Birmingham has no shortage of amazing mountain biking trails. It’s no surprise, then, that the Magic City is also home to a burgeoning middle and high school mountain biking scene.
What is youth mountain biking?
NICA (the National Interscholastic Cycling Association) is the umbrella organization for middle and high school mountain biking. Its main goal, according to parent Kathy Green, is to get more people riding bikes.
They do this through developing skills and confidence in young people—some who’ve never been on a bike before, and by hosting races where kids in grades 6-12 can compete as individuals and as teams.
In fact, the NICA state championships are coming up next weekend—May 5 at Tannehill State Park—in case you want to go out and watch.
What’s so great about youth mountain biking?
Here at Bham Now, to learn more about the local mountain biking scene, we talked with a couple of folks in the know to find out more, including how you (or your kid) can get involved.
1. It’s awesome for kids who aren’t into traditional ball sports
“As a parent, I see two main benefits: 1) he gets to compete individually if he wants, and 2) he gets to contribute to a team, which is great for a kid who isn’t into traditional sports. It’s important to learn how to work with others, to learn patience, to learn how to be more gracious, and to learn how each individual contributes to the greater whole.”Kathy Green, mom of champion racer Alex Green
2. There’s room for everyone
When I first started learning about mountain biking, I assumed you had to be a super-confident daredevil who’s happy to fly over tree stumps and rocks while getting muddy. Not so. Apparently, there are folks involved in local NICA teams who have never ridden a bike before getting involved.
3. There’s great camraderie
According to parent Heather Hunter, “everyone cheers for everyone else. You don’t have the be the best mountain biker. You work to beat your own personal goals.”
4. Races are fun, like festivals
“It’s a fun, festival-like environment. There are lots of flags, and kids riding around. People usually scope out spots on the trails to see the kids, and bring bikes so they can move to see kids at various spots along the route. Some people go into the woods and bring cowbells to cheer the kids.”Heather Hunter, mom of champion middle schooler Stella Tarrant
5. You get to make friends outside your school bubble
Let’s face it, middle and high school can be their own little worlds at times. It’s really fun when you get to be part of something that gives you a chance to make new friends outside that world.
Reflecting on her son’s experience, Kathy Green said “It’s great to have like-minded people you can run out and participate in activities with that you won’t necessarily see at school the next day.”
6. You can be part of a team even if you never race
While races are part of the action, they’re not for everyone. It’s entirely possible to be part of a NICA mountain biking team without ever racing. You can even get an award for helping to contribute to the success of your team—it’s not all about the superstars.
7. You can check it out to see if you like it in October
Let’s say you decide this sounds pretty cool and you want to give it a try. If you’re in 6-12 grade, you can go on a couple of rides in the October “pre-season” to see if you like it.
8. Practices begin in December for a Spring racing season
Kids practice between December and February to get ready for the racing season, which begins in March. During this time, they learn skills, gain confidence, and make friends.
9. If your school doesn’t have a team, there are two composite teams in the area
A lot of folks ride with teams affiliated with their schools. Two composite teams welcome kids who want to ride but don’t have a school team: Red Mountain Composite (largely Jefferson County) and Shelby County Composite.
10. A lot of parents end up riding, too!
According to Kathy Green, “so many parents become riders because their kids are biker riders. When parents want to ride practices with their kids, they have to go through background checks, concussion tests, and first aid training. Once they’ve done all that, then they can learn to ride and it becomes a family activity.”
6 Birmingham-area youth to watch out for at “Feud at the Furnace”—NICA’s state championship race May 5 at Tannehill State Park
At races, youth, ranging from 6-12 graders, are divided by age and gender. If you want to check out a live race, there’s one coming up next Sunday, May 5, at Tannehill. Here are six Birmingham-area champion racers to watch out for.
3 male mountain bikers
1. Alex Green, Red Mountain Composite
2. Ethan Wright, Hoover Bucs
3. Jackson Ogletree, Red Mountain Composite
3 female mountain bikers
In addition to participating in NICA races, a lot of young women participate in GRiT, which stands for “Girls Riding Together.”
1. Madelyn Roberson, Red Mountain Composite
2. Izzy Haley, Trussville
3. Stella Tarrant, Hoover Bucs
If you want to check out youth mountain biking in the Birmingham area, visit www.AlabamaMTB.org to see if your school has a team. If it doesn’t, then look for info on the Red Mountain Composite team (Jefferson County) or the Shelby County Composite team. You’ll find contact details for the teams on the website.
Or, head out to Tannehill next weekend to watch the “Feud at the Furnace” state championship race, Saturday, May 5, 2019.
Finally, if you’re an adult who wants to get involved in the local mountain biking scene, check out Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers aka BUMP. Their mission is to build, maintain, preserve, and ride mountain bike trails in Birmingham and surrounding areas.