In addition to hiking, Colorado Springs’ extensive trail system provides a playground for Colorado College’s mountain biking community. While there are plenty of students who ride casually in areas like North Cheyenne Canyon and Red Rocks Open Space, there is also a club team that competes regularly on the weekends. The team has grown significantly over the past few years, more than doubling in size since the fall of 2015.
These changes have occurred under the leadership of senior Hayley Bates, who has been the captain of the team since her sophomore year. The team is completely student run, which means that Bates oversees all the logistics—from member recruitment, to securing forms and waivers, to organizing team trips around the region. These tasks, compounded with the demanding nature of the Block Plan, make it a miracle she is still able to train for her races, which, according to Bates, take up three hours each day. However, the training paid off, as she just went to Nationals for the third year in a row over the weekend of Oct. 10.
This year, Nationals took place in Missoula, MT. Bates was the only representative from CC at the race but found no dearth of support. Bates emphasized the welcoming and encouraging spirit of the mountain biking community, stating that each time someone passes you they cheer you on. Athletes from around the country congregated on the Thursday of that week to look at the course and prepare for the races, which can last three days. Despite fighting a respiratory infection in the rain and snow, Bates managed to place in the top 10 for short track and 11th in the cross-country race. Challenging in different ways, the cross-country race included a four-mile uphill and more than a mile and a half downhill. Bates said “it was a long climb with no relief on the downhill because it was technical… meaning that it was steep and there’s obstacles like roots, or rocks, or drops.”
While she was excited about how she did over the course of the weekend, Bates emphasized that many bikers on CC’s club team compete for fun and are not necessarily focused on making it to Regionals or Nationals. Eli Kranefuss, a sophomore on the team, echoed this sentiment, saying, “It’s as competitive as you want it to be.” Many people on the team compete in the races solely to spend some time off campus on the weekends and hang out with people from other schools. This flexibility and openness is essential to Bates, who has worked to make the mountain biking community as welcoming as possible. “We want to make sure everyone knows it doesn’t matter how good you are. If you can ride a bike or you want to ride a bike, you’re on the team,” Bates said.
Despite the welcoming nature of the team at CC, a gender gap persists. Bates said, “We’re one of the most evenly split teams compared to other schools…but, on a weekend with 22 people, that’s still 18 guys and four girls.” When asked if there were any significant barriers for women, Bates said, “It’s the nature of the sport,” and that “intimidation plays a major role.” There’s a steep learning curve and a significant financial investment for mountain biking; when there’s a lot to learn, you need someone who is patient enough to teach you.
For junior Sophie Mittlestadt, an experienced road biker who just recently got into mountain biking, Bates is that patient person. Mittlestadt has found confidence in riding with other female mountain bikers, stating that when she has gone with guys, she feels the need to keep up and sometimes wipes out as a result.
Despite the fact that CC’s mountain biking team is male-dominated, their mission is clear: to get anyone who is interested on the trails. Kranefuss, who intends to take on Bates’ duties when she graduates, encourages people to “just do it.” Mountain biking can be extremely tough mentally and physically. However, as Kranefuss spoke about beginner bikers, he said “You have to start somewhere. No one’s going to be mad that they have to wait for you.”
Colorado Springs is one of the best places in the country to mountain bike, and unlike skiing, one can bike straight to a trail and avoid the gas-guzzling endeavor of driving to the mountains. Palmer Park is a mere three miles away and stays relatively dry, even in the winter. If you venture there, you might even run into Hayley Bates bombing down one of its white rock arteries or spinning over boulders and roots.