N.I.C.A. - Cultivating a Love for Mountain Biking

Oct 19, 2017
by Brice Shirbach  






One athlete after another crossed underneath the finish line banner, most breathing heavily, cheeks flushed red from the effort they just put forth. 100 feet beyond the finish line, a course marshal directed the redlining riders to their right, and into the finish corral. There they were met by teammates, coaches, friends, and parents, usually waiting with open arms and a congratulatory remark regardless of their result. The athletes were middle and high school aged mountain bikers and had just completed a Wisconsin N.I.C.A cross-country event on trails that, up until this weekend, had never been made open to the public before. Most kids smiled and laughed, and shared stories of their respective races, the drama, and dynamics that come with going elbow to elbow in the forest at full steam filling the corral with an exuberance that is hard to describe. Others rode straight through, heads down with any number of things on their minds, while others still sought a few moments to themselves by finding an unoccupied space in the corral, perhaps to nurse wounds both physical and mental, and to wrap their brains around the events that had just unfolded over the course of any number of laps on the 6+ mile track. All of it, regardless of the specific details surrounding each individual's race, was a shared experience for virtually every person involved, from the riders, to the coaches, to the parents; it was an event that resulted in a full sensory experience, and it was a prime example of why this might be one of the most important things to happen to mountain biking in years.

The National Interscholastic Cycling Association was founded in 2009 with two leagues in California: the NorCal and SoCal leagues. NICA has since amassed a total of 21 leagues, with West Virginia and Maryland leagues coming hot off the press most recently. The Wisconsin league was founded in 2013 and is co-directed by Kathy Mock and Don Edberg. Wisconsin is known for many things, including cheese, lakes, Aaron Rodgers, and the Netflix phenomena Making a Murderer. While most mountain bikers wouldn't necessarily put this relatively quiet midwest state on their must-ride list, it does hold a great deal of value for cycling as the home for one of the sport's most important brands: Trek.

The Waterloo-based, cycling behemoth has been one of the world's leading brands for over 40 years and is an institution that many in the Badger State hang their proverbial hats on. Trek is the lead sponsor for NICA, and this is a year of firsts for both parties. For the first time ever, Trek has decided to open up their normally private stash of trails, located about 1/2 a mile from HQ, to the public, and N.I.C.A is utilizing the opportunity to host a round in Waterloo for the first time ever. It's significant not because of the trails themselves, although credit certainly goes to trail boss Vance McCaw for getting them ready, but because N.I.C.A has moved the needle so much in such a short amount of time, Trek's C.E.O John Burke, who never intended for Trek's private trails to be open to the public, immediately after witnessing his first N.I.C.A race ever in 2016 made it clear that he wanted to see these kids on his trails as soon as possible.


Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Trek is the lead sponsor for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which is currently growing at a staggering rate.

The real power at work here isn't the influence or inspiration the president of one of cycling's largest brands draws from N.I.C.A. It isn't the sheer volume of athletes participating either (over 500 kids toed the line in Waterloo just a few weeks ago, and upwards of 14,000 kids will participate nationwide in 2017.) What N.I.C.A represents is the demystification of mountain biking to the masses. Mountain biking is far too large a community to be considered "underground", but it's long been an example of something that people familiarize themselves with through participation, otherwise, it's a bit of an unknown to the general public. Ball and stick sports are enormously popular around the world not necessarily because they encourage an active lifestyle, or promote teamwork or any other dynamics you can find elsewhere. Some might even argue that off of the field, many of those sports have no inherent "lifestyle" to offer at all. They're popular because they occur in an arena that is easy to manage and encourage spectatorship, and thus have been cultivated and developed into big businesses that stop being about personal development, and start being about ticket sales.

The beautiful thing that is fully on display at any N.I.C.A event, and certainly at the event held in Waterloo, is not the competition specifically, although it definitely brings with it a number of important values and lessons that kids and adults can take with them. Instead, it was seeing the athletes and their parents alike experience the brilliance of riding bikes in the woods together. Many of these parents hadn't been on a bike for years, and yet by virtue of their own children's ambitions and growing love for this sport and community, a bit of an awakening took place, and continues to take place across the country as more of these events unfold. With each N.I.C.A race that's held, the mountain bike community gets to welcome scores of new members into the tribe, and there's no denying the special dynamic that comes when a parent and their child fall in love with bikes together, and the shared personal growth that comes with it.

Pinkbike was on hand at Trek's headquarters and private stash in Waterloo, Wisconsin for the third of five total events on the fall calendar for the Wisconsin N.I.C.A season and we took the opportunity to speak with athletes, parents, officials, and even some of the people at Trek to learn a bit more about the league, the process, and the takeaway for all involved.



Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
It's been a busy stretch at Trek HQ, having hosted a World Cup cyclocross race just a few weeks prior to the N.I.CA weekend. No rest for the weary, as the kids like to say these days.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Madison is just a stone's throw away and has certainly shaped the culture of the region. See, Big 10 Football fanaticism.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Waterloo, the hometown for Trek and their private stash of trails, doesn't offer much in the way of elevation, but it's certainly a pretty place.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
N.I.C.A events are a lot of great things, "family friendly" being one of them.


Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

John Burke, Trek President


Why is it important to Trek to be involved with NICA in such a significant nature? You guys have really thrown a lot of support their way.

John: At Trek, we don't... it's not just a business. We do the business, but it's “what else can we do with the business”. We always like to do good things for the community, and we also like to do good things for cycling because cycling has been so good for Trek. Aaron Mock and his wife Cathy got involved in N.I.C.A several years ago, and they wanted me to come to a race. My wife and I went to a race and it just blew me away. I was watching all these kids ride their bikes and I thought, "Wow, that's amazing."

With each one of the kids, there's a family. You see mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers all riding bikes. I'm like "This is super cool." Trek has always been part of N.I.C.A, and we've always paid our dues, but I thought "How can we help N.I.C.A take it to the next level?" With this event, I told Aaron, "You need to have a N.I.C.A event at Trek because we've got these trails here, and they're just absolutely amazing." Being able to share it with the N.I.C.A group is going to be really good.

What has been your greatest takeaway since getting involved?

John: Answering that question, I just get goosebumps. It just amazes me the amount of potential that's here because you take a look - especially in America, you take a look at the amount of kids and you take a look at the obesity epidemic and you take a look at kids spending their days sitting on couches playing video games and screwing around with their phones, and then you come out here and you see today there are over 500 kids at the start line. When's the last time you were at a mountain bike race and there are 500 people at the start? We're just getting started in Wisconsin. There are so many other N.I.C.A chapters around the country that are just getting started. What really excites me is that you're actually changing the world out here. That is super cool to me.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Emily Batty, Trek factory athlete, Olympian, and World Cup star, was on hand for rider clinics, autograph sessions, and more.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Emily's presence energized the riders, as her passion for racing and coaching is palpable.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Mountain biking presents a very different dynamic for spectators compared to more traditional "ball and stick" events, but the parents seem to be adjusting well enough.


Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Kathy Mock, co-director of N.I.C.A Wisconsin


What does your role entail?

Kathy: That entails developing the program by getting more teams, more kids, more coaches. Then organizing the coach's training system, and organizing the races. Planning for the races and finding people for volunteer spots.

How much growth have you experienced since the league began?

Kathy: This is our fourth season. We started in 2014 with 150 kids, 60 coaches, and about 16 teams. Now we have 49 teams, 373 coaches, and 672 registered athletes.

How do you guys manage that growth?

Kathy: I would have to say through N.I.C.A's management system. They help us with their online registration system, and all their processes are all tested and they work, and we just basically use those processes to run the league.

What does it mean to you, then, having Trek Headquarters, these trails that have never really been open to the public before. What's it mean to you guys to be able to utilize these trails today, or this weekend?

Kathy: It's pretty huge. Never in my wildest dreams did I see this. I used to work at Trek, and my husband still works at Trek, and I have been told that it probably would never happen. When John Burke came to my husband this year and said, "Absolutely we want to race that track." It was unbelievable. This venue and the way Trek has come forth and inspired all the Trek employees to help us has been incredible.

What's been one of the big take aways, in our opinion, in four years you guys have been doing this thing? What good has come from N.I.C.A?

Kathy: This sport is for every kid. You don't have to be the best athlete. You can be a kid that doesn't ever want to compete. You can be a kid that has never ridden a mountain bike and we will take care of you. Every team will bring you on board and give you an opportunity, you get to ride every minute of every practice. You can race if you want, but you don't have to race. You can be a dual sport athlete, and most of our teams welcome those kids onto the team. They're able to take this sport with them for the rest of their lives to be fit. It's been the most fun job I've ever had.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Prior to each race wave, a different student was responsible for a rendition of the national anthem. For some, it was a moment of reflection, for others, it was a chance to calm the nerves.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Wave after wave of racers thundered up the hill out of the start corral. It was always impressive to watch kids of various ages and ability levels give it their all throughout the morning.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
There's no denying the transformative process that racing facilitates, especially at such a young age.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Mountain biking can teach a person a lot of things, and learning how to push through pain is one of them. An invaluable lesson at such a young age.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
The Wisconsin leader's jersey is a hard-won piece of attire.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
The 6+ mile long course was dusty, dry, and fast. The racing was interesting and fun to watch unfold, regardless of the age group.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Stephan Van Dorn, coach of the Shorewood High School team


What do you do with the NICA Wisconsin League?

