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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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