SYRACUSE — The Sports & Fitness Industry Association may have recorded a national decline in the number of youngsters riding bicycles, but in the Central New York area, there’s a boom involving mountain bikes and kids.
Five years ago, the Central New York Composite Mountain Bike Club was created. The team is a member of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association and joins another youth mountain bike club hosted through BIKE-Syracuse, which offers opportunities for inner-city, at-risk children.
The CNY Composite Mountain Bike Club (The CNY Sharks) began with seven students. This year, it grew to more than 65 riders in grades 3 to 12 who are guided by about two dozen coaches. Riders in grades 3 to 5 are part of the Syracuse Bicycle Juniors Club. Those who officially participate with NICA are in grades 6 and up.
Bicycling, as a hobby, goes in booms and busts. CNY Sharks team director and coach Trish R. Dugan said mountain biking, which has roots in the 1980s, is enjoying a boom.
“Mountain biking has been exploding in the past five years,” Ms. Dugan, of Fayetteville, said in a phone interview. “We’re not even at the peak. We’re at the upside of a huge mountain biking cycle. It’s been cool be part of it and to see so many people interested in the sport.”
NICA, founded in 2009, develops interscholastic mountain biking programs for student-athletes across the United States. The “composite” in the official name of the CNY Sharks refers to the various school districts students come from to make up the team, which includes Fayetteville-Manlius, Jamesville-Dewitt, West Genesee Cazenovia and Chittenango and Christian Brother Academy. The team also includes home-schooled students.
“We even have a kid who (is driven) from Auburn to ride with us,” Ms. Dugan said.
She added that the team doesn’t have anyone from Northern New York on it, but would welcome a member from the region.
“The roots of NICA is to get all kids on bikes to enjoy the sport in a safe way,” Ms. Dugan said.
Insurance, coaching and licensing for the team is done through NICA and its state league, the New York Interscholastic Cycling League. Four CNY Sharks coaches have national certification as professional mountain bike instructors.
“All of our volunteers and coaches are mandated to participate in risk management, concussion training and there’s also a background check,” Ms. Dugan said.
Students start riding in March, with three practices a week, usually held at Green Lakes State Park in the town of Manlius. There are five races each spring. This year, race locations ranged from Oneonta to Long Island. The season concludes in June.
A fall program is offered by CNY Sharks through Syracuse Bicycle’s youth programs and in the winter, the greater Syracuse YMCA, a sponsor, allows team members to use its spin bikes.
Ms. Dugan likened the CNY Composite Mountain Bike Club to a travel team.
“This is travel mountain biking,” Ms. Dugan said. “As Central New York Composite, the kids are from all over. The parents take the kids. There are over 200 kids at these New York State races every spring. They’re every other week from April to June.”
Sponsorships and donations fund the team.
“If we have a child who doesn’t have an appropriate bike for the sport, we have about 10 bikes we can loan out for the season,” Ms. Dugan said.
Trek bicycle is a main sponsor of NICA. In 2016, the company pledged $1 million for over the next five years to NICA.
“They also support the sport by selling their bikes to kids in this program at 25 percent below the advertised retail price,” Ms. Dugan said. “The typical entry-level price for a bike a child would use to participate in our program is approximately $500. They’re getting an appropriate, well-equipped bike at a very good price.”
Syracuse Bicycle, 2540 Erie Boulevard East, has also been a “Composite” team supporter since its founding. Ms. Dugan is a former part-owner of the store.
“There’s no question, we’ve definitely an interest in sales for mountain bikes for younger kids,” said Paul W. Komanekcy, owner of Syracuse Bicycle. “We’re always selling bikes to junior and high school kids but they’re more oftentimes than not used for transportation around the neighborhood. Now, we’re selling more trail-specific bikes.”
Mr. Komanecky said that NICA has seen more growth out west.
“We don’t have a lot of true dedicated mountain bike trail systems like some of the other areas have,” he said. “But we’re starting to get some of that and we’ll see the sport growing more, I’m sure.”
But one barrier could be cost, he said.
“It’s one of those sports where in the equipment, there’s an advantage to having nicer stuff.”
Mr. Komanecky said it’s refreshing to see the popularity of the area’s youth cycling squad.
“We’re definitely seeing people start a little earlier than they typically would,” he said. “Cycling in general, mountain biking, road biking, whatever, is usually something people don’t get into around here. It’s quite the opposite in Europe, where it’s more of a cultural thing.”
Ms. Dugan said the Sharks team caters to all types of riders.
“We just love mountain biking and wanted to offer this to kids in our community as a way for them to stay fit,” Ms. Dugan said. “We offer the program without any barriers to participate, even if you don’t have a bike, we’ll find you one. If you’ve never ridden a bike, we’ll teach you how.”
The CNY Sharks, Ms. Dugan said, does not have “cuts” to the team.
“Anybody who wants to ride, can ride. Nobody sits the bench,” she said.
In addition to competitive rides, the team, offers “adventure” rides for non-racers.
“Maybe they just want to go ride around in the woods on their bikes and pick blackberries,” Ms. Dugan said. “That’s an alternate pathway, as NICA calls it.”
NICA especially promotes and encourages girls to get involved in the sport.
“They want to see the participation of girls grow in what some might say is a non-traditional sport for girls,” Ms. Dugan said. “We make a big push to get them involved. It’s actually very empowering and confidence-building for a lot of girls to participate in this sport at a time in their lives when maybe they’re not having that opportunity.”
Ms. Dugan’s children are program graduates, but she remained involved in the program after their participation.
“My dream is that there would be a pathway for mountain biking to become an official varsity sport,” she said. “We have some of the top riders in the state but they’re not getting the recognition from the districts.”
Ms. Dugan believes that mountain biking also offers a side benefit involving safety.
“I noticed, even in the past 10 years, it’s become less safe for kids to ride on roads,” she said. “People are distracted.”
She would like to see New York State have a better program to educate motorists about cyclists.
“In the meantime, if I have a group of kids, I would much rather have them on a trail,” Ms. Dugan said. “You don’t have the inattentive driver to worry about. You just have the natural obstacles.”
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Director: Trish Dugan
Head coach: Tim Taber
Coaching staff: Kim Behrman, Sean Behrman, Caryle Zipprich , Derek Zipprich, Zeke Ronnow, Tyler Andre, Tim Marley, Eric Svenson, Todd Gloo, Dan Tyrel and Aaron Vlasek.
To support the CNY Composite Mountain Bike Team, contact Ms. Dugan at firstname.lastname@example.org.