NICA, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, provides systems, procedures, leadership and services to help form regional leagues that put on competitive – and not so competitive – middle and high school mountain biking events and programs. They get students on bikes, so we are excited to support them by helping get the riders – and their rides – to the races and events.
Their programs get students who both already love to ride and those that are new to cycling, an opportunity to be involved with an interscholastic team sport, and it offers students who are curious about mountain biking an avenue to get rolling. Plus, it brings a team ethic – and the camaraderie that comes with that – to what’s often an individual sport.
“I wish I had this when I was in high school,” says NICA executive director, Austin McInerny. “I wanted to be part of a sports team, but did not get past try-outs for basketball and cycling was not an organized sport at that time. NICA provides the organization structure and training to, helping move cyclingit from fringe to mainstream in America. Also, cycling takes you off campus. This is unique to the sport – it creates a broader learning experience by connecting the student-athletes with the outdoors, and their local community and adult mentors.”
And better academic performance is a side-effect. “Riders are students first, athletes second,” says McInerny. “Most teams have a minimum GPA requirement – often higher than the schools’ goals for other athletic teams – and we have found that not only are the participants meeting these expectations, 85% of them exceed it.” To reward academic performance, NICA provides scholarships. Qualifying student-athletes can receive $500 towards college. “The goal is to build stronger minds, bodies, and characters – these are our core values. This means everyone participates, no benchwarmers and everyone is treated equally and fairly.”
Megan Bradley is no benchwarmer.
She recently earned the IB Next Generation Rider of the Year award at Interbike, the cycling industry’s big annual trade gathering, and currently races for UC Berkeley. The award recognizes the amateur mountain bike athlete who best embodies NICA’s core values during a breakout race year.
But she wasn’t exactly a hotshot prospect when she joined Rim of the World High School’s Mountain Bike team. “I knew how to ride a bike before, but had never done so on dirt,” says Megan. “Now mountain biking is part of my lifestyle – I can’t go three days without being on a bike. NICA has given me independence and confidence yet has taught me good sportsmanship – one of the more valuable lessons I took away from my years racing in high school.”
And Megan is really appreciating one of the biggest things her sport delivers – the sense of community and positive vibes that mountain bikers share. “I’ve never known a sport with athletes who sincerely mean it when they congratulate you at the finish line, no matter who won. My experience with NICA has given me skills, friendships, and memories that I get to carry with me the rest of my life.”
NICA is best known for their Race Series. In communities around the country, NICA helps set-up leagues by offering comprehensive coach and staff training, development and outreach methods and ongoing support. Once everything’s all ready to roll, the league’s racers gather to compete over the span of a weekend. While there is a strong focus on speeding towards the podium, the true emphasis is on sportsmanship and establishing a community of riders that goes beyond racing. During the off-season, camps keep the mojo rolling with skills clinics, races, and bike maintenance sessions.
One of NICA’s important programs is coach licensing. They educate adults and give them the tools – first aid, risk management, training guidelines, and more – to be effective, positive coaches. About 4,000 people have undergone the training so far, making it a real point of pride for McInerny who coached the first high school mountain bike team in Berkeley, California before NICA was formed.
An off-bike program, the Teen Trail Corps is geared towards fostering the next generation of environmental stewards. Partnering with local trail organizations, the program gets young riders out to perform trail building and maintenance, and – as a result – creates community leaders and increases positive engagement with other trail users.
“We really are a leader in introducing cycling to another generation, particularly girls,” says McInerny. And cultivating new, young riders has a trickle-out effect. When NICA polled members to see if anyone in the family had been inspired to ride, 77% percent – that’s a lot – replied that a family member started or re-engaged with cycling. “There’s a spillover, we hear it at a shop level – all these families show up and the whole family is looking to buy bikes and gear.” And it’s infectious. “’Wow – our kid is on the team – let’s do a bike trip this summer as a family.’ The kids are extending their relationship with the parents – and mom and dad help them get to these cool destinations.”
“Destinations, getting to the trailhead – be it racing or a family trip to Moab – this is where Yakima’s important,” says McInerny. “I’ve seen some really creative instances of bike cramming – getting four kids and four bikes into one car. We love the FrontLoader and HoldUp. Much better than cramming. Yakima is an essential part of the experience – you gotta get there – and, as these families become cycling families, they need to transport themselves.” He also loves the idea of a rack system. “A lot of these families are active – it’s more than just bikes – so a multisport system gives them that versatility. I just see Yakima stuff all over the place.”
Photo Credits: First Image: Casey Ghrist, Rick LaBelle. Second Image: Kira Crowell, Heather Pugh. Third Image: NICA, Samuel I. Beard, JR. Last Image (above): Daniel Schroeder