Pump and stomp

Entertainment People

July 1, 2023

Young mountain bikers find community on the trail.

by Vanessa Infanzon

Matilda Gentry learned how to mountain bike when she was only 6 years old and started racing with a team just two years later. Her dad, Shawn Gentry, introduced her to the sport. Gentry is an avid rider and owner of CLTMTB, a Charlotte business offering mountain-bike instruction, coaching, day camps and skills clinics. “It’s a great place to meet new people,” 15-year-old Matilda says. “I love going really fast.”

Matilda was the reason Gentry launched CLTMTB. When his daughter was 9, Gentry looked for a summer camp for mountain biking and couldn’t find one specifically focused on riding. Matilda suggested they start one. At first, Gentry laughed it off, but the seed was planted. He began researching what certifications he’d need to run a camp. 

In 2018, Gentry ran five weeks of summer camp and lost $700. For many weeks, only three or four kids showed up. Though Matilda was discouraged, Gentry didn’t give up hope. He decided to lean on his background in branding and creative marketing to attract more campers. “I said, ‘Let’s stick with it. We’re going to take pictures every day; we’re going to post on Instagram every day. We’re going to build this thing, and you watch.’ And so, that’s what we did.”

By the next summer, the camp doubled in size, and Gentry broke even. He had 14 to 15 kids a week for six weeks. Gentry added CLTMTB Club, an after-school program for elementary and middle-school students ages 8 and up. They meet three days a week for skills training and rides on various trails. “It’s a community of like-minded young mountain bikers who get together and ride in a safe and controlled atmosphere,” Gentry says. 

On that fateful day in mid-March 2020, when the country shut down due to Covid, Gentry worried CLTMTB would close. It had become his main source of income, supplemented by his graphic design and marketing business. Within 24 hours, people were told to stay home unless they were outside exercising and staying six to eight feet away from others. 

Matilda Gentry, left. Shawn Gentry, right, with a young mountain-biking enthusiast.

“A lightbulb went off,” he says. “That’s what we do anyway. We’re outdoors; they should always be a bike-length away from each other.”

Shawn took this as an opportunity to offer his services to kids who couldn’t go to school but still needed something to do. He limited enrollment and developed a strict Covid protocol — and had zero instances of the illness. 

Now, CLTMTB offers seven weeks of summer camp for up to 32 children each week. Though each week is structured, Shawn often tweaks it based on the skill level of the participants. Each Monday begins with a safety check on bikes and gear and a discussion about common dangers such as animals, bugs and poison ivy. 

“I break them into skill groups, not necessarily age groups,” he says. “My mantra is, you are here to progress your skills so you become a better mountain biker.”

Gentry’s daughter Matilda serves as an assistant instructor during summer camp and throughout the year for the Juniors Club, an after-school program for sixth-12th graders that meets at Charlotte parks three times a week. Matilda’s in charge of the fastest kids, a rowdy pack of advanced 12- to 14-year-old boys, Gentry says. 

Campers participate in 40-minute segments for skills instruction on and off the bike and two trail rides per day. Gentry has a mandatory one-hour break in the shade for eating, hydrating and resting. “The biggest challenge I have is getting them off the bike for an hour a day to relax,” he says.  SP

CLTMTB offers summer camps, after-school programs, clinics and private coaching for children and adults. Learn more at cltmtb.com.

Happy trails

North Carolina, known as the Great Trail State, declared 2023 as the Year of the Trail. It’s a chance to highlight biking, hiking, paddling and horseback riding paths across the state and get people moving. Shawn Gentry, founder of CLTMTB, is also a trail coordinator with Tarheel Trailblazers, a nonprofit dedicated to advocacy, education and mountain-bike trailbuilding and maintenance. Gentry suggests having the right equipment before venturing out: helmet, eye protection, gloves, padded cycling shorts, proper shoes and the right bicycle for you. A few lessons may make the experience more rewarding, he says.

Gentry recommends the following mountain-bike trails near Charlotte.

Playground Loop at Park Road Park

This loop is easy for kids and beginners to get used to riding on singletrack trails. It also includes obstacles and a few jumps for more advanced riders.
Length: 1-mile loop 
Best for: beginner and intermediate

Lake Loop at the Whitewater Center
A popular trail through the woods has a variety of challenges. Weekends can get crowded with hikers and bikers.
Length: 3 miles
Best for: beginner and intermediate

Colonel Francis Beatty Park
New riders will enjoy the 3.7-mile green loop, a sandy route with some gullies. Advanced riders can test their skills on Beatty’s Black, featuring a narrow obstacle, a natural rock garden and jumps. Practice building and maintaining momentum without pedaling over roots on the pump track.
Length: varies
Best for: beginner, intermediate and expert

Sherman Branch Nature Preserve
A smooth and flowing (with berms and rollers) trail. Parking can be tight on the weekends.
Length: 11.5 miles
Best for: beginner, intermediate and expert

Featured image: Shawn Gentry founded CLTMTB after he couldn’t find a camp dedicated to mountain biking for his daughter, Matilda. Photographs courtesy Shawn Gentry.

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