This week’s column goes out to all women who ride and those who long to join in on the fun.
One Wednesday a few weeks ago, I was one of 40 or so women who met for an evening mountain bike ride at Marabou Ranch. The group varied in age and ability level and included good friends, old friends, new friends and even my tax accountant. It was a rare opportunity to ride these private trails. It was a rare treat to share them with so many women who have learned to embrace this sport on their own terms.
Mountain biking can be intimidating for a beginner, and Steamboat Springs is a daunting place to start. Although most of us rode in childhood, our adult years here surrounded by difficult terrain and world-class athletes present a challenge. There is so much to learn about bikes and technique that without proper education and guidance, biking could become more of a chore than a pleasure.
Let’s face it: Often, the men in our lives are not very helpful in this department. I started my mountain biking career trying to keep up with my brother. Later, I found it more frustrating to ride with guys, even the ones who tried to help me. Fortunately, there are a lot of caring and patient women in this town (including a few you might have been intimidated by) who are happy to offer their expertise.
If only I had known sooner there were other women out there who understood my pain.
The Marabou ride was organized through Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare, which for several years has offered free women’s clinics. Every other week, bikers gathered to learn how to “ride like a girl.” For the past six years, local riders Abi Slingsby and Jody Gale have led these clinics.
“We provide an environment where the women feel comfortable, supported and given some basic knowledge,” Gale told me as we watched the Steamboat Velo Cross cyclocross race last weekend. “The women feel comfortable to ask the questions, to go slow at their pace.
“Women learn in a different way than guys. We don’t have the strength that guys do; we need to have a little more finesse. Women also like the technical aspect. They want to know the mechanics behind getting over a log, whereas most guys can just power over it.”
Each clinic focused on a specific skill: going over obstacles, cornering, climbing, descending, bike maintenance and repair, or information about gear. Many women inherit bikes from their male counterparts, often in the wrong size, outdated and heavy. Gale said women are eager to learn about how to find the right bike and what other gear they need and why.
I was impressed that this clinic attracted so many women, and Gale said this year has been bigger than ever. She attributes some of this growth to — can you guess? — Facebook. (She said it, I didn’t.) Women at the clinic have used Facebook to help spread the word about clinics and also to set up meeting times for other rides throughout the week. This should not surprise anyone; after all, mountain biking is social networking.
“It’s not only about the fitness and the sport of it all, girls want to be social; they want to go out and gossip while they ride,” Gale said.
There are more groups of women in this town organizing rides and inspiring each other to ride. If I’m not sending or receiving texts from my hockey teammates, I’m on another weekly e-mail distribution list and seeing wall posts from others looking for riding companions.
So if you thought you’d seen more women out there riding, you’re not mistaken. And if you are looking for a ride, it’s as easy as asking around at one of our women-friendly bike shops, or changing your Facebook status. Anyone up for a ride tonight?