IMBA's Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day was celebrated worldwide October 1. While many NMBP groups participated in the one-day event, one Illinois club has been doing a similar event several times each summer since 2008.
Four years ago, the Peoria Area Mountain Bike Association (PAMBA) of Illinois, with strong support from its patrol group, started a kid's mountain biking program. About once a month, from June to September, kids of all ages and skill levels are led through the woods on dirt trails by PAMBA patrollers, taught how to ride, spotted on obstacles and even given "crash rewards" when they wipe out.
"Many of us in the club are parents. When you're a parent and a mountain biker, you have to be careful about how much time you're taking for yourself," said Carrie Kerr. "Our club had scheduled so many group rides that it only seemed fair to host one specifically for the kids. Naturally, kids want to emulate their parents and, truly, what kid wouldn't want to be out on a bike in the woods?"
On Friday evenings, the kids and their parents assemble at one of five, Peoria-area trail systems. The event is rotated from the easiest to the more challenging trails as the summer progresses. The club wants the kids to be familiar with the variety of terrain and riding opportunities right in their own community.
The evening begins with the kids having their photo taken and being briefed by patrollers, who are carrying radios and first aid kits. One pair rides with the absolute beginners while another pair rides with the intermediate riders. The kids are led on a variety of trails and earn ribbons for their participation. Level I is for any kid who gets on a bike (tagalongs count); level II is for any singletrack; level III is for technical attempts, with or without spotting; and level IV is for riding a technical trail without help.
Oh, and those crash rewards?
"Crash rewards are what the kids get immediately upon crashing," said Carrie. "That way, the kids can authentically boast about their crash - a central part of any mountain biker's story!"
Carrie predicts that everyone who rides returns again at some point. The kids love the ribbons and the camaraderie.
"Like anyone who rides together, they have created a bond where nature, fitness, success and failure are the foundation," she said. "I am sure these experiences and relationships will be a part of their childhood highlights."
Once the kids reach level IV, they are encouraged to enter a local race. The state-wide mountain bike race series offers a junior's division in each of its 11 annual events. The club's next goal is to create an actual junior racing team and to get the junior's category USAC sanctioned in each Illinois race.
"Ultimately, we want to broadcast a great armful of love for nature and fitness that ripples throughout the generations to come," said Carrie.
Over the years, PAMBA has encouraged any kid-at-heart to join the monthly ride, regardless of age. The group also encourages experienced riders to attend as mentors and coaches to the beginners. Everyone receives spotting and encouragement.
"It's been especially well-received by women who don't want to join in on what feels like an intimidating group ride," said Carrie. "By the end of the ride, they realize that mountain biking is challenging for everyone. It doesn't matter how many times they had to dismount or if they fell over standing still, as long as they had fun."
And isn't having fun what mountain biking is all about?