A new spin: Mountain biking for school

Rachel Harris won gold in the category 3 women's 15-18 cross-country competition at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships. Courtesy of Hank Harris

This story originally appeared in the May/June issue of ESPNHS Magazine.

Pretty soon, riding your bike to school will serve more than one purpose (i.e. avoiding a seat on the cheese bus, or worse, mom's car). It could ultimately be your ticket to college, just like any other major sport.

For the past two years, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, a nonprofit organization formed in 2009 to expand the sport, has been working toward establishing mountain biking clubs in high schools in all 50 states by 2020. So far, five leagues exist – Northern California, Southern California, Colorado, Washington and Texas -- with two more slated to launch this fall in Minnesota and Utah. More than 15 additional states have submitted bids to be the next NICA Project League.

“We want to give every student in America the opportunity to improve his or her body, mind and character through cross-country mountain bike racing,” says Matt Fritzinger, executive director of the NICA. “We want people to know it's a sport just like baseball or basketball.”

In addition to receiving training and coaching, league members will race on loops of up to six miles, and will learn bike-handling skills, maintenance techniques, how to fix a flat and proper etiquette when riding alongside hikers, dogs or horses on the trails.

The sport will be open to boys and girls, grades 9-12. According to Fritzinger, 1,150 high schoolers biked in 2011 -- and the number is expected to jump to 2,000 this year.

Anything that legitimizes mountain biking as an interscholastic sport will certainly help rising stars, like Rachel Harris, 16, garner college attention. The sophomore at Monarch (Louisville, Colo.) started shredding dirt trails near her home three years ago. Last summer, she won gold in the category 3 women's 15-18 cross-country competition at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships.

Get In gear

Want to start a mountain bike team at your school? Check out the “Team Starter Kit” at nationalmtb.org. It outlines everything you need to do, including how to get local businesses to help fund the costs for jerseys, race fees, coaches’ fees (if necessary) and bikes, which can cost anywhere from $300 to $3,000.