If you find yourself on Galbraith one spring evening and hear the distant sounds of cowbells and cheering, chances are you have stumbled across Galbraith Gravity Racing’s local youth race series. Spread across six races, riders ages 6-18 get a chance to compete against the clock and other riders in this USA Cycling sanctioned event. Drawing a crowd that rivals that of the adult race series in the area, this local race series is one of the most visual representations of the impact Galbraith Gravity Racing (GGR) has had on Bellingham and its many aspiring racers.
A development race team based out of Bellingham, GGR has been a catalyst for youth racing in the area. After their inaugural season in 2019, they instantly gained traction in the community and established themselves as the premier team for youth racers. Starting in 2019 with just 38 racers, GGR has over doubled in size, capping their enrollment at 80 racers for the upcoming season. Co-founder Matt Sheppard said, “I think one of our main goals is trying to make racing more accessible. Before we started this, if you're a parent and you want to get your child into racing, it was pretty daunting to figure out how. That's what we are trying to do, make mountain biking accessible.” By supporting riders ranging anywhere from U7 all the way up to its junior expert category, GGR is aiming to offer Bellingham's riders a pathway from junior racing to the elite level.
Their approach to athlete development places an emphasis on fundamentals and enjoying time on the bike. Race results are simply a welcome byproduct of the dedication and work ethic of the program's riders. Sheppard said, “A lot of people view racing as getting on the bike and being as reckless as you can and going as fast as you can. I hear the saying ‘go fast, take chances’ a lot. I don’t think that's a good philosophy for riding a bike. We try to teach kids to be faster in small incremental improvements. In the end, it’s not taking one big risk, it’s all the little things. Cornering, pumping, line choice, that’s what makes you fast.”
Galbraith Gravity instills these principles and techniques upon riders through a variety of training clinics, group rides, and coaching sessions. Clinics are led by the program's head coach Shuams March. As a USA Cycling Olympic coach, March has a wealth of experience and is at the core of coaching the 80 riders on the teams' roster. It’s also common for local racers such as Red Bull athlete Jill Kintner and Fanatik team racers Eric Olsen and Andrew Cavaye to lead additional clinics.
While Galbraith Gravity is touted as a racing program, it is just as much a coaching program. As athletes mature within the team, mentorship becomes an expectation. Throughout their time with GGR, riders develop from mentee to mentor, first by becoming a “ride leader” for younger members. Junior elite riders then work to become certified instructors, culminating in their own specialty clinics to train younger riders. The end goal is for racers to “graduate” from GGR with coaching credentials through the Bike Instructor Certification Program. Hayden Damon is a junior elite racer and certified instructor that has outlined a four-part jumping clinic taking place on the Civic dirt jumps and cedar dust jump lines. “I mostly want to focus on teaching the kids how to jump safely and in control. We can all jump but if you know how to jump correctly it can keep you out of a lot of sketchy situations,” said Damon. With a Level I coaching certification and skill beyond his years, the impact Damon will have on younger riders is a representation of the most valuable aspects of the GGR coaching model.
While Damon will be handling the more freeride focused jumping clinics, the GGR’s junior elite ranks hold a diverse field of riders each with their strengths and expertise. Gabe Henderson has been with GGR since its inception and said, “Compared to other programs, GGR is pretty unique. Hayden has now started taking over with the freeride side of things, getting more kids involved with that. Then myself and a couple of other racers are focused on enduro. We also have racers who are involved in downhill pretty heavily, so kids can pick their discipline within the team which is neat and something I don’t see very often. Usually, it’s just a downhill team or an enduro team but GGR is just one big team and you can choose what you want to specialize in.” Allowing athletes to compete across a range of disciplines and events helps to limit burnout and allows riders to accumulate as much race experience as possible across a range of events.
Co-founder David Simeur couldn’t stress enough the importance of the team's eldest members and the impact they have when giving back to the program, “I think in one way we've been really lucky in that, the teenagers, the guys that run this program. We got fortunate with them, they have shown real leadership.”
