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Program links kids with bikes and exercise
Cyclists learn about the importance of helmets, bicycle safety
Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, right, welcome a group of Atlanta area youngsters to the Chicopee Woods mountain bike trails Friday morning during the Trips for Kids program.

Children and bicycles just seem to go together, and that is the way a few area organizations would like to keep it.

For the second year in a row, Southern Off-Road Bicycling Association has teamed up with the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation as hosts of Trips for Kids. The program takes 20 inner-city children ages 11-14 on six weekly bicycling trips over the summer.

This week's trip took them to Tortoise Loop, a three-mile trail ideal for beginning cyclists at Chicopee Woods Bike Trail.

Many of the children have never gone mountain biking.

Over the course of the program, they will learn about the importance of helmets, bicycle safety, how to maneuver over rough terrain, how to react to other riders and how to properly hydrate and refuel their bodies.

Trips for Kids Director Collier Cato says they will see definite improvement in their abilities over the course of the next six weeks.

It is 13-year-old Shannon Lyons' first mountain biking experience. Volunteers helped him and the other children adjust the bicycles to their size and correctly put on their helmets. Lyons says he's excited, and he's prepared and is going to "just have fun riding."

"A lot of these kids have never actually been out in the woods," said Robi Johnston, one of the SORBA volunteers.

"They get to see another part of the world. So hopefully they get to see some of nature and enjoy it for what it is."

Tom Sauret, SORBA's executive director, has organized Trips for Kids at Chicopee Woods since 2000. He says they have a dual strategy for teaching kids involved in the program by letting them exercise on bicycles and fostering interaction with nature.

"We know that cycling is the No. 1 activity that kids enjoy in the outdoors," Sauret said.

"We'd love for this to become a habit, not just something they do six times a year, but really get them reconnected with the outdoors."

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has increased 30 percent in the last 30 years. Obesity puts children at risk for health problems, including heart disease and diabetes, a problem made worse by today's sedentary lifestyles.

Cycling is an effective exercise in prevention.

"Especially as we spend more and more time behind TV screens and computer screens, the notion of what a park is, and getting kids outside with the dirt and trees and leaves is really important," Sauret said.

So important that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle joined the group on the ride. As an avid cyclist himself, he said he is glad to be a part of the program.

"This is really a great program that makes a big difference in these kids' lives," Cagle said. "It's a program that really builds character and promotes athletic ability for them. It represents everything good about our community."