The Winding Road to States

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If you told me a year ago that Richmond Composite would have riders racing at The CA State Championships in our first year as a team I would have laughed that notion off as pure fantasy. If you’d have told me we were going to States three weeks before the event, I would have shrugged it off as something with a low probability at best. Yet, as this team continues to do on all fronts, my assumptions about what will be, have been proven gloriously wrong. We made it to States!

Going to States wasn’t our goal in our first year—fun, community, adventure, exploration—these have been our goals. We trained, practiced and threw our whole selves into riding and racing while setting more humble goals as a new team. We helped each individual student athlete set their own unique goals to work toward as well. No one had the goal to make it to States. 

So when Hunter jumped 16 spots in the last race of the year to qualify for States, we were stunned. We were also thrilled, but thoroughly dumbfounded. How did he? What place did he get? How did that happen? 

That finishing feeling. Hunter and Sergio celebrate after qualifying for States.

That finishing feeling. Hunter and Sergio celebrate after qualifying for States.

And when Sergio crossed the finish line at his 5th race (the only Richmond Composite rider to complete every race this year) with another improvement we knew we were going to States. 

So now it’s time to reflect on the year, to celebrate not just race placements and heroic efforts of riders who chose racing as their goal but of the team as a whole and some of the individuals who are written into the foundation of Richmond Composite in our historic first year.  

Beginnings

Before we hosted our first Fun Ride in October 2017, the idea for Richmond Composite had been brewing for some time. Norcal League Program Director and Richmond resident Robert “Coco” Ramirez wanted to see a high school mountain bike team in his town. So did two amazing longtime Albany High School MTB team coaches, Daniel Santos and Jim Zahradka. Three men with hearts the size of Richmond, got together to host a screening of the documentary “Singletrack High” at local bike shop Rich City Rides to help generate interest for high school mountain biking in Richmond.

On a rainy January night a projector was set up around a couple of chairs on the shop floor. Pizza was ordered and we waited for kids to arrive. Maybe it was the rain and cold, maybe it was lack of promotion, maybe it was the relatively foreign concept of mountain biking in Richmond. We’ll never know, but only one high school kid arrived that night, dragged in with his mom and baby sister in tow. His name was Donovan and his mom Tamika. They ate pizza, watched the documentary and tried to make sense of what we were talking about when we said someday soon, there would be a high school mountain bike team in Richmond and that we wanted to get more kids interested. 

When the guests left Jim, Daniel, Coco and I cleaned up and chatted outside. “What’s our next step?” We all offered what we could at the time, but it didn’t add up to a Richmond Team in the near future. We promised to stay in touch and keep the “momentum” up and parted ways.  

Fast forward nine months and the team is as the beginning stages of taking form. Planning has long been underway-meetings with potential coaches, partner organizations, backroom “announcements” that the team was starting, this website launched and much more. Yet, beyond that first rainy gathering, we hadn’t made contact with any kids except for Donovan.  

Coaches gather early in the first season to fix up donated bikes to loan out to kids. 80% of team riders need a loaner bike to participate on the team.

Coaches gather early in the first season to fix up donated bikes to loan out to kids. 80% of team riders need a loaner bike to participate on the team.

So we pushed on and prepared to host a series of Fun Rides with the goal of finding and introducing Richmond youth to mountain biking. We partnered with Trips For Kids for the fun rides which enabled us to focus on promotion and marketing and not have to worry about bike logistics. We brought the kids, Trips for Kids brought the bikes, helmets, gloves and some kind Ride Leaders.  

We made a point to host the Fun Rides at four local parks located geographically within, but spread out among Richmond. The goal was to highlight the rich diversity of local parks present in Richmond while also showing how easily accessible green spaces are to residents throughout the area, no matter what part of the city someone lived in. We also wanted to have the rides be progressively more interesting and challenging for mountain biking which meant more hills, singletrack and nature. 

The First Ride

On the morning of our first Fun Ride excitement and anticipation was high. We had seven youth RSVP to attend including two girls. I told coaches eager to attend the first gathering to please stay home so that we didn’t overwhelm kids with our enthusiasm and 1-to-1 adult to youth ratios. Pretty much all of the coaches found a (convincing) way to ignore my request and show up. I can’t blame them. I wanted to be there too. I wanted to see Richmond kids get on mountain bikes for the first time and feel the unique stoke that can only be experienced during a ‘first’. 

So there we were, seven adults, scanning for kids at Nicholl Park, waiting. We watched the clock anxiously as we talked about the day and our expectations and roles as leaders and supporters. One kid showed up, a freshman named Emilio with his step dad Gabriel. He was shy and patient as we continued to wait for others to arrive. Five minutes past, then ten, then 15 and no one else was in site. We were all dressed up with nowhere to go. 

Nervously I started texting and calling kids who had rsvp’d. Radio silence. Except for one person who picked up the phone. Tamika, Donovan’s mom.  “Sorry, we’re going to miss this one. Donovan slept through his alarm.” Tamika said over the phone. “Get him up and get him here.” I replied encouragingly. “We’ll wait.”

Two student riders and a bunch of enthusiastic adults at the first Fun Ride

Two student riders and a bunch of enthusiastic adults at the first Fun Ride

30 or so minutes later Donovan arrived with the signature shrugged shoulders of a teenager who was just dragged out of bed by their mother to attend an activity they are less than thrilled about. “Hey Donovan!” We all cheered. “Let’s get you on a bike!” As if our collective enthusiasm could cure any and all apathy, we got Donovan fitted with a helmet and bike and although about an hour behind schedule, we got started with our first Fun Ride.

Luckily it lived up to its name and the next Fun Ride brought out four kids, including our returner Emilio and our first girl, Alex who was getting in some more practice time before joining the Albany High School team. We rode around Miller Knox park and the Bay Trail and celebrated our 100% growth rate from ride one to two. And then the lid blew off when our third ride brought out 12 kids for a ride at Alvarado and Wildcat Parks. It was a sign to come. There are lots of kids interested in riding or at least trying mountain bikes in Richmond. It was the first time we coaches thought, “Wow, we might actually have a problem of too big a team this year.” 

Our third Fun Ride at Alvarado Park when 12 kids showed up.

Our third Fun Ride at Alvarado Park when 12 kids showed up.

