Mike Riley: Making an Impact

For the last decade Mike Riley has been making an impact on Colorado’s Motocross scene with So Col Racing, a race team and video production company. Most recently the once to be journeyman machinist has set his sights on a new venture, Southern Colorado Youth Development. I sat down with Mike Riley to learn more.

Interview by Ben Janin

Hey Mike, thanks for taking the time to sit down with me today. So tell us about So Col Racing and how it all got started.

It started back in 2005 when a few of us from Pueblo and Canon City were all racing and riding together. For us it was about the camaraderie, just a group friends getting together and going racing. It grew over time as more and more people from the Canon City and Pueblo area joined our team.

In the last 10 years we have done a number different things. We began selling t-shirts to pay for gas and to help out our racers as much as we could. In 2009 we put on a one-time race in Canon City titled The Southern Colorado Supercross. We had a great rider turn out and over 2,500 people in the stands. Everyone had a pretty good time and it was a great learning experience. We did this as first time promoters and with less than 3 months time to prepare.  

From then on we worked on building the race team and getting it as strong as we could get it. We are different than most race teams; we don’t build our team off of results. We build on attitude. As a result, we have about 50 riders on the team. Our riders are as young as 5 and as old as 65.

We are proud of our history and level at which some of our riders are able to compete. We have top Colorado pro riders in Hunter and Rustin Meyer, who have been a part of our team for going on 6 years. We also collaborate with AMA Pro Supercross riders Jason Kueber and brothers Travis and Todd Bannister. 

In addition, we like to think we played a small role in helping Pro FMX rider Anthony Murray. We first met Anthony when he when he was riding 65’s at 9-10 years old. When he got a little older we helped him get his first big show through the Kicker Arenacross Series. When the series came to Denver, Colorado we cold called the promoter and told him about this young guy. As luck would have it, there was a spot available. Anthony did great that night jumping along the likes of X-Game Gold Medalist Chuck Carothers. These days Anthony is in music videos and tours the world jumping his bike for a living. He recently got his first invite to the X-Games and to ride with Travis Pastrana and The Nitro Circus. We are really proud of Anthony and how far he has come from a kid riding in the Hogbacks to competing with the best in Freestyle Motocross.

Then in 2011 we were one of the first in Colorado to put motocross videos together using primarily Go Pro action cameras. We have used these videos as a focus point to promote Colorado Motocross and its racers. We have produced over 60 videos and we plan to do many more in 2017.

So how did So Col Youth Development come about?

The first motocross kid we sponsored was a teenager named Ethan Bush. I first met Ethan in a random fashion. One day I was out practicing at a sand track in Pueblo County when this kid I didn’t know asked me if he could ride my bike. He was rather convincing and I let him ride it and surprisingly he rode the bike pretty well.  

Later on I ended up talking with his parents. As it turned out he was really struggling in school. So his parents and I struck a deal, I would lend him my bike to race if he got his act back together. It’s still mind blowing on how quick he turned his life around. In two months he was getting A’s and B’s, going to class and he then graduated on time.

Ethan went off to college but unfortunately tragedy struck and he passed away unexpectedly. This really affected our team emotionally. Ethan was an awesome guy and he is in our minds and hearts every day.

By 2012 our team was at a level in which I was really comfortable and I was beginning to find motivation to do something else in life. My career as a machinist was missing the human element that I longed for. I was at college working on a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and wanted to find a way to merge my passion for dirt bikes and working with people. Because of our experience with Ethan I became very motivated to do something for at risk and disadvantaged youth. 

After I graduated, I met with some like-minded people who gave me the financial backing to start this idea I had for a 501C3 nonprofit. Shortly after getting our 501c3 status, the Pueblo Chieftan gave us call to do an article on our program that focused on at risk youth mentoring and using dirt bikes.

Once the article was published some people reached out to me and told me about Senate Bill 94 and how it works. The objective of the bill is for judicial districts to come up with positive, non-punitive programs for at risk youth and efforts to keep them off probation.

It was from this conversation that we decided to bring the National Youth Program Using Mini Bikes (NYPUM) to Pueblo. The program originated in 1969 and started in Boston, MA. It was the brainchild of one of the head persons at Honda Motors of America. It was so successful with the local YMCA’s during the 1970’s that the NYPUM program became well established and grew exponentially. Essentially, it’s a program where nonprofits that work with at risk and disadvantaged youth can receive Honda dirt bikes as a tool to excite the youth about the mentoring the agency offers. This program is so well established that it made me have a whole new appreciation for Honda Motors of America.

With the help of Senate Bill 94, Pueblo agencies and financial backing from private individuals, we were able to get the needed funding to bring the NYPUM program to Pueblo County and the surrounding areas. Recently we picked up fourteen brand new Honda dirt bikes and secured our headquarters that is located conveniently in downtown Pueblo.

