Every Wednesday morning in the Summer the trails surrounding Helena fill up with kids. They range from 4th graders to High School Seniors. They come from different schools, all rolling at different levels—together.
They are learning to mountain bike, through the all-inclusive free mountain biking club, the Helena Dynamos.
Morning sun was beating down on a gravel trailhead in the hills of Helena’s southside on a recent Wednesday morning. Dust rose from the adjacent road as cars drive by, and Dave Stergar was already sweating as he turned his full suspension bike into the trailhead’s parking lot.
A few kids are already waiting in the parking lot. Others follow closely behind Stergar. Several wearing orange and black jerseys emblazoned with the name Helena Dynamos.
“All these kids are a bunch of Dynamos, it’s just a perfect name,” Stergar said.
Stergar teaches at Helena middle school. About 5 years ago one of his students asked for help putting together a mountain biking club. Stergar worked with some other teachers and local biking enthusiasts to start the Dynamos. That name because the organizers didn’t want to associate the club with any specific Helena school’s mascot. Instead, they decided to organize it through all the schools as one cohesive biking community.
More members rode up to the trailhead, or got dropped off by their parents. There were probably about 20 kids now.
“There’s days where we have well over 60 riders,” Stergar said.
Teachers, parents, and other volunteers ride with the Dynamos every week, splitting everyone up into different skill levels—not always based on age.
11 year-old Gracie Lawlor was wearing knee high orange and black socks to match her Dynamos jersey.
“They’re fun!” she said.
She’s been riding with the group for 2 or 3 years now. She’s getting better. She’s meeting people. The exercise helps her with her other sports.
“And you learn life lessons in this group,” she said. ”Like, there’s pride in humility…and academics first then athletics and attitude.”
The dynamic group—kids of totally different ages, with a whole range of different bikes did seem to just come together. Organizer Dave Stergar says other Montana communities have tried to emulate the Dynamos success. But they haven’t tried the same sort of inclusive approach.
“Where I think they’ve failed is they started with just a team and made it a competition right away, where what we’ve done is we’ve made it a fun club,” he said.
Though the Dynamos support their members if they do want to compete. Stergar pointed to 16-year-old Landen Beckner and said we’ll probably be seeing him on TV before too long.
“Well, I’m just trying to take it as far as I can,” Beckner said. He started riding mountain bikes through the Dynamos about 4 years ago. He now rides every day. He goes to National Mountain biking competitions every year, National Cup Races. For inspiration, Beckner need look no further than 26-year-old Missoula rider Sam Schultz—who just placed 15th mountain biking in the London Olympics.
Beckner says he wants to try to follow Shultz’s progression.
“When you look at him now, it’s amazing how good he is,” Beckner said. “You think you can never really be that…advanced but you never know so that’s what you strive for.”
With that, Beckner rodes off with the advanced group of Dynamos, each inspiring each other to progress.