Junior elite riders balance their instructional responsibilities with their racing aspirations. The 2021 season was an impressive one for the team, accumulating 31 NW Cup Series Podiums, four overall NW Cup titles, and securing the North American Enduro U18 Champion medal. GGR's presence was felt across a total of 14 different venues with additional podium results secured across the Cascadia Dirt Cup, California Enduro, DVO race series. To top off the season, junior elite rider Tobin Walker had the momentous opportunity to compete at the UCI World Cup in Snowshoe, West Virginia.
Looking forward to the 2022 season, many racers are eager to improve upon the previous year's results and take another step toward their overall goals. “This year I’ll be racing all the Big Mountain Enduro stops except for one. My first race will be the Tennessee National. Then I’ll also be racing the EWS Whistler and fitting in all the North West Cups and Cascadia Dirt Cup races I can,” said Henderson. A packed season lays ahead with racers competing in enduro and downhill events throughout the country. Chances are, if there is a bike race happening within driving distance of the pacific northwest, GGR racers will be out in force. “Last season was my first year of focusing more on racing, I’m usually more into the jumping aspect of riding. So GGR has allowed me to focus more on the aspects of racing like line choice and carrying speed. My highlight of last year was podiuming in one of the CDC enduro races in Darrington. It was my last race and I had worked towards that result all season. I'm looking forward to doing more racing this season and getting faster,” said Damon.
Racing is not without its risks, as team rider Teo Bergsma learned first-hand last season. “My goal for this season is to have a clean season and get some podiums. Last season I broke both my wrists at the Silver Mountain Enduro. So going into this year, ideally racing clean and not having something like that happen again,” said Bergsma. Similarly, Tobin Walker is looking to have a recovery season, getting back up to speed after a nasty crash before seeding in Snowshoe. Resulting in a broken hip, Walker was left to watch from the other side of the tape. His injury, while untimely, should not take away from the accomplishment of being selected by USA Cycling to race at a UCI World Cup event. The upcoming season offers recovering riders like Bergsma and Walker a chance to rebuild stronger than they once were, and gives others, such as Damon and Henderson, an opportunity to improve upon last year's performances.
The team's founders are the first to admit that Galbraith Gravity would be nothing without its namesake. Galbraith Mountain and its 65+ miles of trails offer the ideal landscape to mold young riders into racers. “Being located in Bellingham is like this goldilocks scenario. The mountain is always there. Galbraith, the community, our sponsors, and the WMBC make this all possible”, said Simeur. Even more important than the geography that surrounds Bellingham are the people who inhabit it. Countless volunteers dedicate themselves behind the scenes to make GGR the tight-knit group that it is.
While their roots are firmly planted in the dreamy dirt of Bellingham, GGR has the potential to become a globally recognized influence in gravity-oriented racing. They have ambitions to offer Bellingham's aspiring racers a pathway from strider bikes to World Cup start gates. Considering the depth of raw talent in the area, combined with access to world-class coaches and terrain, it’s probable that select local riders will begin to climb the ranks into professional cycling. While a career in the sport may be a possibility for some, it is not the sole focus of GGR. Instead, they take pride in creating an enjoyable atmosphere at every event they attend, providing a support system for racers. “It’s the coolest thing in the world to see these kids race. When those kids are in the start gate they’re Loic Bruni, they’re Loris Vergier. At least in their minds, and mine too, it’s awesome to see,” said Simeur.
The banner image on the NW Cup homepage is a photo of the Dry Hill stage flooded with GGR riders. Shoulder-to-shoulder, with accompanying smiles, GGR riders stand proud of their achievements. “This season I would love for us to have another picture like that at the end of the year. Capturing more moments like that,” said Simeur. Looking towards the 2022 season, more moments like that are not a far-fetched goal. The coaches, dedicated volunteers, committed sponsors, and skilled riders make up the ideal formula for many more memorable seasons to come.
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