Last night some of the leaders of Southern California youth bike racing met at the Newport Coast Community Center in Newport Beach for an informal dinner and discussion of what is needed to advance bike racing for kids.
Making the sport of bicycle racing all that it can be is important to me as a former junior and elite bike racer now the parent of a junior bike racer. I want my child to be involved with a top-level organization. More important, though, is my son’s safety on the road. Every parent of a bike racer I speak to shares the same concern for their child riding their bicycle on the road, at the mercy of thoughtless motorists. It is a major limiting factor in the growth of the sport.
Generally, the bike racing community has nothing to offer kids and their parents in the way of strategies to make the road safe.
I learned how to ride in the road properly, how to be assertive and visible, how to take the lane and how to know when to get off the road altogether and wait for safer conditions. I learned this from the adults in the cycling club I was a member of when I started racing in 1972. I can teach that dual skill set to my son, but I can’t teach everybody, and I seem to part of a rare breed of people who are ex-racers willing to mentor both racing AND intelligent, safe road use. In last night’s meeting it was sadly acknowledged that older mentors, like the people who taught me how to race bikes AND ride safely on the road in the 1970’s, are not available anymore as they are now racing themselves and don’t have time for the kids. And, a lot of adult leadership in youth cycling in Southern California did not race bikes, as kids or adults, and do not practice smart cycling themselves. The extent of communal bike racer safety advice in Southern California now is:
Put on a helmet and stay to the right
none of which is really helpful and some of which is just plain wrong in the context of motorists and bicycle riders sharing the same space.
This is why I am very happy to announce that the subject of on-road traffic awareness training for bike racers — classes like Smart Cycling and CyclingSavvy — came up than once at last night’s meeting. I am hoping it – on-road traffic awareness training for bike racers – will become part of the DNA of competitive cyclist education. It must, frankly, if the sport is to grow in the United States. Scared, uneducated athletes are not just in danger — they do not enthusiastically help grow their sport.
We are doing our part. My son’s new social and competitive cycling club is West Side Wheelmen. West Side Wheelmen is the beach cities (Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach and their surrounds) branch of GS Andiamo. GS Andiamo is a Redlands-based USA Cycling club managed by Sean Wilson (pictured above, who organized last night’s 4+ hour meeting). GS Andiamo is hosting a League of American Bicyclists Smart Cycling class November 7 in Redlands, in conjunction with League Cycling Instructor Robert Nieuber and Mark Friis of the Inland Empire Bicycle Alliance. Young bike racers and their parents will learn how to anticipate and manage vehicular traffic on the road, and that there’s much more to protecting themselves than simply, “Wear a helmet and stay to the right.”
I am hoping this pioneer program will inspire other Southern California and then all USA cycling clubs to do the same. If you are a cycling coach or cycling club leader, you need to follow suit.
Onward and upward with confident, educated bike racers who know how to ride on the road.