The guys I had the pleasure of talking with were Rick Archer (TFK Coordinator), Joe Santana (Asst. Coordinator), and Frank Harms (president of JORBA). When I spoke to Frank, he had nothing but praise for Rick and Joe, who apparently stepped forward and pushed to make TFK a reality in New Jersey. Frank told me, “Rick and Joe have done a bang up job…I wanna see these guys get some good recognition.”
As mountain biking has seen growing popularity, riders everywhere are struggling to create diversity within the sport. Not only does one need a fair proximity to “mountainous” regions, but a bike, too. Yet, the personality type of a mountain biker generally wants to broaden the sport and welcome new riders. So how can we give those who want to ride an opportunity to do so? Trips For Kids is an organization that helps disadvantaged youth get out on the trails to mountain bike. Providing bikes, leadership, tutorials, and a friendly atmosphere, the volunteers of Trips For Kids simply want the joy of mountain biking to be available to everyone. I recently had a chance to interview a few of the guys behind the Trips For Kids chapter in New Jersey and was struck by their passion.
Trips For Kids (TFK) began in 1988 in the state of California. Currently there are over 80 chapters across the nation, including one in Canada and Israel. Jersey Off Road Bicycle Association (JORBA) created the New Jersey branch of TFK in March 2012, and since then has had a good amount of success with the program. They operate using donations from members of JORBA, the public, as well as through creating tight-knit relationships with local bike shops. When TFK sprang up in New Jersey, Trek donated 5 bikes. Park Tools often donates tools, pumps, and work stands, while the local bike shops will either rent or sell discounted bikes. The shop I worked for, Knapp’s Cyclery, has also made working with TFK a priority.
So what exactly do Rick and Joe do with the kids? On trip-day, around 8-10 kids show up at the trailhead for a bike and helmet fit. A leader gives a basic skills tutorial, which covers braking, shifting, and trail etiquette. After this, the group goes out for an easy, couple-mile ride in order to gauge everyone’s riding ability. Lunch is then provided, and the group will ride again, sometimes divided into a faster and slower pack.
Trips For Kids NJ rides in Allaire State Park, Mercer County Park, Dourne County Park, and is looking to add others. All of the bikes used are hardtails, and TFK likes to stay above the department store quality. Rick mentioned that he’s happily let the kids use any of his own bikes. In fact, a lot of the kids ask to keep the bike when they’re done, to which Rick has to reply, “I’d love to let you keep this bike, but then another kid won’t get a chance to ride it.” Rick continued to tell me, “I wanna give every kid a bike, and I wanna ride bikes with every kid that wants to ride bikes…This is giving back.”
When you let a bunch of 10-17-year old kids try mountain biking for the first time, great times are bound to happen. I asked all three guys what their best moments were, and I listened contently to stories that they couldn’t tell me without what I knew was a smile on the other end of the line.
Rick told me of a 12-year old who was riding fairly tame singletrack at Dourne County Park, and during the ride shouted,
“I feel like I’m in the jungle!”
Also in Dourne, a little girl reasoned after 20 minutes of riding, “This is an awful lot like exercise, but it’s fun exercise.” At Allaire state park, during a group break, one kid wouldn’t stop riding around the parking lot. So, Rick asked him to take a break, but the kid replied,
“Nope, I’m riding this bike all day, and I’m gonna keep riding it until I can’t.”
Frank told me about an 8-year old, Tyson, who was in way over his head on the ride. Two leaders decided to take Tyson on an easier path, while he struggled to stay up. Eventually, he improved a lot, and Tyson thanked the leaders before leaving, saying,
“Thank you for teaching me how to go fast.”
Apparently by the end of the ride, Tyson was cheering so loudly that Frank had to mute that section of his GoPro footage.
When asked where he would like to see TFK in the future, Frank replied that all he wants is to be out riding and pass a trail maintenance crew, only for one of the faces to look up and say “Hey, I remember you! You brought me on my first ride.”
In my conversations with Rick, Joe, and Frank, it was plain to see how much they genuinely care. Joe told me matter-of-factly, “We’re like you, we like to ride. When I was a kid I was on my bike every day.” He continued about how there aren’t enough kids riding these days, and it’s “Kind of a bummer.” Joe told me, “I’m very grateful for the life I have, [it] breaks my heart to see kids with less than me.” Rick admitted that it was a lot of work, but that
“The smiles and the enjoyment is the reward.”