ASHLAND — Mountain bikers who maintain the adage that kids don't climb need to meet Johnno Forsyth.
Just the other day this 9-year-old Ashland boy went on a 15-mile ride in the Ashland Watershed that included a 3,000-foot climb, and with none other than 20-year mountain-biking pro Nathan Riddle of Ashland.
"With no whining," Riddle says. "Not at all. That kid's a trooper. He's really into it."
Johnno is likely to turn heads Saturday when he competes against riders twice his age and four times his weight in a cross-country race that is part of the 26th annual Ashland Spring Thaw Mountain Bike Festival in and around the trail system in the Ashland Watershed this weekend.
Saturday's races include cross-country races of 6.5 miles, 11 miles and 15 miles, with varying levels of ascents and descents. Sunday features a fan-favorite, the Downhill Run. Competitors each day will ride in one of several categories, from kids to professionals.
Racers will compete against each other and the clock, tallying points toward the All-Mountain divisions for women and men.
This year's race courses interweave some of the new watershed's single-track trails, such as Jabberwocky II, and fewer forest roads, says Bill Roussel of Ashland Mountain Adventures.
"This serves a broader range of riders at the bottom of the mountain," Roussel says. "We're also going to about double the amount of single-track because of the course changes this year."
Johnno, a third-grader at Siskiyou School, will compete in the 6.5-mile cross-country short-course for novice riders, as well as those aged 10 through 18. He's ridden it the past two years, yet his mom, Robyn Forsyth, still had to fudge his age on the registration.
"He's faster than most of them," Robyn Forsyth says. "He's faster than I am."
Riddle says he'll be riding the course with Johnno. Riddle is a Forsyth family friend and perennial downhill champion in the Spring Thaw who has taken Johnno under his handlebars after noticing his passion, affection and deftness on his mountain bike.
"I think this kiddo has a lot of potential," says Riddle, 41, a pro out of Ashland since 1998. "He likes to race and ride his bike. I want to help him and see how he goes with it."
Johnno first straddled a bike at age 2, and Robyn Forsyth remembers him going off on his own to practice. Johnno's family introduced him to trail riding when he was 5, and he's never stopped.
"I saw his tenacity early on," Robyn Forsyth says. "It's nice to watch your kid love something."
During Saturday's competition, Johnno and Riddle will start at Glenview Drive and climb The Loop Road, also known as Forest Service Road No. 2060, and the Lower Caterpillar Trail to Lamb Saddle. They'll then descend the Upper Caterpillar Trail to the Lizard Trail and down the new Jabberwolky II Trail to finish at the starting location.
It's a series of trails Johnno knows well. Two or three times a week he rides the 9½-mile round trip from his Ashland home, through the trail sequence and back again for a 2,000-foot elevation change both directions. His best time is 1 hour, 13 minutes, with variations usually coming early in the course, Johnno says.
"The first steep climb is always the hardest for me," he says. "It's the steepest and has loose dirt on it, so it makes your back tire flip out."
While Johnno fears no climb, he doesn't necessarily like them. But he accepts them as the requisite pedal toward his mettle.
"Climbing's hard, so I like the downhill," he says. "You don't have to work as hard. You don't pedal."