Stephan: I am a coach for Shorewood High School team. I'm also a middle school teacher in Shorewood.

How long have you been doing this?

Stephan: Since the inception, so this is our fourth season.

What are some of the changes that you have seen since the beginning?

Stephan: We started with 18 athletes on our team. We're currently at 53; so 53 from a single school district, and we're very proud of that. We also have more people. I mean, we've just grown. It's been fantastic to see us grow.

What are some of the reactions that you see and how much interest is there from other folks that aren't yet a part of the program?

Stephan: I'm glad you asked that because we have a cross-country athlete who's in a multimedia class at the high school, and is also involved in our high school newspaper, out here doing a multimedia story on the team. So we're getting some great press in the school. We just had a meeting with school administration, and they want to adopt us into the athletic department instead of just being a club sport, so we're growing and we're being recognized. It's fantastic.

How do you “coach” a mountain bike team? What’s race day like for you?

Stephan: Honestly, I try not to give them too much last minute advice. I try to get them out of their heads a little bit have fun. I help them stay in the moment, but also enjoy the moment and not stress out about the competitive part of it. I try to help them eat right before they start, and not do something stupid like have a donut half an hour before they're going to race.

Have you seen an increase in the amount of parents getting involved with the team over time?

Stephan: Absolutely. We couldn't be a team without parent volunteers handling the camping, the cooking, the transportation, the fundraising, and all of those things. It's great to have them involved in that piece, but we also have parent volunteers who are involved on a coaching level and ride leader level.

They come to practice and practice with their athlete, as well as with all of the other athletes. They develop their own skills, and then they hit the trails with us on the weekends. I've seen the kids grow exponentially in their skill and I've seen the same thing happen with the parents as well.

It's kind of fun when you see a kid cheering their mom on, going over an obstacle that the mom is surprised the kid is doing, and then the kid is surprised that mom can do that, and then they're kind of high-fiving each other at practice, talking in the car and not on the phone. It's pretty awesome. I don't see any kids on any cell phones out here right now. I see them on bikes. It's awesome.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
The finish line was buzzing throughout the day, as various age groups have different lap counts. It was quite the sight, watching young men and women squeeze every last ounce of energy out of their legs, only to shake hands, high five, or hug their teammates and competitors moments after crossing the line.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Riders were always greeted with excitement from the spectators and coaches, regardless of the school printed on their jersey.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
These kids could be doing any number of other things with their weekends, so yes, riding your bike through the woods, and pushing yourself physically and mentally deserves a hug or two.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
You can't always have a perfect ride, but you can always learn from it. Mountain biking is hard on the body, the bike, and the brain, and the takeaways can be enormous for these guys.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Ashley Pernsteiner, senior athlete at Camrock High School


How long have you been doing the Wisconsin NICA?

Ashley: I've been doing it since I was a freshman, so I'm really lucky I've been doing it the entire time that it's been here.

How would you describe NICA Wisconsin? What are these events like and race weekends like for the student-athletes?

Ashley: It's kind of like one big family getting together to party and cheer each other on. It's awesome because there are so many times that I've been riding by and people who I've helped set up courses with know my name and are cheering for me; people I've never seen before today. Everyone's just so happy and supportive. It's amazing.

Do you play any other sports as well?

Ashley: Nothing competitively, but I am pretty active besides this.

Do the races get pretty competitive despite the overwhelming sense of camaraderie?

Ashley: I think that depends on the individual. There are people that are super competitive, not in a bad way, but you know, they're performing at a very high level, and they want to keep performing at a high level. There are people who are just there to have a good workout or to have fun, and I think that I'm kind of somewhere in the middle, kind of leaning towards competitive. I'm trying to almost compete with myself, if that makes sense.

You're a senior now, so presumably, you're going to college, you're doing something afterward. What are you gonna miss the most about NICA when you're all done?

