Written by Shawn Lam
The hill up Oxford Street in Port Coquitlam is really steep. Many casual cyclists avoid hills like this, opting to gain the required elevation over a more gradual grade and longer distance. I would often tow my kids up the hill from my bike, reaching an arm out to their handlebars to spot them when the grade became too much. The problem was I could only tow one kid at a time, and with three kids, this only worked on bike rides with one child. This all changed when my son cleaned the climb on his own, and eventually, his sisters managed Oxford hill on their own too.
My son was so proud of himself, and from that day on, he took every opportunity to ride up Oxford hill, which was soon to be part of his daily bike ride to and from his new middle school. As an 11-year-old, the daily bike ride greatly impacted his physical conditioning and confidence. While he went on lots of family hikes and bike rides and bike commuted to school daily, he wasn’t actively playing on any sports teams. Although he joined the PoCo Soccer academy for weekly skills sessions, he wasn’t interested in rejoining a soccer team.
In the new year, he turned 12 and other than a family vacation for a week in Parksville, he didn’t have any spring break plans. His mom saw a posting for a Spring Break iRide (now HopOn) bike camp in Coquitlam, and this sounded like a great opportunity and alternative to him spending a week playing video games.
My son loved his spring break camp experience. There was a wide range of activities and quick progression from bike skills around cones in a gravel field to the more challenging Leigh Park off-road cycling skills course and neighbourhood bike rides on the PoCo trail. Often, the riders would have input on which trails or routes to ride and would challenge each other to select more challenging options. He always came home with stories of their cycling adventures.
The iRide program also introduced us to the talented and caring coaches running the Cycling BC program. All of the coaches loved riding and coaching kids, and it showed. They were also very patient and helpful regarding bike fit and maintenance questions.
My son enjoyed the spring break camp so much that when he heard that his camp’s Coach Ben also ran the Pizza Cats youth cycling club, he was eager to join the May sessions. Coach Ben is Cycling BC’s head of coach development and HopOn Program Manager, Ben Chaddock.
Before his first session, I took him to Bert Flinn in Port Moody so he could pre-ride the location. He later admitted that he didn’t enjoy that ride because he couldn’t keep up, and it was more challenging than what he was used to riding. After a month of riding with the Pizza Cats, my son was hooked on mountain biking and started to enjoy joining me and my “dad-friends” mountain biking.
The Pizza Cats rides often started with parking lot skills and then moved to the trails where they learned to pre-ride, re-ride, and free-ride trails. At individual features, they would stop to discuss strategies to ride the feature, always with the option to ride around if the rider didn’t feel up to the task. Coach Ben often positioned himself at the feature to spot riders who needed support. After the ride, we always looked forward to a follow-up email from Coach Ben with a recap of the skills learned, trails ridden, and a link to the updated photo album with new action shots and videos.
I had a unique vantage point as I often would ride my bike while the Pizza Cats were riding, and I would meet up with them towards the end of their ride. I eventually became a Cycling BC Chaperone and joined the Pizza Cats on as many rides and races as possible. I feel fortunate because I could apply the skills the youth were learning to improve my riding skills. Growing up on the prairies, mountain biking was new to me, and I had only just started trail riding the year before.
A month of once-a-week Pizza Cats sessions went by quickly, and by that point, it was clear that he was really enjoying cycling, was progressing quickly, and wanted to join the next Pizza Cats session in June at Burnaby Mountain. I bought him a 10-year-old dual suspension bike with 26” tires, and I upgraded it with modern components, including a 1x drivetrain, tubeless wheels and tires, a dropper post, and an air fork.
My son was moved-up to the level 6 group, and he enjoyed the more challenging climbs and descents that Burnaby Mountain had to offer. There were no sessions in the summer, but he registered for the September and October sessions and regularly joined my adult mountain bike friends and I on blue and black trail rides. As his conditioning and confidence grew, he established himself as a strong climber in our group, and I figured it was only a matter of time before he would outclimb me. He was motivated and would often ride his school bike home, immediately swap it for his dual-suspension bike, and then set up obstacles in the backyard to ride over and around.
One of the highlights of his Pizza Cats sessions at Burnaby Mountain was learning how to ride tabletops at the air skills bike park, and he was the only youth rider to clean the return ride! … the 18% grade Lung buster climb from Barnett to Powerline on the Trans Canada Trail. I was blown away by how strong he was becoming, and I took him on several more challenging mountain bike climbs, including Physiotherapy and IMBY on Eagle Mountain.
With the Pizza Cats sessions ending at Halloween, my son expressed interest in trying-out cyclo-cross races with me. He joined Coach Ben’s Pizza Cats Cycling Academy, and his training included hiking the Grouse Grind and CX training. After he podiumed on his first race on a loaner Cycling BC CX bike (and me on a hybrid mountain bike), we bought ourselves used CX bikes. He raced 4 local races, and he kept getting faster and faster. In his second race, he got in front of me with a lap to go, and it took all my effort and a finish-line sprint to take back the lead in our father-son side race to the finish line. By the fourth race, he finished well ahead of me, and I was so proud of him.
We then decided to finish the season with a trip to Saanich for the Lazer Canadian Championships and Trek UCI Bear Crossing CX races, supported by Coach Ben and the Pizza Cats Cycling Academy. He placed 10th at Nationals as a 12-year-old U15 rider, competing against mostly riders a year older than him, and only 9 months after his cycling journey began with an iRide/HopOn spring break camp.
As I look back at my son’s cycling journey over the past year, I am so thankful for Coach Ben, his Pizza Cats Youth Club and Cycling Academy, and the HopOn program, where this all started. As a parent, seeing my son find an activity that he is good at and loves is very rewarding. Keeping active is a lifelong habit, and he now invites his friends on bike rides and helped start his school’s mountain biking club. It is a total bonus that cycling is an activity we both enjoy doing together, and I look forward to our weekend getaways with our mountain bikes for years to come. He doesn’t know this yet, but he will have a newer 2018 dual-suspension bike under the Christmas Tree this year.
The costs of cycling are not without consideration. Similar to all team and individual sports, there are costs for membership, lessons, equipment, and optional race entries. I found all the costs very reasonable compared to other activities his peers are involved with, like hockey and lacrosse teams that travel for tournaments. A good bike doesn’t need to be terribly expensive, but you don’t want to buy something cheap from a big box store. We have had great success with brand-name used bikes for my son, some of which benefitted from repairs or upgrades. A good bike holds much of its value and is easy to sell when the rider outgrows or wants to move to a higher-end bike. – Shawn Lam