But a Fun Ride rider is not a team rider until the papers are signed and the kids keep showing up at practices. So when we wrapped up our fourth and final Fun Ride and prepared for our first team meeting to actually start the season, there was still plenty of trepidation as to whether any of our outreach efforts would equate to kids signed up to be on the team.  

Team Meeting

First team meeting @ Rich City Rides

First team meeting @ Rich City Rides

In early December 2017, we hosted a team meeting at Rich City Rides. We invited over 40 kids and their families who expressed interest in attending a Fun Ride. Of those 40 who had expressed interest in out team, about 18 had actually showed up for a Fun Ride. Emilio had attended every Fun Ride (he was a shoe-in) but every one else was a big question mark. Would Jacob come through? What about Taesaun? and JoJo? Would William or Daylan roll through the door? What about all those girls who said they’d come to a Fun Ride and then bailed or never responded?  

At the team meeting, six kids showed up, many of them with a parent or family member and we talked about the team. We went through the season and what to expect. We walked through races and practices. We gave away a lot of free gear, had some snacks and most importantly signed people up for the team using borrowed tablets and laptops and cell phone browser windows.  

We walked away from that meeting amazed. In just a couple months an idea went from just a conversation to a reality. We were on our way.

First practice, charging up Wildcat Canyon singletrack with Richmond and Mt. Tam in the background.

First practice, charging up Wildcat Canyon singletrack with Richmond and Mt. Tam in the background.

From then on, the entire season unfolded as a series of miraculous firsts—first practice, first team kit, first girl rider, first race, first camping trip, first fundraiser and on and on. We basked in it, hustled our butts off as coaches and tried to stay present while continually preparing for the next challenging ‘first’. We propped the barn door wide open for the season and put out an oversized welcome mat inviting a steady stream of students and potential coaches in to get a taste of what our team was all about. Our initial six students ballooned to a total of 17 by the end of the season including four girls who came out to ride with us. More coaches joined too, rounding out the season with 10.

It was tough managing the ongoing season while essentially recruiting through May, but it was worth it. More kids got a chance to check out mountain biking outside of the small Fall recruitment window and connections were made that will serve this team in the future as we continue to grow.

Sergio warms up at States.

Sergio warms up at States.

By the time the gun went off at States in May, we’d already won. We’d won when we had our first Fun Ride and Emilio showed up excited to ride and join a team. We won when six kids showed up for the team meeting and signed up, on the spot to join the team. We won when over 100 people gave bikes, equipment, money and time to support our growing team. We won when Lily, our first female rider, fearlessly jumped on a trail for the first time and took to it like a fish to water, becoming an instant leader and force on our team. We won when we got to go to races and be cheered on by other teams and parents, fed by Berkeley High School’s amazing volunteers, and test ourselves as a team and individuals. We are winning each time we create a connection in the community that will last beyond these seasons, practices and blogs.

Year Two

As we head into our second year as Richmond Composite, I feel as if we’ve already accomplished so much. And yet, we’re just getting started. 10 girls are joining our team. All members of the team who joined us last year and did not age out due to graduation are returning. More local adults have been inspired to join us as coaches and our community partnerships continue to flourish. One of our student riders who graduated in the Spring is returning to the team this season as a coach while he goes to community college. The world wants Richmond Composite to succeed. So do I.

Here’s to year two! See you on the trail.

-Doug Streblow // Head Coach Richmond Composite

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If you want to get involved and support our team, reach out. We’d love to have your support.

Not Taking This Race for Granite

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I spent a year and a half traveling the country camping every night for a graduate program. I saw a LOT of camping set ups during that time from dig your own latrines to warm running water and well lit bathrooms with roofs. When we checked into our Beals Point campground after pre ride on Saturday afternoon, I felt like we’d hit the campground jackpot. The place was beautiful, both in the spring season bloom and general care. Tent spots were flat, secluded and integrated beautifully into the lush natural landscape. Vegetation was groomed like a well cared for garden. I was stoked.

After back-to-back-to-back Saturday races in Monterey, we finally had a change both in location and race day. For race number four we headed up to lake Folsom, near Sacramento for a weekend of radness at Granite Bay. 

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With a leasuirely Saturday drive behind us we hit the trail as a group of three coaches and three team riders. Coach Tara had gone out with Jacob to get a head start on the lap and quickly myself, Emilio, Sergio and Coach Spencer were on course sessioning lines and talking strategy. “You’re going to need to get off your bike on this course.” I instructed. “Maybe because you can’t ride a section but more likely because of a pile up after someone in front of you bobbles or falls over and backs up everyone behind them. You need to prepare for this in advance and avoid falling yourself. Pick a spot to get off your bike, pick it up like this and run around the mess.”

We practiced jumping off our bikes and running with them up and over rocks and other obstacles and then jumping back on when the coast was clear. 

Going into this race some riders had a new kind of goal. Sergio and Emilio wanted to try and earn a qualifying spot for the state championship race at the end of May. Due to high demand in impacted race classes such as the Freshman and JV boys, riders who want to participate in the state championship  race have to qualify by earning a race result in a top percentile. For Sergio and Emilio, racing in the Freshman boys category, they need to get in the top 60% in just one race to be eligible.

“Even if you get a qualifying race result, you may not be able to race in states because of the 100 person cap the league puts on each category. When 100 kids in a division register for states, they’re full” I tell them, “even if you got first at every race, if you don’t register in time you might miss your shot. So you have to qualify and there has to be a spot for you.”

It would be hard work to get there. Emilio and Sergio were up for the challenge. And so with the challenge in mind we traced our way through the course for a second time, closer to race pace without stopping to see how it felt when moving more quickly. ”Smooth is fast, and fast is smooth.” I yell back as we roller coaster our way along the course. “Carry your momentum and get low!”

 Race Day

The sun was already making a statement when we arrived to the course. We found our way to a parking spot and instantly sought out a shady place to hang out. We set up, warmed up and caloried up and then cheered on the lady rippers at their 9am start time. 

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Harrison was our first team member to tow the line. It was his second race of the season and coming off of an unfortunate start to his first race that involved chain suck at the beginning of the Laguna Seca race, he was ready to rock. 15 yards off the start line and another rider bobbled and ejected onto Harrison like a linebacker going for a huge tackle. Harrison was knocked clean off of his bike into the starting chute tape. He rose quickly only to find that his chain had sucked right into his frame again. Double whammy! 

