Maths, history, chemistry: how was school for you? What if you could have learned about pedalling, speed and balance? Well this is exactly what kids do in many of cycling’s heartlands. Right from the earliest age children learn cycling skills, start racing and join a club all thanks to a scuola di ciclismo, école de cyclisme or “cycling school”.
This is an essential part of the sport for many and the nursery for many a champion.
The “bicycle school” is a varied format, at its base is a collection of skill-based exercises for young riders, often under 10 years old and available to anyone older than four. The skills include riding around a tight course with cones, riding limbo-like under a bar or perhaps going over a see-saw plank. As you’d imagine this teaches handling skills from the earliest age. Here’s an example on youtube:
There are small races too, often just a 60m sprint because this is what fits in a school yard or the straight section of a local athletics track. This competitive element extends to other areas, there are even timed competitions to remove and replace a wheel or simulate a puncture repair; bonus points if the old inner tube is folded away carefully. Watch the clip below found on youtube where at 3m00s a young rider fakes a crash so that the adult monitors can observe whether the other kids stop and help as they’re supposed to.
It’s highly structured, a whole chapter of the French Federation’s rulebook is dedicated to the school rules from safety, from the obligatory use of helmets and gloves to the maximum gear size to protect growing bones and ensure kids develop a light pedalling action; plus obvious child protection measures. Amusingly there’s even a rule banning race radios just in case a pushy parent gets ideas about playing directeur sportif during a 60m sprint (rule 9.1.0018 in case you think I’m joking).
With skills and small races it mirrors more adult competitions with the best in an area being invited to compete on behalf of their region, just like an U23 rider might do in time. Structured, yes but that’s only because the rules are mentioned above. Outwardly it’s all about having fun and any competitions within are kept short and amusing. Cycling is a tough sport and the culture, even the cult, of suffering is something for an adult to embrace later.
School vs internet
Cycling has taken off in popularity in many English-speaking countries in recent years and with it a lot of adults have got into the sport, there’s even the marketing term MAMIL, the Middle-Aged-Man-in-Lycra. It’s great but means many – perhaps you – didn’t go via this early introduction, it marks a contrasting approach because adults who start cycling often don’t receive any formal training and tips. Maybe this explains the proliferation of “how to” websites and the likes of GCN.
This blog tends to look only at pro cycling but that’s just the top of a pyramid. Here’s a look at the base of the sport, an essential part of it with the provision of training and skills. These schools also act as recruitment for clubs. Encouragingly the top and bottom of the pyramid are linked, with many pros rising up from a club school to a contract with a big team and often a pro will turn up at a school session of their club to encourage the kids.
Bicycle school doesn’t replace classroom lessons but some kids in Eurp[e will attend mid-week or weekend “cycling schools” in order to learn basic skills from handling to puncture repair and just to have fun on the bike. The older they get the more they learn and specialise and the school becomes competitive. Many of today’s champions started with these schools.
Photo credit: Sudouest.fr