Ashley: The first thing I've gained from NICA is a sense of self-improvement because everyone here just wants to see everyone else get better. They just want to help each other. My teammates have helped encourage me to become the best racer that I can be. I'm trying to become the best racer that I can be. They've helped me to train, and have really helped me with a lot of things. I appreciate that.
Another thing that I think people don't really think about with mountain biking is about how much it kind of helps with self-confidence. I know that going into high school, I was anxious, nervous, and kind of a shaky kid. Before I started doing this I wasn't very secure in myself at all. Through this, I kind of learned how to trust in myself first, and then in my bike after that. I have learned how to be comfortable in my own skin, and comfortable with that what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. It gives me this really deep sense of confidence and calm that I don't think I could find in any other sport.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.

Photos from the NICA event held on Trek s private trails.
There's a shared joy that's very contagious at a NICA event, and luckily for mountain biking, its spreading.



See more of the story here.

More information, including events, schedules, and how to get involved with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association can be found here.



Must Read This Week

105 Comments

  • + 59
 Love to see more NICA coverage on Pink Bike!
  • + 21
 Agreed! Can we have a monthly update or something? Honestly this is the best thing to happen to mountain biking... maybe ever?
  • + 1
 @bikekrieg: AGREE! Hey @Pinkbike, what do you think?
  • + 2
 Especially in Wisconsin, a place with no mountains.
  • + 35
 That T-shirt is dead right - I wish they had this when I was a kid. Major kudos to all those involved
  • + 18
 Couple myths to debunk. I am a coach under the PA league and coaches and parents are not forced to attend each race or volunteer, except ONE race a season when we are the "home" team. More than fair.
Also, the league very much encourages including kids that do not want to race, and pushes for accomodating them with separate practice curriculum that focuses on fun rather than building cardio.
There is no negative to be found here, unless you want the trails to yourself. We are creating a huge advocacy group from the ground up, uniting families (parent coaches are essential..a team doesnt run without them), getting kids on bikes, and exploring corners of our local parks and parks across the state that some would never see.
The progression these kids acheive in a season is incredible, and the joy is unlike anything i've ever experienced in sport. The amount of people who come up to me to express how incredible the team/league is continues to overwhelm me.
As riders, i encourage everyone who reads this to engage with your local NICA team, or create one yourself of one does not exist near you. You will not regret it.
  • + 5
 Many new trails in Minnesota have opened as a direct result of HS League teams organizing in their communities. I volunteer weekly with my local league....my kid is only 6, I am hoping he wants to race and join a team when he is old enough! We have a great community with tons of cycling companies in the area that support and donate time and money. Not enough can be said about the sponsors that help support all of these leagues!
  • + 16
 The rules need to change though. Technically having a single wheel leave the ground is not allowed and can result in a DQ.
  • + 6
 And taking both hands of the handlebars (last picture).
  • + 5
 @Mavic101: Heck, just sitting on/straddling your bike in the pits while stationary without a helmet could be enforced. It won't be long until those type of petty "protests" become too common.
  • + 0
 I thought that has changed to legal outside of the pitzone area?
  • + 13
 I am in complete agreement. As a high school racer a few years ago I had 5 minutes added onto my race time by the league directior because I did a bunny hop next to my team tent. This took my race ranking from second to 33rd. It’s stuff like that that makes me think they need to overhaul the rule system. One of the worst experiences I’ve had with racing.
  • + 3
 A buddy of mine nearly got DQ-ed for riding through a course crossing and not hearing a course marshal yell at him
  • + 1
 That rule was removed in the 2015 edition of the NICA rule book. Replaced with "riding under control". First offense is warning, then time penalty. No DQ.
  • + 1
 That rule was removed for the NICA rule book 2014. It's now "controlled riding". Warning then time penalty. No DQ.
  • + 6
 A single wheel can not leave the ground? What kind of BS is that. I wouldn't have made it through a race when I was in high school, all I wanted to do was jump anything I could, even if I shouldn't
  • - 6
flag COnovicerider (Oct 19, 2017 at 20:15) (Below Threshold)
 They don't want kids showing off or getting injured. I help coach one of the teams in Colorado and safety for the kids is paramount.
  • + 1
 That rule has not been in place since 2014. Some courses in Idaho have had optional jumps and drops. Very few, but some.
  • + 1
 Wheels can leave the ground in the race just not in the venue area.
  • + 6
 No doubt NICA is doing great things, but I wish they would put less emphasis on racing and more emphasis on simply going for a ride in the woods.
  • + 23
 You don’t need a league to do that
  • + 5
 That is one of the greatest points that NICA coaches make, they stress that if you want to race you can and if you just want to be along for the ride you can do that too. At these races there is everyone from elite racers to kids just out to ride with their friends. (this coming from an athlete who raced this event)
  • + 3
 @briceshirbach: No you don't need an organized league to go for a ride in the woods. BUT to be an officially insured and recognized high school mountain bike club you need something like what NICA provides (liability insurance and membership to a national organization). Unfortunately, if you want to be a part of NICA in order to legitimize a high school club, you have to race.
  • + 0
 @Mblade: But NICA does force all of the coaches to attend every race in the series (regardless of team rider participation), and requires parents to volunteer for every race in the series (regardless of how far away races are). NICA is great and I'm sorry to be a negative Nancy, but maybe they could start an offshoot organization that is able to provide liability insurance for those adults who just want to "get kids on bikes" instead of "get kids racing bikes."
  • + 5
 @Mavic101: I hear ya, and agree racing doesn’t need to be the only outlet. However, one of the main points here is that because it is a sanctioned formed of competition that is increasingly being adopted by schools as a varsity program, there’s a demystification of mountain biking taking place that probably wouldn’t otherwise see happen. I’ll admit, it would be great to see a NICA offshoot or altogether different organization come forward with recreational riding as it’s focus!
  • + 4
 @briceshirbach: Word. I LOVE the fact that mountain biking is becoming a recognized high school varsity sport.
  • + 1
 That is slowly happening....NICA does emphasize mountain biking as a lifestyle and will even introduce some not "race events". The races end up being the goal the kids work towards. I think this format helps address the whole aspect of mountain biking. Kids have access to skill development, fitness development, and a supportive place to learn these skills. Many of the kids wouldn't be on a football or softball type team but discover they can be an athlete when on a bike.
  • + 3
 @Mavic101: sorry to argue but I’m not sure what league you’re working with as this is not true at our races, everything is voluntary from parents especially
  • + 7
 @Mblade: Same with our league in Idaho. Especially at a team level we focus on fun first, racing second. That's not to say we don't have a focus on those kids that want to hammer, there are simply less of those kids on our particular team. I see it as a great way to develop trail/outdoor etiquette and a love of being outside that some of the kids would not otherwise get. We still focus on race oriented kids, but we make sure it's inviting to even those that havent even ridden a bike before.

