Launch of SNU Mountain Biking Club shines light on Tahoe cycling scene

Brayden Stephenson, Managing Editor

With the start of the Fall, 2021 Semester at Sierra Nevada University came the birth of a long-time needed mountain bike club. Sitting at the epicenter of a world-renowned mountain biking Mecca, the SNU campus has long been home to students devoted to mountain biking.

Sprinted Tyrolian Downhill laps lead students to class while the local Incline Village Bike Park becomes the end of school day meet-up spot. With all of these activities in action, SNU senior, Alex Simmons felt the call to launch the SNU Mountain Bike Club.

“It’s weird to me that a school so focused on outdoor recreation but there’s no focus on riding here,” Simmons said. She was amazed at the riding opportunities when she landed on campus four years ago. “We’ve had all these rad clubs like climbing, whitewater, Freeride Club, a ski and snowboard team…but there’s nothing dedicated to mountain biking. When I first moved here I was riding alone all the time, I found all the trails on my own, and really there was no resource for mountain bikers here. I just found out last year we have a fleet of bikes for students to use but they’re all run down.”

Efforts of the club will include revamping the school’s fleet of bikes. There are currently eight specialized rockhoppers that were, at one time, in great condition for students to use safely but are now outdated and falling apart. The club also hopes to build community around group trail rides for students. And between Simmons and the club’s event coordinator, SNU senior Caylor Thomas, they want to develop some opportunities for competitive racing.

“Mountain Biking makes up a big chunk of why I came here. I think that its crucial to have a mountain biking club here to bring riders together because over the four years I’ve been here I’ve met a lot of cool people through mountain biking but there’s never been an organized way for me to connect with them. I think the cool thing about the club is to create a platform to reach out to all these riders and find ways to meet up for rides,” Thomas said.

Collegiate-level mountain biking is not a unique discipline. While hundreds of clubs exist nationwide there’s also a handful of schools that offer athletic scholarships for cycling. Schools like Fort Lewis Collage in Durango, Colorado, and the University of California, Santa Cruz have reigned supreme in competitive mountain biking, leading current SNU students to wonder why they can’t have the same opportunity.

“I think we should get the school more recognized in the competitive scene because I think we could do really well and would give future students the chance to pursue the sport in a more involved way,” Thomas said.

SNU freshman Reed Sheridan saw the potential to dive deeper into the world of mountain biking by going to school in Tahoe. Through his involvement with the new club he’s able to pursue his passion of mountain biking in an exciting and communal way. More so than what was expected when he first started the semester.

“When I came here that there wasn’t a team, much less a club, for the location the school is in and I was motivated to help create the club. I met Alex and saw that she was putting this together,” Sheridan said. “I hope to help the club continue once she graduates.

One specific competitive goal of the club is to participate in the Sea Otter Classic, a large-scale racing event held each spring in Monterey, California. The event was held in fall this year because the spring event was canceled. Not only would this provide racing experience for students, but it would give SNU the chance at recruiting from a niche group of prospective students. According to Sea Otter’s website, the event brings in more than 75,000 people each year, whether they’re pro racers or fans everyone is there to participate in the greater mountain bike scene.

“I want this to be a space where people can just come and enjoy themselves. It would be awesome if we could have a team. I raced Sea Otter last weekend and I would’ve been able to race and place well at the collegiate level but our school doesn’t have any of the paperwork done to be eligible for that and we live in one of the best cycling destinations in the west. I think we should definitely promote resources for students who want to ride and race competitively,” Simmons said.

The conception of the mountain bike club follows a year where cycling boomed like never before. With the Covid-19 pandemic came a global desire to engage in activities that didn’t require large gatherings and promoted time outside, sports like climbing, surfing, skiing, and camping surged in population. Mountain biking also gained the attention of those stuck at home. According to Forbes, the cycling industry saw an additional $1 billion dollars in revenue and sales climbed 140% since March of 2020. Simmons also works at local Incline Village bike shop, Flume Trail, and has seen the sport grow both from a riders perspective and an industry insider perspective.

“I think any time when more people are getting on bikes is a great thing,” Simmons said. “The outdoor industry is booming right now, during the pandemic the outdoors kind of became trendy and people realized they wanted to reconnect with things they had lost touch with. Cycling is a great way to stay in shape and it can be a solo activity too. It’s also been cool to see the industry benefit from this as bikes are getting more and more advanced with all of the recent interest in the sport.”

In the Lake Tahoe Basin trails saw more and more riders, and with the growing population trail stewardship organizations like Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association, (TAMBA), worked overtime to promote safe and high-quality trail systems. To support these efforts TAMBA released a 2020-2025 Strategic Plan that benefits riders and forests by ramping up trail stewardship and education while also building world-class trails. The Tahoe basin also neighbors riding destinations like Santa Cruz and Downieville that keep the club motivated even though the Tahoe mountain biking season is coming to a close as winter approaches.

“If we make enough money we’re hoping to fund a trip somewhere below the snow-line. At the same time this is an athletic club and spending the winter participating in skiing and snowboarding will keep us in shape for the Sea Otter in April and for the riding season come late spring. The winter sports are fun things to do in the off season and it’s great because they’re activities that relate to mountain biking,” Simmons said.

The SNU Mountain Biking Club is here to build a community around a growing sport and help propel students to pursue a lifelong passion. To stay updated with future SNU MTB Club news follow @snu_mtb on Instagram.