Harrison figured it out, dusted himself off and was off to the race! Sergio and Emilio were up next, excited to make a go at a qualifying time. Although we tried to get a good starting spot, their general call up and late arrival to the starting area meant they would start the race dead last. We motivated them to move up in the field of racers as soon as possible and just keep making putting riders behind them throughout the relatively short two lap race.  

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Sergio and Emilio came through the feed zone about one minute apart with Sergio leading and looking strong. For the first time in the season coaches were counting race positions to help understand our riders place in the race. With both riders vying to place in the top 60% of their Freshman Division 2 field, we were communicating to them where they were in the pack and giving encouragement at strategic spots along the course. Mostly the encouragement was some form of “LET’S GO!!!” But also included things like “Andelé!” and “Dig, dig, dig!”.

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About one mile from the finish line the course funneled out of a ripping singletrack section to a gravel and then paved road. This was the final section to make a move on your competition or hold them off. This was the make or break spot since shortly after the brief road section the trail turned back to twisty fast singletrack which made passing difficult at best and dangerous at worst.  

On the last lap coaches gathered at the road section counting Freshman riders coming through. “1, 2, 3...18, 19, 20. Where’s Sergio? Any sign of Emilio?” Our initial count of riders in their field at the start was 39 riders which meant they had to come in 24th place or better to secure a qualifying spot for State Championships. “21, 22, where is Serg-there’s Sergio!” 

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“Is he in qualifying position? How far out is the next rider up?” We scrambled as Sergio approached. “I think he’s in this. The next rider up is about 8-10 seconds ahead of him. “GO SERGIO! GO!” I jumped on my bike and took off to try and beat him to the finish line via a paved side road off course. As I rode I caught glimpses of Sergio moving along the course through breaks in vegetation. I yelled out when I saw Sergio softening up his pedal strokes and seeming to relax. “Go hard Sergio! Last push!” He didn’t know where the voice was coming from but instinctively complied, torquing his body into pedal strokes full of power. 

Sergio came across the finish line with his head up. “Did I get it?” he gasped. “I’m not sure but you are right in there. You came across the line right where you needed to be. Amazing race Sergio.” His family swarmed in to congratulate him and before we knew it Emilio came across the finish line looking spent. We hugged and high fived and congratulated his great effort. Then it was time to check the results to see if Sergio had made the cut.  

I pulled up the live race results and it showed Sergio had placed 23rd. My calculations showed he had just barely made the cut for a qualifying position. One position back and he would have missed it. We cautiously celebrated. “We’ve got to wait for the final results but right now they’re showing Sergio in 23rd out of 39 racers. I think he did it.”

At Norcal races, as one race is ending, another is about to begin. We often have to cut celebrations short to shift focus to the next rider and race and today was no exception. Hunter was up next and preparing to warm up and line up for the JV race. This was Hunters second race and in the three weeks between the last race (his first) and this one he’d been putting in the time, effort, and miles with the intention of putting a major dent in his last race position. Even in three weeks we’d all seen Hunter ‘level up’ as a rider. Now was the time to see how all the hard work paid off. 

Photo by Alameda High MTB Team

Photo by Alameda High MTB Team

Hunter took off with three laps to go, making passes straight out of the gate. When he came around to the feed zone after his first lap he tomahawked his water bottle 25’ in the air as omage to his first race when he almost took a girls head off overhand throwing his water bottle at 90mph. We laughed and shook our heads. “Oh Hunter.”

Photo by Alameda High MTB Team

Photo by Alameda High MTB Team

Hunter smashed his way to an impressive 30th place finish, jumping almost 10 spots from his first race a couple weeks before. He was spent upon crossing the finish line, but managed to eek out a smile letting us know there was fun being had underneath the pain and heavy breathing racing 18 miles on a mountain bike can produce. 

We packed up in the blazing sun that had beat down on us all day and took deep tired breaths as you do when hours of action finally subside. We had another successful race. Our fourth as a team.  Riders continue to improve and more importantly have fun. We’ll be back to Granite Bay. 

Next up, the Norcal Conference Championship at Six Sigma Winery in Clearlake. We’re looking forward to ending our season with a bang camping alongside the rest of our Norcal community and seeing if any of our riders have any luck with one last chance to qualify for states. Until then...  

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Clif Bar Event Brings MTB Community Together

On a Wednesday evening in late March, 100 people found their way inside the auditorium at Clif Bar headquarters for a gathering to celebrate high school mountain biking. Over two hours, food and drinks were enjoyed, stories were told, the documentary “Singletrack High” was shown and a cycling community came together.

Team riders (L-R) Hunter, Donovan, Alex, Harrison, Emilio, Lucas and Jacob share their stories about riding with Richmond Composite on stage at Clif HQ. Photo by Briana Marie. 

Team riders (L-R) Hunter, Donovan, Alex, Harrison, Emilio, Lucas and Jacob share their stories about riding with Richmond Composite on stage at Clif HQ. Photo by Briana Marie. 

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People arrived into the lobby of the auditorium to pizza and friends new and old. High ceilings and walls full of art tell the story of Clif Bar, a company born on a bike. The office facilities celebrate all things outdoor adventure and community connection, making it the perfect setting for our event. There are bikes on walls, hanging from the ceiling, in photos, and rolling through the door with incoming attendees. We were in good company. 

I take the team on a brief tour of the office. To new eyes, this “office” looks more like an engaging museum. We stop to look at the photo display of the Clif Pro team. It’s a wall full of large format pictures of some of the strongest women mountain bikers in the world. Stories about Clif Bar starting the Luna Chix pro team in the early 2000's as one of the first all female (and dominant) mountain bike team are shared.

Photo from Clif Bar Pro Team http://teamlunachix.com/

Photo from Clif Bar Pro Team http://teamlunachix.com/

“There’s Katarina Nash. She’s local and has participated in multiple Olympics in multiple sports. She’s fierce on a bike and skis but as kind as they come when you get a chance to meet her.” Then I point to a photo of another rider, posed on a rock in matching blue kit. “And this is Hannah Finchamp. She’s just a couple of years older than you all are. She was a standout athlete in NICA and now she’s a pro. These women are all complete badasses.”

