No matter where you are in Northwest Arkansas, you’re never very far from a trail – whether it’s a sweet patch of single-track or a paved ribbon alongside a creek. Our kids around the region are growing up with hundreds of miles of trails often literally in their back yard. Add to this trail paradise the varied programming out there to stimulate youth cycling, and we are building a culture in Northwest Arkansas that I believe will produce the next Peter Sagan, Danny MacAskill or Emily Batty.
Remember the adage from “Field of Dreams?” “If you build it, they will come.” Well, we are building. And building some more. Not just paved trails – mountain bike trails, better infrastructure for road riding, and a bike park in Rogers that is X Games-level cool. And it’s not just places to play that we’re building in Northwest Arkansas. There’s a cycling culture that’s growing block by block. And at the base of this pyramid, our fastest growing group, are the kids.
This excitement around youth cycling is due to in part to several efforts, all of which are working together to build a whole much greater than its parts. Friends at Arkansas Single Track has been building the next generation of mountain bikers in Northwest Arkansas through summer camps and through FAST Kids’ weekly bike rides/training sessions. The FAST Kids mountain bike team beats not just other youth teams in the state points series, but most of the adult teams as well!
Our schools are bringing cycling to kids on an equitable playing field. Many of the schools in Northwest Arkansas’ largest districts have bikes for kids to use on campus and bike training as part of the physical education curriculum. In addition, high school students are learning how to build and repair bikes in shop classes. How cool is that? I had to build a birdhouse and our kids get to build a bike!
Speaking of equity, Pedal It Forward NWA is working to ensure that all kids have access to a bike at home no matter what their household income. The nonprofit takes in donated bikes and parts – from individuals, businesses and government groups – and turns these throw-aways into a child’s treasure. Volunteers spend hours each week swapping out parts, airing up tires and finding organizations and individuals in need. Last Christmas, the group provided hundreds of kids a chance to come into the shop and pick out whatever bike they wanted. This Christmas is looking to be even bigger.
The cherry on top of all this team work is the state’s recently accept NICA bid. NICA is the National Interscholastic Cycling League, and it brings mountain biking to kids on a safe and competitive level. Northwest Arkansas is leading the charge in this league, with the first youth teams forming in the region next year. Competitive events will start next fall and will reach into every community around the region. Some of the teams will be connected to schools, while others are envisioned at the community level. Imagine the camaraderie of a baseball or football team but geared toward mountain biking – a sport that kids can take with them through their whole lives. A first, introductory youth race (ages 6-19) will be held this Saturday, Aug. 8, at Slaughter Pen to give kids a taste of the sport. Ocean Spray is covering all entry fees, making the event totally free for all.
The synergy of infrastructure, programming and support is building a bright future for our young cyclists in Northwest Arkansas. There are plenty of ways that you can be a party of the region’s transformation into cycling’s next big thing. There is a Pedaling for NICA fundraising event Monday, Aug. 10, at Pedaler’s Pub from 6-9 p.m. On top of pizza and live music, the event will feature a silent auction with bikes, accessories and a helmet decorated by local artists.
If you have more time than money, NICA will be looking for coaches and assistants for the league. Pedal It Forward NWA is also in need of volunteers to help with bike maintenance and repair on Monday evenings and Saturday morning.
Please click the links to learn more about these great organizations: