Rough riders

Mountain biking over hilly trails studded with bumps and rocks is a team sport for Ozaukee County Composite members

The Ozaukee County Composite Mountain Biking team teaches cyclists riding techniques, etiquette, teamwork and sportsmanship. Co-coach Amy Plato (left) and team member Reese Kasza-James were decked out and ready to ride. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Sam Keon of Grafton isn’t into playing traditional sports, but he found one athletic activity that has kept him interested for nearly a decade.

The high school sophomore has been mountain biking since he was 7.

“I just like how it’s different. It’s not a stick-and-ball sport,” he said. You can come back to it and do a different thing each time.”

Bike trails can change quickly, depending on the weather and how organizers set them up.

“You can ride a trail today and think it’s as fast as you can get it ... and the next day it will be the hardest workout of your life,” Ozaukee County Composite team co-coach Anthony James of the Town of Port Washington said.

The team was formed five years ago to provide another outlet for students in sixth through 12th grade and teach a lifelong activity.

“The purpose of this is to foster a culture of cycling,” said co-coach Amy Plato of Grafton. “Cycling is something you can do your entire life.”

Emily Hurd of Grafton started the Ozaukee County Composite team five years ago. It has seven members and is looking to grow.

The team doesn’t make cuts. It practices three times per week and allows cyclists to participate in as many of the five races throughout the season as they like. Hurd said the mix of team members runs the gamut, including autistic and obese cyclists. Some who are afraid to get on a bike at first have developed into medalists.

Keon’s younger sister seventh-grader Dorothy Keon, along with James’ daugher sixth-grader Reese Kasza-James, said mountain biking is more fun that street biking because of the obstacles. Piles of wood and rocks present different challenges than cyclists find on a street.

Beyond the skill of mountain biking, the sport develops muscles in cyclists’ legs and provides a good cardiovascular workout, Hurd said.

Her daughter Dorothy Keon has noticed.

“It also helps with so many other sports,” she said.

Competition is by grade and gender in middle school. The high school level has freshman, sophomore junior varsity and varsity teams. The number of laps in a race differs by level. One lap usually covers about five miles and can take anywhere from 23 to 45 minutes to complete, depending on the rider, James said.

The season includes five races that are held across the state. Each is chip timed and held on Sundays. Cyclists are allowed to practice on the courses on Saturdays, which provides non-racers a chance to ride the course, co-coach Kevin Plato of Grafton said. All the teams in the state are invited to each race, making for little communities.

“Small cities pop up in the middle of the woods,” James said.

Many teams spend the weekend camping at race sites, which helps with camaraderie.

“I’d say we’re all friends,” Dorothy Keon said of her team members. “We all talk, we all hang out when we’re camping.”

“It’s not cliquey,” James said.

Hurd said some of the faster riders remember where they came from and sometimes hang back with those new to the sport.

“They look at it like, ‘I was thxere,’” Hurd said.

“Watching the student-athletes interact is amazing,” Kevin Plato said. Speeds can reach 30 mph going downhill. Wipeouts serve as learning experiences.

“It’s just all part of the sport,” Sam Keon said. “They just make you better.”

The league has a couple of stringent rules for safety.

“No ear buds,” Dorothy Keon said, and added, “You can’t be on your phone while riding.”

Helmets and full water bottles are required, and caffeine at practices and meets is not allowed, since it is viewed as providing a competitive advantage. The national league upholds its ethics to the point that it turned down Monster Energy as a sponsor, Hurd said, walking away from hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Cyclists are never on their own as coaches and parent ride leaders go along during practices and races. They must pass background checks and are trained in wilderness first aid and concussions.

The required adult-to-rider ratio is 1:6 with the ideal number closer to 1:2, Kevin Plato said.

Swearing and cutting corners on a trail are not allowed, and cyclists are supposed to report those who violate the rules. “It’s a matter of teaching the kids to be self-sufficient,” Hurd said. “A lot of it is about etiquette.”

Mountain bikers also learn skills. The sport requires different techniques than street biking.

“We’re teaching them to pass on tight trails,” Hurd said.

Without even pedaling, cyclists pump their arms up and down to handle little hills. Going downhill requires a different technique. “Mountain biking is all about physics,” James said.

Cyclists are taught the neutral position that provides the most stability and comfort, which can be different going uphill or downhill, Plato said.

Beyond riding the courses during practices, coaches have cyclists play games. One is called foot down, which requires bikers in tight quarters to keep their feet on their bikes and not touch the ground. Another is called rabbit chase that gives one cyclist a three-second head start and then has another try to chase down him or her.

To start with the sport, students need a basic bike. Hurd said bike shops sometimes have try-it-out days for those who need one. Most bikes have 11 to 22 gears, and students are taught when to use which ones.

Being a club, students don’t earn a letter for mountain biking, but James would like to see that change and he wants to get more girls involved.

The key to piquing youth’s interest, he said, is for them to try the sport.

“If you bring any kid out to a mountain bike park, 60% are going to love it.”

The Ozaukee County Composite team has a $75 registration fee. Riders who want to race must buy a jersey for $75. Each race costs $40.

Practices are held three days per week at Pleasant Valley Park and New Fane Park beginning July 17. The season runs through Oct. 21.

The team is a member of the Wisconsin High School Cycling League, which is part of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. The Wisconsin league began in 2014 with 16 teams, 90 coaches and 150 cyclists and grew to 49 teams, 351 coaches and 689 cyclists last year.

For more information on the team, contact Hurd at



Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login