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Next we walk past a display of images from an event called Cykel Scramble. It takes a minute to understand what is going on in the pictures. “Is that man riding a bike decorated as a rocket?” One team member asks. “Yep” I reply, “and that’s a nun hopping over backhoe tires.” It’s not the usual bike scene but it’s an important stop on the tour to show that fun and bikes can collide in all kinds of interesting (and weird) ways. “Teams dressed up for this event” I tell them “and then rode a relay race in a bike obstacle course. It was ridiculous and ridiculously fun.” 

We finish the tour next to some bikes on display hanging above a door opening. They are acompanied with raceplates and plaques commemorating wins in major mountain bike races from around the world. They represent achievements of strong female mountain bikers and hang each day as a reminder of the success of the Clif Pro Team. For us they are a light in the distance, hardly visible, flickering in the fog. The team knows what they’re seeing is incredible, but the full context isn’t realized yet. I repeat, “The women that have raced on this team are amazing, not just for their race awards but for their determination and perserverence coming up in a sport dominated by men. These women are humble and kind AND will also rip your legs off on a trail.” Some of the team chuckle, some gasp, some eyes get wide. All reactions that collectively show "Whoa!" We wrap up the tour and hear a call for everyone to enter the auditorium. The festivities are about to begin.

Photo by Briana Marie

Photo by Briana Marie

Clif Bar Sports Marketing Coordinator Lucas Euser take the stage and kicks off the evening. He shares a variety of insightful stories from his own experience racing bikes in high school and on into a professional road racing career. “Tonight is special for a number of reasons,” Euser begins. “20 years ago today I lined up for my first mountain bike race. I was 13 years old.” He goes on to describe a pioneering time for high school mountain biking, peppered with anecdotes from his early days racing, joining a team and the beginning of what would become the Norcal League and later the national organization for high school mountain biking, NICA. 

Lucas connects bikes throughout time to social change and adventure alike. What would happen to these cyclists in the next 20 years? What would they do with this bicycle they were building this relationship with? Where might the bicycle take them? Then he handed it over to our team to jump on stage and provide a window into our world through a bit of storytelling.

Seven of the 15 members of Richmond Composite are in attendance at the event and all seven of them step onstage to sit in a semi-circle together facing the crowd. We hand out microphones and as they adjust to the bright lights and tall chairs, I ask the team, “How many of you have gotten on stage in front of a big crowd with a microphone to answer questions before?” Nervous laughter, head shakes and then a smile and one hand goes up. “Really?” I ask. “Well that’s what we’re about to do. Relax, there are no wrong answers, just imagine it’s the end of a normal practice and we’re circling up to share stories about our day like we always do...only this time we have microphones, lights, tall chairs, and a bunch of people hanging out to listen in the darkness.” A little laughter helps ease the nerves and we settle in.

I’ve prepared a number of questions for the kids, but as usual, the plan is only as good as my ability to adjust in the moment to what is actually going on rather than what I might have planned. I start with some easy ones - what’s you’re name, grade and how long have you been riding with the team? “About two weeks.” Says one rider. “Since the beginning.” Says another, as if the beginning were some long distant event in the past and not just six months ago. Being one of the founding members of the team is still compelling and comes with a certain air of respect. He’s seen some things, is wise beyond his 14 year old stubble. 

As we move into the more interesting questions, the kids loosen up and start having fun. They’re telling stories, listening to each other and playing off of each others' experiences to help paint a picture of what it’s like being a rider on team Richmond Composite.  

Thier unique personalities begin to emerge. They are heartfelt, quirky, serious, and silly. They share their experience starting mountain biking and joining, for many of them, thier first team of any kind. And the audience can relate.  Trying on bib shorts for the first time and then figuring out how to pee with one on. How a hill or obstacle can be so difficult at first try and then just days later be conquered. The challenge and the triumph. The amazement of being able to do something you never knew was even possible. The simple things like being outside in nature and truly appreciating it. Meeting new people and making new friends. Pushing yourself to your limit in a race for the first time.

The kids take us through all the hallmarks of being on a team and finding a new love for mountain biking. It's like witnessessing a transformation mid-process for seven young people. These moments are so raw and fresh and still being formed. Just like the young people themselves, in development, in motion, becoming who they are going to be.

We end the interview as we often end our practices, races and meetings—with gratitude. Both in the words expressed directly to the audience for their support of our team and in the stories kids shared that brimmed with excitement and thanks for all of the good they’ve experienced by participating in this sport. Kids are grateful to be able to "play" biking with new friends and coaches in beautiful parks and mountains around their home and greater Northern California. During a time in life often marked by turmoil and a yearning to connect, here are seven young people getting connected to their bodies, their place, hard work, reward and a new growing community.

“Look out into the audience,” I speak into the mic. “We are your direct team here on stage. Out there in the audience is the larger community you stepped into when you joined this team.” The kids peer out through bright spotlights to make out 80 shadow-like figures beyond the stage. “These are the people who support you with their time, bikes, equipment, donations and stoke. They are here because they believe what you’re doing is good. They want to see you thrive. Take a moment and breath this in.” And for the first time all night, and maybe ever as a team, we are quiet. 

Thanks

 We have a lot of thank yous to share from this event. Thank you to:

Sunny Mckay for spearheading this entire event from concept to execution. Holly Streblow for coordination and promotion. Katie Wade, NICA and Clif Bar for wrangling donations for our raffle. Rotten City Pizza for the delicious pizzas that filled everyone’s bellies. Pedal Born Pictures for producing "Singletrack High" and letting us show it. Clif Bar employee volunteers for staffing the event. Richmond Composite Team Riders for helping promote the event and telling your stories on stage. You are brave and amazing! Clif Bar for opening your doors to our team and high school mountain biking in Richmond and beyond. Briana Marie Photography for the great photos and support of our team. The Richmond Composite coaches, who give their time and energy to building, supporting and growing this team. Countless donors and contributors and, finally, a huge thanks to all the attendees. Your support of our team is what allows us to keep getting more kids on bikes in Richmond. THANK YOU

More videos from the evening on our YouTube page.

We're in the Character Building Business (Race #3)

I don’t know that any teenager joins a high school mountain bike team to “build character” but lining up for your first race ever in the pouring rain after being on the team for only a week’s time is surely character building. If you survive the damn thing and come out on the other end with a smile on your face, like new team rider Hunter did during our third race, then I’d say you might just be in for a career as a character contractor. At the very least I’d say you’re hooked on the whole mountain bike thing. 

