High School, Hormones, and Singletrack

Ah, to be 16 again.

I recently had the privilege of attending the season opener for the SoCal High School Cycling League at Vail Lake Resort in Temecula, California. If any of you grew up like me, the idea of an organized, school sponsored mountain bike racing program is absolutely unpossible. But if you care to peruse the results from the race on their site you’ll see that 278 fine, young, gnar-shredding men and women came out to tear it up. It was truly inspirational.

The growth of the league is no accident; through the hard work of volunteers, parents, coaches and students this series is thriving. I had a chance to speak with the league’s director, Matt Gunnell, and his enthusiasm and love for the sport is clear from the moment you meet him. He was more than willing to share the details of the organization, tell me about the people who make it happen, and discuss the benefit the kids get out of it. He told me about the history of the teams, gave me a run-down on the ‘big guns,’ and talked about how much the local shop Casino Bicycles does to support the series. It was an honor to get a tour of the pits by this fine dude.

Boy and girls, freshman, sophomores, JV, and varsity all had their time on the trails. I saw lowly, entry-level, 42-pound boat anchors being slogged up the climbs and I saw full carbon pro-level dreadnoughts under kids who could probably stomp me even while carrying bricks in their Camelbak. Dads and moms took pictures, encouraged, rang cowbells and generally were awesome. I’m not sure you’d see this 100% good-vibe scene at the local soccer pitch (no offense soccer moms, but I’ve seen you and Dad freak out at the ref for carding little Jimmy). Everyone, to the last spectator, was there to cheer on the riders and contribute to the spirit of having some fun in the dirt.

The reason my attendance at this event was ‘work’ stems from my job title: kids bike product manager. This time of year I’m traveling the country (sometimes out of it too) to meet our dealers, study the regional trends, and conduct research that will inform my projects for the coming year. I had heard of the growth of the NorCal HS MTB league; it is growing so fast they are considering splitting it into two regions. My designs stop at 24″ wheels, so I wanted to know when these young lads and lasses got into mountain biking, what they started riding, when they upgraded, etc.

It turns out that for the most part they were all just kids riding regular old bikes (BMX, My Little Pony, department store junker) until they joined the high school team. It’s not surprising that their parents were reluctant to shell out big bucks for a real race machine without knowing if they were just going to take up skateboarding, online gaming, or keg partying as their new hobby the next semester. It was easy to tell the kids who were back for their second or third season though. Yup, there’s one now on the Ibis full carbon beauty over there:

Hammer indeed.

Sure, some kids out on the singletrack here have dads and moms who know how important it is to foster and encourage outdoor physical activity early. They know that once being active is associated with play instead of ‘working’ out, kids will most likely grow to be healthy, vigorous adults. I applaud those parents and hope to have the chance to do likewise when I spawn. In my view there’s no price too dear to allow a young adult the chance to realize scars are cool, a little blood just means you did it right, and the feeling of ripping down the trail with the wind in your face and the mountains in view cannot be experienced any other way. Certainly not from the couch. Keep your eyes on these kids, they’re going to be tomorrow’s champions.