Bend Endurance Academy Gears Up for Mountain Biking Fun
By Brian Jennings
The opportunities for young people to participate in outdoor activities in Central Oregon are seemingly endless. The Bend Endurance Academy (BEA) excels in offering development programs for kids and juniors, including rock climbing, Nordic sports, cycling and mountain biking. BEA believes that sports should be accessible and affordable for all kids, and the non-profit academy’s goal is to teach kids the joy of outdoor endurance sports year-round. Last year alone the academy served over 600 kids through its many activities, including after-school programs. Under the direction of Bill Warburton, cycling has become one of its most popular programs, helping kids progress from beginning stages of mountain biking to the highest levels of national competition.
Warburton found his way to Bend from upstate New York where he was a competitive alpine and Nordic skier, but biking and working with kids are his passions. He feels that Bend has a special, family-oriented cycling culture found in few other places. Mountain biking is growing rapidly in popularity, in part because of the cycling culture found here, he says. Bend has more than 300 miles of trails in its main mountain biking network which are easy to access, and because of this, more and more people of all ages are participating. Warburton advises parents that the sport doesn’t have to be expensive – that it’s easy to find top-quality used bikes in Bend because of the popularity of biking in general. He says that as kids outgrow one bike, there is a market to swap out for a larger one so that the cost of entry is fairly low.
Warburton says that the key to getting kids into the cycling and mountain biking culture is to get them on bikes as toddlers. Soon it becomes fun for them, especially when parents get their kids together. “Along the way,” he says, “kids begin to learn a sense of independence. That’s when they take off and want to learn to become better riders.” And that’s where the Bend Endurance Academy can help.
The academy offers multiple levels of mountain bike training. Kids can typically start mountain biking between the ages of 5 and 7, focusing on dirt biking with safety awareness in mind. “We want a safe environment where we can take kids out in the woods where they can explore riding for a few miles at the beginning,” he says. Warburton says BEA’s goal is to develop young people at the beginning level and to make it as much fun for them as possible.
For those who want to continue their development, there is a mid-range program for kids who ride three days a week. At that level BEA coaches help them develop their skills on more challenging trails. The next step is the training and competition level where fewer will participate seriously. At that point, Warburton says kids have the opportunity to compete at national levels. He and a group of BEA’s five top mountain bike athletes recently returned from national competition in Asheville, North Carolina, where two won honors.
Warburton says that kids don’t have to exclude other sports if they participate in the academy’s mountain bike programs, either. “Most of our riders play soccer, basketball, or other sports, and plug in where they want in our programs.” He adds that, “there’s a lot of draw for kids to participate in mountain biking, especially in the after-school programs where the sport provides ‘a good release from the day.” He says it’s also a great socialization time for kids to be with their friends, which helps them stay motivated in the sport.
The academy charges tuition, but there is financial assistance available. Warburton says the after school programs are very affordable. “We pick up at the schools with our vans and buses, and parents can conveniently pick them up after work.” He feels that’s the easiest way for kids to get started with the academy. He also says the summer program is an excellent option to engage kids and get them outdoors.
Warburton beams when talking about how the academy’s programs have helped kids since its founding in 2009. Each year, he sees kids develop and become more confident and outgoing. Some young adults who have graduated from academy programs even come back to help coach younger kids during the summer months. “We often get to know what’s going on in the lives of the kids we coach, and many times we can help mentor them,” he says. “Those are the kinds of coaches we look for in our program. Our goal is to build relationships with the riders and their families. That’s what the cycling community is all about, and we take that seriously.”