Bonding by biking.
That?s the strategy one Hillsboro family has chosen as way to combine ?together time? with physical fitness and a desire to scratch their collective competitive itch.
Ryan and Carol Goekler are biking companions and the support team for their three sons, Isaac, Canyon and Caden, as the boys compete in cross-country mountain bike racing around the state.
Or at least try to.
While they?ve intended to compete in several trail races organized this year by the United Federation of Dirt, they?ve managed only one so far: the Kansas Fat Tire Festival at Lake Wilson in early May.
?We?ve only done one race because either we?ve been gone, or they weren?t where we could do them (because of age categories), or they got canceled because of rain,? said Isaac, the oldest of the brothers at age 13.
?I?d say at least half of them have gotten canceled because of rain,? his mother added, including the Sun?flower State Games at Perry Lake Park the last weekend of July.
But the boys? 13-mile race?distances vary according to divisions based on age and experience?at Lake Wilson turned out well. Competing in the junior division, Isaac placed second, Canyon third and Caden fourth.
?I was very nervous,? Isaac said about his first race, which had an overall field of 110 bikers that he described as ?just a massive pack of people.?
?I started terribly,? Isaac said. ?They sounded a horn and everybody started riding. I was in the middle trying to swerve through people, but I couldn?t get through.?
Canyon and Caden, 10-year-old twins, struggled, too.
?It was scary,? Canyon said. ?I didn?t know what I was doing.?
Added Caden: ?It was scary because people would swerve around and try to pass you?and you?re on a road that?s about as wide as (the dining room) table.?
If that wasn?t enough, the chain popped off Caden?s bicycle during the race.
?It took me 30 minutes to fix it,? he said. ?I asked other riders to help. Some of the riders were nice and stopped to help get it back on.?
Ryan said the family?s interest in mountain-bike racing began about two years ago.
?We were looking for something to do as a group of guys,? he said. ?We tried hunting and different things, and nothing was really fitting.?
Added Carol, ?Other than biking, we?re not really a sports family. We don?t watch baseball and football and basketball.?
One of their early biking experiences was riding the trail at Coronado Heights near Lindsborg.
?We rode that and really enjoyed it and started to get into it,? Ryan said. ?Our first year we spent just traveling the state going on different trails, just exploring. We enjoyed that, too.?
Ryan said the trails the United Federation of Dirt uses are handmade courses.
?Kansas has like 47 of them,? he said. ?A lot of them are at the state parks.?
One day, while the family was riding the trail at Camp Alexander near Emporia, they met Matt Brown, who owns a bicycle store in the city called High Gear Cyclery. As they got acquainted, Brown mentioned the UFD trails.
?That?s kind of where it started in the biking, as just a way to travel,? Ryan said. ?Like this year we went to New Mexico and rode some of the trails out there. We made a week?s trip out of it and rode seven different trails.
?Matt also mentioned the racing part of it and we said we?ll try it and see how it goes.?
The High Gear store has become a sponsor of sorts for the Goeklers? bicycling exploits, providing tips, discounts and even gear.
?He?s been super helpful with just getting us information on how to ride better and faster,? Ryan said about Brown. ?At the shop they helped us with one of our repairs.
?That?s what?s been so great about that shop. He?s always been willing to share with us and keep us going in the right direction.?
While their racing experience has been limited so far, the Goeklers have been training for races, even if they weren?t able to compete in them. Their usual regimen is to ride on gravel roads west of town at least once a week, and have developed a 12-mile loop.
?We ride down that road a lot, but not every day,? Caden said.
So, do the boys plan to stick with cross-country mountain bike racing for awhile?
?I enjoy it,? Isaac said. ?But it depends. Some days I don?t really feel like doing it.?
Caden said, ?I really enjoy it because it?s something all four of us guys can do.?
?It?s fun,? added Canyon. ?And because we?re racing, our dad wants us to do our best, not just poop out.?
Their mother feels the same way.
?I certainly want them to stick with it, and kind of see what they can do with it,? Carol said.