The National Intercollegiate Cycling Association (NICA) state finals are just around the corner on October 18 and 19 in Cedar City. If you participated this year as a student, an athlete or a coach, congratulations on finishing a long hard season. Chances are you became a little quicker on the bike, gained some new skills, made some new friends, and had some great adventures.
If you didn’t participate in NICA then you have something to look forward to next season. The NICA mountain bike racing program is the fastest growing and coolest thing to combine two wheels and school athletics. Centered on core principles of fun, inclusivity, equity, respect, and community; NICA is a unique program where there are no tryouts and no one sits on the bench. Most schools in Utah and the Intermountain West have NICA teams affiliated with all students grades 7th through 12th, creating opportunities for nearly all youth to get into competitive mountain biking.
After the State Championship, the NICA season officially ends as team practices discontinue until the next spring. If you or your kid is looking to get into NICA the best way to get started is to follow your high school mountain bike team’s Facebook page for updates on next year’s registration. The registration window for each team is different, most usually open for registration for a few weeks during the spring.
Now that the NICA season is coming to a close, here are a few things that new and returning NICA athletes should be doing to prepare for the next season.
What new and returning NICA athletes should do during the off-season: Ride – Race – Share the Stoke.
The best and the most obvious thing to do is keep on riding. Just because coach isn’t organizing practices, that doesn’t mean the fun has to stop. Keep riding as long as weather and local conditions permit. Use the off-season as a time to get in those rides that weren’t possible during the practice season. Two things that I would recommend focusing on are distance and skill-building.
First, plan some distance rides. Because team practices are constrained by the greater needs of the group, ride distances with NICA teams are usually in the 8 to 15-mile range. Try to build depth to your fitness and stamina by lengthening your rides. Advanced riders should use the off-season to get a few 25 to 30-mile rides in. Beginning and intermediate riders should aim for 15 to 20 miles. Have fun planning an adventurous route on a series of trails, or ride a shorter loop multiple times. When riding these distances it’s all about keeping it steady and pushing beyond your personal distance boundaries. These long-distance rides will really pay off for the next racing season by helping athletes stay in top form during races all the way through the final sprint to the finish.
Second, work on your bike skills by trying some more difficult trails. NICA practices tend to gravitate towards easier trails for the greater safety of the group of mixed skilled riders. If you have a season or two of riding with the team under your belt, the off-season is a great time to stretch yourself with some more advanced trails. As always, stay within your personal limits, while expanding your abilities carefully. Try out some trails with more difficult features or more strenuous climbs. Riding with a friend who is familiar with the trail is a great way to learn more difficult features. Hurricane Rim, Zen, Boy Scout, and Barrel Ride are all Southern Utah trails that are great for intermediate or advanced riders wanting to sharpen technical bike skills.
Some of the best mountain bike racing in the state falls outside of the NICA racing season. The mountain bike racing season continues all year and offers a variety of options for young and old athletes. The Intermountain Cup (I-Cup) Racing Series has categories for youth and adult age groups from novice to pros and includes races throughout Southern and Northern Utah. The courses are slightly more challenging than NICA courses but are within reach of nearly any NICA athlete. I-Cup races are super fun, well organized, and a great way to get a quick weekend race during the NICA off-season. Calling all you NICA coaches and parents: you too can race in the I-Cup races. Don’t let the kids have all the fun, you can also have fun doing hard things.
For those athletes who just can get enough descending, the Winter Gravity Series in Las Vegas offers some exciting downhill and enduro racing from November through March.
Share the Stoke
The off-season is a great time to share the good word of mountain biking with friends and family. Grab your little bro or sis and take them for an easy ride on a trail. You’ll find as you share the stoke with them, their excitement will give you an inspiring reminder of why you love the sport. Promote your NICA team by inviting friends to go on a ride and tell them how awesome being on your high school team is. Being a mountain bike missionary is a great way to build the sport while you encourage others and promote trail respecting behaviors that you learned with NICA.
Lastly, contribute to our growing network of great trails by helping out on a trail day. Red Rock Bicycles regularly partners with Dixie Mountain Bike Trails Association (
While we love the NICA season and it’s a little sad for it to come to a close for the year, there’s still a ton of opportunity to build fitness, increase skill, keep racing, share the love of the sport, and help support the trail network. So get out there and create your own adventures and be ready for the next NICA season.
Words by Logan Phipps. Photos by Lance Bertola and Logan Phipps.