We had one gal who was afraid of falling off the side of a dirt road. Like a full on dirt road and she was afraid she would fall off on our first group ride. Three months later she does her first race and when I asked her how it went she responded with a huge smile and she said "I want to do this forever!!!" Best feeling I've ever had as a coach. I think our focus on riding and enjoying bikes helped her get over her initial fear and THEN she became interested in the racing side.
  • + 4
 @pandafoo: What an awesome anecdote. NICA certainly has some wrinkles to iron out, but that's virtually any organization that deals with competition and...you know...human beings. The greatest takeaway from this for me is the personal development of everyone involved both on and off of the bike. The stoke and energy from kids and adults alike at even just the single event I happened to attend was incredibly inspiring. That last sentiment from the final interview in this piece says it all. Keep up the great work, @pandafoo!
  • + 1
 @Mavic101: I coach one of the teams in Colorado and practices/rides start in May and run through October. We ride 1-3 times a week every week outside of the 5 races. Plenty of riding is going on.
  • + 2
 I’m a rider currently in the WI league and am friends with with lots of coachs and they do not have to attend the races neither do parents have to go or volunteer. @Mavic101: @Mavic101:
  • + 2
 I’m a rider in WI league and parents aren’t required to go the races and don’t have to volunteer. @Mavic101:
  • + 1
 @Mavic101: This is false, I have been coaching for 4 years now and we are not forced to attend all races, nor are the kids on our team. As for volunteering each race will have a home team (usually 4-5 teams) and those teams are encourage to volunteer for that event.
  • + 4
 NICA is great. My son is on a PA team. He’ll be racing again this weekend. He absolutely loves it. The organization has a few drawbacks for sure but overall it’s a good thing. The main drawback that I see is their absolute fear of anybody getting injured. Kids blow out their knees in soccer all the time. Yet soccer leagues are everywhere. I won’t even get into how many injuries American football causes yet it’s the most popular sport in the USA. Yet somehow the parents of kids in these leagues of traditional sports accept injury as part of the sport. If your kids aren’t sitting on the couch with a video game controller in their hands, and instead are out riding their bikes, or kicking a ball around with their friends they might, just might suffer an orthopedic injury.

