Outride Funds Youth Cycling in Middle Schools, NICA Chapters, Trail Building, and Research

We spoke with some of the Outride x Specialized grant recipients to share their stories.
Photo courtesy of The Silver Stallion Bicycle & Coffee Works, Inc. Nonprofit.

A number of industry-leading brands have stepped up in recent years to help diversify mountain biking with younger faces from all backgrounds. The Outride nonprofit is leading the charge to get more kids on bikes, with fundraiser matching grants provided by Specialized Bicycles. In short, folks who create organizations or trail plans that directly benefit communities of young people can apply for an Outride grant to match their local funding efforts. We recently spoke with some Outride representatives and a few recipients of this year’s grant funding to get the full story.

Specialized has promised to invest $10M over the next three years to Outride, a public 501c3 nonprofit. Specialized founder Mike Sinyard first began funding Outride in 2012, under its previous name, The Specialized Foundation. Outride is a public nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of youth through cycling. Through our Primary Research, Riding for Focus cycling program, and Outride Fund grant giving activities, we provide evidence-based cycling interventions to improve social, emotional, and cognitive health.

Outride PR rep. James Nixon

The whole fundraising platform kicked off with a strong base of research that showed the real connection between cycling and young peoples’ mental health. According to Outride program manager Andy Cunningham, “at the core, Outride wants to help build the next generation of trails and riders. We do that through what we call our three different pillars.”

Cunningham goes on to explain the tenets of each pillar. “The first and sort of at our foundation is our research pillar. So we sort of were born out of a desire to understand how cycling benefited adolescent brains. That began with a Harvard med neuro consulting study in two middle schools in New England back in 2012. And that study found that kids who were cycling before school [had] a positive health outcome, both in terms of heart rate and BMI, but also academic success. So double-digit improvements in math verbal scores. And that was the thing that really led us to say, ‘let’s create a foundation and let’s create a curriculum that can be implemented in middle school PE programs to get more kids on bikes.'”

From there they created the Riding For Focus middle school program, where schools can apply for a grant that includes bikes and gear like helmets and tools to maintain the fleet. Along with material and monetary support, schools receive a twelve-week lesson plan to tie bikes into their overall curriculum and training for teachers on how to safely and effectively implement the program. Riding For Focus now serves more than 30,000 kids per year across roughly 140 schools in the US. Those kids are mountain biking as part of their normal physical education program. They get to ride well-equipped bikes that many of them couldn’t afford, learn balance and body control skills, all while pedaling in the dirt. What a dream.

Photo: Outride

The third piece of the Outride story is focused on trails. After all, kids need a place to test out all of these new-found skills. This element or “pillar” of the program was introduced in August of 2019 to match the funding for new trail projects in areas where more kids are riding. Youth cycling clubs or related trail organizations can create a page through Outride’s fundraising platform, called Everyday Hero, and Specialized matches those funds dollar for dollar, up to $15,000.

Outride matching grants go out three times per year and are available for any of their different focus areas. Again, those include Riding for Focus and other school based programs, as well as NICA and other youth cycling clubs, and trails or pump tracks. With this first round of matching grants for the broader initiative that includes trails and pump tracks, Outride awarded $111,000 in November of 2019, and an additional $149,000 to various youth mountain biking initiatives in March of 2020. The nonprofit expects to reward two more rounds of matching grants before the close of 2020.

One of the trail building initiatives that was funded this year went to Midlands SORBA, based in South Carolina.

Midlands SORBA in conjunction with the City of Florence is working to build a Ride Run Park in Florence, SC. The park consists of 80 acres of land. The City was able to put together $76k for the project which was contracted out to a professional trail builder in order to build 3 miles of trials.

Midlands SORBA had raised about $11,000 in contributions when we approached Outride. With their help, we were able to raise an additional $1,000 and then they matched all of our efforts with a grant for $12,000. That brought our total to $24,000. With those funds, we were able to add an additional mile to the trail system resulting in a 33% increase in total miles. This really took our park to a better level and has generated a lot more interest. 

Additionally, the park has given the opportunity for the City to organize a NICA team. The team is currently being sponsored by the local bike shop but we hope that the schools will pick it up in the coming year.  The park will offer both a training site and a trail for hosting local races. 

We are extremely grateful to all those at Outride.  Working with them was a pleasure. The park is slated to open the middle of June (delays due to an extremely wet winter and Covid-19 have set us back about 3 months). The excitement is palpable as residents continue to inquire as to the trial opening. We look forward to the grand opening and presenting this wonderful park to the citizens of Florence, SC.

Michael Sparkman, Midlands SORBA board
Photo: Outride

Local youth clubs, schools, NICA chapters, and trail associations can raise funds however they like. Two partnered NICA teams, based in Arizona and New Mexico, used social media to get their funding message out and received support from all around the US. Between their Everyday Hero fundraising campaign, and Outride’s matching grant, they managed to raised $23k to support the two youth squads.

Vincent Salabye is the director of Diné Comp NICA Team based in Nazlini, AZ in conjunction with Scott Nydam who runs the Gallup Composite NICA Team in Gallup, New Mexico. Together they wanted to share some of the awesome things they saw other NICA programs doing with youth on and around the Navajo Nation reservation. The kids seemed stoked on the idea, and Salabye and Nydam were as well. A primary focus of their programs was to create teams with a clearly outlined foundation and operational structure so that if anyone on the board left for any reason someone else would be able to pick up the reigns and keep things moving.

While there is not a single bike shop on reservation land, there are folks enjoying mountain biking, and freeride-style enduro riding in particular. Nydam mentioned that suicide and self harm are glaring issues for Navajo youth, and providing bikes to ride and races to train for is one of the many ways that the two teams aim to refocus the energy and frustrations of some young people.

Nydam also runs a youth vocational skills program called Silver Stallion Bicycle Coffee. “The Silver Stallion Bicycle & Coffee Works, Inc. Nonprofit mission is to empower and develop in youth and young adults vocational skills in the bicycle repair and specialty coffee industries.” We will be recording a podcast with Salabye and Nydam in the near future to share more of what they have planned with their NICA teams and related nonprofit.

Photo: Outride

We would like to thank the folks at Outride, Midlands SORBA, as well as Salabye and Nydam for taking the time to share their great news about getting more young people on bikes.