Matt Perkins

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sophomore Matt Perkins of Batesville practices maneuvering his bike in an empty lot near campus. Photo by Sam Tanner

Mountain biking: more than a hobby for Perkins

By Sam Tanner

NWCC Ranger Rocket

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Northwest Mississippi Community College sophomore Matt Perkins of Batesville has been infatuated with bicycles since he was a boy. As a child, Perkins’ interest in bicycles grew as fast as he did.

“If it wasn’t soccer, it was bikes. On family trips and stuff I always brought two things with me, my soccer ball and my bike,” Perkins said.

A former member of the Northwest soccer team, Perkins took a hiatus from bicycles over the years until he came to Northwest.

“There weren’t as many people riding bikes when I came here. To me it seemed like a great way to get around and exercise at the same time,” he said.

For two years, Perkins honed his mountain bike skills on dirt tracks and skidder trails all over Mississippi. His less-than-mainstream sport has a large following in the southern United States, especially in Mississippi.

“It’s getting really big. I mean we can actually tell through bike sales in Oxford. Every year you see more and more people at the tracks,” Perkins said.

Perkins, a Jackson native, rides competitively through Active Oxford, a bike shop owned by Steve Valliant.

“Steve is my guru, my ‘Obi-Wan’ so to speak. He was the one who helped me get into it all,” Perkins said.

His bike, a Haro Shift R3 full suspension, has been custom built from the spokes to the handlebars.

“I pretty much put everything together individually.  The suspension is extremely flexible and allows me to hit hills and corners without losing a lot of speed,” Perkins said.

Last year, Perkins competed in the beginner division of six different races, earning the gold in the state games in Jackson and in the Vance Trails Classic in Liberty, Miss.

There are three levels of competition– beginner, sport and expert, each consisting of a longer race. The beginner division, which is a ten-mile race, is formatted much like a motor-cross race over a longer track. The sport and expert divisions each hold 15- and 20-mile races.

Perkins, gearing up to practice, aired up his tires and grabbed his helmet Thursday afternoon. His $80 hydra backpack with a built-in water cooler and his spandex bike shirt covered his torso. His competition riding shorts and special shoes designed to grip the pedals of his bike clearly represented someone who knew what he was doing.

He rode downhill, doing jumps over a mound of dirt not higher than anything he had ever faced in competition. Perkins became lost in his practice. He became focused solely on the path in front of him and the hill. This continued for about an hour until campus police gave the orders to stop.

“To me there’s no difference between me doing this and someone playing basketball or lifting weights in the gym,” Perkins said.

However popular competition mountain biking has become, it still does not warrant the recognition of a more mainstream sport.

“I guess my biggest dream would probably be to ride in British Columbia, Canada up in the mountains. I just enjoy riding,” Perkins said.

Perkins hopes to continue riding as long as his body will let him. Next year he plans to move up to the sport division and commit more time to competition.