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Ask Oli: Adrian Alphonso clearing paths for cycling in Winnipeg

The Clear Paths Cycling program encourages families and individuals to get on a bike as its founder seeks to bring inclusivity outdoors

I used to rip the trails along Winnipeg’s Assiniboine riverbank parallel to Churchill drive every week. At thirteen, I remember seeing wooden ladders and gap jumps that only someone crazy would ride. I’d opt for the smooth ‘B’-line, and bypass the features on my cross bike. I assumed these trails had always been there and never thought twice about who built them.

Photo: Greg McNeil

Adrian Alphonso, who until now, was a name I saw on Manitoba cycling-related Facebook pages to which I could not put a face. As it happens, when Adrian was thirteen, he and his friends were building the very trails I grew up riding.

Born in Winnipeg to Guyanese and Anishinabe (ojibwe) parents, he found an outlet when he started riding his bike around the neighbourhood. He and his friends would eventually spend their evenings after school cutting trails along the riverbank, building features, and destroying bikes as they tested their creations. Soon, they needed to learn how to fix them. By the age of twelve, they had started a bit of a community bike shop in one of their garages, servicing and fixing bikes by pulling parts off otherwise useless ones to create one working machine.

For a while, he raced at a high level with the Manitoba provincial team, excelling in trials riding and utilizing his trial skills in mountain bike races. He would eventually race alongside some of the greatest names of the era at the Canada Cup mountain bike series.

As a lifelong Winnipegger, Adrian has come full circle. From first finding a community through the bike as a kid, he is, again, contributing to the cycling community in Manitoba.

The bicycle is the epicentre. A tool for him to get in touch with nature, with himself, and with others. An aid in leaving his introverted shell. A part of him. Cycling is in his spirit.

Photo: Greg McNeil

It’s obvious that cycling is a very caucasian dominated sport. Adrian’s focus is on helping people from diverse abilities and backgrounds become a part of a slowly diversifying community. His goal isn’t to train racers or top athletes, rather to encourage community.

Through Momenta, Adrian’s Clear Paths Cycling programming is possible. Momenta is a Winnipeg based company that: “uses current, best practice research in the field of youth development, social work, adventure therapy, experiential education and a feminist perspective to ensure that clients are safe, engaged, find meaning and feel challenged”.

The focus of Clear Paths Cycling is first and foremost to invite families and individuals to get on bikes. From the ages of 2 to 72 and every age in between, Adrian is teaching families how to use the bike as a tool. From there, he teaches skills. And the final step is to encourage families to apply the skills he helps them discover on their new tool (or bicycle) to get out and in touch with nature.

Many cycling programs focus on coaching. The goal being to shape kids into athletes and then perform. But Adrian understands that for some, simply purchasing a bike and heading to a club and then a race startline is much more involved. His goal is to get families to the startline.

Many of us are privileged. We don’t realize that for others, there’s an entire race course, if you will, simply to make it to the startline. Adrian is helping communities find nature, feel welcomed in cycling and providing the option to find a race startline as well.

Adrian had to build trails before he could ride them. He built bikes before he could afford to replace broken ones. He created his path. Now, he is clearing the path for those, unlike myself, who didn’t have a clear path to the startline.

This is important. This is beautiful. This is what Clear Paths is about.