Edina High School junior Max Ellingson began mountain biking in eighth grade. You’ll find him astride his hardtail mountain bike as soon as the last bit of spring snow melts from pathways. He is no stranger to treacherous terrain or gravel roads, and cruises from 15–50 miles on most sunny summer afternoons. Max and younger brother Jack, a sophomore, were itching to start a mountain biking team. So when Edina cyclist Tom Kendall broached the idea, the Ellingson brothers immediately signed up to be part of the new Edina mountain bike team formed last summer.
Kendall is an avid 10-year mountain biker who first volunteered with the Minnesota High School Cycling League two years ago. “Mountain biking is a great sport for those who don’t primarily fit into other traditional sports,” Kendall says. And young cyclists are catching on. Last year, the Minnesota High School Cycling League grew from fewer than 20 teams to around 30, including the new Edina team. The league hopes to have 400 athletes on 40 teams this season and is also beginning a program for seventh- and eighth-graders. “I would not be surprised if we had 500 kids racing in the league this year,” Kendall says. “I think in five years we could have 1,000 kids riding. It’s a national sport now.”
Currently, the Edina mountain bike team is community-based rather than a high school-affiliated team. This means any student in grades nine through 12 who lives in the Edina area can join the team. The goal is for every team to have both female and male cyclists. Lydia Reiner, a freshman at Valley View Middle School, was the team’s only female cyclist to compete in all five races last season and is a team captain for 2014. Kendall, Ellingson and Reiner agree on three main goals for the team going forward: Increase the number of female riders, grow overall team participation and earn a high school designation. “It would be really cool to see the team grow even more,” Ellingson says. “It’s awesome to see younger riders progress throughout the season.”
The mountain biking season runs from July through November and includes five team races. Riders typically practice together three times a week on 20-mile rides near Theodore Wirth Golf Course. “It’s a great team spirit, riding with your friends,” says Kendall. “I can’t get the kids off their bikes. They will not quit riding.”
Parents of team members often ride along during practices. Kendall sees this opportunity for family togetherness as another perk of mountain biking. Reiner’s mother, an avid road biker, regularly rides with the team. “It’s not exactly fun when your mom shows up in full-body Spandex and says ‘I am ready to ride,’ ” Reiner says with a laugh. But she credits her mother for encouraging her to give the sport a try. Now Reiner admits that mountain biking pumps up her adrenaline and enthusiasm. She has invested in a female-specialized carbon competition mountain bike and hopes for an individual medal this season.
Kendall also encourages riders to ride on their own and participate in other non-team races before the season begins. Ellingson competes in the Minnesota Mountain Biking Series during the months leading up to the team season. And though Reiner only began racing with the Edina Mountain Biking team for the very first time last season, she signed on to race in the Minnesota Ironman Bicycle Ride this past spring.
Cruising along mountain bike paths can be intimidating for beginners, and the endurance required for mountain bike racing can be difficult. But Ellingson and Reiner advise first-time riders not to fear the sport. “Don’t be afraid of falling behind in the pack. That happens and is normal,” Reiner says. The team encourages riders to celebrate individual triumphs. Overcoming the challenges is rewarding and worthwhile, since mountain biking is a lifelong sport that can help keep you healthy.
Interested in learning more about the Edina mountain bike team? Attend its first informational meeting of the season, 9 a.m. to noon, June 21. Room 351, Edina Community Center, 5701 Normandale Road; 952.848.3952
Minnesota High School Cycling League, minnesotamtb.org
For gear, check out Max Ellingson’s favorite bike shop, Penn Cycle, 6824 Penn Ave. S., Richfield; 612.866.7540