New high school mountain bike league starting in fall
Burnsville/Lakeville and District 196 will have two of the 15 teams
The Twin Cities suburbs aren’t exactly known for their mountain ranges, but that’s not stopping anyone from mountain biking.
Bicycling Magazine recently ranked Minneapolis as the top bike-friendly city in the country and many of those cyclists aren’t exactly riding on pavement. With places such as Lebanon Hills in Eagan and Murphy-Hanrehan Park in Savage, interest in mountain biking the metro is growing.
“There is some really great off-road natural-surface bicycling here,” said Gary Sjoquist, founding chair of the Minnesota High School Cycling League. “Minnesota is getting a reputation for unexpectedly good bicycling.”
Starting this fall, several club programs will compete in the Minnesota High School Mountain Bike League.
California has had high school mountain racing for a decade through the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. It has spread to other states, including Colorado, Washington, Utah, Texas and now Minnesota.
Teams are available for any boy or girl entering ninth through 12th grade in the Burnsville, Lakeville, and District 196 area. For more information, visit www.minnesotamtb.org.
“What made me want to join the mountain bike club is that it would give me more opportunities to get out and bike and experience different trails around the state,” said Adam DeCurtins, a student who plans to ride this fall.
Being on the team will give him someone to keep pace with on the course.
“I really enjoy mountain biking because of the added challenge of conquering the terrain and just the fun of being in nature,” DeCurtins said.
He started trail riding for the first time two years ago and was quickly hooked on the thrill of singletrack biking.
“It can be scary, but that is the fun part most of the time,” DeCurtins said. “Your adrenaline kicks in and you just kind of let go of a little sanity.”
The girls and boys will race separately, but the team’s final tally will be a combination of both scores. No racing experience is necessary; all riders need is a mountain bike and a helmet. About 15 teams have formed already across the state.
“We can teach anyone to ride a bike and introduce beginning riders to a safe, fun, and challenging experience,” said Chris Harvey, coach of the Burnsville/Lakeville program.
The Lakeville/Burnsville team will mainly practice at Murphy-Hanrehan Park in Savage but will also go to Lebanon Hills in Eagan and Terrace Oaks in Burnsville, which is “some of the best mountain bike singletrack in Minnesota,” Harvey said.
Sjoquist has been racing for more than 20 years and has encouraged others to get involved in mountain biking. Starting them young has worked well.
“I knew there was a good base here for mountain biking,” Sjoquist said. “I knew we had all the right ingredients. It’s just a matter of getting some help from key people and retailers. These are kids who aren’t playing the typical sports like football and hockey.”
Everyone will have a chance to score points and nobody will be cut from a team, Sjoquist said.
“The great majority of kids come back with a smile and it’s something they can do with other kids,” Sjoquist said. “It’s very social. Even the smallest, scrawniest kids, if they can make a lap, they can score points. You don’t get that with the other sports. Kids can feel empowered, learn something new and secretly get in shape.
“There’s also all the lessons of practicing and being responsible for the bike and safety and being ready for a race. There’s so many things a kid can learn.”
Races will take place weekends during September and October in the metro as well as Rochester and St. Cloud, with the series championship at Buck Hill in Burnsville on Oct. 28.
There’s a girls-only “Try-it-Out Session” from 1 to 4 p.m. July 12 at Murphy-Hanrehan to learn proper bike fit and basic mountain bike skills. Demo bikes will be available. Parents must sign a waiver for the child to participate. More information is available at www.minnesotamtb.org.