I’ve been involved with NICA for this season as a parent/volunteer but not an official coach. My son’s been in the podium so he really does love to ride. My praise is focused on the fact that NICA is doing wonders for getting kids out on bikes, off the couch, and it’s level of inclusiveness. My critique is that after attending nearly all the practices this season 70% of the practices were done on grass, gravel fire roads, and rail trail. Maybe 30% was done on actual single track and I’m being generous. Additionally my son and a few of his team mates complained that the courses aren’t anywhere near technical enough and they always make you take a B line around any fun features. I see this as a major flaw within the organization. You’re actually teaching kids that trails need to be dumbed down. They’re being taught that certain things are “not rideable”. Granted you have kids on the team that had never seen single track before, of course they aren’t going to be able to ride tech. But.... you’ve got kids on the team that have been out riding trail since they were 6yo and then you tell them to keep both wheels on the ground?! It undermines your credibility as a rider and a coach when you tell that to an 11 yo who’s capable of cleaning a double black trail on a HT bike. This organization needs to have a better way to categorize its riders instead of making everything fit only beginners and only XC. They don’t explain that they’re only teaching one discipline of Mtb and that there are other disciplines. I’d love to start a youth enduro/DH league similar to NICA but one that would be more technical skills focused and with a lot less rail trail riding. We need bike handlers as well as more riders to move the sport forward.
  • + 3
 This is amazing! We recently started a Kid's XC Race league here in Kamloops for ages 7 to 12 with amazing support (60 riders at one race). The local high school XC teams are seeing solid growth and support also. Keep up the great work NICA!
  • + 6
 Brace yourselves. There's about to be some insanely quick kids coming up in the next 5 years
  • + 2
 Also, the varsity kids have a separate, additional loop beyond what the middle school kids do, and it adds distance and some tech. Obviously, there is a limit to how gnarly the trails can be, to accomodate new riders, but the kids ALL love the trails and there havent been any complaints. Worth noting that age and gender groups are separated into waves, so there is limited overlap with grossly different skill levels.
  • + 2
 Tons of positives here, and the NICA scene here in Utah has exploded which is just awesome to witness. Are there negatives, there can be. The teams often ride the same loops in large groups and it does have trail impact. I don't mind the crowds, better to see kids on the trail than becoming tablet zombies. And luckily most of the teams arrange trail days. If it was not for the high school team in my town, I would not even have the trail system behind my house as they basically built the whole thing with tons of volunteer hours, freely given by both coach and team. So I really have no place to complain. that said, I still believe that these kids need to be taught to respect the land, be taught to practice how to leave no trace, and have regularly planned trail days where they regularly practice. Not complaining here, just a heart felt plea to coaches and local NICA organizations to encourage or even require trail work days for team members.
  • + 1
 One day of trail work (or other trail-related community service) is required of kids on our NICA team in NorCal.
  • + 5
 Whats the chance of quality bikes being made available for the kids who's families are unable to afford the equipment?
  • + 2
 The league provides support to families/kids in need with both paying their entry fees and have loaner bikes available to those who can't afford one. In Wisconsin, we have somewhere between 20-30 loaner bikes that kids can have for the season. I also know of many teams that have found loaner bikes at the local level to help a rider on their team.
  • + 2
 @aristotlepeters: Yes and another reason Sponsors are so important! In Minnesota the league tries to give any rider a chance to practice, race and participate regardless of economic situation. Sponsors are a huge part of this!
  • + 2
 @aristotlepeters: Glad to see that. I used to be a big Trek fan, still own a 7000zx HT (made in WI even!). But their pricing is right up there with boutique brands these days. I couldn't believe the price tag I read on MTBA about their 'entry' level race HT. $2k. Seriously? That is out of reach for most families on a budget. So while they are interested in NICA and youth clubs, which the MTBA article mentioned, their bottom line seems to be getting in the way.
  • + 1
 Most teams are able to make sure everyone has a bike, especially if they can't afford one, either directly or through help from the state league.
  • + 2
 Great article, and it's great to see more coverage about what NICA (and other leagues [i.e. Northern New England HS league]) are doing for mountain biking, but it would also be awesome to see more coverage of collegiate cycling, especially the mountain bike side of things. Here in the northeast, we've got 20 or 30 different schools that have at least one rider showing up to race weekends. A couple hundred of the best collegiate riders in the country are gathered in Missoula, MT, this weekend for the Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships, an event which has been growing in size and scope every year.
  • + 5
 It would be great if you could profile all the leagues. Please come to Minnesota, we'd love to show you around!
  • + 1
 Wish we had something similar here in Australia, besides Canberra with CORC and some private run events (Rockytrailentertainment) there isn't much in the way of events run for children, some clubs do try and organise them or have training days/classes there isn't a national competition like this for schools, which would be awesome way to get at the obesity problem that is starting to dominate Australian kids (unless you are into rugby league or Australian football that is and that is sponsored by mcdonalds go figure)
  • + 1
 NICA and the VAHS series make me so happy. I can't ride XC anymore due to health issues but my kids love riding bikes. With these leagues I've been able to introduce them to a sport I loved for 20 years but can no longer participate in (outside of pushing a bike up a hill and descending for a few minutes) and they get to go on 2 hour rides a couple times a week.
  • + 2
 Watch out world...here come come future players! So Amazing I cannot stand it! My company did some sick hats and shirts for the GA Cycling League and it is amazing to see the growth of just that league here in GA!!!
  • + 1
 My kid is racing in the NICA circuit here in Virginia. The atmosphere and competition is so much fun. I never really got into racing myself, but it is so cool seeing my son get out there dropping the hammer. Next race is in 2 days!
  • + 1
 This is such a great program for the high schoolers across the nation. Here in Colorado, there are routinely 1200 kids between the two state regions. It is pretty amazing to see the variety of kids who show up to race. Getting a kid to toe the line is tough but you see these kids race after race with smiles and really going after 50th place. It is so cool. Have to give the NICA people so much credit as they do such an amazing job with a huge group of people. Yes there are some issues that will get addressed but they are getting this many kids out on bikes and out at the races. Well done NICA and thanks!
  • + 2
 In before someone ruins the party with an incredibly long expose citing obscure recent studies that show that this is actually bad and you should feel bad for thinking it's not bad.
  • + 5
 Repping 906 in the cover shot!
  • + 1
 There is one rule that needs to change, MTB is not a seasonal sport, its year round, kids should be allowed to ride year round. I run a mountain bike club at our local High School. We had a NICA chapter start up around here recently, its a great program, which many of my kids are involved in. However kids are not "allowed" to ride out of season with their coaches. If I wanted to be involved with NICA, I was told that I would not be able to run my club year round with my kids, because it would be like having football players practice year round, its not allowed in a scholastic sport. I do not know the answer to getting around that, so I backed off of NICA, and kept running the club how I have been for the last few years. My goal was to do weekly rides, show the kids the trails and how to respect them, with the hope they realize they do not need me to ride, and they can call theirs friends anytime they want to get out in the woods and go for a rip. So far its been working out quite well, and they are defining what riding means to them.

