Borah High junior Mikayla Neff never had ridden a mountain bike before she saw posters at her school advertising the new Idaho Interscholastic Cycling League.
The former softball player who enjoyed riding a beach cruiser on the Greenbelt decided to give trails a try. She took her first ride June 16 and was racing by September. She achieved her goal of never finishing last in a race.
“The first time I ever rode to the top of a hill, I thought, ‘What did I just get myself into?’ ” she said. “And then on my way down, I realized this is why people do this, because it’s a lot of fun to feel that accomplishment, and then it’s a lot of fun to get the reward of going downhill.”
Neff was hardly an outlier for the league, which is in the middle of a sign-up drive for the 2016 season. Most of the 253 high school and middle school students who participated last season hadn’t raced before, and many hadn’t ridden a mountain bike, league director Dylan Gradhandt said.
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Idaho’s per-capita participation was the largest for a debut season in the 19 states with leagues, Gradhandt said. He expects significant growth this year.
“We’re thrilled with the success,” he said. “We’re getting a lot of non-traditional cycling families who don’t have bikes or have ridden a little bit but not on mountain bikes. Parents can really participate.”
The league is running a Try-It-Out campaign, which has featured a tour of the state to generate interest among students and offer loaner bikes for a test ride.
The next stop in the Treasure Valley is at the Eagle Enduro on May 7 at the Ada/Eagle Bike Park.
The high school league’s late-summer series increases from four races to five, beginning Aug. 27 at Jug Mountain.
Neff has encouraged classmates to join the Borah team. She expects the roster to grow from six members to 10 this fall.
“I’ve had a few people ask me about it — a few girls, which excited me because there were not many girls in the league,” Neff said. “One of the girls I spoke with decided to join. ... For me, it’s really important to let people know that even if they don’t have any experience, they can join the sport, because last year I had absolutely no experience and I felt comfortable with it by the time race season came. We have really good coaches all throughout the Valley.”