Overland Park family transforms their backyard into a practice course for youth cyclocross racers

Young cyclists navigate the Jonas family's backyard cyclocross course in Overland Park.
Young cyclists navigate the Jonas family’s backyard cyclocross course in Overland Park.

The mercury on the thermometer in the shade of Donald and Christina Jonas’s backyard was just barely flirting with 20 degrees Saturday morning as the youngsters mounted their bikes. You’d figure most 8 or 10 year olds would have preferred the warmth of the living room, where Donald poked at a fire, to the frigid outdoors. But this was the kids’ last chance to ride on the Jonases’ northern Overland Park cyclocross course this season. A little snow wasn’t going to stop them.

For the past six years, Donald has transformed his roomy backyard into a 500-meter practice course for cyclocross racing. Each Thursday during the cyclocross season, he opens up the yard and his home to families with kids who want to get started in the sport. The Donderdag! Youth Cyclocross Clinic, as he calls it, is open to young riders of all experience levels and ages.

The genesis of the clinic came back when the Jonases’ son Isaac, a 2014 Shawnee Mission North graduate who now works as a mechanic at Casey’s Auto Repair in Mission, was still in middle school. After his aunt sat next to a Kansas City cyclocross evangelist on a flight home from Europe, she suggested Isaac might want to look into the sport, which sends riders around a kind of obstacle course where they are forced to dismount and carry their bikes over barriers or up steep hills. Soon enough, he was hooked, and Christina was shuttling Isaac to races on weekends. Eventually, Donald took an interest in the sport and started racing himself.

“As soon as I rode my first cyclocross race, I really connected with it,” Donald said. “I started putting stuff up in the backyard just out of my own basic interest — just little barriers and tape. And they were making fun of me. They called it a crime scene.”

But the clinic quickly took off. On a typical Thursday clinic during the season, which runs for 15 weeks during the fall and winter, two or three dozen young riders may show up at the Jonases’ house to ride the backyard course, which features a log bridge, concrete barriers and sharp turns. The clinic is open to all riders, regardless of whether they’re affiliated with a team or not.

“This yard, what we do here is we coach kids and we coach their parents to go to the local cyclocross races,” he said.

Scott King, a father to boys ages 10 and 8 who zipped around the course Saturday, said the sport provides a unique opportunity for families to compete together. King races as well, and loves being able to have his kids participating in the same sport as he does.

“It’s a thing you can go out and spend all day on a Saturday — the kids race, the dads race, the moms race,” he said. “It’s a cool event. I’ve never done a sport like that before where me and the kids are on the same course doing the same thing. No matter how big the hills are, no matter how crazy, they’re going to do the same thing the adults do — and generally love it. The ride home we’ve always got great stories.”

You can find out more about the Jonases’ Donderdag! clinic at their Facebook page here.

Donald Jonas, standing, has transformed his backyard into a cyclocross course for six years.
Donald Jonas, standing, has transformed his backyard into a cyclocross course for six years.