The rise of the young riders

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland 7

First it was the MAMILs, now it’s young people who are creating a huge boost to Scottish cycling.

Once the biggest growth area in UK cycling was Middle Aged Men in Lycra but now the oldies are losing the limelight to the youngsters.

And while decades ago it used to be that children rode their bikes around the streets, in parks and as a way to get to school, young riders are taking their cycling far more seriously.

In the past few years, the junior cycling arena in Scotland, including participation races across many disciplines, such as mountain biking, BMX, cyclocross, road races and track time trials, has been fast growing.

According to Scottish Cycling, membership of youth cycling clubs has risen “significantly” with the number of funded events also increasing to match demand.

Jim Riach, of Scottish Cycling, says: “There are now 26 clubs in Scotland with specific youth accreditation through the British Cycling Go Ride programme. This is a programme that supports the growth of youth cycling both in training and competitions.

“Many clubs that were once only for adults have expanded to include youth sections with specific coaches to support the young riders.”

Funding from Scottish Power has also enabled Scottish Cycling to launch a number of youth series. Jim says: “There are now 28 Scottish Power youth cycling events across a range of disciplines, including BMX, downhill mountain biking, dirt track racing as well as road racing.

“Many of these events are super popular and have been fast growing in the last few years.”

New kids on the block

There appear to be a number of reasons for the growth of young riders.

Inspired by the stars

One of the biggest influences for young people has been our Scottish cycling heroes at both the Olympic and Commonwealth games. Sir Bradley Wiggins has also created the so-called Wiggo effect, both for adults and kids.

Richard Park is the father of Scottish teenage cycling talent, Ellie. He reckons cycling has become “cool” again.

He says: “There was a time quite recently when kids who rode their bikes were seen as loners or a bit odd by school friends but now it’s cool again. The likes of Wiggins, Olympics stars and Team Sky have made cycling trendy again, like in our own childhoods.”

The right programme

Simon Yearsley, owner of Big Tree Campervans, which is the headline sponsor of the Tayside & Fife Regional Youth MTB Series, believes the Go Ride programme has been instrumental in underpinning the new growth of cycling for young people.

He says: “The Go Ride programme is specifically aimed at helping groups and clubs to properly support young people who are keen to ride. It’s about inclusion, fun and competitions.

“I think this has helped many clubs to make the right decisions about how to guide young riders into the sport and how to set up well-orchestrated races.”

Good facilities

Scotland’s renowned cycling facilities also offer a great starting point for young people who want to take up cycling. Simon says: “We have some amazing trail centres where people of all ages and abilities can get into mountain biking.

credit Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland 2“The Velodrome in Glasgow has also been a huge bonus, and the smaller open-air cycling tracks are great for encouraging more young people to try track racing.”

Graeme McLean is the Project Manger for Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland. He reports that many new “smaller” facilities located close to towns and villages are providing much easier access for children to enjoy riding their bikes.

He says: “Scottish Government funding, in part from the Legacy 2014  Active Places Fund, has helped to create lots of smaller tracks and trails facilities close to where people live.This a ideal for getting kids on their bikes and learning the skills of mountain biking.”

He gives examples of the Aberfoyle Bike Park, Stirlingshire; Templeton Tangle MTB Trails, Dundee; Alyth Bike Park, Perth & Kinross and trails at Larbert High School.

Born Again Bike Parents

Women's Learn to Ride Biking Festival, Pollok Park, GlasgowThe MAMILs (again!) are inspiring their own children to take up cycling. Many kids see dad excited by his new bike, all the gadgets and heading out for bikes rides and they want to follow suit.  These MAMILs are being renamed the  “Born Again Biker Parents”. Of course, it’s not just the dads, but also the mums who are inspiring their youngsters.

Like father like sons

Lindsay McGarvie, from Ayrshire, is a keen road rider and dad to three boys, who have followed him on to two wheels. He says: “I bought my bike three years ago to do a Fort William to Glasgow charity ride and I’ve been hooked ever since.

“The boys showed a real interest in cycling with me and I encouraged them as much as I could. Cycling is something we can do together. They quickly took to the sport and participated in small club rides and then got into criterium and cyclocross racing.”

Now 13, Harry races cyclocross (CX), crits and time trials at national level. He has recently won a couple of hill climbing events. His 12-year-old brother Cammy also takes part in CX, crits and TTs across Scotland.

Younger brother Max, six, is about to get his first cyclocross bike and will be racing this winter, too.

Lindsay says: “I think they love that we can all go to race days together and spend the full day supporting each other as we race our different age categories. I’m now trying to get my wife, Kat, to join in the fun.”

Support for young riders

For young people to be motivated and encouraged to cycle more – and compete – there needs to be a strong grassroots development. Fortunately, Scotland has shown great progress in this area.

