Those watching at the finish line in Denver at this year’s USA Pro Challenge bike race noticed a welcome addition. Kids between the ages of 18 months and five years old were encouraged to step into a special section—a mini cycling course with ramps and cones—to try out a Strider bike. The no-pedal balance bikes are a safe, easy way to introduce toddlers to cycling. “We even had a kids’ start gate and did Strider fun races for different age groups,” says Jen Charrette, one-half of the husband-and-wife team behind the Axel Project, a nonprofit dedicated to the fundamental principle that a productive, happy life begins with a bike.
The couple partnered with the USA Pro Challenge as part of their outreach to introduce and nurture a lifelong passion for cycling to children and their families. The Axel Project also sells Striders for $109 and uses the profits to buy bikes for kids in need. This summer, they sent 10 striders to a school in Ohio to help launch a wellness initiative to fight obesity.
Ridgway resident Charrette, 40, and her husband Randy, 42, started the Axel Project in May. The nonprofit is in honor of their son Axel, who was killed in Sayulita, Mexico in February 2013, and an expression of their belief that biking not only builds confidence in young children but also improves health, is an outlet to express pure joy, is a foundation to a lifelong appreciation of nature, and helps strengthen family bonds as an activity the entire family can do together.
“Our family has always been into cycling,” says Charrette. “Axel got a balance bike at 14 months, and we’ve been taking his older brother Kalden, now 8 years old, on biking trips to Fruita since he was 8 weeks. We wanted to share that passion with other kids and families.”