Our headquarters is a drop-in center for us to work with the youth. It’s a safe place for the kids to come have some fun and receive mentorship. We have foosball and air hockey tables, a couple televisions and perhaps most importantly a place where kids can hang out and not have to worry about the violent and negative activities that are so rampant in our community. The bikes will be stored at our headquarters and we have an awesome co-tenant in Jeff Greenwood at FAF Printing who looks to help teach the youth graphic design and printing in the future.

Wow!!! This sounds fantastic. How does the program work?

As far as logistics and working with NYPUM, the program is so well established that in many ways its turnkey ready. We pay a set amount for our annual dues to NYPUM for the use of the bikes and their support for our program. NYPUM offers a minimal fee for the insurance needed to do the training with the youth when working with the dirt bikes. NYPUM’s amazing safety record is a very great with a low occurrence of injuries while operating the dirt bikes, which is also a testament to the training and support of NYPUM.

As mentors we needed to be taught on how to properly instruct our new riders. In order to become certified, NYPUM brought 3 trainers out to Pueblo Motorsports Park to work with my staff and me for one solid week. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has certified trainer that instructs the class. The training is really impressive. A couple of these lessons would have saved me skin when I was first learning how to ride. It really opened my eyes, as I was pretty much self-taught when I first started riding motorcycles.

Regarding eligibility to become a rider with So Col Youth Development, this can happen in a number of ways. Perhaps the easiest route is to contact us directly. In other instances we get referrals directly from Senate Bill 94 and other agencies that offer social services to youth.

 

Most importantly we have to have something that the kids need to work on. We will have a contract and typically we set three goals for the child. If they don’t accomplish their goals, they don’t get turned away from participating in the program. They will still get to prepare the bikes for riding and help in setting up the riding area. They just won’t be able to ride that day. Nine out of ten times these kids will make the needed changes and return to riding within the next week.

That’s great. What else can you say about this program?

Ben, there is so much to say.

You know the New York Times did an article on the city of Pueblo. They stated that this city’s violent activities are similar per capita to Detroit, Chicago and other violent cities in our country. That means that there are as many murders, violence, gangs and drugs per capita in my city that I love then some our nation’s most notorious cities. 

What we are doing with So Col Youth Development is so vitally important for today’s youth. We are filling in the gaps in so many ways. Not every kid wants to play stick and ball sports. There is another way to build confidence. They want ride and work on dirt bikes!

Not only are families failing the kids, but so is the education system. We can help fill in those gaps too. Today, it’s all about testing scores between the schools to see who is number one or number two by taking silly tests. It’s not about teaching them how to make a living with vocational trades and preparing them for the real world. When I was in High School we had auto, welding, machining and carpentry classes. Many of my friends who took those classes are in some top positions at companies across the country. We need to bring back those types of courses for the kids who aren’t interested in taking the college route in their lives.

We will teach the kids how to do general maintenance on the bikes. This can make them employable to do entry-level tasks at the local motorcycle dealerships in town. Things like changing the oil, filters and tires. We will show them how to fix things on the bikes and give them experience with troubleshooting tasks.

I have a number of plans over the next 5-7 years and I do have to take it one step at a time. However, I do plan on getting a CNC lathe and milling machine to use in the shop. We could create or own little fabrication shop right here. What better hands-on experience can you get? And what a great lead-in to Pueblo Community College’s machining and welding programs that are so successful. I am a graduate of PCC’s machining program where I received my Associates of Science with an emphasis on Machining Technology.

I am working on my master’s degree in social work right now and I am in process of becoming a therapist. I am shadowing therapists and am amazed how different styles work better with the kids and some do not. I have learned you get a whole lot more out of a casual environment. You have to sit down with the kids and for a lack of better words shoot the breeze with them. I feel you get more trust and openness when you get to know someone versus the structured questions.

I have other long-term plans. I want to start working with the city. We want to open more riding opportunities for off road enthusiasts in our area. We keep seeing places getting shut down and this is a huge problem. Now that the economy is coming back, you can see our sport is coming back. I am seeing more and more dirt bikes in the back of pickup trucks and it gives me hope and this drives me to keep fighting for this. We are working so hard to keep places like Pueblo Motorsports Park open so that we can share our passion for two wheels with future generations.

Often communities think of dirt bikers as selfish individuals. With programs like NYPUM we have a platform that shows this is not the case. It’s a great way for us to demonstrate that Dirt Bikers are community leaders too. For us, it’s what happens at the track every Sunday; you can see competitors helping each other just so they can race together. There is a brotherhood in motorcycle riding that is unlike many others. So Col Youth Development and NYPUM puts us in the public eye, which is so necessary for our sports to survive.

Mike I couldn’t agree with you anymore. Thanks for your time.

Contact for more information for So Col Youth Development:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

www.southerncoloradoyouthdevelopment.com

www.socolracing.com