As cycling continues its resurgent growth in the U.S. the National Intercollegiate Cycle Association, or NICA, looks to provide organized Mountain Biking leagues for high schoolers across the country. They have already established successful leagues in 18 states, and continue to work to add more project leagues.
NICA is proving to be successful as executive director, Austin McInerny, notes “We grew 43 percent from 2015 to 2016. Some of the leagues are seeing more in the 7th- and 8th-grade fields than in the older ones. I’m calling that the tip of the iceberg. I think it could grow even quicker if we found more adults who wanted to step up and run those teams”. However, there are still challenges; it is expensive to compete as a season costs between $1,275-$2,275 depending on what bike the competitor is riding. To combat this issue, many leagues offer scholarships and loaner bike programs. As more access to mountain biking is provided, more students are embracing it. NICA describes mountain biking as a healthy, low impact, outdoor recreational lifestyle. The demand for an exciting low impact sport is there; in Minnesota, high school football programs alone have lost more than 2,200 athletes since 2009. But is mountain biking a good alternative for these kids?
Coach Shaun Anderson says yes. “A lot of these kids have done football, baseball, and haven’t really found their place in traditional sports”. Additionally, it is worth noting that part of NICA’s vision is to “Advocate for the environmental conservation of natural areas and parklands, mountain bike trail access, and the development of sustainable trail systems”; something that most mountain bikers are avid about. NICA is growing rapidly and they hope to keep it up in the long run, in their own survey they found that 99.7% of their riders consider themselves lifelong cyclists. The hope is that these former competitors will return as coaches, league administrators, and trail stewards who will help NICA and mountain biking grow. Only time will tell if high schoolers decide to trade their football helmets for bike helmets.