The Ride to Vegas, Specialized's annual two-wheeled pilgrimage to Interbike, concluded on Tuesday. This year's ride started at the Specialized distribution center in Salt Lake City, and rode through the Utah landscape, past glowing red canyons and sparse dusty towns, before rolling up to the bright lights of the Vegas strip, six days, 30,000 feet of climbing, and 660 miles later.
Specialized is the Founding National Sponsor of NICA, the national organizing body of US high school mountain bike leagues gaining popularity and support across the country. This year's Guest of Honor on the ride was NICA Executive Director Doug Selee.
The 2012 ride centered on raising awareness for NICA's seven active state leagues - two in California, and one in each of Washington, Texas, Minnesota, Colorado, and Utah - that are providing a way for thousands of high school level youth to discover recreational cycling.
The effort has huge implications. The choice of these youth to ride mountain bikes is making it far more likely that they'll continue to be active their entire lives. By doing so, they're also exposing their parents and siblings to cycling, which surprisingly is a new thing for many of the families. That added exposure is creating a culture of cycling with American families, today and into the future.
The corporate world has been a strong supporter of NICA, with SRAM, Easton and Trek also sponsoring at the platinum level, and major consumer brands like Jeep also coming on board. Dealers across the country have supported teams in their communities, like Glenn Fant of Norcal Bike Sport who participated in this year's Ride to Vegas:
"Being involved in helping someone discover a sport that will stay with them for a lifetime, that's hugely rewarding for us, sure for our business, but also for our sense of contribution to this sport," said Fant.
The core of the group included a handful of top Specialized dealers including Brian Gierke of Gerk's Ski & Cycle, Dan Hughes of Sunflower Bike Shop, David Guettler of River City Bicycles, John Brown of Family Cycling Center, Doug Emerson of University Bicycles, Emily Samstag of Bicycle Habitat, Glenn Fant of Norcal Bike Sport, Joseph Howard of Richardson Bike Mart, Kyle Davenport of Sugar Cycles, Matthew Neugebauer of Brandywine Cyclery, and Nate Rex of Cycle Center of Stamford. Also riding strong were Specialized employees and the media.
A new documentary film about NICA called Singletrack High will launch in January 2013. The film profiles the lives of a diverse set of mountain biking youth, and should help more dealers discover the potential for getting involved. Specialized underwrote the film, driven by its founder Mike Sinyard, who envisions every bike shop across America tied in with a NICA team - supporting, coaching and even starting teams of their own:
"The independent bike shops are the foundation of our industry and the hub of cycling in our communities. There is huge potential for shops to influence local cycling culture and help more kids discover our sport. Our dealers are already seeing the benefits of associating with NICA and we hope more shops will continue to come on board," said Sinyard.
In many communities, cycling is giving kids an outlet, somewhere to be after school, and that's helped keep them away from gangs and drugs. In a rough neighborhood of Sacramento, California, the police department has taken it upon themselves to get involved, acting as mentors and coaches for the local high school students, even securing equipment and funding so they can participate. Doug Selee, who has spent more than 20 years in the non-profit world, more than 14 of which as a VP with the American Cancer Society, is excited to sink his teeth in to the NICA world:
"This movement of organized high school mountain biking has the potential to change the lives of so many kids across this country. That's very exciting for me," said Selee. "The most common thing I hear when we tell new groups about what's happening is: 'I wish they had that when I was young.'
"Well there's not much we can do about that, but our goal is to make sure there isn't a young person of this generation that will be able to say that in 10 years."
Selee will announce the location of three new NICA leagues on Thursday at Interbike. Rumor has it they will be in the Southwest and the East. The NICA booth will also be previewing the documentary Singletrack High.
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