Collegiate Mountain Biking

National champs: Fort Lewis College (center) has had the top mountain bike team in the country for most of the last 24 years. Colorado Mesa (on the left) and Marian University (on the right) ranked second and third in 2017.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, there are more than 5300 colleges and universities in the U.S., ranging from beauty schools to Harvard University.

That might seem like an overwhelming number of choices for a high school student to consider, but it’s not hard to start narrowing down the list. Often the first criteria is finding a school that is affordable. A student can save a considerable amount by attending a college near home. For many students, financial aid can make expensive schools more accessible. The most selective schools in the country, like those in the Ivy League, typically have the most financial aid available to students.

Battling for points: A Colorado Mesa racer comes out of the trees with a Warren Wilson College rider behind her. Photo courtesy: Colorado Mesa University

If those top schools are not in the picture for you, however, there’s much to be said for finding a good college where you can enjoy mountain biking while you’re there. Our favorite two-wheeled sport is a great way to take a break from one’s studies, enjoy some much-needed exercise, and get some fresh air.

While there are thousands of colleges in the United States, there are probably only a few dozen that have become renowned as great schools for mountain bikers. Those are the schools we’ll be looking at here. For high school students who may be aspiring to become professional mountain bikers or looking to pursue a career in
the bike industry, we’ve put together our list of what could be the most mountain bike-friendly schools in America.

We interviewed people at the top levels of both the high school and collegiate arenas to get their recommendations. We also looked over the last five years of intercollegiate rankings to see which schools consistently did the best. Without further ado, here are the schools that look to us to be the best colleges for mountain bikers in America.

COLORADO MESA UNIVERSITY, GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO

Located in one of the best regions of Colorado for year-round mountain biking, Colorado Mesa is a school that has been steadily moving up in the intercollegiate rankings. With roughly 10,000 students, the school has now developed one of the best mountain bike teams in the country. Originally known as Mesa State College when founded in 1925, the school attained university status in 2011. Since then, the school has become a standout in intercollegiate cycling and continues to grow stronger. In 2017, the team finished second in the Varsity Division I mountain bike standings, the strongest collegiate category, where the schools pay for many of the race team’s expenses and provide scholarships to some of the top riders.

BREVARD COLLEGE, BREVARD, NORTH CAROLINA

Although Brevard College is one of the smallest schools on our list with just over 700 students, it has long been one of the top mountain bike schools in America. That is due in part to an amazing trail network in the nearby mountains, and also the fact that Brevard actively recruits top mountain bike racers to come to its campus. Though Brevard doesn’t have a lot of scholarship money to throw around, the students who visit the campus are often so impressed that they don’t want to attend any other school, says head mountain bike coach Brad Perley. One of the nation’s top contenders in the college ranks for years, Brevard won the Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championship in Varsity Division I for 2016. The school is consistently ranked among the south’s top colleges and has been rated as one of the nation’s best colleges for students’ first-year experiences.

FORT LEWIS COLLEGE, DURANGO, COLORADO

Situated at an elevation of 6872 feet on a mesa overlooking downtown Durango, Fort Lewis College is the premier mountain biking college in America. Past graduates of its race program include multi-time national champions Todd Wells and Howard Grotts, along with marathon national champion Payson McElveen.

Fort Lewis College’s first mountain bike team was formed in 1994, and soon the school became the top mountain bike college in the country. Over the past 24 years, Fort Lewis College has won the Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championship title some 20 times, according to head coach Dave Hagen.

Surprisingly, mountain biking is still considered a club sport at Fort Lewis College, so anyone can join the team. As a result, the group had 130 members last year. Eighty were serious competitors, and the other 50 joined the team to enjoy riding in one of the best mountain biking locations in America.

Though the school considers mountain biking a “club sport,” USA Cycling classifies Fort Lewis as a Varsity Division I team, the top collegiate division in the country, since the school (1) funds a full-time coaching staff and (2) offers enough scholarship money to place it in the top ranks of intercollegiate mountain biking schools.

