By Chihiro Gustafson

Hi! I’m Chihiro from the Mounds View High School Mountain Bike team. I have been racing for three years and I am a high school junior.

Five years ago I never thought I would be racing bikes, nor did I think I would be playing a sport. I didn’t really fit into a category of people. I just kind of floated around. I had recently moved to a new school and house over Christmas break. Like many other kids my age, I was struggling with my identity. In 6th grade I got a computer, probably the worst thing you could give me at the time. I spent hours on it each day, stopping only to eat and take bathroom breaks.  

A love affair begins

A love for cycling started for me in the most unlikely way and Dairy Queen was the catalyst. Like any other middle schooler,  I liked junk food. Lucky for me there was a Dairy Queen two miles from my house. How was I going to get there?  I had a tiny 24 inch wheeled Gary FIsher.  How was I going to pay for the food though? I didn’t have any cash. My middle school had a reading program. My mom made me read anyway, so I decided to participate. Every five books I read I would get a treat.  I would bike to the library get the  books. Five books read later, I would then bike to Dairy Queen with one of my friends.

Chihiro doing what he loves: racing his bike.

There is always that one friend who pushes you to try things. Over the summer my Dairy Queen friend taught me how to jump and hop curbs, and ride down stairs!  We also started increasing those Dairy Queen distances to 5 miles, 10 miles, 15 miles, and soon the distances kept getting longer. 

Eventually I decided I need a new bike.  My Giant Rincon from the early 2000s was not standing up to my abuse. During school all I did was search for a bike on craigslist. I was dead set on buying a Specialized HardRock because that’s what my friend had. One day we went to the Erik’s Bike Shop parking lot to meet with a guy to buy his used, you guessed it, HardRock. Surprisingly, It was love at first sight.

My friend also wanted to take me mountain biking. At this point I thought mountain biking was just riding double track and jeep trails. I was in for a big surprise. The first mountain bike trail I ever rode was Elm Creek.

My HardRock was equipped with a 3×7 a heavy coil fork and slick road tires. Even though i was constantly sliding around I had a blast! My second ride I went to Lebanon Hills but this time with a super knobby enduro tire and city tire in the rear. I was hooked, 

High school mountain biking

I joined the Roseville/Mounds View/Saint Anthony High School Composite Cycling Team in June of 2015. I joined it with actual mountain bike tires on my bike. I also needed a steady flow of cash to fund this new habit of mine. I started working at a bike shop that same month. The experience from the bike shop taught me how to take care of my bike and fix it. At practice I learned how to ride safely, not look like a giraffe when descending, and how to ride fast. One of the funniest moments of my high school career was when I complained to my coach about how we weren’t going fast enough uphill at practice.  He told me, “I don’t make you ride faster downhill”. My coaches invested so much time and patience into me and my teammates.  I will forever be thankful for this.

My older teammates were especially great role models. I saw them ripping up the trail and pulling ahead at the start of the practice. I told myself “I want to be like them.” I started riding more. I pushed myself at practice to try and catch up. I completed my first race at Whitetail Ridge in the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series finishing 5th out of 13 people. But I was minutes behind the older kids. My first season racing the high school series I finished pretty consistently, even getting to 13th place!

Over each and every subsequent season I have become faster, stronger and achieved success. I’ve made it to the podium at both MN MTB Series races as well as MN League races.  I also created many friendships outside of my own team, with competitors from racing.

How has participating in high school mountain biking changed me as a person?

For one I now have a new “family” of over forty people on the team and tons of “relatives” all across the state. Heck, I’m an honorary Red Cuyuna Dirt Team member. I’m a lot more confident in who I am and where I belong. I no longer play video games six hours a day (I can barely play five minutes at this point before needing to go do something productive like ride my bike). I am more willing to help out others, whether it be washing the dishes or cleaning and tuning up a bike. I especially enjoy helping my teammates improve.

My family has even got involved. Its miraculous how cycling transforms families! I went from barely being able to relate with my Dad or spending quality time with him to riding nearly every weekend, doing team practices together, and talking about race tactics. My Dad has progressed from reluctantly taking me to team camp two years ago to actively wanting to go and ride. In fact I learned he used to race road when he was in high school! My younger brother joined the team this year. I wouldn’t go a week without hearing “biking is for weak people” or “biking is stupid” from him until he quit football and joined the mountain bike team.

The only negatives of my dad and brother mountain biking is the amount of bike washing and maintenance I have to do!

Mountain biking will definitely be a lifelong sport for my family. Even though next year is my last year as a racer. I will definitely be back to coach and ride with the team. Oh, and one more thing: I will never stop racing my bike!

 

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