Edd Shackley is a coach at one of the biggest youth cycling clubs in Scotland, the Glasgow Riderz. He has witnessed a big change in kids’ cycling.

He says: “In 10 years we have gone from struggling to get 10 kids to the club and sometimes having less than five at a session, to more than 100 in the club, 70 turning up to Saturday sessions and 20-plus at mid-week sessions.

“But the clubs – and races – would not be there if it wasn’t for the volunteers and coaches that organise them. That’s been a big change, too, in recent years. There is a lot more support at grassroots levels for young riders and clubs for them.”

Edd also credits Scottish Cycling as playing a vital role in youth cycling in Scotland. He says: “Scottish Cycling – through Go Ride – support the youth cycling clubs, particularly around coaching and youth competitive events, and our club, for example, has had significant support from Glasgow Council and Glasgow Life.”

Case study: New club for recreational riders

Not all clubs have followed the Go Ride programme. Ayr Burners Cycling Club was established only eight moths ago and at has 125 subscribers. The club is able to organise group rides for children over 13 and under-13s with parents through the insurance provided by national cycling charity, CTC.

Credit_Forestry-Commission-Picture-LibraryChris Johnson, one of the club’s founders, says: “We wanted to get up and running quite quickly because we could see there was a demand for recreational cycling for new-comers so we utilised the group insurance offered by CTC.

“To start with we ran an introduction to cycling block over six weeks and from there we have grown quickly to quite a large club with lots of group outings.”

Regular sessions include balance bikes for two year olds, closed road cycling and cyclocross in local parks.

Chris says: “Cyclocross is great for all ages and abilities and is in safe and inclusive environment. People can ride all kinds of bikes, too.

“We find that people learn quickly, often from each other, and gain confidence through these sessions. That helps them when they then go out on group rides on roads.”

Rather than the Born Again Biker Parents, Chris has seen the opposite effect. He says: “We have found that the children come along to sessions and then the parents follow. It’s a great activity for families to do together.

“We now have a fairly even split of men, children and females in the Ayr Burners, which is extremely encouraging in terms of getting more people to ride their bikes.”

The emphasis is less on racing and more on enjoyable group rides and learning good skills. Chris says: “If people want to be more competitive we have great links with other local clubs but we prefer to have a club that is for recreational cycling with lots of fun and an all-inclusive atmosphere.

“Some people have started with out club and now also ride more competitively with another club. Cycling is for all and it’s for each person to pursue it as they want.”

More races for young riders

Race organisers are also meeting a demand for more events for young people. Some existing adult races have introduced more categories to include juniors, while there are also new series for young riders.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland 5As well as club-run events and the Scottish Power races, there’s the WoSCA (West of Scotland Cycling Association ) RR series and the UK-wide British Cycling National Road Race Series.

Greig Scott, step-dad of young cyclist Imani Pereira-James, of Glasgow, has been impressed by the growth of the racing arena.

He says: “While junior races used to be an afterthought at adult races, there are now categories for all ages and genders. In the three years that Imani has been racing, the amount of road racing has increased massively – and the numbers are fast growing. She can race pretty much every weekend in club-run and national events.

“Imani will race around 40 times this year and she really loves it. If there were more races she would do them, for sure, although it take up a lot of my leisure time, too!”

Events at other series, such as the Big Tree Campervans Tayside & Fife Regional Youth MTB Series, now fill up within days of the entries opening.

Again Simon points to the Go Ride programme. He says: “Go Ride is focused on fun competitions for young people. This has helped in the launch of many club races. This is what we also aim for with our Youth MTB series.

“It has to be fun but it also has to be competitive because that is what we have found the young people want. They want to see that they are improving and they want a challenge.”

In the field of cyclocross racing there has been a broadening of categories to appeal to men, women and across all age groups.

Edd says: “Where once you would have had less than 40 riders racing in a couple of categories, now there will be 200-plus and across youth, senior, vet, youth and women. And these races take place every weekend of the season rather than just a handful over the winter months.”

The future for young riders

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland 4There seems to be little doubt that cycling will continue to grow for young people in Scotland. Jim, of Scottish Cycling, points out that there is now a rising need for more people to become coaches for youth clubs and young people’s sections.

Greig also states that there’s a requirement for a purpose-built closed road circuit in Scotland. He says: “There are many of these facilities in England but not one in Scotland where youngsters have to rely on using go kart tracks, public parks and very occasionally closed town centre road circuits.”

It’s likely that our young riders will continue to do well racing at national level too. This month, Team Scotland won three major titles including the British Inter-regional finals on the track and mountain biking.

Jim says: “Our young Scottish riders are showing how good they are and winning British events on the track and at mountain biking. This has come from having a good support system for coaching kids and because there are lots of events for them to compete at.

“It’s fantastic to see and we hope that continued funding will support young riders in Scotland.”

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