Tenth Gear Youth Cycling is
teaching some powerful life lessons, one hill at a time.
The nonprofit program, involving mostly families who belong to Village Congregational Church in Whitinsville, is in its fifth year of running long-distance bike trips for area youngsters.
Bill Roberts, an Uxbridge father of three daughters, has been a cyclist for 25 years and started the Tenth Gear trips "for fun for the kids -- for them to see the country and get to know themselves."
In July, 14 kids in Grades 5-8 biked a four-day, 185-mile loop from Whitinsville to Mystic, Conn., and back. In August, 32 high school and college kids took a bus to Hershey, Pa., and pedaled back to Whitinsville, some 400 miles, in eight days.
The kids ran a couple of car washes and a spaghetti supper to raise money to rent a trailer to haul their gear, and paid the rest of their expenses out of pocket; a weeklong trip with Tenth Gear costs approximately $200. The group stayed and ate with other church groups along the way. Some of the churches they stayed at have expressed interest in running their own bike trips, with Whitinsville as a possible stopover.
The longest day was 90 miles, said Roberts' daughter Jessie, 17. "There were a couple of big hills," she said. "It's great experience to climb them, of course, but the best part really is coming down the other side."
Tenth Gear is for all abilities, and no one rides alone. Experienced riders are paired with new riders "so there's a mentoring process going on," Bill Roberts said.
"There's always someone there to push you on," Jessie said.
Stacey Scorza, 19, also from Uxbridge, has been with Tenth Gear since the beginning. "We go different places every year," she said. "We've biked the White Mountains, the Green Mountains, a little bit of the Adirondacks."
Next year's big trip will be from Quebec to Whitinsville.
Scorza, now a sophomore at University of New Hampshire, entered 15 collegiate bike races last spring and posted her best finish, third place, in the Dartmouth Criterium. "I was leading the whole race but I lost it in the sprint," she said.
Scorza enjoys sharing what she's learning as a racer with younger riders. "Now we have three or four people in Tenth Gear who want to race," she said.
But the program's emphasis isn't speed, it's going the distance.
"There's so many kids that don't make it onto the football team or the hockey team. With biking, there's no barriers," said Steve Berube, another Uxbridge adult involved in the program. "It's just how much you have inside you that makes a difference.
"They know the group is only going as fast as its slowest rider, and they're very supportive of each other, so that's something else they learn," he continued.
Scorza credits the bike trips with transforming her from a shy girl to a confident young woman. "It opened me up to a lot of different friends, and it opened me up to what I could do -- because when you see a mountain in front of you, naturally you just want to turn around and go back. But you learn you can do it. And that's helped me with some things here (in college).
"It's kind of that 'no mountain's too big' kind of thing."
RoundQuabbin, earlier announced as taking place Oct. 10, has been changed to Oct. 11, Columbus Day. It's a 62-mile road ride around the Quabbin Reservoir, starting at noon from Bullard Farm in New Salem, followed by a barbecue. Cost is $20. For more information, call The Ride (781-641-9515).
Jim O'Neil is folding up his tent after 27 years as a bicycle dealer in Webster Square, Worcester. O'Neil's Bike Shop, 1094 Main St., is selling everything at closeout prices and getting ready to sell the building.
O'Neil got the biking bug from his father, who raced in the 1960s and started helping friends get high-quality European bikes and did bike repairs in the family garage.
The younger O'Neil opened the bike shop a few doors down from its current location and over the years expanded it to include mountain bikes and skis. He cut back on the ski side in recent years.
Lately O'Neil has found it hard to compete with Bicycle Alley, across the street, which has a a visible corner location, a large selection, and a handy parking lot.
But O'Neil hopes to open a smaller store in a different location in the spring. Meantime he'll still sell high-end bikes via the Internet (http://www.oneils.com/), a successful part of his business.
This is the last bicycling column for the year, even though the road riding season probably has many sunny days ahead. Nonetheless, both road riders and mountain bikers are shifting gears for cyclocross season.
The New England Cyclocross Series kicks off Sept. 26 with a race in Palmer and concludes Dec. 18 in Carlisle. A sidelight at the Palmer race is the annual Team Douglas Bike Swap, with dealers and individuals selling new and used bikes, parts and accessories. Admission is $3, and doors open at 9 a.m.
The New England series comes to Central Massachusetts on Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving, with the Gear Works Cyclocross race at Devens.
Devens, site of last year's Cyclocross National Championships, is also the site of the Bay State Cyclocross race Nov. 27.
Devens is also the venue for the first race in the nationwide SuperCup series, on Oct. 17. That series concludes Dec. 12 in San Jose, Calif., following the 'cross nationals Dec. 10-11 in California's Bay Area.
The complete cyclocross schedule, including training series in Rhode Island and Western Massachusetts, is on the Northeast Bicycle Club web site. For more information, call Tom Stevens (781-534-2454).