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“While some kids do race internationally through USA Cycling, a vast majority of NICA racers are brand new to the sport. “Ninety-nine percent are just learning to ride a mountain bike.”
Photo: Phil Beckman/PB Creative
Last week the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) brought its biannual World Summit to Santa Fe. In addition to test-riding some sweet 29er bikes from Specialized, Yeti, and Santa Cruz, I got to sit in on a bunch of brainstorming sessions with fat-tire advocates from around the country about how to grow the sport, expand trail networks, and get more people on bikes, period.
One huge market, of course, is kids, and a standing-room only discussion devoted to youth cycling initiatives revealed a slew of cool new projects geared at getting children hooked from a young age. Most notable is the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), a non-profit devoted to making mountain biking a high school sport, just like soccer and football.
NICA bills itself as a youth development program whose mission is to strengthen mind, body, and character using bikes as the medium. Founded in 2009, it grew out of the successful NorCal High School Cycling League, the first scholastic mountain-bike racing program in the country. Now there are more than a thousand high school students racing in NICA leagues in seven states: California, Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, Washington, Texas, and Utah, where the debut race, in Park City last month, drew more than 230 riders. And when New York, Tennessee, and Arizona launch their leagues—currently in R&D—next year, NICA will be coast to coast.
NICA races are co-ed for kids in grades 9 through 12, and there are no tryouts. “The spirit is, everyone rides,” said Austin McInerny, NICA’s education director. While some kids do race internationally through USA Cycling, a vast majority of NICA racers are brand new to the sport. “Ninety-nine percent are just learning to ride a mountain bike,” said McInerny. A typical interscholastic mountain bike season—either spring or fall—has four to six weekend races, and when students aren’t racing or practicing, they’re learning to become trail stewards. “Imagine telling the football team they have to seed the field, mow the field, put lines on the field?” McInerny asked the room. “To mountain bike, you need to maintain your bike, your body, and your trails. We’re teaching athletes that trail work is just something you do if you want to compete. It’s not special. It’s standard.”
In addition to grooming the next generation of riders and advocates, NICA’s cultivating an even bigger posse of fat-tire enthusiasts. Said McInerny: “When kids ride, their parents start riding, too. There’s a phenomenal spillover effect.”
Photo: Carrie Dittmer
At its current pace, NICA launches three new state leagues per year, and it takes about a year to train volunteer coaches—the organization also has an extensive licensing program—build teams, organize race schedules, and enlist a herd of volunteers to put on the races. To learn more about submitting a bid to start a league in your region, go to www.nationalmtb.org.
Posted by Jacob Seigel-Boettner of Pedal Born Pictures on September 19, 2012
Donning brightly colored spandex. Slogging up and over mountains. Getting plastered by mud. Not exactly most high schoolers’ idea of fun. However, hundreds of kids in the NorCal High School Cycling League couldn’t imagine a better way to spend their weekends. For Eliel, high school bike racing is a competitive outlet at the highest level. For Carlos, it is a means to escape the rough neighborhoods of South Sacramento. For Mackinzie and Allie, it is a chance to break into a sport traditionally dominated by the boys. These are the kids of Singletrack High, a feature-length documentary about high school mountain bike racing currently being produced by Pedal Born Pictures.
Trevor DeRuise leads mountain bikers down a trail near the Thomas Creek Trailhead in south Reno. / Liz Margerum/RGJ
Trevor DeRuise started riding motorcycles when he was 4 years old. At 18, he was off-road racing as a semiprofessional.
And then he left a shot at a professional career behind, dedicating himself to cycling earlier this year.
At 20, and with only three years of cycling experience, DeRuise started the Reno Wheelmen GetReal Nutrition Junior Team in January.
“The biggest challenge was just getting people to sort of believe in the idea and believe in me really, to get going and be willing to help out,” DeRuise said.
The change in sports came about after DeRuise became aware of a medical issue.
He learned he was gluten intolerant after collapsing at the the Bloody Rose Mountain Bike Hillclimb in 2010. Following his diagnosis, DeRuise started his own business, GetReal Nutrition, and a developed a gluten-free energy bar that can be found at local outlets, including Heaven on Earth Bread and Bakery Co.
His love for cycling motivated him to find others passionate about cycling and start a youth team that GetReal Nutrition would sponsor.
DeRuise approached his friend, Kevin Joell, the race promoter for the Reno Wheelmen, with his plan for a team that would be sponsored by both GetReal and the Wheelmen.
“He came to us with a very structured, detailed proposal of how he was going to make this junior team work and it pretty much answered all of our questions,” Joell said.
Trevor DeRuise leads mountain bikers near Thomas Creek in south Reno. DeRuise started the Reno Wheelmen GetReal Nutrition Junior Team in January. / Liz Margerum/RGJ
While there have been other youth cycling teams in the area, GetReal Nutrition is the only active and first junior team focused primarily on mountain biking.
DeRuise needed to raise $1,500 to start the team. GetReal Nutrition contributed $300. For this season, the Reno Wheelmen matched the $500 DeRuise raised via donations. Richard Keillor, founder of the Bloody Rose, also donated $200.
DeRuise has about 20 riders on the club team. The youngest rider is 9 years old. All youth cyclists and parents are welcome to come out on the weekly training rides he organizes.