One of the best things about Fort Lewis is that you can ride singletrack trails right from the campus into one of the biggest and best mountain bike trail systems in America.

MARIAN UNIVERSITY, INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

Marian University has ranked as the top all-around cycling university in the country for nearly 10 years. Despite Marian’s success in other fields of cycling, the school has yet to win the national mountain biking title. It’s possible that the main thing holding Marian University back from dominating the intercollegiate mountain bike rankings is the fact that Marian doesn’t have great mountain bike trails right next to its campus the way schools like Fort Lewis and Brevard do. Marian is located in the capital city of Indiana with a population of over 800,000 people. Students need to travel about 15 minutes away from the campus to access good mountain bike trails, according to head coach Dean Peterson.

The college has 2200 students and a 42-acre cycling park on its campus, including an indoor velodrome and a BMX track. While the overall cycling program is widely considered the best in the nation, the nearest mountain bike trails may not be quite appealing enough to draw top-level mountain bikers away from the competing colleges. Nevertheless, for those racers who want to compete in other cycling events in addition to mountain biking, Marian could easily be a serious racer’s number-one choice.

LINDSEY WILSON COLLEGE, COLUMBIA, KENTUCKY

Although most mountain bikers probably don’t think about Kentucky when they’re thinking about great places to go riding, Lindsey Wilson can change that impression. The school has fielded one of the top teams in collegiate cycling for years, with multiple National Championship titles to its credit. Lindsey Wilson recruits high school mountain bike racers the way other schools recruit conventional athletes, and the school offers scholarships to top racers. The cycling scholarship program has been said to be among the most heavily funded in the nation.

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, BOULDER

The University of Colorado at Boulder is a regular contender for the title of the top collegiate mountain bike school in America. Its collegiate cycling team has over 100 members, ranging from novices to neo-professionals. The school boasted the top college mountain bike team in the country in 2014 in Varsity Division

1. The school ranked number one in the country again in the Club Division I category last year, scoring more points in the Team Omnium (combined-category) classification than any other school. This is a big school with over 30,000 students. Students may need to leave the campus to find great mountain biking, but such riding can be found in the near- by mountains only a few miles away.

KING UNIVERSITY, BRISTOL, TENNESSEE

King University (originally King College) is a Christian liberal arts school with just over 2900 students. It is located on a wooded campus only two minutes from downtown Bristol. With 1700 students, King College consistently ranks among the top mountain biking schools in the east. In 2016, the school’s mountain bike team placed first in the national rankings among Varsity Division II teams, which is one step down from Division I but still impressive.

WESTERN STATE COLORADO UNIVERSITY, GUNNISON, COLORADO

The school was founded over 100 years ago and now has 2400 students. You’ll find great trails nearby at Hartman Rocks, while the legendary trails of Crested Butte are only an hour away. The school lies at an elevation of just over 7700 feet, which could be beneficial if you’re a student who wants to enjoy the benefits of altitude training. Watch for this school’s reputation to continue to grow.

LEES-MCRAE COLLEGE, BANNER ELK, NORTH CAROLINA

Cody Phillips from Lees-McRae Photo by XD Photography

At 4000 feet above sea level, the highest elevation of any college east of the Mississippi River, Lees-McRae has long been a powerhouse in mountain biking competition. Although the school only has about 900 students, Lees-McRae has long been vying for the top spot among cycling colleges and has been a consistent threat in intercollegiate competitions for years. Over 95 percent of the students receive financial aid, and scholarships are available for mountain bikers, which is one of the hallmarks of the Varsity Division I schools, a status that Lees-McRae has held for years.

WARREN WILSON COLLEGE, ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

Located in the Swannanoa Valley, 10 miles outside of downtown Asheville, the 1100-acre campus has its own mountain bike trails and is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are no football or baseball teams at this school, but mountain biking is a varsity sport. The school prides itself on having its students combine academics, work and service in a “triad” program, so students gain valuable experience in their field of study by the time they graduate. The school came in fourth last year in the Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in the Varsity Division II Omnium standings, which combines the results of the top racers in cross-country, short track, downhill, 4-Cross and team relay divisions.

