How Bear National Team has helped fuel the U.S. MTB Renaissance

Bear's influence could be felt all over the United States' performance in Mairiporã

The 2024 XC MTB World Cup opener in Mairiporã set a new high watermark for the United States. American riders took home a historic three wins and 11 top five finishes across short track and XCO racing, signaling that the nation may be at the start of a bountiful new era. Within the Trek ecosystem, Trek Factory Racing-Pirelli XC’s Riley Amos (two men’s U23 wins) and Madigan Munro (2nd women’s U23 XCC, 4th women’s U23 XCO) helped lead the way, along with Trek Future Racing’s Bjorn Riley (2nd men’s U23 XCO, 4th men’s U23 XCC).

Those riders wouldn’t be where they are today without first sharpening their teeth stateside. And Bear National Team has been one of the biggest forces in American mountain bike development for years. Amos and Riley are both notable alumni, and the team has helped countless others thrive domestically and abroad. Seven of the top 10 elite US men’s riders came from Bear. The second-place finisher in last Sunday’s women’s elite XCO, Savilia Blunk, is another alum.

Bear's influence can be felt at all levels of American MTB.

But winning isn’t the team’s primary focus. Bear is built on developing good human beings first. Julia Violich co-founded and runs Bear Devo, and oversees the application process. She doesn’t simply choose the fastest riders who apply. She wants riders who are going to buy into the program’s values and willingly donate their time to selflessly helping others. She wants young riders who understand that you “get what you give,” in her words.

Bear Devo’s roster consists of riders from 15 years old up to the Under-23 level. All of them have to do at least eight hours of community service before they can race at National Championships. The program also seeks out riders from a wide array of backgrounds, so that everyone learns what it’s like to be a good teammate with someone very different from themselves. 

“Not everyone is sparkly and shiny coming out of the womb, but I think that people feed off each other,” Violich says. “They see rewards. They see people who are getting what they give. So they’re like, ‘Wow, OK, that’s the ticket. If I do it too, I’m going to be successful.'”

It means cycling is becoming a very viable, attractive, mainstream sport in America. You've got girls, some of them are 14 years old, and they're showing up at Nationals across the country because it's a sport that they want to pursue.

- Julia Violich

Over time, as more Bear riders have had success at the highest ranks of the sport, a critical mass of role models has built up for the younger generations. Violich cited Amos as one the program’s most dedicated ambassadors. Last year, he caught her off guard when he made an unannounced donation to the program. He also sent the team extra gear he had accumulated from his transition year from Bear to TFR XC

“The other thing that’s cool for our Bear riders, and even at the NICA level, is that they see these riders. They’re following their trajectory and are learning about it,” Violich says. “And I think it seems more attainable for them. It’s a reality now. They’re watching them on Discovery and they’re deeply invested in how these riders are going to progress.

“It means cycling is becoming a very viable, attractive, mainstream sport in America. You’ve got girls, some of them are 14 years old, and they’re showing up at Nationals across the country because it’s a sport that they want to pursue. I see the biggest change in our discipline when you see numbers like that.”

Vida Lopez de San Roman was one of three Bear riders to win national titles at Cyclocross National Championships this past December.

The rising tide of American excellence in the sport is evident in the current Bear ranks. The team boasts current UCI No. 2 ranked junior men’s rider Nico Konecny, No. 16 Luke Mosteller, No. 25 River Valdez, and No. 29 Maddex Thiel. On the junior women’s side, Bear has No. 2 Andie Aagard and No. 4 Vida Lopez de San Roman. Aagard won the women’s junior World Cup race Nové Mesto last year, becoming the first Year 1 junior American rider to ever do so. If the current state of American offroad racing feels strong, then look out in a few years.

Trek has been behind Bear every step of the way. The Bicycle Company not only outfits the team with bikes, but it shares knowledge and resources whenever it can. And vice versa. Violich has helped and been helped by the Trek Factory Racing-Pirelli XC squad whenever the two programs have been at races together, swapping equipment and intel as needed.

It's just really nice to have a very wholesome, committed, authentic brand behind our team.

- Julia Violich

“Trek believes from the highest levels,” Violich says. “They took a chance 12-13 years ago when we first came to them to go for this. And [then Trek Western Regional Sales Manager, now Director] Jon Rogers was like ‘OK. I don’t know much about you, but you seem pretty passionate. Let’s run this for a couple years and see how it goes.’ And it’s just been a very comforting, committed, dedicated relationship at the highest end ever since.”

Bear’s success has been a guiding light as Trek has implemented and expanded its development efforts in all disciplines and levels of cycling. In just the last few years, the company has significantly ramped up the number of devo programs it oversees, including Trek Future Racing in XC mountain biking, The Union and Unior-Sinter in downhill MTB, and the Lidl-Trek devo program on the road. Bear is also expanding its purview, supporting cyclocoss riders in the winter months and adding a gravel program this year with three riders.

Bear is ensuring that the future of American MTB racing is strong.

“It’s not the monetary thing that Trek does for us. It’s the brand that Trek brings,” Violich says. “They are the program that supports my kids at the high school level. They support kids at Trek Future Racing, the higher development level, then at the Factory Racing level. But they also care about things like safe routes to schools, and getting little kids on bikes. It’s pretty mind blowing.

“It’s just really nice to have a very wholesome, committed, authentic brand behind our team.”

Bear Devo has been one of the most dedicated shepherds of American cycling for more than decade, through good times and bad. And now that the sport may be in the midst of an upswing, they’ll be doubling down on what has brought them success more than ever. It has found a formula, built on kindness, where it can not only help build better racers, but better human beings who leave the world nicer than they found it.

The future of American cycling was, is, and very much will be Bear Devo.