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King Of The Hills Mountain Biking Prodigy Has Exploded Onto National Scene In Highly Competitive Sport

Thu., July 13, 1995

Like his dad before him, Brad Bonnett could have gotten into auto racing and accelerated his mode of transportation with the aid of an internal combustion engine.

Instead, he prefers his power to be self-generated on a hillside over a grueling stretch of terrain.

“He got out of it a while ago,” Brad Bonnett said of his father, Cam Bonnett, who made a name for himself a few years back as an auto racer.

Brad Bonnett gets his thrills racing a mountain bike. “I started biking, got pretty good at it and never really looked at racing a car.”

Good is something of an understatement. Bonnett, although just 18, is nationally ranked in the expert senior (age 19-24) category of National Off-Road Biking Association (NORBA) cross country racing. It is the highest classification for non-professional performers.

He is a prodigy in a sport he took up just four years ago when a friend, John Mersgut, introduced him to it.

Following a year of training, Bonnett’s first race was in the Washington-Idaho-Montana (WIM) Series circuit at Silver Mountain. Bypassing the novice category because he didn’t want to appear to be a beginner, Bonnett entered junior sport and won. He’s been winning ever since.

“That first race was a big surprise,” he said. “I was a no-namer who showed up and beat everybody.”

During the Jeep/NORBA nationals on Mount Spokane in May, Bonnett finished fourth for his national ranking.

“I started riding and couldn’t believe how fast I got pretty good at it,” said Bonnett of his rapid ascent.

Mountain Biking is divided into two categories. Downhill racing is for those who want to experience the thrill of descent at speeds of 50 to 60 miles per hour dressed, “in full body armor, pretty much,” Bonnett said.

During a race, cross country riders cover up to 33 miles over all kinds of terrain - up, down or flat.

“It’s kind of a strength and endurance thing, I guess,” Bonnett said. “It’s how much suffering you can take.”

Because of the narrow trails, racers will run into each other and often crash, which Bonnett said is part of the sport.

Until the two disciplines split and went their own way Bonnett did both before realizing his talent lay in cross country racing. He has no idea where it came from.

“I just had an aptitude. I love to race, the competitiveness,” he said. “It’s fun to see how far you can push yourself before you die.”

Beacon Hill is his backyard training territory and Bonnett also has mapped a 110-mile loop on the Palouse Highway that he rides once a week. He works out four hours per day and says that there is plenty of hill work, even on local roads.

Because of his success he has secured local sponsors and an 18-inch Gary Fischer 24-speed bike that retails for $3,800.

Besides competing in the nine-race WIM series, he hopes to take in three more NORBA events, including the finals in Vermont.

The recent Rogers High School graduate also said he hopes to eventually move to Colorado and turn professional.

“Vail (Colo.) climbs 3,800 vertical feet per lap,” Bonnett said. “My favorite course is a climbing course. I really excel at climbing. That’s my strong point.”

Colorado is right in the middle of the bike racing circuit and it is there that competitors attract national attention.

Depending upon where he finishes this year, Bonnett will apply to NORBA and see if he is good enough to make it on the professional circuit.

“Most people have said they can’t believe how fast I came into it,” he said. “I’d need to train a lot harder to turn pro, that’s a given, but I think I could make myself competitive.”

Without worrying about engine failure.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

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