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For race #3 our race crew was paired down to three riders. Jacob, entering his second race ever, new rider Hunter, his first, and our most veteran racer to date, Sergio, lining up for his third consecutive race. 

I met up with Hunter at Richmond High where we busted Sergio out of the office, telling the principal Deleon “Sergio is a rider on a mountain bike team and we’ve got a race tomorrow in Monterey. We have to go pre-ride the course.” With an expression that fell somewhere between consternation and concern, the principal paused before letting out a long slow “OhhhhKaaaay, so I guess we’ll call his parents to make sure?” I could read between the lines and upturned eyebrows. Was this even real?

”I met up with his parents last night at their house.” I said “They know. They’ve been to a race. They’ll be there again.”

Mom was called, thumbs were turned up, lights turned green. We loaded up and pointed the car southward on what has been our bi-weekly mountain bike racing pilgrimage to Monterey for the past month. 

As soon as the tires started turning, the chatter and excitement turned up. Hunter was full of questions. Sergio was his usual coy self, smiling boyishly when asked about his pre-race mentality or what it felt like to come through the finish line at a race knowing you’ve left everything you had out on the course. We talked and talked and talked. The aniticipation was building like a kettle on the burner about to whistle.

Photo by Coach Morgan

Photo by Coach Morgan

Time flew and before we knew it we’d shed the city grime and were feasting our eyes on rolling green vistas and the entrance to Fort Ord. It was time to stretch the legs on the race course for a pre-ride. Hunter got his race plate and we took off, winding along the sandy flowing singletrack that defines Fort Ord. 

After the pre-ride we ate, set up camp, told stories around the campfire and then knocked out for an early rise the next morning. Coach Morgan from Oakland Composite happened to pull into the neighboring campsite and joined us around the fire to share sage experience from years coaching a standout team. 

Race Day

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Saturday morning we awoke to dry-ish tents and broke camp in record time. The sky was full of clouds but glimmers of light filtered through as the sun rose giving promise for a rainless race day [cue a chuckle from the rain gods] . We made our way to the race venue and unloaded our meager team gear from the trusty “Prius truck” and set up--10x10 canopy tent, 6 ft folding table, white board, a milkcrate of tools and a floor pump. 

“It’s time to eat!” We headed over to our friends and generous pit hosts Berkeley High for something warm and delicious to fuel the races ahead. Following breakfast we took care of odds and ends, remaining prep, lots of hellos and headed over to cheer on the ladies as they started their race. 

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Race days work kind of like a roller coaster. You labor and work to get up to race day and then when you get there you throw your hands up, holler and let gravity do it’s thing. It’s one thing to the next, non stop stimulation and excitement for eight hours. Once the ladies are off and racing the next wave of racers (freshman and sophomore boys) are getting ready to warm up. 

Before we know it it’s 3, 2, 1, GO and Jacob and Sergio are on course powering up the first gravel hill leaving only a dust cloud in their wake. The rest of our team goes into support mode. We cheer, we look out for riders on course, we hand up water bottles and yell like hell when we see a Richmond Composite rider on course. Coach Doug headed out to the midway point of the course to help motivate Sergio up a tough gravel climb. Sergio responded by finishing the climb and then powering off to catch the next rider. 

As the Freshman/Sophomore boys race was nearing its end, light rain began to fall. The rain was exciting, a fitting end to a hard race, until the rain quickly escalated from light to hard to insane in a matter of seconds. Sergio and Jacob were yet to come in from their race as the rain intensified. Do we look out for our riders finishing up or go check on our tent and equipment that was loosely strewn about in the sun filled morning some 10 minutes earlier? Do we welcome Sergio and Jacob with congratulations at the finish line or go try and contain the chaos that the incoming storm was surely unleashing on our pitzone? Yeah, let the rain come down and the wind howl, we’ve got racers coming in hot! Can’t miss that. 

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Racers were spotted and embraced as they rolled through the finish line completing their final lap with rain soaked faces and exasperated smiles. This time, however, the finish celebrations were cut a bit short in an attempt to go address the weather situation. 

Everyone rushed over to our tent where team members, parents and random folks were dancing around as if playing a big game of tag where the rain was “it.” There was someone holding each leg of the tent, while someone frantically wrapped duct tape around bent tent legs as if bandaging a warrior in the battlefield mid fight. Spare bikes were duct taped to the tent as anchors as well, in our team effort to keep it from flying away. Everything was wet. The clothes, the backpacks, the signs, the tools, the people, everything. Rain pooled and poured off of our beaten tent canopy, adding insult to injury and turning the scramble to recover in the face of such unrelenting rain into pure comedy. Imagine trying to bail out of a sinking dingy with a slotted spoon. That was us. 

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After the most intense part of the storm passed, we started to collect ourselves and our belongings. Well, some of us did. Some of us had to race. While Sergio and Jacob and remaining supporters helped turn our pitzone right side up, Hunter headed out on a warm up. 

With all the calamity we were a bit short on time for warming up. Plus it was wet. We scrounged up some type of rain shell for Hunter and headed out to try and get in the zone for racing. Focus was hard to come by with all the rain, but we did our best to work through pre-race nerves by mashing pedals and just marveling at what a crazy start to Hunter’s mountain bike racing career this was. 

Photo by Tom Low

Photo by Tom Low

Hunter lined up with the rest of the pack of JV and Varsity boys and took off up the start hill when the countdown got to 1. And the rain fell on. And we waited patiently for a sign of Hunter coming back through the start/finish after lap 1. When we spotted him after about 30 minutes, his spirits seemed high. His head was up, we exchanged words, he took a new full water bottle and I think he even smiled a bit. Or maybe it was a grimace.  I’ll choose to remember it as a smile. 

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Lap after lap Hunter came round with determination. He was going to finish. And the way he was drinking a bottle per lap and eating snacks I had no doubts he’d be crossing the finish line shortly. We waited cheering on other familiar faces on course until we spotted Hunter crawling up the last hill before the end.

“Here comes Hunter! Let’s get to the finish line NOW!” All of the team gathered at the finish line to welcome him in. There was even a group of solid student riders from another team all lined up at the finish line with pots and pans and other noise makers giving some serious energy to riders coming in.

