How we transform “not yet” riders into mountain bikers
Two sessions into a Little Bellas program, Keza, age 7, started to pedal a bike by herself. Noticing this, the other girls in her program rallied around her and started cheering her on as if her success was their own. See, it wasn’t very long ago that most of them learned to ride a bike and they could identify with Keza’s experience. There was nothing artificial in their shouts of enthusiasm, all the girls had had the same experience…just at different times.
Beginner vs. “not yet”
We’ve said it before, there’s no “right way” to be a mountain biker and that attitude opens up boundless opportunities to meet each girl where she’s at in terms of her skills and abilities. Instead of calling them “beginners,” we refer to girls who are new to mountain biking as “not yets,” because more often than not, they simply haven’t had the chance to swing a leg over a mt bike and try it out. One of the reasons for this may be economical, since the perception of mountain biking is that it’s expensive.
“If you don’t have access to a bike because of financial means, you probably don’t know how to ride a bike,” explained Kelli Simpson, a group lead for the Woodbury, Minn. Program.
Gear Up! and Financial Assistance programs
Little Bellas confronted this challenge by creating its Gear Up! program, which makes bikes and helmets available to program participants who apply for assistance during the registration process. The program goes together with our Financial Assistance program, which offers scholarships to participants who need it.
It’s not all about the bike
The “not yets” who join Little Bellas programs across the country each season possess an abundance of determination to participate fully in each session. What they need are mentors who can channel that determination into riding skills, like balancing, pedaling, and braking. Little Bellas mentors create a safe space in which to work one-on-one with the girls and make them feel included in program activities. The other girls also help by inviting them to ride, by waiting patiently if there’s a challenging section, and by celebrating their successes.
It actually is all fun and games
Our “not yets” usually start with a bike that’s had its pedals removed. This way they can get a feel for how to balance their weight when seated on the bike, how the bike coasts, and how to operate the hand brakes. They often practice on an open, grassy field where there’s ample space to ride and a soft landing should they lose balance and fall.
Once they get a handle on the bike, they get to try out their budding skills through progressive obstacle courses, games, and other activities designed to teach mountain bike skills through creative play.
“All these girls are doing is just trying to ride a bike,” said Missy Petty, program lead for the Knoxville Little Bellas. “The other Little Bellas rally around them, congratulate them, and cheer for them.”
What’s driving these actions is Little Bellas’ mission to create a positive experience for all girls by having fun in a constructive environment. It’s also the tremendous capacity of Little Bellas mentors and leads to seek out what’s possible and then empower the girls to see that too.