Mountain biking has become a cool new co-ed sport for any student who wants an activity that combines adventure with fitness, an opportunity for competition, if desired, and team building.
Two years ago, the local mountain bike team, Essex Offroad, was formed with more than 25 student-athletes in grades 6 to 12 and six coaches from all over Essex County. The team trained together from November through May and raced at five venues around the state, competing against 15 other New Jersey teams with over 130 racers lining up at the events. Essex Offroad is part of the NICA league, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, founded in California more than 15 years ago and now active in over 30 states. About 25% of the racers on the original Essex County team were from Verona, a testament to the adventurous and competitive spirit of many Verona students and local, inviting trails that allow for a fun activity that fits easily into a student’s life.
Throughout the first two seasons of riding, training, and racing, students celebrated personal and team victories in every race; dozens of individual podium finishes, top three team finishes and the overall team podium for the season. Fast-forward to the 2019 season with its twice-a-week practice opportunities and the Essex Offroad team now has more than 50 student-athletes and 20 dedicated coaches. The team camaraderie is exemplary with more experienced riders passing on skills and tips to newer teammates, and helping to build stronger and more naturally capable riders. Certified coach training and teaching methods focus on safety while promoting fun and skills development that ultimately encourages a lifelong interest in cycling.
Students from Verona and nearby towns return every season–so many, in fact, that the large all-Essex team would have an unfair competitive advantage at races because all racers earn team points, at each grade level as well as gender. Female student athletes are some of the strongest contributors to the points total.
Verona students now account for more than 25% of the Essex Offroad team with 15 riders, and with that number, the league requires that they now officially score points at all future events as an individual town team. The new division, Verona Offroad, will still continue to ride, train, and share their tents at each race event with Essex Offroad and be an integral part of that very successful team. Verona students will still hang out with their teammates and cheer each others’ successes.
The 2019 season training has been in full swing since November and thus far has included practices at Cedar Grove Community Park, Stephens State Park, Lewis Morris and Wildcat Ridge. The team also has regular indoor spin classes at DFit in Montclair and Jalapeno Cycling in Bloomfield. All signs are that teams, Verona Offroad and Essex Offroad, will again be a force within the New Jersey NICA league this upcoming race season.