The Cycle Effect: Bridging the Adventure Gap

Eagle, Colorado, USA

It is often said that the lessons you learn on a bike are the same lessons you can put to use in life. The Cycle Effect mission, to empower young women through mountain biking to create brighter futures and build stronger communities, exemplifies this.

When Tam and Brett Donelson began The Cycle Effect in 2010, they had no idea of the hurdles they would encounter, the success they would find and the lives they would change.

The Cycle Effect, based in high mountains of Colorado, was the brainchild of Tam and Brett, who realized there was an “adventure gap” between the Hispanic and white populations in Eagle County; they wanted to do something about it.

They saw a community that was 50% Hispanic and yet it was uncommon to see anyone who wasn’t white on a mountain bike. The cycling community wasn’t providing opportunities to the Hispanic community to learn about cycling or to fall in love with riding. They wanted to change that from the ground up.

They wanted to empower young women from Hispanic and low-income families through cycling, with the goal of providing a path toward high school graduation and then on to college or a career. Through their participation in The Cycle Effect Bike team, these young women would learn resiliency, determination and self-confidence.

The Cycle Effect would provide bikes, coaching, mentorship, and racing opportunities to these girls because they believe “everyone should have the opportunity to ride a bike, for the fun, for the adventures and the freedom.” -Tam Donelson

Initially, Tam and Brett struggled to bridge the cultural divide. Many Hispanic families haven’t traditionally encouraged their daughters to engage in sport, and often they are needed at home after school to help the family with chores and caring for their siblings. Sundays are often reserved for church and family. They often encountered a language barrier with the riders' parents, who spoke only Spanish.

Despite these hurdles, the Donelson’s persisted. The Cycle Effect became a thriving nonprofit organization that now provides year-round programming for 175 participants, and their numbers continue to expand.

"I would use the bike as my way to think about life in general. The mountain and the uphills were my issues and I was confronting them." - Ana Maria, The Cycle Effect Participant.

With the help of Liv Cycling, they can provide each rider with a mountain bike in exchange for a commitment. Each member of The Cycle Effect must ride for 3 years and graduate from high school. If these requirements are met, the bike and all accessories are theirs to keep.

And it is not just a bike these young women receive, the program includes coaching, mentorship, a sense of community and team, race experience, and the skill development to work through any kind of problem, on or off the bike.

Photo courtesy Bobby Cornwell/Vail Recreation District.

Iara, a 4-year participant has grown as a person and an athlete as a result of her involvement in The Cycle Effect Team. “After a few weeks of practice, I felt like a new person and felt like I could do anything. {The Cycle Effect} helped me overcome challenges I would usually give up on. It made me feel proud because with any challenge came the rewarding feeling of accomplishment.”

In 2019, The Cycle Effect had 165 riders from Eagle and Summit counties, ranging from 5th - 12th grade, and the program, which started with 90% Latina participants, now welcomes all girls, no matter their household income or demographic. 100% of program graduates have successfully completed high school and gone on to college, 75% are the first generation in their family to attend college. The families of riders have been introduced to mountain biking as well; the mothers of Cycle Effect riders meet biweekly to ride together.

Making the success of The Cycle Effect possible is an amazing team of employees, six full time staff members and 15 coaches, many of whom are bilingual, and all of whom are committed to inspiring and growing this community of young female cyclists.

In February 2020, The Cycle Effect announced their expansion into Grand Junction and the surrounding Mesa County area.

Check out The Cycle Effect  for more about their programs, sponsor a ride, and get involved.

Follow The Cycle Effect on Instagram @thecycleeffect