For 16-year-old Derek Hobden, riding his bike isn't merely a hobby or way to get around town, it's a way of life.
An avid mountain biker since sixth grade, the Monte Vista High sophomore is a founding member of his school's mountain biking team, which practices three days a week and rides an average of 15 miles during each practice -- usually on Mount Diablo or in Walnut Creek's open space.
"I ride outside of practice because in order to be on top of your game you have to ride every single day and have amazing workout habits," he said.
And the practice has been paying off; Derek is second in points in the California's category one division. In the NorCal High School Mountain Biking League, where there are five positions to place in and standings constantly change, Derek held first place until his last race.
"Hopefully after my race this weekend, I will be first. I am going up to Boggs Mountain to race and it's supposed to be a very fun, technical course and that's where I strive in," Derek said.
These technical courses, many of which feature high climbs and equally sharp descents, are Derek's favorite races to ride but require additional preparation beyond taming the twists and turns of Mt. Diablo.
"I try and eat the healthier foods. I always look for carbs and protein the week before the race because carbs will give you the energy for sprints and proteins will help sustain your muscles for a longer period of time," Derek said.
Derek's healthy attitude pleases his mother, Rita, who said she is completely supportive of her son's two-wheeled passion.
"Mountain biking is a wonderful outlet for these kids. They're all into health and have an athlete's perspective," she said.
"I got into racing because I wanted to show other people that I really love mountain biking," Derek said. "I wanted to showcase my skills and prove to myself that I could be the best mountain biker in my age group or in the community."
Despite its health benefits, Derek didn't begin riding to get fit. An independent child, Derek played team sports but never felt the drive to succeed.
"I felt like someone was always holding us back or I was holding the team back," he said.
Towards the end of sixth grade, Derek began to notice the "beautiful mountain next door" when a neighbor lent him a bike to go on a ride.
"I got into it without coaching, it was a passion that developed inside of me without forcing it," Derek said. "Just the sheer exhilaration and the nature of the sport, I've really grown to love nature as a result."
It doesn't hurt to have Shannon Warburg, a professional mountain biker, as a neighbor to give you tips. Warburg is part of a larger circle of supporters who help Derek race.
"I have to thank my coaches, friends and California Peddlers (which supports Monte Vista's biking team) for supporting and giving me competition," Derek said,
"The San Ramon Valley High cycle club helped and Monte Vista wouldn't be in the position we're in if it weren't for them."
Derek added that he would not be able to race if it weren't for his parents, who have taken on what he calls the "full time commitment" of support at races and money for parts if Derek can't afford them himself.
"Hate to say it but (mountain biking is) an expensive pursuit. A well functioning mountain bike that can handle the race atmosphere and tension that you put on it will run you over $2,000." Derek rides a Giant Anthem 29er, which retails for almost $2,300 on eBay.
Although Derek is looking for a summer job to help pay for parts, he said he would love to race professionally.
"I don't know how strongly my parents would agree but I'd really like to push myself to the top of the top and get first in a professional mountain bike race," Derek said. "I've just got to watch what I do on a daily basisÂ…and I've got to understand that there are risks that come with the sport. If I decide to right dangerous trails, it can affect my racing career."
Although you won't see them on Mt. Diablo, Derek is particularly wary of bears. While riding on secret trails in Tahoe alone, Derek encountered a black bear and two cubs. He didn't have his helmet on and wasn't prepared to run away from the bears, which, fortunately, were more scared of him.
"That definitely gave me a few thoughts about being by myself mountain biking in Tahoe," he said.
Because Derek had never seen a bear before, mountain biking has now become an educational endeavor -- albeit, a scary one.