Guest Post: Impressions of a High School Mountain Bike Racer

Five years ago I let my son down (as well as myself I suppose), by not following through on plans we had discussed to start a mountain bike team at the local high school. Some two years later, a couple individuals (Jonathan Chang, former owner/manager of JAX Claremont and student Noah Libeskind) being more proactive in their approach, followed through on the very same idea, and the Claremont High School Mountain Bike Team was born.

My own son has since graduated and moved on to University, but I have never shaken the belief that the SoCal High School League and its parent. the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) are among the most worthy organizations to dedicate time and effort to promoting and assisting. How to do that has always been the question. Taking photos and writing about the one or two races I am able to attend each Spring are fine, but limited. There does not seem to be a lack of coaches or volunteers.

Then I thought, "I've got this blog; it may not be huge, but it is pretty well established within the cycling community, I should use it for its intended purpose - as a tool to promote bicycling in all its varied forms and capacities."

With that I put it to the Claremont team, that should anyone be inclined to do a little writing I would gladly post up whatever impressions of racing in the high school league they were willing to submit. There were a couple primary reasons for doing this - first, it would give the team some exposure; since they are an unofficial school team or club they are not permitted to advertise or recruit new members via school outlets such as the newspaper or webcast, and thus all recruiting, at this time, is by word of mouth. Second, it would give the students an outlet to share their experiences on the team, write and become published. 

With that i wish to thank Noah Libeskind, currently a Junior at Claremont High School, and one of the founding members of the mountain bike team, for taking the time from his, no doubt, busy schedule to write and share the following:

For the past 3 years I have been taking part in the most amazing sport in the world. It all started in the summer of 2014 when I was getting my bike serviced at Jax while my mom and I were talking to the owner, Jonathan Chang. My mom was telling him that I had just recently started mountain biking, and he told us that he was trying to start a team at Claremont High School with the Southern California chapter of NICA. A little while later we had the first information session for prospective riders for the team, there were four of us there, we watched the NICA film “Singletrack High”, ate pizza, and discussed what team practices and races would look like. Practices were hard, we rode without stopping; up the hill, back down to the slowest rider, and back up, again and again until everyone was at the top of the hill. When it got dark we would run laps and do squats and push-ups at the Claremont Wilderness Park parking lot. At the end of the season I had attended the most practices and races (even if that was only 2 of the 5 races in the season) so I was promoted to team captain for my sophomore year.
Sophomore year was very eventful for the team, over the course of the season our team grew in size by more than 200% and we got our first middle school racers. I attended all five races and qualified for state championships, my average race position went from around 40th of about 50 riders Freshman year, to 20th overall sophomore year, and our top racer Alexander (Albee) Harris missed part of pre-season due to a motocross injury, but still managed to secure a position on the podium at the second Vail Lake race. In my state championships race I crashed on the start straight and couldn’t finish my race, but I was back on the bike a month later, in June, just riding for fun.
Our third year of racing has been very action-packed so far, Jax changed ownership and another one of our sponsors, Coates, went out of business. Aside from these setbacks, this year has been one of the best for our team, we have grown another 200%, we picked up many new sponsors, and many companies (such as Torco, Hinson Clutch Components, the Chrysler Dealer in Ontario, Troy Lee Designs, Swifty Signs, and the Pappas Artisanal folks) have been very generous to our team.
Our racers are incredibly dedicated, tough, and fast. Being a co-ed team, we have two girls who train with our team who race independently, and they are undeniably our toughest riders; we want Claremont High School girls to join the team so we can grow and so we can score more points for our team (in NICA, male and female riders contribute to the team score for every race, so as of now we are only getting 75% of our potential points as a team).
My goal for the beginning of the season was to get a top 10 result overall so I would get a “call-up” – to start at the front of the race. I didn’t get this result at the first or second race, but at the third race in Keyesville I finished in 10th place which didn’t get me a call-up, but was still very exciting. Albee has already gotten two podium results this season and all of our racers have shown huge improvement, there is still one more race, followed by state championships.
Recruitment is a huge struggle for our team; my friends laugh when I ask them if they want to join the bike team, but there is a population of kids whose parents ride bikes and people who are open to alternative sports. Much of our recruitment from last year took place at the El Roble Bike Marathon (a 24-hour Red Cross charity bike ride around the El Roble [the middle school in Claremont - ed.] track) and we are recruiting and offering neutral support at the 2017 Bike Marathon.
I am super proud of how far the team has come and I’m so thankful for all of our volunteer coaches and parents who help with the races and cheer us on.
The reason mountain biking is so engaging for me is that I really enjoy riding my bike, far more than swimming or playing sports on a court or field, being part of a team is just the icing on the cake. We all have so much fun at races camping, riding around, and supporting one another.

Follow us on Instagram @chs_mtb or check out our Facebook page – “Claremont High School Mountain Bike Team” for photos and updates of the team’s training, racing, etc.