought me. My mom forced me to ride when I was seven, and I hated it! I couldn't shift, my bike was more than half my weight, and it seemed like we only rode places that had enormous climbs. … Eventually my mom let me do my own thing, and after a brief stint doing some dirt jumping, I actually wanted to start riding again. Thank God my old bike was too small and I got a new mountain bike. After that, I really enjoyed riding, and my first race really got me hooked.” 
Creating a community and friendships among younger riders is perhaps the biggest key to growing the sport at that level. Laron Beemer credited the close friendship between his son, Luke, and two other aspiring young racers, Alek Minkis and Gunner Dygert, for helping develop the trio into podium fixtures in the elite DINO mountain biking series.
“The three of them decided that they loved mountain biking, so Luke and Alek fixed up one of Alek’s hand-me-down Trek bikes for (their second) race at Brown County State Park,” Beemer said. “… There is always competition among the three, but I don’t think any of them would be as fast as they are without this healthy competition spurring them on. … One of the main things a young rider wants to do is ride and train with other young riders of the same age, which is never easy because most kids are raised up in soccer, football, basketball, baseball, the ball and stick kind of sports, and are never exposed to cycling as a sport until they are out of college and looking for some (other) outlet for their athletic skills.”
Many teen riders start out gung-ho about racing, but parents and mentors need to be extra careful their charges don’t burn out or lose interest in their younger passions. John Singleton coaches Thomas Revard, an Indiana wunderkind who has won multiple state championships on the road and track at the ripe-old age of 14. Revard is poised to be one of the next great young Hoosier racers — assuming, of course, he stays on track.
“He’s a talented 14-year-old cyclist, and if we’re lucky, he’ll be a talented 15-year-old or 16 year-old cyclist,” Singleton said. “When you’re Thomas’ age, you’re much less stable emotionally and mentally -- you’re constantly being exposed to all sorts of new things. You can’t predict how his future is going to pan out quite yet.”
Teens don’t react well to stress, so it’s important for adults to make racing as fun and anxiety-free as possible. Pressure to make the podium, get to a certain weight or put in too many training hours could easily send many younger cyclists pedaling in the opposite direction. Luckily, most of the teens interviewed for this article say the only expectations they feel are their own.
“All the pressure is self-inflicted because I want to be the best racer I can be,” said Diego Binatena, a 16-year-old category 2 road racer from California. “The reason I pressure myself is because I want to make my team and sponsors proud. I also need results to get noticed by USA Cycling. If you do well in national races or important regional races then you have a chance to be selected to attend the USA Cycling National Camp at the Olympic Training Center or a European Race Camp in Belgium. I’ve done both.”
Singleton suggests making plenty of time for other activities, including other sports. Revard runs cross country for his middle school, while category 1 rider Haley Batten, 14, skis and windsurfs when she’s not pedaling her mountain bike down the myriad of Utah singletrack.
Binatena, who trains 15 hours most weeks, wishes for even more time on the bike.
 “We need more juniors races,” Binatena said. “I wish race promoters would offer more racing opportunities for juniors and award cash prizes. I know that juniors races are not very profitable, but it’s a great investment in the future of the sport.”

This Article Updated December 3, 2012 @ 01:37 PM For more information contact: