Youth mountain bike team starts strong
An Ashland-based youth mountain biking team started its second season strong Sept. 8 in Newport.
The Rogue Composite Vultures, a co-ed team, consists of 31 youth from Ashland to Central Point in grades six through 12. They compete against 14 other teams around the state under the umbrella of the Oregon Interscholastic Cycling League, according to team director Casey Botts.
Botts said races are separated into grade levels and by gender.
At the first race of the season, the team saw three racers place within the top five of their class, which is a pretty impressive feat considering that each race had a minimum of 30 bikers, Botts added.
Isa Culver from Medford placed fourth among sixth-grade girls, Owen Kuhl from Medford placed fifth among seventh-grade boys, and Aiden Franklin from Ashland placed fifth for sophomore boys.
Franklin said this is his first year on the team, but he grew up mountain biking in the Rogue Valley.
“I think the camaraderie is the best part of being on the team, making new friends, meeting new people and having a good time with everybody,” Franklin said.
He said there were about 40 other boys in his race, which covered about 10.5 miles.
Botts said this is only the second year for the Oregon League.
“Most of these start-up leagues end up doubling in number of participants each year for the first three to four years, and we’re seeing that here,” Botts said.
He said last year there were 75 racers at the Newport race, and this year there were 244.
“It’s different from other sports because everybody gets to play, and if you don’t want to race you can still ride on the bike and get practice without competing,” Botts said. “There are kids who are really competitive, but there’s also kids who just want to ride bikes and have fun. I think it reaches a wider range of kids, and that’s why the growth is so big.”
Franklin said the team is a great way for beginners to be introduced to mountain biking. At the first few practices, the coaches went over all the basics from braking to how to change a flat, he said.
Last year the league consisted of 107 riders, and this year there are 290. At this rate the Rogue Vultures might need to split off into separate teams in the future, if they can find enough coaches to do so, he said.
The next race is at Mount Hood on Sunday, Sept. 22.
Botts said the team is looking for more female riders.
“The league has a goal to bring the female riders up to 25% of the league, and we’re looking to encourage any females who want to try it out,” Botts said.
The team’s head coach is a woman, Rebeccah Bieri, so he hopes that might encourage more females to join.
The races are all cross-country, not downhill, he added. Races are held on mountain-biking trails throughout the state.
The routes and level of difficulty are the same for each grade level and can easily be completed by a sixth-grader. Botts said they’re all green, beginner trails. Higher grade levels have more laps around the trail to complete.
“The goal is to have everyone finish the race and not let the difficulty be the factor of why they don’t finish,” Botts said.
Franklin described the Newport course as beginner friendly, but it could be technical at a fast pace.
He said riders took two slow laps first to check out the unfamiliar trail.
The races come in waves, so a senior boy isn’t flying down the trail while a sixth-grade girl is on it.
The team practices on trails in the Ashland watershed and at Prescott Park in Medford.
The last race of the season will be held on the familiar ground of Prescott Park. That race is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 20, and is open to the public. Races begin at 9 a.m., and awards are usually around 2:30 p.m.
He said most of the races have been up north, and this will be the first race held in Southern Oregon.
There’s also a team in Klamath Falls, and it adds up to a lot of driving for the two Southern Oregon teams, he said.
Anyone interested in joining the league should check out the Facebook page @Roguecomposite or the website at oregonmtb.org.
It costs about $350 for the season. Scholarships are available.
“We don’t want finances to be a reason anyone can’t be on the team,” Botts said.
In other news, Botts has been a part of a group pushing the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department to allow them to build a pump track in Ashland.
A pump track is like a skate park made for bikes. It’s a skills park with banked turns and features designed for bikes. It’s a way to practice skills needed for mountain biking, and it’s a space to learn for beginners or youngsters who may not be able to get to mountain bike trails in the forests.
They’re going through the process of getting it approved and looking into working with a designer to come up with a plan, Botts said.
Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at email@example.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.