Uphill thrills At 11, mountain biker is used to racing to the top: JUST FOR KIDS

August 20, 1998|By Devin Rose | Devin Rose,Chicago Tribune

Mountain-bike racing isn't an uphill battle for Amber Ramos. ++ The 11-year-old says nothing makes her happier than jumping on her bike and cruising with nature.

Amber is one of the top female mountain bikers around. In races that range from 7 to 18 miles, she often leaves older competitors in her dust. In May at a national race near San Diego, she won the Expert Cross-Country 15-18 Division. (Race organizers usually make her race in older age groups, because she totally dominates her own.) She has been featured on ESPN and the "Sports Illustrated for Kids" TV show.

But when we talked to Amber, she didn't brag about trophies or finishing times. Instead, she raved about what a blast mountain biking is.

Picture this: Amber, who lives in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., with her big brother and parents, can find some of the world's coolest biking trails right in her own back yard. "I live just below the mountains," she said. "There's a beautiful lake, and it's so pretty. We have so many trails."

Still, isn't mountain racing brutal?

"It takes some working out," she said. "But you don't really get too exhausted. Mountain biking is never really too hard."

Well, maybe not for Amber, and maybe not on dry land. But when a course gets muddy, watch out! Amber recently won a race in California that was "11 miles of pure torture. It took me four hours. Every five minutes, you'd have to take clumps of mud out of your bike."

Almost two-thirds of the field wiped out, Amber said. But she still managed to have fun: "The people I was with, we had a mud fight."

Amber said she has never been injured, but she has wiped out. "You just have to pick yourself up and keep going. One time I fell into a river. It took me a while to get into my place, but I did it." (She went on to win that race.)

If there's any downside to the sport, Amber said, it's that it isn't accessible enough to kids.

"I see adults enjoying mountain biking, but not enough kids," she said. "Biking should be for kids too - equal opportunity. The industry makes bikes for adults."

Amber's parents adjusted her bike to make it more kid-friendly.

Speaking of kid-friendly ... Amber said her parents don't push her to compete. Her father, Reve, was quoted in Mountain Bike Action magazine as saying, "It's not about winning or the medals. We're out to learn some skills and make sure we stay in touch with the mountains."

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