By Henry M. Holden
“Mountain Biking is a great sport for all kids,” said Robin Lauezzari, Chief of Scoring and Timing at New Jersey Interscholastic Cycling League. “We are called the Morris County Chainbreakers, and you don’t have to be the fastest kid out there. Just go out and enjoy the ride.”
According to Lauezzari, “We are part of a league that is the New Jersey Interscholastic Cycling League (NJICL). There are about 30 teams in New Jersey, and I run the West Morris Team.”
The mountain biking season starts in December and ends in June. Teams practice throughout the winter unless there is heavy snow on the ground. There are about 650 kids registered across the state, and Lauezzari’s team has 41 middle and high school boys and girls.
On average, about 60 to 70- percent of the kids race, but there are also other activities that go on within the programs. There are adventure rides, and there is a summer camp program that was postponed last year due to Covid-19.
Biking may also bring some peace. “Putting yourself in touch with nature is a great way of meditation. I find the kids that do it stay with it for life. It is not one of these in and out sports. I have a great love of cycling since I was a kid. It’s always been a source of great comfort for me. If I have a problem to solve, I will get on my bike and ride,” said Lauezzari.
Mountain biking is basically a daytime sport. The Morris Chainbreakers bike in state and county parks which are generally closed after sunset.
“There are occasions where you can ride at night,” said Lauezzari. “We will take advantage of that from time to time. You will need a good headlight to avoid a ditch. Most of the bikers wear one on their helmet or the bike’s handlebar.”
The standard mountain bikes are geared so there is a wide variety of gears to choose from, depending on the terrain.
Lauezzari stresses casual comfort. “We want to dress comfortably. Baggy shorts, and shirts, and footwear that will be comfortable if the biker must walk a distance. Kids wear sneakers or hiking shoes which are expensive, but I would recommend a purpose-built cycling shoe.”
Lauezzari says there are many models of mountain bicycles, made from different materials and different size wheels and tires. “There are different options, they are not better or worse, they are simply different.”
NJICL Adventure Day is about having fun on bikes! Kids with friends go for a ride and have fun, with challenges and activities before, during and after the ride. The adventure course is self-guided, (with supervision). There are games and activities peppered into the ride to increase the fun factor.
For some kids, the benefits of the structured coaching program is a great asset.
“The Morris County Chainbreakers has a very formal coaching program,” said Lauezzari. “All coaches are registered and certified.”
Each team has an internal certification process. One cannot just show up and coach kids. One must be background checked and go through certification. There are three levels of certification.
“Level One gives you enough information to do some coaching and support work for the higher-level coaches,” said Lauezzari. “You can attend practice runs and you can ride with kids and coach them in good mountain biking techniques. Level Two can lead a ride and take more of a leadership role. At Level Three one can coach a team.”
“The Morris County Chainbreakers is a youth organization so the focus is on youth development, and safety. “We try to make sure these kids learn a sport, that they can do throughout their adult life.”
With normal practice, kids can usually bike 10 or 12 miles. “Last week one of my coaches led his team to Allamuchy State Park, and they did 17 miles. It is the end of the season, so they were fully fit for a ride that long,” said Lauezzari.
There is at least one coach with the first aid certification along for every ride. “All our coaches can and will do basic first aid, CPR, etc. Our Level Three coaches will do what we call wilderness first aid. It is similar but not the same as Boy Scout leaders have.”
Riders will bring their own food along. Last year, Covid-19 prevented sharing food. Riders must bring hydration and they must bring something that they can snack on while they’re riding, like energy bars.
Lauezzari does not speak for the other mountain bikers. “In our league, the advocacy for trail behavior and good trail maintenance is very strong, but some trails are off-limits. We do not practice on any trail that has had heavy rains because the ground is usually waterlogged, and we don’t want to dig ruts. We do not want to cause any problems that would impact the efficacy of the trails. There is a strong sense of community on the trails we ride. I have never seen a bad attitude among mountain bikers.”
For more information on the Morris County Chainbreakers or any of their sister clubs, visit www.newjerseymtb.org.