MY 2 CENTS: Matt Stahl talks mountain biking, kids and tough competition

September 3, 2016 GMT

Matt Stahl is one of three coaches for the Rome Composite youth mountain biking team, which is a member of the Georgia Interscholastic Cycling League. Stahl helped found the eight-member team, which is in its first year of development and begins competing this month.

What are competitions like?

“(Kids in) sixth grade through eighth grade actually race a 5-mile race. And it’s probably going to take them anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to race that five miles.

“The 12th-graders are probably going to race around 20 miles, and a 20-mile race is definitely not a sprint — you’re going to be out there an hour and a half or maybe two hours.”

What is the purpose of the team?

“The overall goal is to get more kids on bikes. The cool thing is we have a 2.5- to 3-mile trail here in downtown Rome that we use as our practice trail, the Jackson Hill trail.

“As a kid it gives you a little bit more freedom. You can’t drive a car yet, but you can ride a bike. We’ve got people who are 65 years old who still race mountain bikes. You don’t see a lot of 65-year-old football players. It’s a way to get out there and enjoy the outdoors … (and) commune with nature. I can’t tell you how many times at Jackson Hill we see deer in the woods while we’re riding.”

Who is responsible for protecting the safety of the riders?

“We do have three coaches (Stahl, Steve Kight and Mark Pearce) and through the league I’ve gone through a background check and personally race bicycles myself. We’ve taken concussion training … and (are) working on a wilderness first aid certification.

“On training rides we could be several miles from any kind of help, and then who knows how long it takes for first responders to find you in the woods. It’s just simple first-aid training. If you twist your ankle, do you take off your shoe? No, you don’t. If you do you may not be able to get the shoe back on, and you’re not able to walk yourself back out.”

Explain the dangers of mountain biking.

“Mountain biking is inherently a dangerous sport. I mean crashes happen, that’s just part of it. We try to mitigate and minimize crashes by especially teaching kids braking and turning techniques — you know, using good judgment. And I think through the concussion training what we realized is that kids’ brains are probably more fragile than we ever thought they were. It’s more important to sit a kid out then have him ‘suck it up and keep going.’ Yes, we wear helmets. If they have a foot across the bike they have a helmet on.”

What are some skills kids learn on the team?

“If you want to go faster you have to learn not to brake. If you learn to brake less you’ve got to learn to turn better, and there’s a technique in learning how to turn. It’s not as intuitive as we might think. We teach basic body positioning and turning techniques and obstacle avoidance. “If they get a flat tire they have to fix their own bicycle, and that is one of the skills that we teach. If the bike tears up in any way, it’s their job to fix it. … bike maintenance, washing your bike, putting fresh oil on your chains.

“Another thing we’re big into is sportsmanship — teaching kids how to respect the trails and other athletes. Passing-etiquette, when someone is coming up behind you and you want to let them pass you.”

This conversation was compiled by Rome News-Tribune Staff Writer Spencer Lahr. He can be reached at SLahr@RN-T.com.