Rene Mandri's Blog: "Youth cycling has to be fun and cheap to execute"
Updated: Feb 28
As the Chairman of the Estonian Cyclists Union's coaches council i have worked with the other members of the council for a year now to find solutions how to get more youngsters involved in cycling.
We agreed together at the middle of 2019 that U15 category boys and girls priority should be to have fun on the bike and learn the basics of cycling instead of specializing in a discipline and worry with their coaches and parents about the results achieved in the competitions.
The history has shown us that there is no need to specialize in a discipline (MTB, cyclo cross, track or road) at a very young age. The talented and well developed in many ways find their prefered discipline in the U19 categories and have success in it later in the elite categories anyway. Winning races in the U15 & U17 categories gives no guarantees for the further success and most of the early beginners loose the wish to continue cycling as the activity for maintaining a healthy condition.
We have seen how some coaches, youngsters and their parents put too much pressure on achieving results at a young age and the fun part of the sports is lost. Besides, many youngsters and their parents don't want to do sports for achieving results, but their goal is to have a fun healthy activity and they do withdraw if it isn't the case.
That's why we decided to stop organizing Estonian Championships for the U15 categories in the main endurance disciplines like road cycling, mountain bike, track racing and cyclo cross. Only BMX Championships are organized for younger categories.
It was a pleasure to read yesterday an article about the situation in the Netherlands, they are in the same situation as we are. The Dutch cycling union is worried about the decreasing amount of the licence holders in the youngster's categories. Even in Netherlands they agree that the world is changing fast and children have many other prospects to choose in between. They told that Mathieu Van Der Poel is a good example of a well developed rider, who can perform on every terrain and at first he was practicing the fun disciplines of cycling (XCO, cyclo cross). The Dutch also confirmed the fact, that it is harder and harder to organize cycling races with the volunteers. For easing this problem, the kids have to stay on the closed circuits, away from the traffic.
Youngsters training and racing on the closed circuits in the parks and forests is a much safer way and parents would be secured knowing that their kids don't have to fight for their lives in between the cars and trucks.
The closed circuits with very interesting cycling elements in them can be built with basic resources and it would be easier to bring more kids to the cycling trainings.
The hardest part is to make everybody involved in cycling to understand that we need simple fun trainings in the free nature instead of accumulating kilometers on the roads with opened trafic to get youngsters interested in cycling. Besides, they would develop into more skilled cyclists, they would learn how to handle the bike in tricky conditions if the training circuit is challenging more technically than physically.
We have to remind ourselves that a cycling training for kids (8-14 years old) should involve at least 1-2 other *sports in the week with 3-5 training *sessions, year around. In that way we will have better developed youngsters, who aren't taken by the routine, and the fun of doing sports remains.
(*sports- swimming, football, skiing, skating, athletics and so on)
(*sessions- track, cyclo cross, mountain bike, road cycling, bmx, exercises on the pitch)
There are many other different facets we have to work with, for example we have to get cycling cheaper for the parents and for the clubs. The easiest way in theory is to ask the parents to buy only one universal bike for their prodigees and the clubs should organize races with the charasteristics suitable for the bikes the kids have. Everything has its limits and you can't ride on the track with a MTB, but you can build a universal bike on a cyclo cross frame for riding on the bethon track, road, cyclo cross course or forest trails.
The bike should be multifunctional and resistant, not the fastest and lightest of the world to begin with cycling trainings. Important should be the development as a cyclist through the U15 categories, not winning the competitions. We started in Estonia to draw ittention to that point with forbiding carbon wheels and setting the height limit of the wheels to 35mm in U15 categories.
Rene Mandri (36)
Former professional cyclist & cycling coach since 2014
UCI continental team's Tartu2024/BalticChainCycling.com manager
Photo: Adam Illingworth / EJL