CROSSLAKE, Minn. – There is a clear line from Crosslake Community School to mountain biking in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.
Mike Newton started as a K-8 music teacher in 2019 at Crosslake. He started mountain biking in 2020. By 2021, his students had heard of his riding adventures and wanted to ride the trails themselves.
So, in April 2022, Newton launched a mountain bike club for his middle school students.
“I was going to do it last year,” Newton said. “But I crashed my bike and I didn’t.”
The Newton students were eager to ride the bikes, but Minnesota’s spring weather took them off the trails a little longer than expected. Once the trails opened, the new riders were ready to roll.
“We started in late April and rode twice a week, every week until just a week ago,” Newton said. “There were 11 children, which is more than I thought. I thought I was going to have four.
With such a large group, the logistics had to be worked on.
“That’s a lot of kids to get in a line,” Newton said. “When someone wants to pass us, we have to get out of the way because they’ll all probably pass us.”
It took a while, but eventually Newton found a system.
“At first, me and the fast kids would go out front, and we would wait for everyone,” Newton said. “Until I did both bands. It was kind of a game-changer for us.
Newton separated the students into a beginner group and an advanced group. He and the advanced students, who already had some mountain biking experience, took on the more difficult trails, while the group of beginners, led by his wife, Chloe, stuck to the easier ones.
Both groups also allowed some kids to ride longer, while others were okay with only doing two tracks.
Newton said some of the students go mountain biking almost every week now, whereas just a few months ago they never did.
“I heard a lot of kids really like him,” Newton said. “I have no complaints about parents having to drive their kids or anything like that.”
The main goal of the mountain bike club was to introduce kids to a fun new activity that many of them had never tried before. Newton used a system of personal goals, set by each student, to allow them to grow at their own pace.
At first, me and the fast kids would go up front, and wait for everyone. Until I did both groups. It was a game changer for us.
“People who start on the easy trails want to finish a hard trail by the end of the year. The kids who started out on the hard trails want to do a black diamond,” Newton said.
Everything went very well, especially considering the number of middle school students riding.
“I only had one accident as a child, and it was the last day on the last track of the last corner,” Newton said. “She fell and landed on her face on a rock, and she was fine.”
Newton was impressed with how quickly his students learned to mountain bike, but he had to explain the process of learning skills like jumping.
“You can’t just get on the bike and jump on it. You have to be able to do bunny hop and all that other stuff. So we worked with that, which was good,” Newton said. “Kind of setting these little goals and letting the kids know that if you can’t jump, don’t try jumping. If you don’t know the skills required for jumping, you will crash and get hurt, and it will be a disappointment.
Barring any disappointments, Newton plans to hold the club once a week when school resumes, weather permitting. Then the students will ride again twice a week after the snow melts and the trails open in the spring.
Newton has no plans to travel to any other mountain biking venues for the club. However, that doesn’t rule out an expansion of the club into mountain bike racing for students looking for more.
“Cuyuna is like the crown jewel of Minnesota mountain biking, and some people are discovering that now, including myself,” Newton said. “I think I could have one or two kids to try to compete, but I don’t really know the logistics. I have two children who are really very good. They are as good as me. So that’s something I might see if they’re interested in the future.
While Newton enjoyed watching his students grow, he is eager to hit the trails on his own.
“I actually loved it. It was fun,” Newton said. “I’m glad I’m done with it because now when I go I can go and do whatever I want to do. I don’t have to take all the easy trails.
Echo Journal intern Megan Buffington can be reached at 218-855-5854 or [email protected] She graduated from Pequot Lakes High School in 2021 and attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.