Adolescence is a roller coaster, and Paul Kuc remembers from his
own teen-age years how bicycle racing and touring carried him over the ups and
downs. He's a natural at sharing his enthusiasm for biking with young
people in the recreation program of Valley Human Services in Ware.
About a dozen kids, ages 10 to 19, are honing their riding skills this summer as members of the agency's BADD racing team. BADD stands for Bicyclists Against Drunk Driving, a name chosen when the team was first funded three years ago by a "safe roads" grant aimed at drunken driving prevention.
Biking is a way to dethrone the almighty car and promote a natural and healthy high, Kuc said. "And drivers see the kids riding and realize these kids' safety depends on their driving. You know, kids feel invulnerable, so putting them on the road like this makes them realize how vulnerable they are, and how important it is to be safe riders, and to have safe drivers."
Twice a week, Kuc conducts skills training on paved roads in Quabbin Reservation blocked off to cars. The kids work on hill climbing and sprints, and Kuc gets out the stopwatch for time trials.
On weekends the team takes long rides or overnight trips. One Saturday last month, they hiked up Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey, N.H., and camped out at Lake Denison in Winchendon, then biked about 50 miles back to Ware the next day.
The kids come from tough or troubled backgrounds, and the recreation program is funded by the state Department of Mental Health, so Kuc insists on first names only for the newspaper. But BADD is no different than any youth athletic team. "The idea is for them to be doing the things kids do," Kuc said.
Kuc has a collection of used bikes for the team, some donated, some purchased at yard sales, some put together -- by him and the kids -- from available parts.
Jason, 15, likes biking because "it just gets me out," he said. "I used to have to stop halfway up a hill and walk the bike, but now I just keep going."
Chris, 13, looks forward to long rides. "I want to push myself and see if I can do it," he said. His goal is a five-day, 200-mile trip the team has planned in Vermont and Quebec later this month.
"I like the exercise," said Nate, 16. "I cycle a lot with my cousins. Last weekend I went up to see my cousin graduate from high school and biked home from Guilford, Vt."
Besides building the kids' confidence, the cycling team projects a clean, responsible image in the community as the kids pedal down the road single file in their helmets and team T-shirts, Kuc said.
BADD kids have volunteered to marshal or otherwise help out at U.S. Cycling Federation races. Last month they rode in wheel vans in the New England District Road Race Championships in Hardwick, ready to assist riders with flat tires.
The current riders aren't ready for USCF racing, Kuc said, but BADD will run its third annual Athol Stage Race in late September. The two-day race, in several short stages from Ware to Athol and back with an overnight stay at the Athol YMCA, is open to individual racers of all ages and abilities.
Entrants will be assigned to five-person teams the night before the race, with an attempt to make the teams evenly matched. One rider per team rides each stage, and everyone on the team takes turns. For more information about the race, call Kuc at (413) 967-6241, ext. 3012.
TIP OF THE HELMET -- To Category 3 racer Rebecca Cooke of Boylston from the Minuteman Road Club, the only local woman and the only local amateur to date to win a stage in the 38th annual Fithburg Longsjo Classic, which ends with a criterium today. Cooke, 37, won the Aubuchon-Glidden Circuit Race on Friday, as well as the Queen of the Mountain jersey for earning the most points in "race-within-the-race" sprints up Pearl Street.
Cooke didn't race last year because of work obligations, and she had surgery on her wrist for a bone disease in December so she didn't expect to be doing so well this summer. But she raced the Longsjo circuit three years ago as a Category 4, when the amateur women only rode two stages instead of all four, "so the course was familiar. It all came back," she said after Friday's win. "On the first climb I found it very easy to pass a lot of people, and the first sprint I won, so I just kept going."
Shimano American Corp. is recalling more than 1 million cranks installed on bicycles in North America, after receiving more than 630 reports of cranks breaking -- resulting in 22 injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The cranks have been installed on more than 200 models of bicycles manufactured since 1994 and sold under at least 49 brand names. If you see the numbers FC-CT90, FC-M290 or FC-MC12 on the back or inner side of the right crank arm, call Shimano at 800-353-4719, or your bicycle dealer, to arrange for a free replacement and installation of the new crank assembly.
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