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Youth Cycling: How to get kids off the couch and on the trail

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Life is filled with challenges. Some are fun, some are not so fun. And when you’re a kid, they can be even harder. Many communities are finding a way to teach kids how to deal with those all those challenges: by pedaling right over them. It’s beginning to look like with youth cycling, the kids are alright.

Harper Higdon leads his mother, Angie Higdon and others on a ride above Taos Ski Valley. Harper is part of Fit Taos/Get Fit Taos Kids,  a youth multi- sport outdoors program. Photo – Brandon Mathis

Racing, afterschool programs, summer camps and skills clinics, we now know that once you get a kid on a bike, it’s a habit that could last forever. With the help of these organizations and others just like them, kids are getting out and into the wild.

HIGH DESERT DEVO – CORTEZ, COLORADO

A High Desert Devo youth rider winds through some of the classic trails of Cortez, Colorado. Getting kids outside away from screens and involved in outdoor activities is a focal point of all youth cycling programs. Photo – Pete Eschallier

The cycling scene in Montezuma County is thriving. New additions to an already renowned trail network are making it a regular destination for mountain bikers, and now cyclists, racers, coaches and parents are coming together to get the kids to hit the dirt.

“When you’re on your bike, it’s your own ride. It’s something you can take wherever you are,” says Dani Gregory of High Desert Devo. “Our mission is to empower the youth in our community for fostering a lifelong passion for cycling. Some kids don’t fit with the typical school athletic programs. We’re just trying to show kids that there are other things to do. We want to give them something that will get them off the couch.”

DURANGO DEVO – DURANGO, COLORADO

The Durango Devo Youth Developmental program is one of the original models working with kids in a mountain biking format.Photo – Terrance Siemon

In this cycling hub, the kids of today are becoming the stars of tomorrow. But what’s more is that many are taking away the spirit of teamwork, friendship, mentoring and giving back. Durango Devo co-founder Chad Cheeney grew up playing ball sports and cycling, and saw a lack of team spirit and specifical focus in youth cycling programs. With Durango Devo, he found away to change all that.

“In a sport like mountain biking, you’re always overcoming obstacles and little things that happen,” Cheeney says. “I knew it would be a success if we could pull it off. I think the main thing we have are coaches that are young and fun. We’re role models. We’re good models. We guide the kids along their pathway.”

DUST2 – PAGOSA SPRINGS, COLORADO

DUST2 kids are not only getting out on the trails, but are helping build the trails as well in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Janine Emmets, who has worked in youth groups her entire career, says kids learn better in natural environments. Photo- Janine Emmets.

This majestic mountain town is the perfect place to build trails, and the plan is to put these kids to work building their future. Dust2 is working primarily with younger kids, grades 5 through 9.

“I think the outdoors is the best place to learn,” Janine Emmets says. “There’s something about being outside and away from technology, the schedule and being in nature. You develop deeper relationships with people. You notice people more. Being outside really brings out a lot of our true selves.”

THE RGC RATTLERS – SAN LUIS VALLEY, COLORADO

The RGC Rattlers was founded by a group of educators in the San Luis Valley who are bringing kids from several high schools together to form one mountain bike team. – Photo- Brian Stevenson.

The only valley visible from space, nestled between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains, the San Luis is a riding destination about to bloom. The Prong Horn Trail, Stone Quarry, Monte Vista, Del Norte, the trails are growing so this group is out to grow the riders as well. The 12 Hours of Penitente, at Penitente Canyon, another destination trail riding area, has become a fundraiser for the composite team from three valley high schools, The RGC Rattlers, who are training, building skills and helping each other along the way.

“We have this great trail system, but we don’t have a huge population of riders in the valley,” Brian Stevenson says, a Rattlers coach. “The adults are having a blast, so we decided this is an opportunity to get the kids involved in something they’ll do for the rest for their lives.”

“The healthy part of getting in shape is obvious,” he says. “But I think it’s really the way to challenge themselves. I tell the kids, this isn’t a race against other riders, this is a race against yourself.”

GET FIT TAOS KIDS/ FIT TAOS – TAOS NEW MEXICO: Multi-sport youth club part of Field Institute of Taos, geared at getting kids outside.

CRESTED BUTTE DEVO – CRESTED BUTTE, COLORADO Colorado’s kids in Colorado’s own singletrack mecca.

GRAND VALLEY YOUTH CYCLING – GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO Helping youngsters since 2011.

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