The highest number of young riders ever have taken up the gruelling challenge for the popular Ride for Youth, now in its 21st year. Over four days, 160 riders pedal more than 700km through three different areas on their way from Albany to Perth. Traversing the southern coast, Wheatbelt and Great Southern, many of the younger riders are travelling from Albany to Perth on two wheels for the first time. Raising more than $30 million since its inception in 2003, the ride has become an invaluable source of funding for Youth Focus, better known as headspace in Albany, to deliver life-changing mental health services to thousands of young West Australians each year. Youth Focus provides vital services in an effort to prevent youth suicide, the leading cause of death for those aged between 15 and 24. Sophie Pugsley, 27, is one of the young riders making the trip through WA’s Wheatbelt, marking her fourth Ride for Youth after being inspired by her father. “I actually started riding because of my dad, so I was pretty well used to the early mornings and long Saturday trainings,” she said. “Mental health is such a vast topic. “In this day and age of social media, the mental health of young people can be affected by so many different factors, and media portrayal can play a big part in that. “I like to think that when I have kids, I would hate for them to go through any kind of struggle alone.” Phoebe McClements is undertaking her second ride from Albany to Perth and was looking forward to the school visits. “My parents aren’t doing the ride this year,” she said. “I’ve taken up a team sponsor so we’ll do it on their behalf and keep the legacy going.” Before riding last year, Ms McClements was not a cyclist and thought she couldn’t be convinced to join. “My dad was adamant that I would be convinced to buy a bike ... I was not,” she said. “I thought it would be too big a challenge and ruin my social life, but now it has become my social life. “For the last couple of months, we’ve been riding between 120km-150km every Saturday morning for training, which can take up to 6½ hours.” The Wheatbelt group took off from Albany on Tuesday and will stop at schools along the way in towns including Gnowangerup, Kojonup, Katanning, Wagin and Narrogin before arriving in Perth on March 25.