The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) has been growing rapidly over the last several years, with leagues popping up all across the country. Consequently, this next generation of riders and racers is gaining the attention of major bike brands. For example, Trek has committed a million dollars in funding to growing NICA and is doing local outreach from its R&D facility in Southern California. For 2018, companies have seen the potential of this growing segment of riders and have released a few bikes and products specifically for these up-and-comers. We put together a list of some of our picks of the best bikes and accessories for young mountain bikers.
FIND THE RIGHT BIKE
We get it; most NICA riders are growing adolescents who will most likely be 2 feet taller at the end of the season and will have outgrown that bike you just bought for them! Fortunately, we are here to help you navigate these waters and pick the right bike to last a few seasons of high school racing.
It’s important to understand the impact of wheel size on geometry and fit. Smaller wheels (26 inches) have pretty much been relegated to kids’ bikes or have completely disappeared, while 27.5- and 29-inch wheels have become the standard and should be the baseline for your bike shopping. Between the two, 29ers have proven to be the faster wheel option, but they may feel a little awkward for shorter riders.
HARDTAIL OR FULL-SUSPENSION?
The cross-country purist will tell you that a hardtail is always the best choice, and there is some truth to this, but it’s not an absolute truth. Hardtails will generally be lighter, lower maintenance and much more efficient, but they are not quite as versatile as full-suspension bikes. If your local racecourses and training trails aren’t very technical, then a hardtail could be the best choice. A full-suspension bike will be more expensive but much more versatile and capable.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SPEND?
Bike brands have worked hard to offer a competitive range of price points to suit the needs of just about any rider, but this is one of those cases where you could spend too little on a bike, especially if you’re going to be using this machine for racing and training. While you can spend as much as you want, we recommend that the aspiring NICA racer look at two major price ranges that are realistic.
$1000–$1500: This is a sweet spot for an entry-level hardtail that is high quality enough to race and train on. If maintained properly, a hardtail in this price range could last several sea- sons—as long as the rider doesn’t hit a massive growth spurt. Most hardtails will have aluminum frames and mid-level components and suspension. Some companies offer full-suspension bikes in this price range, but they’re going to be much heavier and might lack reliable components.
$2000–$3000: Bikes will start to get lighter and more efficient in this price range, especially hardtails. Hardtails at this price point will have carbon fiber frames, along with higher-end components and suspension that is more reliable. At this price range, riders will be able to get into a decent full-suspension bike with an aluminum frame, more advanced linkage and a decent component package.
After you find the right bike, you’ll still need gear, such as helmets, shoes, pedals and clothing. Here are the brands that we have ridden and tested on some of the most demanding trails mountain biking has to offer. If these bits can withstand these trails, we’re confident they will be able to handle seasons of training and racing.
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