Five teens are gathered in a suburban driveway, hanging out and killing time—as one does when young and bored in mid-June. They’re actually the second crew of teens I encountered on the street. The first group was playing basketball and didn’t even pause to answer when I asked if they were the cyclists I was looking for. As I rode farther down the street, I knew I had found the right boys when they all turned around at the sound of my freehub. The cyclists, Connor Ciotlos (18), Ashlin Barry (12), Thomas Purdy (19), Cole Borthwick (18) and Jack Ciotlos (19), are impressively lively and positive for people who, just the day before, rode 100km of singletrack in Toronto’s Don Valley.
“Actually, Jack and Ashlyn also did a 140 km gravel ride the day before that,” Connor tells me. Jack is the current OFSAA mountain bike champion and the junior expert provincial men’s mountain bike champion, while Ashlin is the son of Olympic cyclists Michael Barry and Dede Barry. The group are not beginners.
When Connor saw the article on Mitch Kaiser riding 100 km in the don he figured he could probably take on the challenge. “I followed Mitch on strava,” says Connor, “and I looked at the segments and thought, ‘that seems kind of doable’” He spent the night measuring out the length of trails and piecing together a map (instead of studying for his physics final).
On June 11 Connor gathered his four friends and the gang set out to take on 100km in the don. “There was a huge storm the night before,” says Thomas, “but we got up to do it anyway. It was horrible. We had a crash in the first kilometre and multiple falls.” They ended up calling off the ride just 14km in.
Back on the trail
June 15, the sun was shining, the trails were dry and the crew got back out in the Don for attempt number two. “We actually started pretty late,” says Thomas, “we only got out at 9 a.m.” I’m impressed that a 19 year old would refer to 9 a.m. as pretty late, but it speaks to the level of commitment these riders have to cycling.
The only two mechanicals of the day happened in the first hour, when Cole had a few issues with his brakes, (“I checked everything apart from my brakes…” he says sheepishly.)
They followed Connor’s route for the first few hours, but soon found they didn’t have enough water. The Ciotlos brothers’ house, located a few minutes away from the Don served as a basecamp for refueling, where they returned a number of times for water and snacks.
“We hung out and ate a lot,” says Ashlyn.“We had lots of candy and stuff like that, a lot of Skittles, Clif bars, pastries.” For lunch they ordered a pizza to the Ciotlos’ house, perfectly timing a loop so they would arrive at the house at the same moment as the delivery.
The trails are familiar to the boys—they spend most of their summer days in the Don. “We’re in there a lot,” says Jack. “Especially now that there’s nothing else to do,” adds Connor. As the ride went on (to Connor’s slight annoyance) they ended up disregarding the planned route and doing more loops of their favourite trails. “It’s probably for the best though,” says Connor, as a few of the trails they missed had a lot of climbing.
That’s not to say they didn’t climb—by 6:45 when all was said and done, the boys covered 1,500 m of elevation, almost seven and a half hours of moving time on the bike and 100 km in the Don.
After the ride, “we didn’t really want to move,” says Jack. “We just sat here in the driveway just contemplating life.”
“I crashed within 45 minutes of getting home,” says Cole.
Advice from the Don
The boy’s tips from their ride are similar to those of Mitch Kaiser. Prepare for it to take a while, and bring more water than you think you would need.
“Someone else should go ahead and do the challenge,” says Cole. “It would be a good way to get more people riding.”
“I think we’re the only other people who have done it so far,” says Thomas.
“On strava at least,” clarifies Connor, “who knows what’s been done.”
A new generation of cyclists
The cycling boom of 2020 will see new people of all ages on bikes, but even before the pandemic the boys say they’ve seen a growing number of younger riders on the trails.
“I would say there are definitely more cyclists around our age” says Jack, “most of us ride for Mariposa and the team has really come together. There are so many younger riders who we’re now starting to train with.”
“Even on the dirt jumps there are tons of kids,” says Thomas, “you can see that’s the next generation of cyclists.”
Connor agrees, and mentions how a 13 year old kept pace with them for 5km during their ride (Ashlyn, an incredibly talented 12-year-old, nods along politely as he tells the story). “When we came to the bottom of the pottery road extension we were so surprised he was still there,” says Connor. “I got my PR on that descent and he kept up with us.”
As I get back on my bike to head out, the cyclists mention a local segment, “you should try it,” “the KOM is like 50km/h,” “honestly it’s kind of dangerous I would say,” they chatter on top of each other. Their enthusiasm is infectious and I bike away smiling.