© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
J.P. Nicolson, 14, of Cornwall rounds a bend in the trail road at Brookvale Nordic Centre, where the Rigid Riders Mountain Bike Club rallies every Tuesday evening in the warmer weather months.
Rigid Riders Mountain Bike Club gears up the next generation of Canada Games and Olympic hopefuls, while providing a fun fitness outing for all ages
Laughter and heavy breathing abound along with the typical woodland sounds on the trails at Brookvale Nordic Centre on Tuesday evenings.
It may be summer, but there are plenty of cool happenings on the 25-plus kilometres of single track as the Rigid Riders Mountain Bike Club action heats up for the season.
Originally a youth-only club, this Cycling Prince Edward Island program has evolved into a club for all abilities and ages to develop skills and to have fun in the sport.
“There’s a saying: ‘It doesn’t get easier, it just gets faster,’” laughs 14-year-old J.P. Nicolson of Cornwall, who regularly trains with the Rigid Riders Canada Games team and is a hopeful for the 2016 games.
“I think it’s more exciting (than road riding). There are always more twists and turns and jumps and bumps,” says the active teen, who started at cycling at the age of six but decided to up the ante by joining Rigid Riders a few years ago.
The program started about a decade ago in response to calls for P.E.I. teams for the Canada Games, with the goal of training children and youth for competition.
Children start out on small bicycles and, as they develop confidence, skills are added, such as hard turns, sliding through abrupt corners, jumps, climbing steep hill and going over logs.
“When you put them all together you’re developing the motor skills for a good confident racer and also a safe cyclist,” says Cycling P.E.I. president David Sims.
Wason Bulpitt, who is seven, is in his first year with Rigid Riders and on this day he is enjoying his third ride.
“(I joined) because I love biking. I was biking around just in my yard and this is on the biking trail so I don’t have to go around in circles just in my lane,” says the seven-year-old, who thinks the coolest thing so far is being able to “balance on the balance beam.”
Nine-year-old Lucas Kershaw of Pleasant Valley joined last year after his mother told him about the program in February.
“I thought it would be a good thing to do since I like mountain biking. I mountain biked here last year with my dad and I think it’s a great thing to do. I did fall once on a trail. I was going down a hill and I slipped on some loose dirt, my bike ran into a log and I fell and I hurt a part of my hand,” says this determined cyclist, who hopped right back in the bike saddle again.
Lucas is presently preparing to compete in a triathlon in August.
“(I’m training) by coming up and down my driveway every day, and running and walking. I’m already running and my kitbag is usually heavy so I figured if I do it when my kit bag is really heavy then it will be easy when (I don’t have it on),” he smiles.
Competitive road cyclist Albert Flavell has been heavily involved in the sport for 25 years and this year is the head coach of the Canada Games team.
“With Rigid Riders our main focus is for the kids to have fun but to also teach them the skills so they can progress in the sport,” he says.
The more serious athletes have additional training over and above the regular Tuesday night Rigid Rider sessions.
“Cyclists, in general, are very motivated and passionate to the sport, so it definitely takes a high level of commitment. I think you know early on whether you have it or whether you don’t. You have to enjoy the anxiety of races and all that that brings. Just see the results and see how you progress; you’re getting faster and then all the work starts to pay off.
“You set goals and you acquire them and I think that in itself motivates a lot of them,” he says.
By osmosis, an adult division of Rigid Riders formed as a way to engage participants’ parents who were typically just hanging out at Brookvale, waiting for their children to be done.
“The adult division proved to be really popular, so today about half of our riders are the parents,” Sims says of the parent program which, like the young riders program, now has beginner, intermediate and expert levels.
“Some other moms and I usually go together and do a moms’ ride,” says Roberta Larsen of Kellys Cross, who has two sons in the Rigid Rider program: Taylor, 19, and 17-year-old Jake, who was a Canada Games team member last year in Quebec.
“Mountain biking is an individual sport, but you see them grow in their strength and their biking skills, so that helps build their confidence. But even though it’s an individual sport we ride together, make a lot of friendships, everybody helps each other and we have a lot of laughs. And that makes it a team sport as well,” she adds.
Susan Walsh of Summerside has no children in the program, but this avid road rider was attracted to the program for a different reason.
“I just needed something of a challenge. I’m 50 years old and I figured it was time to start trying different things,” she says.
Walsh says mountain biking is really good interval training for road riding.
“It increases your stamina and your level of fitness increases quite fast. I thought I was fit until my first day here. We weren’t even at the place where we were supposed to start yet and I was huffing and puffing and going crazy,” she laughs.
“I’ve noticed a big improvement on my road biking already. It’s interval training without the gym.”
For people who aren’t comfortable with riding in traffic, mountain biking provides a certain comfort level.
“The only thing you have to worry about here is the trees and the roots and the rocks and the bugs,” Walsh adds.
“And the camaraderie among this group of people is phenomenal. It doesn’t matter if you are a road cyclist, or a roadie as they are called, there’s so much encouragement.”
Not all children or youth in the program aspire to be the Sidney Crosby of the competitive cycling world, but for those who really excel and enjoy it and wish to compete, Rigid Riders provides the training to work toward that goal.
“We very much keep in mind that not everyone is in for heavy duty competition, but if we can produce the next Olympic champion, we’re delighted,” Sims says.
“We work this both ways; lifelong activity is definitely the more important goal.”
AT A GLANCE
The Rigid Riders Mountain Bike Club is open for cyclists of all abilities and ages to develop skills and to have fun in the sport.
Rigid Riders meets every Tuesday, 6:30-8 p.m., at the Brookvale Nordic Centre for trail rides and instruction. There are coaches and instructors at each event.
There are also weekend events that take place during the season.
Interested riders can get a free one-day membership, which covers them for insurance. They can try the program and if they like can continue the following week or whenever they are available. They would then be required to get a Cycling P.E.I. license and Rigid Riders membership for $30 each.