kingdomexperiences

High School Cross Country Mountain Bike Racing!

Kingdom Experiences, Mountain Bike Skill Camps and Tours in Vermont

By: Chris Mehlman, Photo: Alice Johannen

Mountain biking is a fast-growing sport. More and more people are taking it up as a way to socialize and challenge themselves physically and mentally. However, according to pinkbike.com, mountain bikers are “mostly male, between the ages of 25-44, and relatively affluent”. How can we ensure that mountain biking will continue to flourish in the future and attract a more diverse range of participants than it currently does? The answer: youth XC mountain-bike racing.

Cross-country mountain bike racing is not your typical middle or high school sport. Most kids gravitate towards traditional team sports such football, basketball, and baseball. However, mountain biking offers much that traditional youth sports do not. First, it is a lifelong activity. While many kids play team sports through high school, they often end up stopping once they graduate, since it is hard to find the time or a league in which to play those sports later in life. When kids take up mountain biking, however, they develop a passion for a lifelong sport. Even if they do not choose to race after high school, they now have a way to enjoy themselves and stay fit through their working life and into retirement. Second, mountain biking offers an alternative for kids who are not interested in traditional ball sports. I played lacrosse throughout middle school, but found that mountain bike racing offered me a chance to challenge myself physically
and mentally in a way that no other sport could, while still allowing me to be in a team
environment. While XC running is the closest comparison, mountain biking racing involves a longer effort and more technical prowess. Kids who are more interested in the technical nature can challenge themselves through that aspect, while kids who want the aerobic challenge can also be pushed to their limit. In mountain biking, a young racer can feel his or her own work directly paying off and bringing results or PR’s. Finally, and most importantly, the mountain biking community is a fun, welcoming group to be around. Just go to any high school race, and you will see hundreds of smiling faces, kids from different teams hanging out with each other, and a general sense of community that other larger sports do not have.

For these reasons, youth mountain bike racing is growing at an astonishing rate. New England High School Cycling Association (NEHSCA) was founded 2015, with its first race taking place in the spring of 2016. Even at the first race, there were over 175 kids. I, like many other kids who mountain bike, had always struggled to find other young people to ride with, but once I started racing in NEHSCA, I found a whole community who shared my passion. There were racers of all different ages, from 5th-12th grade, competing in several different categories. Some had raced for years, and were there to win, and others were there just to have fun. As a testament to the growing popularity of youth mountain bike racing, NEHSCA more than doubled in size in their second season, and is on track to continue that growth this year.

This massive growth is not a phenomenon isolated to New England. Throughout the country, there already are well-established middle and high school racing leagues run through the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). More and more leagues keep popping up each year, and I have no doubt that there will soon be a league in almost every state.

These leagues are also working hard to attract people other than the stereotyped affluent white male. The largest barrier to mountain biking is typically the cost. However, large companies like Cannondale, Trek, Specialized, and Shimano, along with local shops, have been generous in supporting youth cycling by offering discounted bikes and equipment to youth racers. They do this because they know that these leagues are the foundation for a strong future for mountain biking; they are these companies’ future customer bases. Some leagues have also established teams in the inner-city in less-affluent neighborhoods. In addition, many leagues, including NEHSCA, have worked hard to attract more girls to the sport, through girls-only clinics andgroups. Little Bellas, an organization founded by professional racer Lea Davison to help get more girls on bikes in order to develop self-confidence, has also helped leagues with this mission. By introducing kids of different genders and socio-economic backgrounds to riding now, mountain biking will be even more popular and widespread 20 years down the line.

Now, when I ride in the trail systems around Boston, I always smile when as I see more and more kids in NEHSCA jerseys riding in groups, or out with their parents. The bug has hit them, just as it has hit all of us.

5 ways to better plan and dress for your fat bike adventure!