Hunter rolled through looking exhausted but alive. He rolled right through the finish line and right through the finish shoot (an area where riders collect before leaving the course completely) and off into the distance. Hunter couldn’t stop. “Hunter, where are you going?” He rolled on. 

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Experience and his face told me like a boomerang he’d be heading back to our pit area to our home away from home, familiar faces and food, oh sweet calories. As soon as we arrived to our busted tent, Hunter was off his bike and jogging away. “I gotta go cheer for those guys still coming in. There aren’t many of them but they deserve some support at the finish line. They’re working their butts off out there.” Hunter uttered in motion towards the finish line. Moments later Hunter was hanging over the finish line fencing with a gang of 15 others cheering his tired lungs off in support of his competitors. “That is an incredible team attitude.” I said to whomever was around me at the time. “Incredible.”

We started cleaning up and just as we finished it was time for podiums. Since Hunter was our first rider in the JV/Varsity race we got to stick around for the final celebration. The top girls and boys from each race get announced and walk up to some podium steps to stand tall in front of the crowd and celebrate their hard work and accomplishments. We snap photos and cheer    and tell stories about the living legends we’ve been racing with. “That’s Noah Hayes?” Sergio asks. “Yep, he’s won every Varsity race this season.” I respond,  “And that’s Max McFadden. He’s a junior and came in right on Noah’s wheel. He’s fast as hell, and as nice of a person as he is a talented bike racer.”

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After podiums wrap up, we chat with racers, coaches and parents giving congratulations, hugs and high fives. Sergio and I found ourselves in a circle with Coach Morgan from Oakland Composite, Noah Hayes and his mom. “Give me three sentences to sum up your race Noah.” Asks Coach Morgan. Noah’s been asked this countless times post race now but he answers earnestly, honestly, and humbly as if he doesn’t have it all figured out yet. He explains some micro details about his race (which are really big things at the front of a race) including nutrition and strategy with the other racers. He tells a riveting short story about what was unfolding lap after lap, attack after attack, mud drop in the face after mud drop in the mouth. We’re right there with him.

Then Morgan asks him to share a bit of his journey to getting to today with Sergio. Again Noah is kind and sincere opening up to our promising Freshman racer Sergio. He asks Sergio questions, makes connections between the two and when Sergio tells him his favorite part of biking is going fast up hills, Noah laughs and says “If that’s where you’re at now, you’re off to a great start. That was NOT my favorite part of mountain biking when I started. Work hard and keep at it. Put in the time-and it does take a lot of time. And listen to your coaches.”

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We jumped in the car and like riding down Main st. in the homecoming parade, we waved and said slow goodbyes to everyone as we rolled out of the venue and back north to Richmond.  After three races I’d like to think we’ve got this whole thing figured out. And if by “figured out” you mean we’ve embraced the chaos and go-with-the-flow attitude needed to roll with all the punches that race day throws at you then I’d agree. We’re dialed.

Race #4, here we come! 

Winning the Fun Category (Race 2 Recap)

Race Week

When Monday of race week rolls around the mind begins to shift into planning mode. Logistics and prep take a front seat as plans begin to shake out.

Are you coming? Do you need a ride? Where are you staying? Are you camping? Are you racing? Is your family coming? Is your bike in working order? Have you registered? Do you have a sleeping bag? And on and on and on.

Add in a few practices during the week and the days leading up to the race seem to fly by in a blur of to-do lists and endless follow up. But then you wake up and it’s Friday morning. You pack the car, check your final to-do list and like pushing the pedals at the beginning of a long ride, before you know it you're off and the adventure begins.

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Race Day Eve

After a pretty steep first race learning curve we were feeling more settled as we drove down to Monterey on Friday afternoon for our second race. We left earlier, traffic wasn't as bad, the playlist was fire and the conversation moved from race questions and anticipation to immigration, school, work, the weather. We arrived to the race venue at Laguna Seca to the roar of Porsches burning rubber on the nearby car race track, an audible reminder that we too were there to burn some laps on the adjacent dirt. 

Six of us suited up in the parking lot, fastened helmets and made our way to the starting line to ride a lap together and check out Laguna Seca for the first time. After a short fire road climb the course hit singletrack and then picked up speed on a wide open fire road descent. It was short lived though. Before we knew it we were grunting up a paved climb that led into a super steep and rutted dirt section in the trees. After we punched up to the top things leveled out just long enough to catch our breaths before turning downward on a flowy singletrack trail that brought smiles to everyone's face. 

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From chapparal to open fields, the trail twisted and turned through open meadows, alive with the green of springtime. The course was as lively as the dozens of other preriding teams out on course with us, exchanging hellos and “Hey aren’t we lucky to be out here?” sentiments. 

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We made our way up the infamous “Hurl Hill“ without losing our lunch (bonus!) and kept right on going through to the feed zone stopping to take in the sweeping views and talk strategy. “When you get to this part of the course on your last lap, grab a gear and TURN IT UP all the way to the finish!”

We collected in the parking lot and chatted about how each rider would approach the course the next day-when to go hard, when to ease up and recover, when to make a pass or let someone go. Then, we packed up the bikes and drove to our nearby campsite. 

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At the campsite we got settled into our sites, unpacked and started setting up tents. With the sun setting overlooking a valley below we raced to blow up sleeping pads and stake down everything before our natural light was lost for the day.   

We loaded up again to head to dinner where we’d meet up with another part of our crew, two more student athletes and another coach. We ordered two extra large pizzas and gathered together to catch up and wait for two delicious pies to come our way. Hungry, we dove in as soon as the pizzas hit the table, but not before snapping a pic of our stellar crew. 

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After dinner we caravaned back to the campsite where we got to work lighting a campfire and settling in for our nighttime activities. Lily and Alex had joined us in the car that arrived for dinner and we not planning on racing the next day. They took it upon themselves instead to bring the night activities and food extravaganza. As soon as the fire was lit, the bacon came out, the jalapeños were cut, a pot went on the grill with eggs inside and the picnic table turned into a bustling food prep area. We would be dining on jalapeño poppers with cream cheese and bacon to start and subsequent courses would get more interesting. 

 

After some good laughs and delicious culinary adventures kids started peeling off to their tents, the telltale sign it is time for bed. As the logs turned from flames to embers students could be heard drifting off into dreamland. 