XC is a great way to introduce the kids to the sport, and quickly they start to branch out, I don't think limiting their progression is helping anyone, but i could be wrong.

We just simply need to expose these kids to the riding world and culture, not doubt its addictive as we all know, show them the way, and let them create their own path, isn't that what they are going to do anyway? If its important enough to them, they will find the time for xc, trail riding, enduro, cx, dh and some racing if they enjoy it. Lets not stop or limit their progression.
  • + 2
 My coach invites the team to go with him on strictly fun (non-official) rides in the off season. Maybe you should have done that instead of not doing nica.
  • + 1
 @jesseliberson: That was my idea, but it is against the rules, not sure who would actually check or turn someone in, but what they are doing is not allowed.....and we ride multiple times weekly, so that might be the issue, still getting kids on bikes, thats the point, right?
  • + 1
 Maybe get around that rule by starting a group ride that is open to anyone, and if your high schoolers show up, so be it. Or let them know they can do the same thing our high school soccer team did: we had unofficial pick up games all summer, with no coach present.
  • + 1
 @jut8 A couple of easy options for you here. If you want to keep it under the school and you have agreeable administration, start a school club. You may find that the school's liability policy covers the activities or you can shop for a policy or go through USA Cycling for insurance (I've done all three).

With your broad approach to exposing kids to all that is awesome about cycling you probably need to start a juniors cycling club. Start small, charge a modest fee to cover insurance and go from there.

In both cases, when the NICA season rolls around you morph into your NICA team(s). When it ends you carry on with business as usual.

I'm in Colorado and we have several strong juniors teams in the state that are the umbrella for high school teams. In some cases the NICA season teams are aligned to schools and in other the teams are composite.

