NICA Riders’ Guide to Mountain Bikes
High school mountain biking is taking off. Every year more teenagers in more states are racing bikes through the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, or NICA. With so many kids getting into mountain biking, one of the first questions is “what bike should I get?” First off, the bike isn’t the most important thing. The rider is. If you race, focus on yourself more than the bike. Riders get better; bikes don’t. But you will need a bike, so here’s some advice to get you started. Mountain bikes come in two suspension options, hardtails and full suspension. Hardtails have a diamond shaped frame with suspension only in the fork. Full suspension bikes have both front and rear suspension. If you’re just getting into racing, go with a hardtail. They’re light, fast, affordable, and easy to maintain. Why else? NICA race courses are cross country courses. That means they’re fast, open and not overly technical; perfect for a hardtail. Hardtails make you a better rider because you don’t have full suspension to cover up mistakes. Riding a hardtail teaches you better technique, like picking good lines, and how to ride smooth. When you learn on a hardtail, you’ll be a better rider if you ever switch to a full suspension bike. Hardtails are lighter. For younger riders on a smoother course, a lighter bike will be easier to race. Hardtails are a better value. For the same price as a full suspension bike, you could get a better hardtail. Maintaining it will be simpler and less costly so you can spend your time riding and your money on upgrades. If you want a hardtail, Trek has options for every level rider: Marlin is a great hardtail to get you into cross-country riding. Unlike some entry-level hardtails built for leisurely riding, Marlin puts the rider in a more aggressive position for XC racing. The frame is light, and the parts on the Marlin are all cross-country oriented parts. As you go up the Marlin lineup, the parts get lighter and more durable. Marlin can also grow with you. As you get faster and more committed to mountain biking, you can hang onto the frame and upgrade parts, like a better drivetrain with more gearing or lighter wheels. X-Caliber has a lighter aluminum frame than the Marlin. You get some upgraded features. However, the biggest difference is the quality of the parts. X-Caliber models have 10- and 11-speed drivetrains for better shifting, and lighter, more tunable air forks. You get lighter wheels and tires that can be set up tubeless for less weight and fewer flats. Roscoe is similar in price and features to the X-Caliber. The biggest difference is that the Roscoe has wider 2.8″ tires that provide more traction and a suspension fork with more suspension travel. It’s a good choice if you’re riding a lot of loose or rocky terrain. Procaliber is the bike that Trek’s professional racers use. It’s available as a lightweight aluminum frame, or an even lighter carbon frame, with a built in decoupler to help smooth out bumps in the trail. You won’t find this feature on other hardtails. Procaliber is a performance bike for varsity riders committed to the sport. Regardless of which bike you get, the most important thing is to ride it and have fun. High school mountain biking is an awesome sport. Mountain biking is a great activity that you can enjoy forever.