A Sunday ago I volunteered to help with the TART Trails Leelanau Harvest Tour, which is a recreational bicycle ride that attracts about 1,000 people every year. They get to pedal some of America’s most sublime bike terrain during the crisp, perfect-temperatured days of September. I had the important job of standing at an intersection where the long-distance riders went one way and the shorter-distance riders went another way, making sure that each ended up on the right route.
The thing that struck me about the riders was that there were so few people under the age of say, 45. (I’m 51, so nothing against people over 45.) I figured it probably had something to do with the fact that September is a big travel month for the empty-nester set, and not so much for the young parents set. But still, there are lots of 20-somethings out there who aren’t married or don’t have kids…where were they?
Then, a week later, I was talking with a top Michigan woman cyclist to discuss our doing a story about her and the commitment it takes to compete at that level as an amateur, with no money at the finish line. She’s in her early 40’s and finished first in the big state road race this year, open class, meaning she beat a bunch of women 20 years her junior. But, in talking with her, we got onto the topic of the average age of cyclists, and she told me that the group she’d really like to see get into cycling more is kids, teenagers and college age. She said that when the local cycling clubs ride, there are hardly any young people. She rode the Leelanau Harvest Tour ride and noted the same thing that I saw: very few young people.
In some ways, I think the bike companies are their own enemies in the desire to recruit kids to road biking. Why is it entry level road bikes are $750 when you can get an okay mountain bike for $350?
But beyond price, how do we, here in the North, draw our young people to sports that truly celebrate the landscape and water that we have here? Richard Louv, who wrote “Last Child in the Woods,” explores the idea of kids being indoors or on ball fields at length, and people across the nation are responding. In our region, the most shining example is the Getting Kids Outdoors group near Petoskey/Harbor Springs. But in many ways, the answer is pretty obvious: parents can simply set the example themselves and get outside to enjoy what we have with their kids.
Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine