CAMDEN — There are no youth mountain bike camps in Maine, not as far as the guys at the Mid-Coast New England Mountain Bike Association chapter know.
But tell that to Will Laidlaw, age 5; Brian Leonard, also age 5; Owen Morong, age 6; or Griffin Carnell, 8.
These guys can hit a pump track, get thrown on their side and hop back on their knobby tires at full tilt. They can ride a section of single track with roots and rocks like nobody’s business. And definitely they can bomb down a steep, rocky hill, no questions asked.
Probably we in the newspaper business should call these athletes “youth riders.”
But if you saw them rip down a rugged, trench-laden section of logging road, you’d call them guys, too. Maybe even tiny dudes.
Quite simply, these boys, all of them mountain bikers for most of their short lives, can flippin’ ride.
This is why the free kids mountain bike camp at the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area in Camden was restarted by Casey Leonard, Brian’s father and also the mountain bike coach at Camden Hills High.
With support from other members of the Mid-Coast NEMBA club, key among them the president, John Anders, Leonard got the camp going again last year after its founder stopped running it.
Several years ago Chris Christie, former owner of the Rockport bike shop Bikesnjava, started a hugely successful youth summer program focused on racing.
But when the local bike shop closed, the popular program that drew as many as 50 youth riders on any given summer night ended.
Anders and Leonard brought it back to the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area in Camden last summer.
At first it drew just 8 to 10 youth riders during the six-week free camp. But on a rainy Monday night last week, 12 came out in the mist for the first week of camp. And riders ranging in age from 5 to 14 brought their bikes, sense of adventure and no small supply of chutzpa.
“I like falling on my face,” said Brian Leonard, with a laugh that said this fast-moving 5-year-old isn’t joking.
All riders are welcome. All they need is a helmet, bike and a good attitude.
Riders are required to sign a waiver with the NEMBA club, which provides insurance to ride at the home of the Snow Bowl ski area.
With volunteer instructors from the club, the kids are taught the basics of mountain bike safety, balance, navigation, climbing and riding through skinny, dirt single-track trails, some no more than 2 feet wide.
“He’s ridden down the flow track here,” instructor Morgan Laidlaw said of his 5-year-old son, Will.
As Will Laidlaw and Brian Leonard rode a rock-strewn, rolling section of single track, bouncing along the uneven surface with the smooth rhythm of a basketball, they chatted about recent falls they had taken, jumps they had hit.
These guys are so low to the ground and their speed so diminutive, they rarely do much more than scrape themselves, Casey Leonard said.
“What is an endo?” Will Laidlaw asked, when questioned about any experience he had flipping “end-over-end” off his bike.
Mountain biking to these riders is not dangerous; it is simply about dirt.
And to them dirt is fun.
“It’s non-competitive. It’s about skills and building confidence, making it fun,” Leonard said. “We want to make sure it’s fun. That will boost their confidence. And then they’ll ride anything.”
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: