By Special to The Oregonian
on March 07, 2013
Last spring, the Vancouver Mashers youth mountain bike team won first place in the 20-team Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance‘s Washington Student League.
Mashers coach Kevin Brown was as surprised as anyone else.
“It was our first year and we were this ragtag team, relatively small, and we took first in the league. It’s something I’m proud of. They worked hard and rode well,” said Brown, a longtime cyclist.
Youth mountain bike racing is quickly gaining popularity in southwest Washington, with two teams now representing the area. Most of the Mashers come from Vancouver, while the Lacamas Freedom Riders, in its third year, largely comprises kids from Camas and Washougal.
Both teams initially raced with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which allows only high school students to compete. This year the Mashers and Freedom Riders switched to the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance league, which allows middle and high school students to participate.
Ed Fischer, owner of Camas Bike and Sport and a Freedom Riders coach, said his team has grown from five riders last year to 20 this year. He said most of Washington’s youth mountain biking activity is centered on Seattle, and he wants to see more in this part of the state.
“I’ve been riding since I was a kid, and I wish I had something like this when I was younger. I would have gotten a lot more involved with mountain biking,” Fischer said.
Starting in January, the Freedom Riders practice three days a week, meeting at Fischer’s Camas store and riding out toLacamas Park for an hour and a half of either skills training or endurance work a couple of times a week. If it’s really rainy, or the trails are too muddy, the team will head to Snap Fitness to work out on stationary bicycles. Weekend rides tend to be impromptu, and where they go depends on the weather.
The Mashers follow a similar schedule, riding at Round Lake when the weather is decent and taking spinning classes at a local gym when it’s not. On weekends they head out for longer rides, sometimes on Mount Hood or in the Portland area.
Races take place in April and May, including one hosted by Camas Bike and Sport at the Washougal Motocross Park. Many of the cyclists extend the racing season by participating in the summer Short Track series at Portland International Raceway and riding in cyclocross races in the fall and winter.
Youth teams are open to boys and girls. The Mashers team is split evenly between genders, but only two of 20 students in the Freedom Riders are girls.
Katina Fischer, Ed’s wife and one of the team coaches, wants to change that.
“It’s so much fun and I want girls to know that they can do this,” she said. “I especially want to reach out to the girls in middle school and get to them before they’re committed to other sports.”
Seventh-grader Natalie Renner has taken up the challenge. A swimmer and softball player at Pacific Middle School in Vancouver, Renner did some cyclocross racing before her dad suggested she might want to check out the Freedom Riders a few months ago.
“Some of it’s complicated, like riding on really steep downhills and going over tree roots, but it’s really fun and I like learning new stuff,” Renner said. “And I really like working with Katina. She tells us how to do things, like how to conquer the hills.”
Lisa Miller, director of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance Washington Student League, describes the youth component as a holistic program for cyclists, helping them develop stewardship and leadership skills as well as riding and racing techniques.
“I really consider mountain bike riding like an outdoor classroom. It’s a great opportunity for kids to work on things like goal setting, teamwork and sportsmanship, and learning how to lead a healthy lifestyle,” Miller said. “They don’t necessarily know they’re taking away these life lessons because they’re having so much fun.”