Last week, we had the good fortune of sitting down with Caitlin Thompson, recipient of the 2018 Bicycle Coalition Youth Cycling award, board member for Neighborhood Bike Works, and founder of the Philadelphia chapter of Little Bellas, a mountain bike program for girls ages 7 to 13. Little Bellas is entering its third year in Philadelphia and holds practices on Sunday afternoons in West Fairmount Park from early August through late September for a total of eight sessions of mountain biking fun. Youth receive identical jerseys, so they look and feel like a team.
When discussing potential challenges to getting girls to enter the sport, Thompson learned, “Sometimes parents struggle with their kid being in a different sport. Girls come to the program because their dads race.” Sometimes parents worry because racing is perceived as dangerous. Fortunately, Little Bellas is supported by a team of approximately 15 dedicated volunteers, including many volunteer mentors from the Women Bike PHL Racing Development teams.
Thompson also spoke about her desire to make cycling more accessible in Philadelphia and helps by introducing parents and guardians to less-traveled trails in East and West Fairmount Park. In turn, Thompson has found that Little Bellas participants go from being led on bike rides to “taking the lead on taking the family on bike rides.” Thompson believes that if someone is interested in mountain biking, “You just need fat tires… you don’t need the newest carbon fiber. You don’t need all the gear, just jeans and a hoodie, but helmets are nice.” Caitlin is also a member of Team Laser Cats, a cycling team focused on building community and mentorship with individuals who identify as female, trans, or nonbinary.
If you know a prospective Little Bella, registration is currently open for the 2019 Philadelphia, PA Sunday Program.