Kingdom Experiences, Mountain Bike Skill Camps and Tours in Vermont

By: Tom Seymour

Adventure can mean many things. Often when we think of adventure in the context of cycling, our minds immediately go to far off places and big landscapes. But adventure can happen anywhere at any time and fatbikes are a great tool for adventure seekers everywhere. This being January in Vermont, I’m mostly thinking about winter adventures right now. Winter is great here in the NEK, but the temperatures can vary quite a lot and quickly. In this article I will discuss some ways to stay warm and comfortable on your next winter time fat bike adventure.

 1: Know your abilities and plan accordingly. 

According to a 2014 article in Men’s Health, fat biking can burn up to 1,500 calories an hour. While we all won’t be burning that many calories every hour we are on a fat bike, we can look at this information as a gauge of how much work our bodies may have to do during our next fat bike adventure. The first step I take when planning for a fat bike ride is to look at the weather and the trail reports and use this information to plan my ride and to choose the clothing I will use to regulate my body temperature. If you are new to cold weather cardio, I recommend  shorter, close to home rides to learn how your body and equipment respond to various temperatures.

2: Layers!!

Most of us are familiar with the concept of layering your clothing to stay comfortable in cold weather. When exercising in sub freezing temps, the right layers are key to staying warm and as dry as possible. The first layer to consider is your base layer. Whether you choose a mid weight or lightweight layer, make sure it is form fitting to allow the base layer to move the sweat that you will inevitably produce away from your skin.The next layer will be either the mid or outer layer; it will usually have some type of insulation and if used as an outer layer should have some type of wind protection. Mid layers should be some type of breathable insulation and should fit small enough so that some type of shell can be worn over it. Though fat bike specific clothing is now being offered, most cross country ski clothing works well as does winter hiking clothing.

3: Wind  protection

Even though winter riding tends to be slower than summer time riding, we are still moving through the cold air at pace fast enough to make wind protection important.  Like the rest of our clothing, exactly how much wind protection we need depends upon the temperature and the type of riding being done. For example; on a 30 degree day in the woods, wind resistant garments are not needed nearly as much as the same day on back roads where speeds are higher and much of the tree cover is lost. Again, fat bike specific clothing is now becoming available but other types of winter clothing can work well and in a pinch, a rain jacket worn over an insulating layer or two can work to block the wind. If shopping for a new garment, look for one with a wind-proof/resistant front and a more breathable back. Also look for stretchy material to allow for full range of motion and make sure it is large enough to accommodate an insulating layer worn underneath.

4: Hands, feet and head

These are areas that a very important to take care of; not many things can change the tone of your adventure like excessively cold hands or feet. For most people, a thin winter hat under your existing bike helmet will work well, you can also pair this with a neck warmer or use a balaclava for an all-in-one solution. When Temperatures dip below 10 degrees fahrenheit, an insulated alpine ski helmet can keep you warmer and keep more of the wind off of your head. Gloves could be an entire post by themselves! To keep it simple, I recommend thin glove liners and a good warm glove that blocks the wind. If your hands are particularly sensitive to the cold, consider pogies(see next point) and/or temporary chemical hand warmers. For shoes, you can choose from some fat bike specific offerings from various brands or use an insulated winter boot with a non aggressive tread that will allow good contact with the pedal. If you are prone to cold feet, you can use chemical toe warmers or there are even heated socks available.

5: Dress your bike: frame bags and pogies

 Two last items to consider to make your next fat bike adventure more comfortable are pogies(handlebar mounted mittens) and a frame bag. Pogie designs vary but they all focus on one thing, sheltering your hands from the wind and cold. Pogies are not only great for warmer hands at lower temperatures, but they also allow the use of a much thinner glove when the temperatures rise allowing for a more natural feel of the brake and shift levers. Some pogies include pockets on the inside to use for snack or hand warmer storage. Framebags fit in the front triangle of your bike’s frame an can provide storage for tools, snacks, extra clothes and water. In fact, a frame bag in conjunction with an insulated water bottle is the best way I’ve found to keep water from freezing during colder rides. By replacing a back pack with a frame bag, we lower our center of gravity for a more stable ride and have the best solution for maintaining an unfrozen water source.