Boulder Junior Cycling
The Rapha Foundation was launched earlier this year with the goal of building a better future for cycling by inspiring, empowering and supporting the next generation of racers. Boulder Junior Cycling were awarded a grant in the first round.22 November 2019
Boulder Junior Cycling are a year-round youth cycling program in Boulder, Colorado. Founded in 2006, their mission is to inspire and develop junior cyclists and in just over a decade, they have grown into one of the largest and most successful junior cycling teams in the United States. BJC provide programs for all abilities aged 3-18 in mountain biking, cyclocross and road cycling, with a developing track program.
In 2018, BJC were named Junior Club of the Year by USA Cycling, and have been designated a USA Center of Excellence every year since 2008.
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When Boulder Junior Cycling applied for the grant, they did so with four goals. To find out more about how the grant would be put to use in achieving these, we spoke with Executive Director Pete Webber.
Increase participation in BJC programs by girls
Currently, 15% of USA Cycling members and 20% of NICA members are female. BJC stands at a comparable 20%, with the aim of reaching 40% in three years.
“Why do kids do youth sports? One of the biggest reasons is to be with friends. With boys it’s easier because twenty or thirty of their friends are taking up cycling. With girls the number is smaller, so they’re not going to have that same peer group that joins together. That’s where we’ve seen the most growth in participation already, when girls are empowered and encouraged to invite their friends to enrol. The goal is to reach a tipping point where they want to ride bikes because it goes beyond exercise or training and becomes a social outlet and lifestyle.”
Some of the steps BJC will take to address will be recruiting and training more women coaches, offering taster sessions so girls can try without pressure, and creating entry-level programs that are less intimidating to new riders.
One such example is Meredith Miller, an ex-pro cyclist who spent over a decade racing road and cross. Miller is a passionate advocate for the bike and since retiring has taken up coaching and mentoring with BJC, and recently joined their volunteer board of directors. In spite of a performance background, she is clear on the importance of coaching all abilities:
“Having been an athlete since I was six, I find great pleasure and privilege in giving back to youth sports. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the coaches, teammates and staff who supported, taught and guided me through sport, and life. To give back in such a way as a board member and coach/mentor is truly rewarding as I watch these young kids discover themselves as athletes and human beings. Although not all BJC athletes will go on to become elite cyclists, they will all graduate from this program having developed life skills that will guide them as they become young adults. First and foremost, they are taught to be good people. At every race and every practice, you can see how much these kids look out for one another, care for each other and want each other to succeed. It’s truly remarkable the fundamental tools that these kids learn because of sport, and particularly BJC, as they navigate their way through life.”
“At every race and every practice, you can see how much these kids look out for one another, care for each other and want each other to succeed. It’s truly remarkable the fundamental tools that these kids learn because of sport, and particularly BJC, as they navigate their way through life.”
The program at BJC continues to make progress. Their mountain bike programs are up to 22%, and cyclocross is at 23% this year. The cross team in particular is seeing success – they travelled to the Continental Championships in Ontario Canada at the start of November with four girls in the new 17-18 Junior age group, where Boulder Junior Cycling rider Madigan Munro won the title.
“Madigan’s the number one ranked junior in North America, and top five in the world. She’s helping inspire a group of girls to come along, and together they’re getting faster and faster,” says Webber.
Broaden BJC programs to reach a wider range of kids
To develop more inclusive programs Webber recognises that the sport has to attract a wider range of ages, abilities, backgrounds, and social circles. Some of the ways he sees for them to become more inclusive include offering more ways to get involved, enhancing communications, partnering with local schools, offering free activities, providing van transportation, and low cost seasonal bike rentals.
“We’re looking at soccer or swimming or any other mainstream sports and saying, why do thousands and thousands of kids enroll in those sports? Cycling is every bit as fun. But cycling is still a niche sport compared to mainstream sports, and to develop we need to cast a wider net. Starting younger is part of that, as is making cycling more available. We try to create a program that mirrors traditional mainstream sports. That means regularly scheduled after school practice that matches the school calendar. Professional coaches that are well-trained, that provide parents with a high degree of confidence that the program is going to be safe and effective.”
“It’s just developing a love for the bike and introducing them to it in the hopes that they’ll continue as they grow.”
