A local club is looking to put more children on bicycles and introduce them to a unique, and sometimes muddy, off-road cycling competition.

Palouse Bicycle Racing is a not-for-profit venture in its seventh year of converting locals into bicycle enthusiasts, but the number of riders involved has dropped recently, said Matt Morra, the club’s president.

To encourage more people to join, Palouse Bicycle Racing will begin hosting youth clinics at 6 p.m. every Tuesday starting July 30 and running through August at a bike park on West Palouse River Drive, across from the University of Idaho Arboretum in Moscow.

Morra said cyclists as young as 5 years old can join, and he has extra bikes available if they do not have one. They can register for the clinics through the Moscow Parks and Recreation Department.

The clinics will teach children how to ride safely and properly maintain their bikes. It will also be a chance for them to ride on an off-road track and get a taste of a sport called cyclocross.

Cyclocross is a type of bicycle race where riders are required to ride in a looped course and overcome obstacles. These obstacles, such as stairs or sand pits, sometimes require them to get off their bike and walk over or through them. It takes place in all weather, which means the tracks can sometimes be muddy, snowy or dusty.

Morra said the races have a party atmosphere and are a pressure-free way for cyclists of all ages to have fun. He said is the easiest type of race for cyclists because it is off the roadway and away from cars, cyclists are less likely to get hurt because they are falling on dirt instead of pavement and no one really cares who finishes first.

Morra said the cyclocross season begins in October when the Palouse Bicycle Racing club will participate in a race in Potlatch.

Morra said riding bikes is ecologically beneficial, better for the community and can be a hobby people can enjoy for most of their lives. Morra said he is 60 years old and still competes in races.

Jessie Campbell’s family, including her 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, joined the club this past year because they were looking for ways to cycle more.

Her children have participated in competitions and enjoy watching the other families in the club race.

She said the the club gives her children the opportunity to get help from volunteers on how to be better cyclists. They also enjoy volunteering their efforts to help build bike tracks.

“We’re looking to get more involved,” Campbell said.

Morra said children who give racing a chance may find that they have a knack for it. While children are introduced to a number of sports at a young age, they typically are not familiar with racing. Morra hopes to change that.

“I think kids ought to try things and figure out what they like and don’t like,” he said.

Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to akuipers@dnews.com.

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