Ever since I was a child, mountain biking has been a relevant aspect of my life. My dad is an active biker and has always encouraged me to ride, so naturally when there was talk of biking trails coming to Collegiate’s Robins Campus, my father and I were interested.
The Middle School Mountain Biking Club started when I was in seventh grade. Before the club could start to ride together, the monstrous tasks of designing and building a course had to be completed. Almost every weekend for over a year, you could find Middle School math teacher Bill Rider and a fleet of helpers clearing way for trails. Many of the volunteers were regulars and would come out every weekend that they could. The building of the trails was more so a project for the Collegiate biking community than for just the team. Kevin Cross (‘17), one of the volunteers, said, “Building the trails was an awesome project, I only got out to two of the builds but I remember the sense of community was incomparable. Everyone worked together to make sure that the trails were done right. Children and parents worked together seamlessly to get the work done faster than expected.”
The process was mentally challenging, but it was very time-consuming. Because the woods at Robins are naturally thick, chainsaws were often required to take down large trees in the way of the path. Rakes and smaller saws were also used. The smaller saws were used mostly for branches that overhung the trail, and the rakes to make the path more obvious. The trail was marked out by yellow flags and paint on the trees to show the way ahead.
When the trails were finally completed, the team officially started. The 2011-2012 season was the first official after-school biking program, which at the time was only for middle schoolers. It was run by Rider with the help of the Middle School Learning Specialist Mary Margaret Ryan. Often the club would have a “celebrity” teacher guest that just wanted to bike for a day. The club was very popular for a first-year team and boasted over 25 members.
Each practice consisted of bussing over to Robins after school every day, changing in the locker rooms, and then riding for about an hour and a half. At first there was only a relatively small circuit made, but as the season went on and the weekend build sessions continued, the course began to expand. The course also started to get more obstacles. Pyramids of logs began to be put up to ride over, and skinnies—skinny wooden planks that served as bridges—were placed down across streams.
I have not participated in Collegiate biking since eighth grade, and much has changed. As expected, the team has evolved into more than just a Middle School group. The official Collegiate Upper School cycling team, led by Rider and Upper School history teacher Brad Cooke, is now in its second year. The team competes in races in the Richmond area and has even earned podium finishes.
A recent ride at on the Robins trails shows they have changed immensely since I last rode in 2015. The paths were in good shape before, but now the trails are packed down like a public trail. The more that they are ridden on, the better they become, so it is no surprise that the quality has improved. Miles of trail have also been added. The new sections had many exciting features. Packed with logs to ride over and banked turns, the new trails are truly impressive.
If you like biking or even just the outdoors, I highly recommend trying out the trails. They are only a few minutes down the road from Collegiate’s main campus and are a wonderful way to get some exercise. Biking is great for beginners and more experienced riders because it offers a wide variation of difficulty.
Featured image courtesy of Collegiate School.