HELENA — The Helena Cyclones are a 6-12 grade mountain biking team. The group is part of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) program and their core values are fun, inclusion, equity, respect, and community. Due to these values, the Cyclones do not hold tryouts and do not make cuts to their squad.
“For me, it's really rewarding. Watching the kids grow and gain skills and confidence and, you know, they gain confidence in their biking skills. But I think that also trickles over into just their personal lives and growing and developing as a person,” Tara Wilson, Cyclones head coach said.
With all ability levels present the Cyclones are broken up into groups based on age and skill level.
“We need to have two coaches for every eight kids. So we have a lead rider and a sweep rider for every eight. So our groups are fairly small, which is great for our trail system, riding in small groups. And sometimes kids as they improve, they, you know, they move out of that group into a more challenging group,” Wilson said.
NICA has a goal for 30% of its members to be women. But Wilson thinks the Cyclones can do even better and makes sure to foster that special community.
“We do have a girls program within our team. It's called GRIT — it's girls riding together. So all the girls practice with the girls and boys all practice together. And then we do some additional GRIT programming. So all-girl rides, we've made cowbells and different things for the races, we do things like that sometimes, like just get together and go get ice cream,” she said.
Not only does this group improve their students' riding skills but their overall bike knowledge.
“When I went into this, I didn't really have a lot of, like, proper mountain biking skills. And now I'd say I'm fairly competent. And they've also really helped me, one, teach me how the ins and outs of my bike were, maybe not everything in detail, but things like how to change a tire. You know, what I would have learned eventually, but probably the hard way. So. Yep, that's very helpful. And also just how fun it is to mountain bike,” Cormac McDonald, Helena Cyclones 8th grader said.
According to Wilson, about half of her team opts to compete in races across Montana.
“They’re fun. There’s usually a little bit of competition around it. Because it's not just people from our team. It's the teams all across Montana. So there's a lot of like, inter-town competitiveness. But it's definitely fun. You get to ride bikes with your friends. So it's nice,” McDonald said.
The Cyclones are always looking for coaches to help out. More on the team can be found here.