Twelve-year-old Rhyan Shweyk was partway through the bike ride of his young life when he took a spill. “His face and arms and legs were all banged up,” says his mom, Deena Shweyk, “but all he cared about was fixing his bike and finishing.”
The ride, a 34-mile section of the SB 100, was the culminating event of three months of training for Rhyan and the rest of the Riviera Youth Bike Team. Led by ironman and triathlete Zack Bertges, the program introduces kids to the sport of cycling. “The fitness part is important,” says Bertges, “but we focus on mental health, as well.”
While the team has an open application process, most of the members are referred to the Riviera Youth Bike Team by social workers or organizations, including CALM and Hospice of Santa Barbara. “Some of the kids come from very difficult backgrounds,” says Bertges. “We give them self-esteem tools and establish biking as a positive part of their lives.”
During the season, the group of 10- to 13-year-olds meets three times a week, training in spin classes, building strength, and learning safe riding skills on the road. They are introduced to area teen cycling clubs and the members of UCSB’s bike team. Says Bertges, “Cycling is a lifelong activity. There are so many opportunities that open up to these kids.”
Participants who complete the program earn a bike and a jersey, but Bertges hopes they leave with something more. “We want them to walk away feeling that they have this whole cycling community supporting them.”
Deena Shweyk, who has an older son on the team as well, says Bertges has a special way of connecting to every child and building the kind of self-esteem necessary to overcome adversity. “After his crash, Rhyan only had a couple of working gears on his bike,” says Shweyk, “but he got back on, and he plowed through those hills.”
Rhyan, who has returned for another season, says, “I came across the finish line, and my whole team was there, cheering for me. It was such a happy feeling.” Teammate and older brother Zeyn Shweyk adds, “When you reach these big goals on the bike team, it makes you think you can do anything.”
The Riviera Youth Bike Team will be hosting a silent auction on Saturday, July 16. For more information, visit rivierayouthbiketeam.org.