Kalona resident Caleb Wilson and his son, Mason, discover passion for bike racing

By Giovanni Coronel
Posted 7/26/23

What started as a way to reinvigorate a life that lacked an outlet for energizing the mind and body turned into something the whole family could become involved in.  

Caleb Wilson, a Kalona …

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Kalona resident Caleb Wilson and his son, Mason, discover passion for bike racing


What started as a way to reinvigorate a life that lacked an outlet for energizing the mind and body turned into something the whole family could become involved in. 

Caleb Wilson, a Kalona resident, and his 14-year-old son, Mason Wilson, have become engrossed in the cycling world and it has become not only a fun pastime for them but also a way of life. 

“It’s become an integral part of our life,” Caleb said about bike racing. “It’s become part of the community that we spend time with.”

Back in 2019 Caleb started to feel he was living an inactive life, and this was not only affecting him physically but mentally as well. Needing a pastime to shake off these unwanted attributes that have adhered to his daily life, he decided to put more effort towards cycling, an activity he has enjoyed in the past. 

“I grew up working on a farm, working outdoors. I transitioned to an office job in college and then after that I didn’t exercise regularly and I felt like garbage all the time,” Caleb said about what motivated him to make a change to his life. 

“In 2019 it was really bothering me. I wasn’t doing anything regular, just these occasional rides. I just decided that I didn’t want to do that anymore and I started riding a lot more in 2020, and a friend of mine convinced me to try a race in 2021.”

A naturally competitive person, Caleb did not want to take part in the race if he wasn’t going to perform well. This gave him a goal and the discipline he needed to take his training seriously. Despite suboptimal conditions for his first race, he discovered how thrilling bike racing can be. 

“I did my first race, and it was a winter race. It was a fat bike race and I caught crazy conditions for it. A bunch of snow on the ground but, it was awesome. I just loved it,” Caleb said. 

When he was just eight years old Mason became interested in cycling, in large part with his dad’s enthusiasm for it. The inciting event that put Mason down the path of bike racing was when Caleb planned on participating in the Courage Ride, which wasn’t a race, but an annual bike ride dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by Sarcoma Cancer. 

“I told him I was thinking about doing the Courage Ride and [Mason] just got interested in it and he started going out and riding with me on paved roads.”

In what was his first group ride event, Mason biked 19 miles in the Courage Ride. He discovered he had an itch for cycling that must be scratched, but it wasn’t until his first bike race where he truly became hooked on cycling.

His first race, a mountain biking event called Sugar Bottom Scramble, took place in Lake McBride. He entered the junior’s race, with the ages of those participating ranging from 8-16. Safe to say he thoroughly enjoyed his 45-minute race through the woods. 

“That’s what got me into it actually. It was that race,” Mason said about the Sugar Bottom Scramble. “The thrill of flying with your competitors through the woods. Everything was just super fun and the competition, I did pretty decent in it. It was my first race, and it was very fun and after that I just wanted to race more.” 

Now that Mason possessed a strong desire for competitive cycling he decided, in his final year of middle school, to give up playing soccer, football, and basketball. 

Planning on going from Mid-Prairie to Hillcrest for High School, he won’t completely abandon school athletics since he is planning on going out for cross-country, because of its complementary nature to cycling. 

“In some ways it’s hard for some other kids to understand why you would choose to do that,” Caleb said of Mason’s choice to focus on cycling. “But it’s something that he’s been really successful in.”

“Over the winter [Mason] did a weightlifting program, did a ton of research on what great training was for the races he wanted to do and put together a whole structure training program. Then this year he’s been doing a lot of competitive races.”

While these two are fully enraptured with cycling there is always a looming issue anyone would face if they wanted to compete at a high level, finding the time and motivation to train. Fortunately, for the Wilsons, Kalona’s gravel roads provide a wonderfully convenient way to strengthen their biking skills.  

“If it’s not convenient, you won’t do it. At least you won’t do it for long,” Caleb said about training in general. 

“During training the biggest challenge is probably staying motivated to train all the time because you have to do a lot of training to compete at a high level,” Mason said. “If you want to win, you have to push yourself to stay up there. You can’t kind of fizzle off.” 

Living north of Kalona, it takes about a half mile for the Wilsons to come upon a gravel road. With how easy it is to reach these roads combined with the lack of traffic it is no wonder the majority of their training takes place on gravel. 

In order to compete at a high level, the length of the training is about 10-14 hours a week. 

Not letting those training days go to waste competing in bike races has become the norm for both father and son. Last year Caleb took part in 14 races, ranging from 30 minutes to seven hours, and Mason took part in 16 races, ranging from 30 minutes to three hours. 

Cycling provides many benefits like losing weight, strengthening the immune system, and reducing the risk of heart disease but one facet of cycling Caleb holds in high regard is how a person is able to continue to bike well into their later years. 

“You can do it your whole life,” Caleb said about cycling. “You can do it with your kids when they get older, and you can do it at many levels. It’s not like football where you go to high school, you play it and then you’re done, and you just get to look back on it.” 

While Caleb’s main goal is to continue to stay healthy and have fun cycling as he grows older, he does have another goal in mind. Once they reach high school, he plans to ride with his kids for the full RAGBRAI week, an eight-day cycling event that extends across all of Iowa from west to east. 

For Mason with him still being so young he has goals that are quite ambitious but with his work ethic and passion for cycling his goals look to be well within reach for him.

“My best-case scenario probably is someday being an endurance pro for cycling and also maybe a little below that, being able to get a college scholarship for cycling, racing,” Mason said about his goals. “Then someday maybe having a bike shop or something like that.”

Looking to further extend a helping hand to show how much joy someone can get from cycling Caleb started a competitive kids mountain bike team this year. This biking team, called the Iowa City MTB Club, advocates the sport of mountain biking to the youth.  

“We had very low expectations for how much interest there was because this is sort of a niche sport,” Caleb said about starting a youth mountain biking team. 

“We thought there’d be about a dozen kids. We have 50 on the team. Just from the Kalona area, I think we have ten. I think most people would have no idea there’s ten kids from Kalona who Mountain Bike race all over the state.” 

Planning on continuing this venture next year Mason’s team is an open community team. Anyone, from the ages of 8-18, who wants to join can do so free of charge. 

Still along the lines of promoting others to give cycling a try Caleb is planning on attempting to implement a Kalona gravel race in the future The Iowa Gravel Series are cycling events hosted by small towns. These events attract about 100 plus racers and draw attention to the town as well. 

It would be a 100k race and Caleb wants Kalona to be involved.

“I’m hoping to do one of those down here maybe as early as next year,” Caleb said about a gravel race in Kalona. “It’s about 60 miles I like to run out of Kalona. It would go around the whole area to see the Amish countryside and all that and finish in town.” 

Cycling has had a profound impact on Caleb’s life, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Bike racing has become a passion he can share with Mason and his other kids who are also growing up interested in cycling for years to come. Biking has become a family affair that has granted him a greater quality of life, mentally and physically. 

He knows how beneficial this pastime can be and not just content with letting others know but encouraging them to go out and try for themselves. 

“Being outside regularly that’s what we were created to do. We’re meant to be outdoors; we’re meant to be in nature like that.” Caleb said. “So, getting out in the woods to mountain bike, getting on the gravel, seeing the pastures and everything. It’s been a really life-giving thing.”