Though we often talk about the benefits of mountain biking in relation to a community’s economy. It is important for communities to recognize the benefits mountain biking can have on positive youth development. Yes! A thriving economy is important, but it is important to also focus on the social benefits that mountain biking can bring to local residents, including youth. In order for mountain biking to have a robust social effect on the community, we need to consider how these trail networks connect to youth and their positive development.
So what is positive youth development? Positive youth development can be described as a process which prepares youth to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood through participation in activities that enable them to become competent socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively . Another key aspect of youth development is the fostering of positive youth-adult and peer relationships.
So, what’s the connection between mountain biking and positive youth development? First, mountain biking can be a social activity that nurtures the development of relationships and social skills between peers and adults. More importantly, mountain biking, including any group rides or clubs, can provide youth with a sense of community and belonging which is vital to their development. Just like it is a social sport, mountain biking requires some physical skill. Through participation in mountain biking a young person will be able to develop physical skills such as balance, hand eye coordination, cardiovascular capabilities, and a variety of other core biking skills. Additionally, mountain biking provides youth with the opportunity to combat a sedentary lifestyle . Research has shown that individuals who participate in outdoor recreation are three times more likely to reach the recommended activity guidelines set by the government . Youth are also able to develop emotionally through participating in mountain biking. Mountain biking provides two key aspects of positive mental health, 1) the ability to be active which can combat depression and anxiety, and 2) the feeling of a sense of belonging which can also combat depression and anxiety. Lastly, mountain biking enables the development of positive youth-adult and peer relationships. This can be seen when youth are volunteering to assist in trail building/maintenance. In doing so, youth are working as a team with adults and their peers enabling them to develop relationships with those individuals.
While mountain biking can have an important impact on youth’s development, it also helps cultivate an appreciation for natural environments. For rural communities, developing trails through local natural amenities can create opportunities for youth to engage in the community in different ways that foster pride and a sense of place that is unique to the communities’ geography, history and culture. Through these interactions with the local community, you can heighten the value youth hold of their communities.
Success Stories of Youth Development Through Mountain Biking
For mountain biking to have a positive impact on youth, it does require some adult leadership to create opportunities for youth to engage in the activity. Though many sport and leisure skills are passed down from parents to children or through school programs, not all parents mountain bike and not all schools have mountain biking clubs; this heightens the need for communities to take leadership on how they can facilitate opportunities for youth to learn how to mountain bike, and create opportunities for continued participation. Like any sport, mountain biking has technical skills that need to be learned to enjoy the activity fully and safely.
In Atlantic Canada, many communities have onboarded Sprockids, a children and youth focused biking program. The goal of Sprockids is to teach kids aged 6 to 12 years old the fundamentals of biking, including mountain biking skills . Participation in this program enables youth to experience social, physical, and emotional development. The youth involved in this program develop socially enabling them to develop friendships and gain a sense of community. Their physical development can be seen through their skill progression and ability to tackle bigger challenges. This ability to tackle bigger challenges creates resiliency among the youth which is an aspect of emotional development. Additionally, their gained sense of belonging enables them to experience emotional development.
The community of Cumberland, British Columbia has been able to create youth development through their various programs and volunteer opportunities. The community offers an After School Bike Club that is free of charge and provides kids with bikes to participate in programming that develops their skills . When looking at the different youth development aspects you can see that Cumberland’s After School Bike Club is able to provide youth with social, physical, and emotional development. The kids will develop socially through their continued participation in the program enabling them to develop skills such as friendship and positive peer interactions. Their physical development will improve through participating in the activities. Additionally, the kids will gain emotional development through the positive relationships they develop, their gained sense of belonging and community, and their ability to be resilient when facing difficult challenges. This positively demonstrates Cumberland’s ability to implement youth programming that utilizes mountain biking to establish youth development.
Incorporating opportunities for youth to engage in the broader community is also important. In Fredericton NB., the River Valley Cycling club offered a youth short track race series to give youth the opportunity to practice their skills while participating in a fun weekly race event. As well, we are seeing a growing number of family friendly and youth events at mountain bike race and ride events. These events not only provide opportunities for youth to participate in mountain biking, but it nurtures a sense of belonging and sense of community.
How Youth Development Can Drive the Need for Mountain Biking
A large portion of Atlantic Canada is made up of rural communities who have the necessary natural amenities to accommodate mountain bike trails. Within these rural communities there are often limited recreation and sport resources and opportunities for youth. This means that the youth within these communities could be lacking the opportunity to participate in programming, ultimately missing out on youth development opportunities. Establishing and providing these trails and programs enables youth the opportunity to thrive within their community, while also preparing them to be able to face the challenges of adolescents and adulthood.
Not only does youth programming that utilizes mountain biking create youth development, but it can also establish youth led economic development. The community of Carcross, Yukon utilized youth within the community to help develop their trail network . In doing so, youth were able to gain valuable developmental aspects, while also helping to establish a valuable resource that would become an economic driver for their economy. The popularity of the trail network in the community of Carcross allowed for a boom in business development, which has helped to further propel Carcross as a mountain biking destination . All of which would not have been possible without the youth of Carcross.
The need for communities to establish programs that foster youth development can be used as a catalyst to help establish mountain biking in Atlantic Canadian provinces. All communities are faced with the challenge of youth development and establishing positive ways to do so. Through the utilization of mountain biking, communities can cultivate youth development. The desire to develop a community’s youth will enable that community to thrive in ways it did not think were possible.
Contributed by Matt Wilson and Jackie Oncescu,Ph.D. and Mountain Bike Atlantic Advisory Committee Member
 National Alliance for Secondary Education and Transition. (2010). Youth Development & Youth Leadership. Retrieved from: http://nasetalliance.org/youthdev/
 Government of Canada. (2021). Canadian Sport Policy. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/sport-canada.html#a2
 Hill, E. & Gomez, E. (2020). Perceived health outcome of mountain bikers: a national demographic inquiry. Journal of Park and Recreation 38(2), 31-44.
 United Riders of Cumberland. (2021). After School Bike Club. Retrieved from: https://unitedridersofcumberland.com/after-school-bike-club/
 Sprockids Greater Moncton. (2021). Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/762482897115588/
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