Mountain bike racing invades Mazeppa

The Minnesota State Championship Series of mountain bike racing will invade southeast Minnesota this weekend, when riders will take to the trails of Steeplechase Ski Area in Mazeppa, Minn.

But while riders are tackling the twists, turns, and conditions of the trail, volunteers like Jay Hiddinga and his mountain bike patrol will be waiting and watching to assist with any problems riders may have. Hiddinga is team leader of his group of 25 volunteers, which includes eight or nine members on mountain bike patrol, with others working with ATV's and SUV's to provide medical transport if needed.

All members have received extensive first-aid training. Hiddinga explains, "The training we get is equal to that of EMT Level 1. The difference is EMT's have full ambulance support. We just work with what we carry."

Each member of Hiddinga's bike patrol team had to be trained and certified through the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA). The bike patrol is affiliated with the Minnesota Off Road Cyclists (MORC), the Minneapolis-based branch of the IMBA. As members of the IMBA, the bike patrol has several duties other than providing first aid to fallen riders.

"We try and teach other riders trail etiquette. Also, we try and teach others good land management. We work with land managers, like forest rangers, to let them know where there could be a problem area, like a trail wash-out," Hiddinga said.

Members on patrol also help maintain the trail. Cutting down potentially dangerous hanging branches is one example of hazardous rider situations the patrol works to avoid. They can also serve as mechanics.

"We have knowledge in bicycle maintenance. We carry spare tires and tubes. We can change flat tires. Usually we are able to do the necessary repairs to get the rider back on their way," said Hiddinga.

As hard as his patrol works to make competitive mountain racing a safe sport, there are stereotypes to overcome.

"A lot of people look at advertisements of mountain biking and see huge drops and people flying through trees. That's not true. It's a very safe sport," Hiddinga said.

"The bike patrol is trained to help someone who is injured, has a break down, or who is lost. We carry maps and compasses to help lost people get back to where they started. We want to promote safety, good riding habits, and most important, to have fun," he said.

Through the IMBA, Hiddinga and his patrol work with courses to build safe trails for riders that won't harm the environment.

"When we go out and build trails, we try and minimize damage to the environment, and to not disturb local wildlife," Hiddinga said.

The Rochester Cycling Steeplechase was organized by the Rochester Active Sports Club (RASC). "We really would like to see the youth and the citizen riders come out in our race. Registration is still open. You can register on the day, as well as pre-register," said RASC Director Jeff Robertson.

The Rochester Cycling Steeplechase is part of the Minnesota State Championship Series of mountain biking. On-line registration is available here. For more information on the MNSCS, visit their Web site.

Copyright (c) 2007, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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