A new and different sports team has emerged on the local kids’ sports scene, offering an experience that has both parents and children excited and energized. The Fairfield County Youth Cycling Team is currently wrapping up its spring season with enormous grins on everyone’s faces, along with new friends and a passion for the sport of cycling.

The Fairfield County team was formed in 2015 as part of the Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program, or CCAP, when avid mountain biker Monika Stokes was looking for riding buddies for her 10-year-old son. She partnered with Outdoor Sports Center and together they created the Fairfield County Youth Cycling Team, an endeavor that took off quickly with an enthusiastic group of young cyclists.

The team is already gearing up (pun intended!) for next season and hoping to get the word out to other kids who might have an interest in cycling sports. Practices are on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Cranbury Park in Norwalk, with races on select weekends as well as field trips to other riding destinations in Fairfield County.

The team works on fundamental mountain biking skills such as proper body position, controlled braking, and climbing and descending, with guidance from coaches Clare Zecher and Stokes. Racing is optional, and those with a competitive streak work on additional skills including racing starts, cornering, race strategy, pacing and proper nutrition.

Of course, quite often, the kids just want to ride in the woods with other kids, so children who want to ride but prefer not to compete will fit in just fine.

“Siblings, parents, and friends of the riders are starting to ride as well, and it’s great to see others getting the mountain biking bug,” Stokes says.

One participant’s parent agrees. “My family of five already enjoys cycling together and now we have found a local opportunity for my sons to learn to mountain bike and be part of a team. Not only were there opportunities to race when the boys felt ready, but we were introduced to other mountain biking locations around the county. Now my third son is ready to join the team next season.”

Outdoor Sports Center has provided support in the form of bike and helmet safety checks, and several of the store’s employees work with the kids as well, either as visiting coaches or by providing information sessions at the store. Cranbury Park practices take place almost literally around the corner from Outdoor Sports Center, so its bike shop has become somewhat of a home base for the team and a convenient stop to pick up accessories and get bikes tuned up on the way to or from practice.

In September the program will resume with focus on cyclocross skills (a style of cycling that involves riding on grassy terrain and often carrying a bike over obstacles), and while Stokes expects many current team members to remain on the team, new riders will be welcome and are encouraged to join in on the thrill of cycling. The team is open to boys and girls of any riding level ages 9-18. For more information, stop by Outdoor Sports Center or visit the CCAP website.