Brews, Bikes, and Teenagers

For 15 years I’ve been one of the guest ‘legends’ at the annual midwinter fundraiser for Trips For Kids.

Every February, Noah Rich, owner of Broken Drum Brewery donates the beer tab to Marilyn’s prize-winning charity. Often, in fine weather, there’d be a ride before the 2 p.m. event, which I led a time or two, up around China Camp. Then we’d go and “prolong the buzz” with a pint of Noah’s finest, and a burger and fries.
The event was noisy–a raffle was always held to boost donations–and usually mobbed with supporters and the usual “legend” suspects: Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze, and now and then a special surprise like Dave Garoutte or Ross Shafer or even Wende Cragg. This year I hear Denise Caramagno will be there.
I won’t be.

When Marilyn’s group letter went out a couple of months ago, she announced that Trips for Kids would pair up with another worthy beneficiary, the teens in the high school mountain bike racing program. I asked her to please remove my name from the list of legendary riders, because I disagreed with the premise of teens fundraising in a brewing establishment.

To agree to come would be (to me) a tacit agreement that beer and mountain bikes are inextricably entwined, and that it’s not POSSIBLE to have a venue where there was no alcohol. This little protest of mine could have stopped at that, but when Charlie Kelly asked if I was coming, I told him why I wasn’t and offered to send him the letter I wrote to Marilyn and her staff, which follows:

Greetings Jon, Marilyn, staff….

I got your invitation to Bruise, Bikes & Bucks at Broken Eardrum Broory Feb 2014. I shan’t be there (this will be my first time not to come, I think)..I will truly miss the chance to meet this year’s crop of eager teen bike racers… but I can’t be there .because i have a problem with the high school kids + beer equation.

Last spring, Drake H.S. held a party at Gestalthaus, a sort of Private Awards Ceremony, and only because  I’d been there in the afternoon was I witness to the bar becoming flooded with young riders. I spoke to a few of them, and came to the conclusion that there are better places to hold a bike event for high schoolers.

 The bike industry is marked by thousands of positive beer+bike  associations via brewery supported magazines. I’m troubled by the fact that the more attendees drink up, the more cash goes Trips For Kids. 

This year for the first time you’re formally teaming up with a high school program, juxtaposing these two volatile entities, kids and beer. All in the context of  the health, freedom, and fun of riding mountain bicycles…

 My experience with parental alcoholism, and my awareness of the high susceptibility Marin teenagers have to booze in general,  has spurred me to take a stand.  Make no mistake–I adore beer, and love getting together w/friends. 

But “normalizing” the association between bikes and beer and kids (very young adults) has just gotten too intense. 

Here’s a link that helps with the facts :

The way Charlie and I see it, our bike culture uses riding to justify the drinking.

And here, the charity normalizes the heavy drinking and gives kids an acceptable setting to get into the bar milieu. 

 We believe that riders who ride and drink habitually are at high risk of becoming alcoholics when injury or old age prevents the exercise that allows them to metabolize the alcohol. Respectfully, Jacquie Phelan and Charlie Cunningham



At Gestalt Haus  I circulated among the teens and asked a few of them why they were convening there rather than at the high school. “Probably because that’s where the coaches wanted it to be” said one. I know that the local brew pub, Iron Springs Brewery is a sponsor of the Drake High team.

 I did some desultory research on  the connection between Marin teens and alcohol–it’s easy:  just open the Independent Journal. Every year teens die in beer-fueled car crashes. We are practically number one in the USA when it comes to kids in rehab, kids in recovery, kids that are drinking with their friends, their parents…by themselves.

I am putting these thoughts out there because it seems like no one is questioning this beer-bike link. Matt Fritzinger, who founded the Norcal Highschool league and oversaw the growth of mountain biking at high school level around the state and the country, understood my position perfectly. He put me in touch with one of the board members of the Norcal league, where I left a message in November (maybe got the conversation started, but haven’t heard back myself).

The event is in two days. I’ll no doubt hear that everyone had a great time. If you have feedback for me, I’d enjoy hearing or reading it


~ by jacquiephelan on February 7, 2014.

11 Responses to “Brews, Bikes, and Teenagers”

  1. I quite agree. I like a bike and a beer as much as the next person but marketing direct to kids like that is not on.

  2. Thank you for the “adult” viewpoint on this subject. My son, a Drake senior (not on the MTB team) has several friends who are. I’m impressed with their poise when they come by. These are great kids and shouldn’t have their childhood undermined. They get to be adults for the rest of their lives, you know.

    I liked the quote of; “Probably because that’s where the coaches wanted it to be” and it’s so telling of how much the students look to their coaches for guidance.

    And please blog more! I love reading your stuff.


