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Philly Little Bellas Parents & Partners Ride

By Elisabeth Reinkordt

Elisabeth Reinkordt has been a mentor and group leader with Philadelphia Little Bellas since the chapter’s founding in 2015. An avid mountain biker, trail volunteer, and former elite racer with Team Laser Cats, she has spent the last 15 years mentoring adults and youth alike, devoted to spreading the joy that comes from challenging yourself on the bike and mastering new skills. She works as a digital strategist and occasional freelance writer and photographer. 

When cars pull into the Chamounix Field parking lot in West Philadelphia on a summer Sunday afternoon, big and small bikes adorn the hitch and roof racks. From another corner of the lot, a dad and his 11-year-old daughter roll in from the trails, having just climbed up Belmont Plateau on their way out from Center City. Parents pull bikes off and out of their cars for their children, and as their Little Bellas check in with their mentors, a small group of adults gathers at a picnic table across the field. Over the next two hours, these parents will be led by the partners of mentors on the more challenging heritage trails in Belmont, stopping to session features and in turn develop some of the same camaraderie that comes from riding together as their children do. 

How it started: mountain biking in Philadelphia

Philadelphia mountain bikers care for the trails they ride

The Philadelphia Little Bellas program meets in the heart of the city – the sixth largest in the United States – and draws participants from the urban core and surrounding suburbs. The Belmont Plateau Trails twist and wind through the urban forest of West Fairmount Park, a reclaimed wilderness that was once home to the horticulture exhibits of the 1876 Worlds’ Fair, a trolley line, and even an amusement park. Mountain bikers began cutting renegade trails in the 1980s, making clever use of abandoned bridge abutments and continually rerouting trails around and over huge trees as they fell. As of the early 2010s, the trails are on the up-and-up with the city, including the development of the marquee Trolley Trail, a beginner-friendly 4-mile loop that traces the old trolley line through the park and is very popular with Philly’s Little Bellas. 

The status of mountain bike trails in the park’s history makes the old trails difficult to navigate– a tangled web of trails that can leave riders feeling like they’re in a bit of a Bermuda Triangle. And because Philly’s program is in a big city and not a smaller mountain bike community like some other Little Bellas chapters, many program parents aren’t necessarily riders themselves, but may be hoping to learn the trails to keep up with their kids after the program is over. 

Why let the kids have all the fun?

How Philly Little Bellas read a map
photo courtesy of Chris Meck

Eric Hartman gave a shout out to the parents' ride in Philly

Several years ago, Willem Heydendael, whose wife Elisabeth Reinkordt has been a mentor since 2015, started riding with other mentors’ partners while they were mentoring. Noting a few parents had brought bikes but didn’t know their way around the trails, he offered to lead a group ride. In the spirit of Little Bellas, he shapes the ride based on who joins, which can be everyone from seasoned racers to people dusting off an old bike in the basement now that their children have started riding. 

Just like their children, the parents and partners stop for snacks, help clear deadfall from the trails, and are occasionally cheered on by groups of Little Bellas when they cross paths. One week, children and mentors and parents and partners alike all found themselves hiding out in tunnels or under big trees during a sudden downpour. On days where the trails are too wet, Heydendael, who is also a volunteer leader with the Belmont Plateau Trails Alliance, enlists parents to help with trail maintenance. 

Heydendael stresses how important it is to him to manage all the energies and skill levels of the riders who show up. He wants to make sure the vibe is welcoming, encouraging, and that parents and partners come away feeling good. “It’s not for everyone–we’re not just going on a two-hour hammerfest,” he says. And while some parents will do their own thing, many have gravitated to the ride as a great way to learn the same trails their children are riding on, connect with other parents in the program, and share in the joy that is their kids embracing riding in ways they hadn’t before. 

How parents and partners can keep on riding

At the end of the 2023 season, a couple of dads are lamenting their daughters aging out of the program, saying how much they’ll miss their own Sunday ride. They chat about what the program has done for their children, transforming them from reluctant to go on a family ride to extra stoked to pull on their Little Bellas jersey and hop on the bike. Informed of the option to become a junior mentor, these parents are now extra motivated to encourage them to sign up.  

How to start your own Parents & Partners Ride

  1. Designate a couple regular ride leaders. They should know the trails, and should understand principles of good ride leadership, including encouragement, regrouping, skills sessioning, and ability to help troubleshoot mechanicals. The best ride leaders will be like mentors, paying attention to the needs of the group and making sure everyone feels welcome.
  2. At the first session, include the P&P ride leader in the parent talk and have them introduce themselves and the basics of the ride.
  3. Have the ride meet up in an area set aside from where Little Bellas groups meet. Make sure everyone is back in time to pick up their kids at the end of the session!
  4. While some overlap is unavoidable–and can be fun!–generally try to keep the P&P ride on different trails from the ones the Little Bellas groups will be frequenting.
  5. Encourage networking! While some parents may come in knowing each other, use this as an opportunity to forge connections for families to get together to ride after the program is over. 
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