Boulder Junior Cycling recently launched new programs for ages 3-8 with the aim of expanding reach and introducing more kids to cycling in a fun and non-serious way. It has been an immediate success.
“As soon as we launched we had a lot of interest right away. We’ve been really encouraged right off the bat. We have two levels – the first level we call Bike Play, for kids aged 3-5, one day a week learning the fundamentals of cycling. The next group up, 5-8, is called Young Devo, mainly focused on the fundamentals. It has nothing to do with bike racing, it’s just developing a love for the bike and introducing them to it in the hopes that they’ll continue as they grow.”
BJC also offer seasonal bike rental in an attempt to remove the barrier to entry that is the perception that a bike might be too significant of a purchase for a child to try a sport they might not stick with.
“If the families are really involved in cycling themselves they see the investment in a new bike as worthwhile, because they already know the benefits it can bring. But if the parent is not a lifelong cyclist, they can’t imagine an expensive bike is a smart investment for what they think is a toy. That meant we would miss out on heaps of kids getting involved, and they may be the best athletes.”
Improve BJC high-performance programs to continue developing top racers
While BJC want to grow participation by becoming more inclusive, they also want to develop their high-performance program and offer more opportunities for high-performing athletes. To do this, their agenda includes coach education, purchasing a van for race trips, and developing their new track program.
“The idea is to further the dedicated athletes that want to compete on a national and international level. We believe that a successful program will offer both ends of the spectrum, where you have programs that are just learning to ride your bike and develop a love for cycling, there’s no competitive element to it at all. At the other end, there’s a very competitive element where racing is the focus. We want to provide both ends of the spectrum because they feed each other.”
“You take a mountain biker who’s a big strong kid and maybe doesn’t go up the hills so well and you put them on the velodrome for the first time and they win their first race – and they’ve never won a mountain bike race – all of a sudden, for them the sport has changed dramatically.”
- Pete Webber
With too much focus on performance, BJC recognise they might dissuade athletes who would otherwise get involved purely for fun, only to discover a love of competition later. Taking away the pressure to compete helps to increase participation in the first instance, with BJC looking to increase opportunities for the riders who would later seek competition.
“Travelling out of state for better competitions is expensive, and families can’t do it on their own. Logistically it’s difficult, so we’re providing more support at that level. We recently purchased a van to take kids on race trips and we also started a program on the velodrome with no charge. That is to help the kids that race in the other disciplines to develop another skill set that pushes them further.”
Balance is a recurring theme at BJC. This wider access to cycling disciplines serves multiple purposes, from ensuring athletes are more well-rounded to enabling a connection with aspects of the sport that previously remained unexplored. BJC do this at no extra cost – children on a mountain biking course will be taken on road rides and to the track to learn tactics and techniques there.
“A real benefit is getting athletes into the right discipline for their particular talents. You take a mountain biker who’s a big strong kid and maybe doesn’t go up the hills so well and you put them on the velodrome for the first time and they win their first race – and they’ve never won a mountain bike race – all of a sudden, for them the sport has changed dramatically. They come out of it super inspired and motivated about the whole sport.”
Share lessons learned and best practices with other youth cycling programs
Finally, BJC wanted to make sure that they weren’t the only ones who benefit from the grant they have received.
“We’re planning to overhaul our website and create a section for coaching resources, and publish it to be used at will. It might be learn-to-ride curriculum, it might be program descriptions, it might be behind-the-scenes stuff like how to get liability insurance for youth cycling.”
As such, their commitment is to the wider cycling community, and not just those young riders who could attend a training program with BJC in Colorado.
“As we grow, we are committed to keeping our programs open-source and to sharing best practices, so positive change is multiplied and reaches beyond our region. Unfortunately, there are limited models for junior cycling programs currently. The obvious exception is NICA, which provides excellent leadership for high school MTB programs, but NICA is not active outside schools and doesn’t participate in cyclocross, road, or track cycling. With enhanced resources we will be well positioned to share our successes.”
The Rapha Foundation's mission is to build a better future for the sport of cycling by inspiring, empowering and supporting the next generation of racers. We will provide direct funding to grassroots and not for profit organisations that introduce under-served audiences to the sport. We will champion these organisations and take aspiring racers on a journey from their local park to podiums at the top of the sport. We will do this all over the world.