When the Transylvania County Schools Cycling Club hits the trails, it’s an amazing site to see. With over 50 young members and 25 kids on each ride, it can be loud, and for volunteers, it can feel a little like herding cats. But to see so many young riders develop a passion for riding mountain bikes is incredibly rewarding, and the program keeps growing every year.
According to program facilitator Noelle Khare, the Cycling Club has been a true community effort, which has helped eliminate some of the financial barriers to mountain biking. Sycamore Cycles has donated about 20 bikes to the cause and SylvanSport has donated a trailer to help get all the bikes to the trailhead.
“Many businesses have donated money or equipment to support our program,” Khare said. “It really takes a village, and it works.”
In the club, students learn about trail etiquette, like stopping and dismounting when encountering horseback riders, and talking to horses to reassure them (horses are often scared when they come across weird looking helmets and bikes making strange noises). They also learn proper riding techniques like not to skid, how to ride in control and to yield to other forest users.
Community members really make the team what it is. Khare couldn’t do it with the help of folks like Ryan DeGarmo.
“Something I see time and again that really surprises me is the overall confidence and self esteem some of these kids gain by participating with the bike club,” said Degarmo. “Some of them may not connect with team sports at school, and the bike club gives them an option to try something different or to connect with other kids that love to ride. I have seen kids that are pretty anxious about coming to their first ride. They may even hide in the background a little at first. But after a few rides, or even on the first ride, you see that start to disappear. They often walk back to their parents’ cars with a hop in their step and new confidence in themselves. It’s pretty neat to see that transformation.”
Many young riders have learned to love riding mountain bikes through the program; some have gone on to receive scholarships at colleges with cycling teams.
Young athletes like Rudy Sutton, Bergen Khare, Colby McCalister and Matt Owen all received cycling scholarships, taking what they learned in Transylvania to the next level.
Some of those riders return to lead rides and coach younger cyclists. Khare said that the passion for riding is cyclical, and she hopes that trend will continue.
“Our ranks in the program are filled with middle and high school kids,” said Khare. “Our youngest kid this year is in the sixth grade and the oldest will be seniors in high school. We try to foster a supportive learning environment where the kids teach others. ‘Fast, Safe and Polite’ is our motto. We want them to take what they have learned and teach it to the other kids.”
To learn more about the Transylvania County Schools Cycling Club, contact Noelle Khare at (828) 553 7071, or visit www.facebook.com/TCSCyclingClub.