By Jeffrey Stern
When I think of growing up, one of the biggest factors in my freedom and enjoyment of being a kid was riding bikes around my hometown. There were no limitations to where and when I could go explore places, besides my curfew of course. Aboard my Gary Fisher mountain bike or Powerlite BMX ripper the winding roads and the slopes of the hovering mountain were my proverbial playgrounds. It’s aboard these machines that I scraped many knees, connected with my friends, slowly learned to navigate the world and drank many well-earned slurpees from the corner 711 on hot summer days.
Riding bikes was much more than an escape, but a lifestyle. During the school year, it was my vehicle. Transporting me down the big hill to school, often decorated in streamers, stickers or flags. I loved my bike, each and every iteration of it while growing up and getting bigger. Even without a club or team that I could share my passion with, I found like minded kids and on our two wheeled free machines, our options were limitless.
Kids nowadays have their cell phones, video games and even take Uber to and from their friend’s houses and school. They are trapped inside this ever addicting and isolating bubble of technology. “Bikes are boring; it’s what the poor kids do with their free time and it’s a waste of my time. Everything takes longer on a bike.” I actually overheard a high school student say recently at a local school I coach at.
How can we change this mindset? The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) is the best place to start.
The first league was started in Northern California in 2001, with the association officially taking shape in 2009 and seeing steady growth over the last 15 years, with a total of 20 leagues across the nation from Wisconsin to New Jersey and many states in between. But there is still room for more growth with less than half of the country operating leagues.
A recent online survey of local retailers by the USA Cycling Foundation reported that 77 percent of kids that have joined a NICA league or other youth cycling program continue to keep riding. Even more so, nearly 80 percent of parents and families join in the fun and start riding too. That is a whole family of new customers for local bike shops, all instigated by a child starting to cycle.
NICA makes it relatively easy to get a league going as well, offering support and guidance for anyone interested in getting the wheels rolling in their local community.
Riding bikes is an activity that is spawned in our childhoods, and if it’s given a chance to grab a stronghold on our kids imaginations, it can carry over into their adult lives. This generation of NICA riders has the opportunity to displace the generation of riders that is bringing the industry to a slow halt, but they still need our help.
Only if we give back, get out there and start a local team, club or group if there is not already one in place will the growth continue. There are many kids not interested in traditional ball and team sports that only need a little nudge to get on a bike. It’s not so much about racing, as just riding, and once a kid starts riding, they become riders for life. Who wouldn’t want to give that to the next generation all while helping to save the industry that we all know and love?