With a focus on Latinx and BIPOC youth, the Cycle Effect program teaches self-confidence and leadership.
Bicycling | April 2022
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When Coco Andrade joined The Cycle Effect, a nonprofit mountain bike coaching and mentorship organization, at age 13, she couldn’t have predicted how mountain biking and a crew of family-like coaches would change the direction of her life.
Born and raised in Vail and Eagle County, Colorado, Andrade participated in the program for girls until she graduated high school. Mountain biking technical terrain taught her how to confidently analyze obstacles including life stressors off-trail, she says. Beyond athletics, the coaches organize community volunteer projects for the girls, which further connected Andrade with her larger community.
Close-knit with her teammates, Andrade took on a caption role her junior and senior years. “When I became team captain, I learned even more how to be responsible and accountable through teaching young girls how to use a bike and how not to be afraid, which was one of the biggest takeaways of my experience,” says Andrade, who then volunteer coached while earning her undergraduate and master’s degrees.
Twelve years later, and now 25 years old, Andrade now serves on the board of directors for the nonprofit. She also works as a behavioral health case manager at Vail Health. “I’m proud to come full circle,” with The Cycle Effect, as a Latina woman that the girls can identify with and to now support other girls, she says. “I don’t think I’d be where I am today in my career [without Cycle Effect]—I’m grateful for my caring coaches that pushed me while I was choosing my path.”
The Cycle Effect: Bringing Young Women to Mountain Biking
When long-time professional ski coaches Brett and Tamara Donelson retired from the slopes a decade ago to focus full-time on bike coaching, they realized they wanted to be even more connected to their community and to make a more widespread, in-depth influence on others. More specifically, they wanted to provide a program for kids to gain access to the sport, especially Latinx and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) youth facing barriers to entry like lack of transportation, bike ownership, skills guidance, and an inclusive ride community. That passion led to The Cycle Effect.
To date, the organization has chapters in the Eagle, Routt, Summit, and Mesa Counties in Colorado. And since 2013, more than 1,000 girls, in the 5th through 12th grade, have completed the program. And 67 percent of them are BIPOC athletes, with the goal to reach 70 percent.
“A girl can show up with no equipment or experience whatsoever—the majority of girls have no experience and we help them become mountain bikers,” says cofounder and executive director Brett Donelson.
How The Cycle Effect Program Works
The entry process involves a 15-minute online application to provide information on the athlete such as their preferred pronouns, the team sessions they can commit to throughout the year, and any stressors that the child has faced, such as bullying or poor physical fitness. If internet is a barrier, a team member can help interested participants apply online.
The number of girls that are accepted into the program depends on the resources that have been fundraised that year. Cost-wise, the program is $200 per year (though, it’s valued at nearly $6,000 per year), and 60 percent of the kids are on full scholarship, explains Donelson.
Each participant is given at least 80 days (per year) of on-the-ground coaching plus a bike, gear, race nutrition products, race entries, and transportation. The majority have never ridden a mountain bike and nearly 10 percent of the riders have never pedaled any kind of bike.
The curriculum kicks off with twice-weekly indoor training or virtual workoutsfrom February to April, when they start riding outdoors until winter. In November and December, the Cycle Effect organizes one monthly social gathering or volunteer opportunity.
When the girls graduate high school, they can keep their bike and have an opportunity to volunteer, coach, or apply for other full-time positions with The Cycle Effect.
To date, the organization has ten full-time employees, 50 part-time coaches, and 40 volunteers. And they’re growing fast, says Donelson, with plans to double the number of towns they serve to ten in the next few years.
How The Cycle Effect Helps Communities
To build trust and connection with the family and friends of prospective or current students, The Cycle Effect hosts a Latina women’s group ride, which includes complimentary bikes and coaches.
There are no requirements to join the group ride: the women do not need to be parents, and their family does not need to be involved in The Cycle Effect program. But often the women’s group ride dovetails with the youth program by inspiring women to register their daughters or nieces after they’ve personally experienced the joy of mountain biking, camaraderie, and freedom on the trail.
The Cycle Effect also organizes mountain bike clinics 30 times per year (four to five times in different counties) with the school districts, and has worked with 1,500 students through these supplemental programs.
This spring, the organization also launched a bike match program: They collect used bikes, tune them up, and pair each bike with a girl, their families, the Latina women’s group ride participants, or other community members in need.
Inviting more women with diverse backgrounds into the sport is not only growing the sport but also creating a healthier, more innovative, and supportive bike community and cycling industry, says Donelson.
“My parents didn’t know anything about bikes or about the biking community. Within my family, biking brought us close together,” says Andrade. Her younger sister, Lilo, now 19 years old, joined the program for girls when she was in the 5th grade (at 11 years old) and graduated last year.
“The program also brought us closer to the Latin community and into the bike community,” Andrade adds. “The girls came out of their shell: At first, some were terrified of biking and towards the end, they were super fast on the downhill and coming in top five in races, which was awesome.”
How to Get Involved With The Cycle Effect
To join the mission, consider applying for a coaching position, or apply to volunteer with the organization. Volunteer positions are matched to skills that applicants would like to provide such as helping with office work, marketing, or on-the-ground assistance with the program for girls. As a growing organization, The Cycle Effect is hiring for other roles, too.
People can also donate online to support riders including matching grants or giving stock donations. Companies and individuals can match employee donations or provide in-kind gifts: products (lightly used or new) or services that help to offset costs and support the cyclists. The Cycle Effect accepts donated bikes, apparel, glasses, gloves, shoes, and helmets.