  3. Jacquie,

    Thanks so much for caring enough to share your concerns about how we connect biking and alcohol. You delivered your message with uncommon grace and thoughtfulness, and I cannot imagine anyone finding a reason to dismiss it out of hand. That is an achievement, considering it is a difficult subject.

    Personally, I could not agree more with your point of view on the subject. I too love beer and bikes, but teaching a beer and bike association to our kids, especially at a time in their lives when the be-careful-and-plan-ahead part of their brains is temporarily shut off, is perilous. They will live with the consequences, and we will share responsibility.

    So, keep it up and thanks again. I’ll be sharing your post with some friends in the hope that it will start some good conversations and creative thinking on the subject.


  4. Jacquie,

    Thank you for articulating so clearly your views on this. I have to be honest and say that you’ve been successful at causing me to shift my position on the topic. I don’t think that I can, with clear conscience, ignore the context of Marin life…that the binge drinking rate for teens (and I believe for adults, as well) is unacceptably (roughly 3x) higher than the national average. As the founder of Drake Mountain Biking and its director for ten years, I rationalized the brewery fundraiser this way: “Breweries are no different than any other restaurant. They serve food and beverages. Shall we exclude all restaurants from all fundraising activity geared toward youth activities because they serve alcohol?” The idea seems to sully the very nature of any law-abiding public establishment (Look away, kids! We’re walking past a rest-au-rant!!!). Restaurant owners are contributing members of any community, and when it comes to contributions, look no further than Iron Springs for their exemplary commitment to the Ross Valley. On that level, we have a better community because of them.

    But, if we take a different perspective, and think of Marin’s culture around alcohol consumption, then perhaps we all might benefit from looking at that culture as an illness. And as we all know, when there is an illness, preventative and curative measures all called for. Maybe we shouldn’t assume the positioning of beer in front of our kids is having no impact on their attitudes. Some research shows, and perhaps common sense tells us, that permissive attitudes toward alcohol among adults is a likely indicator of heavier drinking among teens. It makes me wonder whether the placement of the brewery aspect of the restaurant is just that kind tacit approval that a teen would pick up on.

    Finally, about me…I, too, love beer and gathering. I will continue to frequent Gestalt Haus and Iron Springs and I LOVE what they provide our community. I am lucky enough to say that I made it through growing up in Marin (believe me, I know how lame that sounds!) and all the excessive drinking without developing alcoholism. As a parent of young kids, I am mentally crafting my discussions about alcohol for them so that they can have as good a chance as I can give them at avoiding the addictions we see in our community. As a teacher of social issues at Drake High School, I am invested in the health of teens in the Ross Valley. I also know that during my tenure as director of the Drake team, those fundraisers were an enormous help to the team, and that made it easier for me to ignore the link between alcohol and teens. I accept any criticism in saying so.

    Dan Freeman
    San Anselmo

  5. Beautifully stated. Thank you for shining a light where most would prefer the cover of darkness.

  6. Perfectly said! It’s a shame you had to bow out of this event, but I hope it has an impact.

    The sad fact is that the bikes+beer equation makes some people feel unwelcome. I personally know recovering alcoholics who’ve cut down on mountain biking, or at least the social gatherings around it, because of the prevalence of beer. We should be more mindful in all kinds of bike social gatherings.

  7. Biking has always been my drug of choice from an early age though admitted exploration into other things, mostly when biking was not possible. MTB events in recent years w/FREE BEER has brought alcoholism to the mainstream. I still have a little trouble with mountain biking becoming so mainstream and made for tv events, etc. but that’s another subject. It’s so refreshing to see you bring this up. Biking can be enjoyed alone or with friends, alcohol and drugs are personal issues to be dealt with as needed. Any bike provides the opportunity for exploration, friendship and improving riding and maintenance skills, a healthy life-long tool of wonder. Beers with friends is one thing, but camping at all night alcoholic parties with unknown irresponsible people of any age is a turn off. Thank you.

  8. I love you for taking a stand, especially an unpopular one against a majority activity which has largely passed thus far without consideration.

  9. Hi Jacquie,
    As someone who is close to the situation, I applaud you for taking a stand. Too often in our society, alcohol is not just socially acceptable, it is socially *expected.* This starts at a very early age, and teenagers are particularly vulnerable to pressures about drinking. Thank you for taking a stand.

  10. I’m in a relationship with the most wonderful man, who just happens to own a bike shop/riding enthusiast and…an alcoholic. He’s currently seeking recovery but I can tell you firsthand. It’s tough because the industry and culture has become so focused on pairing the two – alcohol + bikes. It’s quite sad. He receives “tips” daily in the form of liquor and beer from customers and every single employee of his has had a history of alcohol abuse. Clearly the problem starts early on. We need to be careful about what imagery we provide our youth regarding the biking world.

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