Get to know and work with your league director, board of directors and rules committees to help shape your league. NICA is providing a great template for getting leagues up and running, but as the leagues mature some things may need to be tweaked, hence the league specific sections in the NICA rule book.
  • + 1
 as a parent and coach in VA, it's a great experience and it sharing the love and adventure of cycling with my 13 yo daughter is priceless!!! she is so stoked and wants to race enduro, DH, and road next year lol
  • + 2
 Ummm perhaps Trek needs to think about starting a Wisconsin family mountain biking Association to literally get the parents involved.
  • + 3
 didn't Jay-z say- "If I should die don't cry my nica"
  • + 2
 hahahaha too funny
  • + 3
 Working on a NICA chapter in Oregon! Can't wait to get this up and running
  • + 3
 Nice program I just don't know any teenager's that want to race XC!
  • + 8
 Well, there are several thousands involved, so they’re out there for sure
  • + 6
 I couldn't agree more. For the past ten year NICA has taken a very anti "Downhill Oriented" stance for fear of injuries and accidents. Its ridiculous to have future pros (varsity) racing as the same course as the beginners (freshman). Hopefully as time passes the leagues open up to other format events and the courses become more technically challenging. Its an amazing program but it really does not embody "mountain biking" in every form.
  • + 3
 @birdoboards: You are correct, it hasn't been oriented towards any format other than XC, that is changing a bit I think but not towards DH per se, more towards trail type riding. It's also not meant to be looked at as a place to develop elite riders (even though there are many fast and talented kids) but more as a place to instill a healthy lifestyle.

Couldn't agree more with you hopefully the available formats open up.
  • + 4
 @AdobeAwesome @birdoboards and to be fair, DH and even Enduro events just can’t be held everywhere due to the obvious lack of appropriate terrain in certain parts of the country, whereas XC racing can be done virtually anywhere.
  • + 4
 That's the only problem I have being a kid in high school and wanting to do some races, they're all XC!
  • + 1
 @Wyeth-GR: My son loves to race DH and Enduro, but spends most of his time racing XC. The reality is though he is a lot faster on both DH and Enduro because he races XC. So while XC may not be as fun keep it up as it will help build your skills and your endurance across all racing..
  • + 1
 @Wyeth-GR: Also I see you are in Madison, so are we.. Lot's of great DH races up north in the UP.
  • + 2
 This is what it's all about!
  • + 1
 Wow! I never thought I would be in a pinkbike article
  • + 2
 #morekidsonbikes.
  • + 1
 Well look it there, hardtail bikes!
  • + 1
 NICA got me riding. I owe it a debt for life.
  • + 0
 Careful wouldn’t want anyone lifting their front tire off the ground
  • + 0
 I actually know people who've been yelled at for bunny hopping a wooden bridge and jumping haha.
  • - 1
 @dea7hadder: True, but it has to do with whether you are putting others in danger or not. If you're on a bike with one brake 6" behind another rider and you huck a bridge they are struggling to ride down you could hit them.

I've been yelled at myself but after more clarification found out it was not what I was doing, it was how I was doing it.

Maybe check your facts before commenting.
  • - 1
 You can lift your bike when on the trails but not outside the trails.
  • - 2
 Ya know, the NorCal league is shit-no trails that are close to a trail, just fields of grass mowed the day before with tape defining it.
  • - 2
 That's why the Socal league is way cooler.
  • + 3
 NICA Cyclocross league?
  • + 1
 I agree half of the trails are like that. I understand they're working with time/money constraints but some sections those courses are just stupid.
  • - 1
 They're working with what they've got. You can't just build trails all the time.
  • + 1
 @seraph: You can if you have support in the correct places in the community, ala Northwest Arkansas.
  • + 1
 @seraph: The Tehachapi venue was built specifically for the races and those trails are amazing.
  • + 3
 It comes down to finding venues that are willing to host an event, but also can handle the parking and traffic. Not as easy as you might think. Why do you think NorCal raced in Monterey 3 out of 5 races the last couple of years? There's just not a lot of venues that tick all the boxes, especially considering NorCal league is so big they have to split it into two conferences with two days of racing each weekend.
  • + 1
 @seraph: I live there; they got plenty of trails
  • + 2
 In Idaho one of the bigger challenges is literally just finding a venue that has enough parking and camping to handle the crowd. Finding a trail network near the parking lot is basically a 2nd concern. There’s not very many places that can handle 500 racers and 2000+ spectators...
  • + 2
 In the NorCal league the best venue was Boggs Demo Forest, completely destroyed by the 2015 Valley Fire. If the league could do all of the races at places like that, it would, but it's not possible. The other races are usually at a handful of areas that would be considered good to great local rides by most riders, but would not be visited much by non-locals. There isn't much cut grass except near start/finish areas or to complete a loop. Last year we had a great new venue with new singletrack on private land. It's challenging to find a venue that allows trail closures for an entire weekend and has room for, over 1000 racers and an equal number of parents/spectators/coaches, a huge parking area and staging area for team tents, particularly given that many land managers and local park lovers don't want to share "their" trails for a weekend. @AnthonyQDJ if you have any bright ideas or can help secure access to better venues, I'm sure the league would welcome your help!
  • + 0
 Nica is awesome!
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