Contributed by Calvin Jones, Stillwater Team Director

In this Minnesota Mechanic corner of the Coaches News, I will discuss various aspects of equipment, related to school cycling programs. There are plenty of “how-to fix a bike” sources on the internet, and in books or magazines, so here I look at other aspects of equipment.

Also, let me know what related topics you would like to hear about.

In this kick-off issue, I write about issues related to equipment purchases.  Specifically, about the coach’s role. Your team families may right now be considering new helmets, shoes or bikes, as these students are growing out of clothing and sports equipment. Not uncommonly, parents and students ask coaches and volunteers for advice on these purchases.

We coaches are in a special position of trust, one that is different from asking a  “friend who knows about bikes” and certainly different from a sales staff at a bike shop. This is something that needs to be considered and thought through.

Be transparent about your prejudices. If you are not an expert about bikes, be honest about that. Your opinions of course can be valid, but should be based on more than just, “…that’s what I ride”.  A more thoughtful response might be “well, this is what I have seen…” and then discuss the options they might consider.

There’s no denying we are an equipment heavy sport. For new families, it seems likely they will sink at least $1000 into some basic gear, and that can be a major purchase. Especially on larger teams, it is difficult to know the background of the families. Do not assume everyone is looking for that full sus carbon XC machine.

When discussing new bike purchases, also keep in mind the family is “purchasing the shop” as much as the bike. By this, I mean that a good shop will first seek to understand the needs of the student, select an appropriate size, and then stand behind the bike they are selling. All of that is in the purchase price as well the two wheels, a frame and bunch of parts.

Your program may be affiliated with one or more retailer. I would recommend you, as head coach, drop by to speak with the owner or manager. Bicycle retailers of course are in the business of selling bikes, and have the skills necessary to do this. However, not all are familiar with NICA high school racing. This is serious stuff we do. When a retailer sees a 12 year old student, they may not be thinking about the nature of what we put these bikes through.

In addition, retailers should understand the special service needs of these NICA customers. Our school race season is short. If a student’s bike needs service, and the retailer slots it into a typical two week repair protocol, they may have just wiped out 25% of their season just getting it repaired. More important than asking for discount is a guarantee of quick turnaround.

Speaking of discounts, coaches should be aware of NICA discounts at some retailers. See the NICA benefits at the National NICA coaches benefit page. Additionally, there are also retailers not selling bike brands off the benefits page but still offer their own discounts to NICA riders. Each retailer will vary as to what they offer, or don’t offer.   

Retailers as a rule intend these discounts to be for the student-athletes only. Sometimes these may be extended to licensed coaches as, but do not assume discounts are extended to siblings, parents, and family fiends. Finally, discuss how the retailer would like confirmation a student is part of the program.  A NICA License for a rider can be downloaded from the rider pages in the NICA  PITZONE, if proof of NICA affiliation is required.

Beside new bikes, used bikes are certainly another source for families. An insider joke goes: “Where do the old 26-inch MTB bikes go to die? The answer,  NICA”. For younger and growing Middle School riders especially, the 26-inch wheel size is a fine option. There appear to be lots of used bikes from Craiglist, Ebay, bike swaps, and from networking with other cycling families. But in reality, finding an acceptable brand, model, and in the right size, with adequate equipment, in adequate shape, and acceptably priced, not to mention anywhere around your area is not easily found. In other words, while used bikes are a potential source, they also require a good amount of leg work and time to land a bike.

Rather than worry about students getting the best possible bike, I would suggest coaches be concerned that bikes not be below a base level.  It is sometimes easier to describe what NOT to get in a used bike rather than what to get. Certain equipment features on a used bike can quickly determine that it is not an appropriate bike for this type of riding and should simply be be avoided. That is the topic of a youtube from the Stillwater team here–

Coaches can find themselves a position where they are guiding a family’s purchase. Be thoughtful of this and how you fit between the student and the retailers and businesses looking for their money. Lastly, this is a good issue to share and discuss with your assistant volunteers, who tend to be a bit freer with their opinions and advice. We want our league to be about the riders, after all, it’s not about the bike.


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