LINDENWOOD UNIVERSITY, ST. CHARLES, MISSOURI

With 14,500 students, Lindenwood has long been a top competitor in collegiate mountain biking. Cycling became a varsity sport here in 2007, and the mountain bike team is classified in the highest competitive category, Varsity Division I, where the school ranked ninth out of nine schools last year. This is a big school, and it benefits from having the kind of financial muscle that can help a school’s mountain bike program. The school competes in the Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference.

 

SAVANNAH COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN, ATLANTA, GEORGIA

The university opened in 1979 with just seven faculty members and 71 students. Since then, the school has grown to more than 12,000 students in four locations: Savannah, Georgia; Atlanta, Georgia; Lacoste, France; and Hong Kong. In recent years, the Atlanta campus has emerged as one of the top mountain biking schools in the U.S., finishing eighth overall last year in Varsity Division I at the Collegiate Mountain Biking National Championships. The school is reported to have plenty of money for mountain bike scholarships, too, which is one of the reasons the school is in the Varsity Division I category.

MILLIGAN COLLEGE, ELIZABETHTON, TENNESSEE

Founded in 1866, Milligan College is a Christian liberal arts college with approximately 1200 students located in the mountains of Upper East Tennessee. The school ranked seventh last year in America’s Varsity Division I mountain bike rankings, which puts the school in the top ranks of America’s mountain bike colleges. That classification means that the school has at least one paid coach. It can also offer scholarships to top high school candidates and help pay the students’ expenses when they travel to races.

 

UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT, BURLINGTON, VERMONT

With just over 10,000 students, the University of Vermont has emerged as one of the top competitive mountain biking schools in the nation. Since the school is located in northern New England, mountain bikers may have to go skiing in the winter months when the snow piles up, but that’s not such a bad thing to do, either. The school ranked fifth overall among all divisions in the 2017 Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships.

CALIFORNIA POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY, SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIFORNIA

Located in one of the most beautiful regions of California, Cal Poly is a top-ranked science and engineering school that also offers excellent mountain biking in the nearby hills all year long. Sitting halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the Central Coast of California, Cal Poly has long been a contender in the Intercollegiate National Championships.

MARS HILL UNIVERSITY, MARS HILL, NORTH CAROLINA

Located in the mountains of western North Carolina at an elevation of 2330 feet, Mars Hill is a private liberal arts university that is 15 miles north of Asheville. With 2200 students, Mars Hill has long ranked among the strongest mountain bike schools in the area (and the region is one of the most competitive in the country).

APPALACHIAN STATE UNIVERSITY, BOONE, NORTH CAROLINA

With an undergraduate enrollment of 16,000, Appalachian State University is one of the bigger schools in our selection. It’s also one of the top schools competitively when it comes to mountain biking. The school ranked seventh overall among all categories of schools—Varsity Divisions I and II, and Club Divisions I and II—in the Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships last year.

HONORABLE MENTION

There are too many competitive mountain bike schools in America to mention them all. Here are some of the other top mountain biking schools that you might want to consider.

Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
Union College (Barbourville, KY)
Westminster College (Salt Lake City, UT)
University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT)
Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO)
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY)
Montana State University (Bozeman, MT)
Midwestern State Univ. (Wichita Falls, TX)
Adams State University (Alamosa, CO)
Lake Superior College (Duluth, MN)
Belmont Abbey College (Belmont, NC)

Leaned over: A Stanford student rails a downhill corner. Photo courtesy: Stanford University

STATE BY STATE

Sixty-one colleges earned points in the 2017 Collegiate Mountain Biking National Championships. Twenty-three states made that list. The states that had the most colleges in the rankings were:

Colorado: 9 schools
North Carolina: 6 schools
Texas: 6 schools
California: 5 schools
New York: 4 schools
Wisconsin: 3 schools
Virginia: 3 schools
Georgia: 3 schools
Kentucky: 2 schools
Utah: 2 schools
Vermont: 2 schools
Arizona: 2 schools
Washington: 2 schools


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