The present day cycling scene on the peninsula is undoubtedly strong, as evidenced by the numbers of bikers that flock to the trails and pathways around town on a summer day.
To keep it that way, the future generations are getting a major boost.
The Tsalteshi Sprockets is a summer youth biking program intended to get children ages 8 to 16 outside and building confidence and skills in biking. The group meets Tuesdays and Thursdays in June at Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview Middle School, and only Tuesdays in July due to the Tsalteshi Cycle Series starting up on Thursday evenings.
Amidst a renaissance in cycling around town, the program strives to push young kids to not only learn and master the mechanics of biking, but to enjoy the sport and thrive with a passion for it.
Jenn Tabor said the Sprockets is a summer program that parallels the Nordic ski programs in the winter.
“It’s fabulous,” Tabor said. “It’s great when kids can learn these skills and get outside.”
Tabor has joined with Jen Showalter and Amy Hogue in creating and growing the program, which is in its inaugural year.
The seeds of the program were planted when Tabor and others decided that the Kenai needed a cycling program similar to other ones around the state.
Tabor said she had help from Anchorage cyclist Janice Tower, who 18 years ago founded the Mighty Bikes program, which supports over 300 youth bikers with another 160 on a waiting list.
“We’ve had tons of support from them,” Tabor said. “We’ve talked for a couple years of making this happen, and we needed a summer mountain biking program like we have the winter skiing.”
In the first week of the 2018 schedule, Tabor was out with over a dozen assistant volunteers coaching young prodigies. The Sprockets currently have 45 kids in the program, with more on the wait list, which is required to keep the group sizes from becoming too large for each coach to handle.
In her 30 years on the peninsula, Tabor said the cycling scene has taken off in terms of sheer bikers. A program coming along like the Sprockets was only a matter of time for a popular sport.
“It’s exploded since we’ve been here,” she said. “It’s been a tipping point for the community as far as getting out.”
With the current class of 45 separated into seven groups based on ability level, the youth cyclists are taught everything from the fundamentals and up, including proper bike maintenance. A whiteboard on the Tsalteshi ski/bike shack had the message scrawled on it, “Lay your bike down ‘sprockets up’, to protect your drivetrain.”
In the most expert class, guided by Mike Crawford and Tyle Owens, cyclists are taught how to expertly navigate and handle varying terrain at speed. Crawford explained to the group how to adjust body weight when tackling a steep downhill, and demonstrated on several hills at Tsalteshi.
In other classes, Rob Carson and Morgan Aldridge were challenging less-experienced riders to hop a series of two-by-fours by lifting their back wheels, then tasked them to straddle a board without dipping a tire off into the grass.
Rob Carson is one of the volunteers who, along with wife, Rinna, help guide the youngsters on a series of drills and rides around the trails. Carson said the expanding use of the Tsalteshi Trails, which continue to add singletrack trail each summer, have necessitated a program like Sprockets.
“It’s a great way to utilize these trails,” Carson said. “Anything to get kids and adults out.”
Carson is a longtime middle school teacher in the area, and as a current Skyview Middle School teacher has been an avid user of the trails in both summer and winter, whether it be getting out on tires or skis. He said while getting out to ride is simple enough, learning how to be efficient and knowledgeable about maintenance and handling is another challenge.
“I think this is another way kids can become involved and learn how to ride,” he said.
Rinna Carson echoed her husband’s thoughts, adding that the wait list cap goes to show how many kids are willing to try out.