Track Cycling

From pros to first-timers, grand plans for Houston’s new bike park – Houston Chronicle

He was the only one in the group of fifth graders who didn’t know how to ride a bike. And he was afraid to even try.

While everyone else was pedaling around the gym, this youngster was trying to decide if he had it in him to even get on a push bike — one without pedals. And even if he did, that would be embarrassing. Those bikes were for the little kids. Not for a fifth grader.

A little extra encouragement from a staff member convinced him to take a leap of faith. He finally jumped on a bike, started pedaling, wobbled and bit as she guided him from behind and slid off. No tears, no fear. Just a smile on his face. He’d done it. With that, he was back up, pedaling again and wobbling off.

A few more tries and he was riding — with no wobbles.

Welcome to BMX 101, a hands-on program that plans to reach 20,020 Houston elementary students in 2020. It’s part of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority’s broader BMX outreach that’s happening in conjunction with the opening of the new Rockstar Energy Bike Park that will host the UCI BMX World Championships from May 26-31, 2020.

The $25 million state-of-the-art park opens Friday with a ribbon-cutting grand opening ceremony, freestyle demonstrations on the track by Rockstar BMX team pros Tom Dugan, Nick Bruce, Brandon Loupos, Cory Nastazio, Chad Kerley, Ryan Nyquist and Sean Ricany and tours of the park. The first official BMX events kick off Saturday and Sunday with USA BMX state qualifying races and a Sunday Pro-Am and organizers are expecting more than 500 riders.

“It’s never been done before to host a state qualifying race the day after you have opened a new facility,” said Holly Kesterson, the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority’s director of events. “Most facilities like to walk before they run, but, as with everything we do, we’re so excited to get it open, kick it off with a bang and really get after it from day one.

“We’re thrilled to have people excited to be using our park, people excited to be racing with us and see our park used for the first time.”

The first major competition will be the USA BMX Lone Star Nationals October 25-27 followed by a BMX Nationals and World Championship Qualifier from March 6-8, 2020 and, in May, the UCI BMX World Championships where the world’s best will put Houston on the international stage once again.

And while the park will hold those international and elite events and put Houston on the map in amateur and professional cycling, it will also be there for the community year-round.

Including for those kids who are just learning how to ride a bike.

“We’ve found that there are a lot of kids in our community who have never been taught to ride a bike; who have never had the opportunity to ride a bike,” Kesterson said. “And through our staff and volunteers we’ve been able to impact these kids through some fun experiences and really give them some opportunities to help them get engaged with other opportunities as they grow up.”

The BMX outreach has three programs and ranges from introducing elementary school students to riding bikes in BMX 101 to BMX STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs on track design (fourth graders) and bike building (fifth graders). Houston Independent School District as well as those in Humble, Spring and Klein as well as some private schools have jumped on board.

The HCHSA is well on its way to touching those 20,020 kids, signing up more than 100 schools for those BMX programs.

Children who have never ridden a bike can ride a strider/push bike which has no pedals but gives them the idea of riding and teaches them balance and gets them used to wearing a helmet. Once they’re confident on those, they graduate to learning how to ride regular pedal bikes.

The bottom line is, it exposes them to a new sport as well as a healthy lifestyle.

“It’s exciting to be partnering with the USA BMX foundation on these fantastic programs,” Kesterson said. “We are going to be impacting our community through the sport of BMX and cycling like no other community has done before.

“The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority is proud of the legacy we have been able to leave through sports and this is just another great example of that and our commitment to continue to provide opportunity to visitors coming into our community as well as local residents through the various events we look to bring in.”

The park will be open to residents all year and Kesterson said the idea is to ensure they have programs available for all levels.

The BMX introductory programs are a beginning. The STEM programs, which are offered in other disciplines, too, at area schools, are for the older students.

For instance, if someone is interested in architecture and cycling, a student could look into bike park design. Or an interest could lead to racing or bike design. Or even becoming a professional rider.

“We introduce these kids to it, then they have the opportunity to come out to the park and try it, hopefully get engaged with it and learn about an active and healthy lifestyle,” Kesterson said. “If we have opportunities to ping in other areas — architecture, design, math and physics, that’s just icing on the cake and engage with kids on a different level. Great opportunities that can come out of this.”

Even if it is just learning how to ride a bike so they can get from here to there in a neighborhood.

All of which brings us back to BMX 101 and a young rider who was too afraid to tackle the track on a push bike. He kept looking at the other kids, then pulling back and saying he was just too scared.

“What if one of us goes with you?” asked a staffer, who was small enough to ride a push bike. “What if I go with you and we do it together?”

He thought about it and said yes. So off they went together — with another staffer trailing behind.

Yes, there was a big smile on his face. And, no. He didn’t want to stop. In fact, he didn’t want to give up his bike, insisting that class couldn’t be over because he still wanted to push, er, ride.

After pouting for a while, he gave up the bike. No question he would be coming back — next time to learn how to pedal.