Today a new sun rises for me; everything lives, everything is animated, everything seems to speak to me of my passion, everything invites me to cherish it.
– Anne de l’Enclos
West Hurley Burly Backyard World Championship mountain bike race
I am so excited about this Sunday’s West Hurley Burly Backyard World Championship mountain bike race. Everything about this race appeals to me, and I don’t even ride; but I’m especially moved by the people involved, beginning with event organizer Jeremy Swift and his interest in involving youth: “Because I can.”
His motivation is multifaceted: “I’ve been racing mountain bikes for 18 years, and I want to give back to a sport that has done a lot for me. I’m an evangelist about bicycles: I try to get everybody on a bike and in the woods. I’d like to see the sport grow, and more kids on bikes means more people on bikes, which means more support for trails, bikes and a bike-friendly world.”
Shannah White, staff IT specialist, who came on board as “‘staff geek” to help with all the computer-related details, concurs: “I think having kids participate in the race is a fantastic rounding element. It provides a way for kids to feel included and important in relationship to an activity that is healthy both because of the fitness, balance and discipline it fosters and because of the positive and active appreciation and interactivity with nature that it encourages. I think kids’ participation also helps remind adults not to take themselves too seriously, that this is not just about challenge and competition…it’s also about keeping it light and having fun.”
Swift introduced White to the sport when they became friends a couple of years ago, and she has been riding ever since. “His passion sparked my interest, and it appealed to me as a way to exercise and appreciate nature at the same time: two important values to have in life.”
If you have a 12-to-18-year-old who already mountain bikes and wants to try racing, the 10 a.m. competition is a perfect introduction. It’s in his backyard, but it’s a real race, with real points. Swift elaborates: “It’s a three-mile single- and double-track course that’s designed to be interesting, with a lot of turns and features, a rock garden and a bluestone quarry. It’s more kid-friendly, versus a relentless hill like you see in some races. It’s challenging, but you don’t have to be a cycling ninja to do it.”
If you’ve got youth under 12 who want a piece of the action, they can participate in the Burly’s 12:30 p.m. free kids’ race, consisting of a couple of short laps around the property. And folks are encouraged to just come and watch, standing along the logging roads that intersect with the riding trails.
Here are some riding tips for Kids’ Almanac readers from Swift: 1) “When you’re trying to navigate new things, always focus on where you want to end up, not the tree you’re trying to avoid.” 2) “If you practice balance, you can get used to being still without falling over. Ride slowly on flat grass. The slower you go, the more likely you’ll tip over, so balancing versus getting off your bike gives you time for track standing – a skill you can practice in your backyard.”
I wondered if there were any benefits to racing itself. Swift explained that racing makes people better riders: “When you’re just out there riding and you come up against something you don’t think you can do, you walk it. In a race, if you don’t ride it and you walk it, it will cost you 20 seconds, so you push yourself. You achieve it. And the next time you encounter that element, you say to yourself, ‘Whatever, I rode that yesterday, I can do that now.’”
Swift also strongly recommends buying local and shopping at the local bike shops: “First of all, they’re real mountain bikes. Also, the bikes are put together by professionals, so they’re much safer, and the shop will make sure the bike fits you properly.”
Swift constructed these racing trails in his backyard on Route 28, thanks to a very supportive landlord. After the trails got underway, “My mouth kept moving, and my feet kept moving, and here we are”: a New York State Championship Series bike race, not at the top of a faraway mountain, but “four minutes from the Woodstock Green.”