oughly five years ago, kids from First Nations community in Boothroyd, B.C., were tearing apart fences and excavating around the base of the fire hydrants in town. Officials in Boothroyd looked into where the wood and dirt were going. They discovered the kids were building structures and jumps to ride their bikes on. In too many First Nations communities, kids aren’t able to direct their energy in healthy ways. Band leadership knew they had to find a way to help the youth get what they wanted, while keeping fences intact and fire hydrants firmly in the ground.
During meetings between band leadership and planning experts, the band manager Terrie Davidson leaned over to ask one of the community planners – Patrick Lucas – a question: “What do you know about mountain biking?”
Lucas, who was helping to create programs and facilities to improve the community, was a rider. He didn’t, however, feel a strong enough connection to the mountain bike community to be able to offer qualified expertise. Recognizing the opportunity, he began to reach out and expand his network of contacts to professional trail builders, coaches and community builders. Lucas also reached out to the founder of the Sprockids program, Doug Detwiller, to discuss how his program might fit in with the First Nations communities where Lucas was working.
Detwiller is a retired teacher who had spent each Monday morning telling his students all about his weekend mountain biking or skiing. The kids loved it because it delayed the start of school work. They would encourage Detwiller to tell more stories. Quickly, he realized that his stories weren’t just a way to delay the start of the day, but also ground upon which he could build a better relationship with his students. Detwiller got some of his more challenging students out on bikes and led them on rides.
“It was really great for the kids to go ride through mud and hoot and holler and not have anyone look at them funny,” said Detwiller. “We were all just out having fun, and there was no judgment.”
As the Sprockids program evolved throughout the 1990s, the focus was refined to address issues around self-esteem and anger management. “As you start climbing ‘Anger Mountain,’ we try to help kids recognize it as it’s happening and then diffuse it – through mountain biking,” said Detwiller. “It’s a really powerful experience. With Sprockids, we’ve also been able to build trust and camaraderie.”
Forget what you know about mountain bikes and what they’re supposed to do. Close your eyes, and think about careening down a slope, splashing through a puddle, and then laughing as all your friends do the same. Imagine the hilarious looks of disgust on people’s faces later in the day, people who have no idea how you got so messy and worn out. Meanwhile, you know that you’re too tired to do anything but laugh some more. Now think about the bike you rode while doing this. Does it matter if it has a 1-by setup or dropper post? Is it any particular wheel size? Probably not. Probably, the bike you envisioned is like the you in your imagination, covered in mud. Maybe certain parts don’t work, and maybe you and the bike have scars from previous days of slashing and crashing down the local trails.
“At one project, a kid showed up on this bike that was in pretty rough shape,” said Detwiller. “The brakes didn’t work, so he’d just drag his foot on the back tire to slow