Race Day

We awoke just past dawn to dew covered tents and a misty morning with fog flitting through the adjacent hillsides. Tents were shook, slumbers interrupted and student grumbles heard. “It’s race day! It’s race day! Get up, it’s race day!” 

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We loaded up again and took off to the race venue to set up our team canopy tent and get ready for the day ahead.  We arrived around 7:20am and the venue was already abuzz with activity. Grills were going, coffee was being poured and we were running around fixing things, headed to registration, greeting arriving riders and coaches and getting the blood flowing for a long day ahead. 

Before we knew it it was time to warm up. Coaches and student riders jumped on bikes and took to some nearby white gravel roads to spin up the legs and get ready to explode on the race course. We passed by San Francisco Composite as we warmed up, going in opposite directions as we got in the zone.

After warming up we headed back to our team area for last minute tasks including water bottle fill ups, snacks and some mechanical fixes. Then we shuttled up to the start line to find our place in our race groups. It was Harrison’s first race and so he chatted with other riders from Alameda and Oakland as they waited nervously for their turn to race. 

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In the first wave of Richmond Composite riders was Sophomore Harrison Rivera. He was a mix of nerves, excitement and pure steel cool. As he  settled into the starting shoot and awaited his turn, waves of racers ahead were released. Then it was Harrison’s turn. 

The countdown ensued and his wave was off. Spectating you could see something wasn’t right with Harrison’s bike right out of the gate. He was frantically mashing the pedal down and then rotating it back half a turn before mashing it again. He was going nowhere. His chain, we’d find out shortly, had sucked down in between two chainrings and would need to be yanked free by hand. Coaches and another non-racing student rider jumped in to help Harrison free himself of his mechanical issue and hopefully continue the race. We got lucky and after fussing with the chain for a minute or two the pedals were turning again and Harrison was on his way, powering up the starting hill motivated by the setback to play catch-up. Within a short minute Harrison could be seen flying solo down the open fire road descent with determination in his eyes. He was finally off.

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In the next wave were three of our Freshman riders, Emilio, William and Sergio. Although it was the second race for all of them, nerves had been creeping into their minds all morning. Some manifested the nervousness with focus and quiet. Others darted around physically and verbally like an animal pacing, ready to make an escape dash at any moment. 

Their race started and riders began scrambling in the chaos for a better position as they worked their way up the starting gravel hill before the trail narrowed to singletrack. Teammates, parents and coaches cheered like hell for our riders. 

After the dust had settled on the last wave of racers our remaining team switched gears to support and cheer mode. Four non racers started the long journey out to the feed zone and beyond to Hurl Hill to provide mental support, water and nutrition as riders came close to finishing each lap. 

William had a crash that took him out of the race on the first lap and wound him up in the medical tent. When we found him he was telling stories and in good spirits wrapped in an emergency blanket eager to share what had happened. Harrison finished a second lap and called it good for his first race. He’d had a crash too and many subsequent issues with the chain that got stuck at the beginning of the race. He was beat! Emilio and Sergio had gone back and forth their entire race and came to the finish line just one second apart from each other--a great site to see. 

We ate lunch in the Berkeley High tent (Thank You BHSMTB!) and then circled up for our closing gratitude circle. Harrison got a lot of love for racing his first race and overcoming many challenges on the course today and somehow coming out all smiles. New parents came out for the first time to witness high school mountain biking and were blown away by the support and community present at these races. Four of our team riders (Donovan, Alex, Lily, Lucas) who came to support but not race this weekend got lots of shout outs too. They brought so much spirit and enthusiasm to our race weekend and exemplified what a team is all about. 

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Our final race in Monterey is in less than two weeks and then we're heading north to Sacramento, Clear Lake and Petaluma for the remaining races of the season. If our team keeps showing up how we've been showing up--with positivity, enthusiasm and community spirit--then we'll continue winning in the fun category. And if there's one thing Richmond Composite is serious about it's winning all the fun

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Special Note

Join us in person on Wednesday March 28th from 6-8pm at Clif Bar in Emeryville for a team fundraiser including food, drinks, a short talk with student riders and coaches and a showing of the incredible documentary "Singletrack High".

Info & Tickets can be found at https://richmondcomposite.brownpapertickets.com/

First Race Stories

Waking up in the dark on a Saturday morning at a campsite in sub freezing temperatures was a fitting way to shock us into our historic first race day. The night before we had broken bread together (well actually Mediterranean wraps) before enjoying a campfire, telling stories and talking about the day to come.

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Nerves were there of course, but so was excitement. Wait, which is which? Lily, our newest rider, had decided at the last minute she wanted to join us for the weekend’s events and so we excitedly scrambled to get everything together for her to camp, carpool and do the pre-ride with the team on Friday afternoon. She did amazing on the pre-ride that afternoon, powering up sections and enjoying the sandy, flowy singletrack trails that Fort Ord offers up. 

That night as the fire crackled and lit our faces with that familiar orange glow the discussion turned from favorite Asian food dishes and volunteer projects to what racing would be like. Lily was flirting with the idea of pinning on a number and giving it a go. I mean she was here, she’d just tackled a pre-ride with the team and knew she was capable. We talked on, answering questions until the wavering turned to commitment. Lily was racing the next morning in the first wave at 9:00am sharp!

Just as we had scrambled to get her, her bike and gear together to join us for camping, we had another last chance scramble to work with Lily on her goals for race day. She set the goal to complete a lap-a great first race goal-and then coaches walked her through the next 10.5 hours until race time. Sleep, hydrate, wake up, hydrate, travel to venue, eat, warm up, go time! At that point Lily was anything but ready, but also more ready than she had ever been. 

At 6am wake up coaches stumbled out of sleeping bags to shake tents and subsequently kids awake. While still in predawn darkness, we broke camp and headed to the race venue where temperatures in the car read high 20s. It was time to ride our bikes, I mean how else were we to warm up? 

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The whole team went out for another pre-ride, fighting off numb toes, fingers, noses, legs, entire bodies.  By the time we got back it was time for Lily to line up to race. "Eat this. Drink this. I'll take that layer. And that. You're good to go. Have fun. We'll be cheering you on." Quick exchanges were all we had time for as Lily moved up in the start line after each wave of ladies ahead of her were released. Our six boy riders, coaches and parents gathered at the start line to cheer her one and then it was 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 GO! Lily rolled off as the first ever Richmond Composite team rider to race in a NorCal race powering, up the hill and onto the course. Wow! 

