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The wheels are officially in motion to create a new athletic opportunity for middle and high school students in the Historic Triangle.
Interscholastic mountain biking is coming to Williamsburg and hopes to offer a unique sporting experience that differs from traditional sports such as football, soccer and basketball.
The Virginia High School Cycling League, a state affiliate of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), is entering its second year of operation with the addition of a new Williamsburg cycling team: The Colonial Revolution.
Rick Bartels, co-founder of the Virginia High School Cycling League and one of four coaches for the Colonial Revolution, is actively recruiting middle school and high school athletes around the Historic Triangle for the team’s inaugural four-race season that will run from Sept. 12 through the first week of November.
Bartels understands the thought of interscholastic mountain biking in Williamsburg sounds like a strange idea. He said he has received plenty of strange looks from people when explaining the possibility of competitive mountain biking in the area, as people often picture big-air jumps and dangerous terrain when they envision competitive mountain biking.
He is quick to point out the major differences between that sort of mountain biking shown during televised X-Games broadcasts and what the Virginia High School Cycling League is offering.
The Colonial Revolution will be competing in the equivalent of cross-country races and will take place on grass and dirt tracks that can range anywhere from 5 to 20 miles depending on the age and skill of the rider.
Bartels said Williamsburg’s established bike culture and surrounding trails make it a perfect hub for competitive cycling.
“Williamsburg has a ton of great venues and riding opportunities that are really safe for families and kids,” he said. “We have about 90 miles of what we call single-track trails in the Greater Williamsburg area. We have unrivaled gateway, what we call beginner-friendly, very safe trails in Williamsburg. For what we have in Williamsburg, it’s really good gateway trails for even younger kids beyond grade school.”
The prevalence of beginner-friendly trails in and around Williamsburg, Bartels said, will help new riders become accustomed to the sport.
Recruiting participants for the Colonial Revolution will likely be the biggest challenge for Bartels, who will have to convince boys and girls between grades six and 12 to try cycling in lieu of traditional sports.
For Bartels, who has been cycling for most of his life, competitive cycling offers unique opportunities for those who are not big on “ball sports.”
“This is a sport where, if the traditional ball sports didn’t work out for you, it is a nice option,” Bartels said. “No one sits on the bench. If you finish the race, you score points for your team. There are no second stringers or third stringers and all of that. It’s very inviting from that standpoint.”
The Colonial Revolution will not be affiliated with any local schools at the prep level. Rather, the team will draw on students from both public and private schools to fill out its roster. In the future, Bartels hopes the team will serve as a feeder system for middle and high schools in the Historic Triangle with enough riders to represent each individual school in a race.
Any riders interested in competing with the Colonial Revolution will need to supply their own bikes, which Bartels said is the biggest expense when beginning the sport. A new, entry-level mountain bike can cost more than $300, but Bartels suggests families strapped for cash to check secondary markets for used bikes to get started.
As the sport continues to grow, financial assistance and loaner bikes could become available for riders in need. In larger, more-established NICA program across the U.S., loaner bikes and scholarship programs help riders cut costs.
Before any of that can become a reality locally, Bartels will need to field a team for this upcoming season, which will begin practices in July. And even if the turnout is not what Bartels is hoping for – he hopes to attract at least a dozen riders for the inaugural season – he said the ultimate goal is to set the groundwork for future seasons.
“We’re just in the infancy stages,” he said. “This is planting the seeds for 2016, 2017 and beyond.”
To learn more about the Virginia High School Cycling League, click here. For more information about the Colonial Revolution, click here.