Participation in the local chapter of the Washington Student Cycling League doubled this season, which is its second year.
Participation in the local chapter of the Washington Student Cycling League doubled this season, which is its second year.

Nolan Sigurdson says mountain biking feels irresponsible.

The speeds the high school sophomore reaches on the trails are often reckless.

“I am not sure why anyone likes that feeling of your heart beating a million times a minute, and your legs burning,” said Sigurdson, who admits enjoys the sensations.

The activity has become a much bigger part of his life, and that of more than a dozen other Monroe area youth, since wife-husband team Amy and Justin Craven started a local chapter of the Washington Student Cycling League two years ago. Sigurdson used to ride occasionally for fun, but has hopes of getting through college on a mountain bike scholarship.

Justin Craven said Sigurdson has emerged as a leader and role model for many of the other youth who participated this season. During the group’s commencement celebration, he recognized the promising young competitor for his talent and example to his peers and their families.

The group’s roster had doubled from its first year, Amy Craven said, crediting the kids for promoting it. For the most part, getting riders to sign up has been through word-of-mouth, Justin Craven said. Once the kids are on board, many of their parents are recruited to volunteer their time to support the team’s practice sessions and races.

“I think that’s what really sells it,” he said.

Some of the more driven adults are even starting to get into the sport themselves, and have become coaches. 

The league is co-ed, and students of all ability levels in grades 6-12 are invited to join, she said. The program is designed to teach kids valuable skills they can apply on and off the racetrack, she said.

“Our mission is to promote youth development, confidence, leadership, health and public stewardship through mountain biking and positive outdoor experience and to create a foundation for lifelong cycling enjoyment,” according to the Washington league.

For the past two years, Sigurdson said, he has been getting faster and faster.

“It’s kind of left me wanting more,” he said.

No other sport he’s tried has impacted him the way mountain biking has, he said. He remembers moments during races where he didn’t think he could push any further, but discovered he was capable of more.

Justin Craven says for someone to improve, they just need to ride a lot. The skills aren’t developed overnight, Amy Craven said. Some of it isn’t intuitive — it takes time to get used to the bike, and grasp the physics behind the motions. 

The kids learn foundational concepts, like pacing themselves. They can’t always skip into a sprint right at the start of a race, Justin Craven said.

The Cravens said there is much camaraderie exhibited through the sport. Sometimes different chapters will practice together, and the teams work to promote the league as a whole, Amy Craven said. 

A few other chapters in the region are younger, like Monroe’s, and some are also much bigger. Occasionally they will visit those groups on their turf, and practice on their competitor’s trails, he said. Some members, like Justin Craven, say they grew up riding. Others, like Sigurdson, would go out from time to time, usually because their parents would take them.

Kayleigh Brown started out with her dad. They would go on trails together, and their first trip out was in Saint Edwards State Park.

The Park Place Middle School student said her mom, Lisa, found out about the new biking group on social media, and encouraged her to join. Brown is the only girl who has signed up with the team so far.

She said the work is more competitive than when it was just for fun. She was scared of the big drops and tripping over roots at first, but now she rides with ease, and gets excited for the races and workouts. 

The Washington league’s mountain biking season ran Jan. 1 to June 15 this year. Preseason begins Sept. 1.

Four official league competitions were held this year. Sigurdson and others also entered races that were outside of the league.

In the league races, riders race individually, but at the same time are competing for their team, Justin Craven said. Each race is points-based, and every point gained goes to the entire group’s score, he said.

To participate, riders need to have a bike, and be within the required age range.