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With Lily out on course, it was time for the boys to warm up. We had about an hour and a half before the boy's races began, so we took a minute to watch the first wave of lead Varsity girls roll around on their first lap (wow they're fast!) and then jumped on our bikes to get warm and prep our legs for the hard efforts to come.

We arrived back from the warm up just in time to catch Lily coming across the finish line. We threw a lot of high fives her way and celebrated Lily making Richmond Composite history. Then it was time for the boys to get ready to roll.

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When it was time for the boys to get into the starting line, we were scrambling as you do during your first time through anything with so many players, places, timing and details. With lots of help and encouragement from race volunteers, coaches and other racers we got our team into place and ready to go. In two waves and clouds of dust, our Richmond Composite boys were on course.

Donovan and Jacob were the first ones to go out with the Sophomore boys followed by our four Freshman boys, Sergio, Emilio, Lucas and William. We cheered them out as they passed by with 70 other racers on course. 

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In the weeks leading up to the race, coaches regularly talked about expectations and goal setting for each rider and the team as a whole. We knew we’d already won just by showing up to the race as Richmond Composite. Everything else was extra bonus, the cherry on top of the best Sunday your favorite aunt bought for you on your 10th birthday. That was the Richmond Composite attitude before, during and after the race. Whatever the times, lap counts, positions, told about the race didn’t really matter, it was noise. What mattered was each of our kids showed up, as they’ve been doing now for months. They set a goal and went for it. They did it together as a team. And they did it on their own terms. They had their own experiences out there on the course. “It was hard!” said a number of our riders. "Everyone was so encouraging. Even when I wanted to give up, riders told me I could do it and to push on,” Lily said after finishing her race. Donovan reflected, saying, “One rider even pushed me up a hill I was struggling on. He said to me, ‘I’m going to give you this push just this once. Then you’ve got to take it from there. You’ve got this!’"

We got so much love from the Norcal family this weekend. We know that if we keep showing up, the Norcal family will keep showing up for Richmond Composite with all they’ve got. We are so grateful. 

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Parents and coaches waited at the finish line to greet every rider as they passed through the big finish arches, pumping our fists in the air with victory with each rider's arrival. The challenge was real, but so was the reward which included lots of hugs, support, a hot meal, a sense of accomplishment and some great stories to tell. We are so proud of all of our student riders for attempting and crushing their first races ever!

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Lastly we want to extend some HUGE thanks to Berkeley High for taking us under their wing this race and offering up their entire pit to us including delicious food, welcome smiles and all the support we could have imagined. We had many teams offer everything to us and we’re so fortunate for this. We are lucky to call the East Bay home and have teams like Albany, El Ceritto, Berkeley and all the Oakland teams as neighbors, friends and team mentors. Thank You! See you at the next race!!!

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Go Richmond Composite!

GoFundMe Update, Radio Show, 1st Race Eve

We are beyond thrilled about the three things mentioned in this blog title.  

1. We launched a GoFundMe campaign to support our team and the response has been overwhelmingly encouraging. We blew past the 50% mark of our goal in just 5 days with no signs of stopping. Thank you all for sharing and supporting this team! Let’s keep it going!

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2. We were invited to tell the Richmond Composite high school mountain bike team story this past Tuesday on the radio on the show Oakland Bikes. Student rider Sergio, Coach Tara and Coach Doug got together and shared their experience with the team, challenges, inspiration and fun stories from riding trails with teens. You can now listen to the show at the following link (interview starts around 4:30).  

http://www.kgpc969.org/oakland-bikes/ 

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3. In a year full of firsts, it seems everything we do counts or at least feels like a milestone. Our first race as a team is definitely a big one. Tomorrow we head down to Fort Ord in Monterey to join 1,000 of our peers in NorCal high school mountain biking to test our spirits (and legs), deepen our team bonds and represent for the first time in history Richmond, CA in the mountain biking scene. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be. 3, 2, 1, GO!

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Wish us luck! See you at the race! 

Help us Get Rolling!

Now that we're up and rolling with 8 riders and 8 coaches, we need your help to take this team to the next level. Please check out our GoFundMe campaign and share with your community. We could really use your support to make the dream of Richmond Composite a continued reality. Thank you! -Emilio, Sergio, Lily, Jacob, Donovan, William, Lucas, Harrison and all the coaches and families of Richmond Composite

The Family Grows

It's with great pleasure that we welcome two new riders to the Richmond Composite family--Sergio and Lily. Learn a bit more about these two amazing people below in these interviews. 

Lily

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Lily is a Senior at Richmond High and new to mountain biking. She's the first female rider in the history of Richmond Composite and is a second generation US citizen of Laotian decent. Lily is a quick learner and we are so happy to welcome her to our team. Now hear from her about her experience thus far.

Q: What got you interested in mountain biking?

L: My teacher was advertising the club in class and it looked cool. I wanted to join but I had to make time for it. The first time I went mountain biking was with a friend who I ride with from Richmond to the Albany Bulb. After that I wanted to keep biking more because there’s other benefits to it.

Q: Who is a teammate you are proud of/impressed by and what about them do you appreciate?

L: I’m impressed by Jacob. My first practice he was there all geared up and gave me some tips to help me out. He was pushing through up the trails and he kept going. It was cool to see that he didn’t give up.

Q: What have you accomplished within mountain biking/the team?

L: I’d say getting to your final destination is rewarding because you ride from one place all the way to the other. You get to be outside and view the scenery and I enjoyed it.


Sergio

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Sergio is a Freshman at Richmond High. His family is originally from the Chila region of Mexico. He has two siblings, a cat "Gato" and likes to fish and hang out with friends. Sergio had his road bike stolen this past Fall and is stoked to be trying out mountain biking with the team on a bike with shocks for the first time. Now hear from Sergio. 

Q: What have you accomplished within mountain biking/the team?

S: On Thursday I only walked once and I'm trying to accomplished that.

Q: How has participating with Richmond Composite changed you?

S: It changed me by who I am and full of experience.

Q: Any thanks/shout outs you want to give?

A: For Coach Levitt for telling be about this Mountain bike team.