Women-specific organised rides: a joyful, much needed step-up for women riders, or a ride that’s more intimidating than the first day at High school?
Adele sharpens her pencils and prepares to discuss…
By Adele Mitchell
While I truly believe the world would be a better place if more women rode mountain bikes, I tend to avoid organised ‘women-only’ rides (note – as opposed to riding with mates who are women, which is generally great). While others enthuse about the mutual support, absence of machismo and general kittens-in-a-basket loveliness of a same gender ride, my experience has led me to scuttle off in the opposite direction at the first mention of ‘post-ride cupcakes’.
Just because we’re all women doesn’t mean we all like doing the same thing, nor have the same level of skill. Imagine if a ride was advertised as a ‘men-only’ ride – you’d be scratching your head about what to expect too (a detour to a shed, mid-trail press up competition, pies?).
My wariness is rooted in a women’s only ride that I was asked to help lead, several years ago. It was advertised as a cross-country ride with some singletrack. On the day around thirty women turned up, all of different ability and riding everything from a High Street hardtail to a long travel full suspension bike. We also had a man join us, apparently because he didn’t think his girlfriend could ride without him.
Predictably, the High Street hardtail survived for about half a mile before repeated technical issues forced the rider to return to the car park, in tears. The rest of us carried on but it wasn’t long before long-travel lady decided to throw a bit of a strop every time we went up hill (‘it’s boring!”). She soon changed her tune when it was time to go downhill of course, and set off at speed – but not before yelling “last one down is a loser!’” at the group of obviously nervous riders behind her. Charming.
With the ride now split (it only takes one!) and ‘a bit of an atmosphere’ going on, those same nervous riders decided to bypass the next technical section so I took them round to the end of it to wait for the others. This proved to be quite a long wait as Ms Downhillchampionoftheworld had managed to go OTB mid trail. Anyway, she was a bit quieter after that.
But there’s more to my avoidance of women’s rides than the risk of being rubbed up the wrong way by someone who’s a bit rude.
Truth be told I harbour a dread-filled anticipation of joining a group of women whose ability may put my riding skills to shame. Of course I should be more concerned about falling off or carrying a spare inner tube – instead my biggest fear is where I will fall in the pecking order of mountain biking sisterdom: one of the cool girls at the front (unlikely!), or the gangly one at the back doing the walk of shame down some massively technical trail while everyone else waits at the bottom, swapping high-fives and having great hair. It’s like being the new girl at St Enduro’s, with gap jumps in place of hockey.
This week, however, Hopetechwomen were hosting a ride on my local trails in Peaslake, and I think it’s pretty awesome of them to make the effort on our behalf so I took a very deep breath, grabbed my trusty bike and joined the ride.
I turned up at the car park with a churning stomach and sweaty palms, not really knowing what level of ability to expect. After all, the days when women mostly had their other half’s old bike and a flowery top are long gone. We choose our own bikes and ride them at every level. An impressive turn out of forty riders had turned up and there wasn’t a High Street hardtail or a boyfriend in sight. Instead there was a sea of Commencal, Orange and Juliana bling. These women were mountain bikers from head to 5Ten-wearing feet.
Things got off to a bad start for me. Blame a severe case of ‘all fingers and thumbs’ but, as I went to put my back wheel on, my chain contorted into a lump of uselessness that I couldn’t untangle. In the end, a nice man (I know, I know) from Hope had to help me sort my chain kerfuffle out. Which was very kind, of course, but did little to soothe my ‘I’m hopeless’ angst.
The ride was split into two groups – enduro rider and Hope Tech Brand Manager Rachael Walker led the easier ride group (somewhat over qualified for that role, incidentally), while ultimate mtb cool-girl Anna Glowinski had rocked up (as only cool people can) to lead the more technical ride. I’ve met Anna before and she is lovely – but I also know she is no stranger to defying gravity at great speed. Would I be okay pedalling along in her dusty wake?
After another deep breath I decided to leave my superego in the car park, chuck my comfort zone into the long grass, and join the vast majority of riders who were now rolling out behind Anna.
Polite conversation in the group focussed on a) do you know these trails and b) how long have you been riding for. Clearly then, I wasn’t the only one who was a bit nervous. Having negotiated the first singletrack section it was clear that the average standard of riding was firmly in the ‘very capable’ (for either gender!) bracket. But you know what? I was doing okay, and I wasn’t at the back – and not just because Anna took that position to make sure everyone got to the bottom of the trails safely.
Soon we were darting through the woods, dappled by evening sunlight, as a fast flowing train of mtb goddesses. And no one moaned about the hills. I even nailed a trail nemesis that had bugged me for months – it’s amazing what you can do when faced with the potential embarrassment of holding a few strangers up.
I watched up-close as confident, ass-kicking women made scary descents look easy, and realised that my angst is nothing to do with a lack of skills. I’m already dropping my heels, sticking out my elbows and bending my knees on my lovely, capable trail bike: I just need a bit more self belief – and a lot less comfort braking.
A small group of male riders watched, jaws dropped, as forty divas of dirt and their blingy bikes rolled past them, owning the moment like a band of biking Beyonces. These women were fabulous, and I was proud to ride with them.
Afterwards we swapped tips, contact details and discussed future rides, “So many women are nervous about their ability when they turn up”, Rachael tells me over a cup of tea. “But we make sure everyone has a good time”.
So, what did I bring away? The knowledge that I am a better rider than I think I am, a lot of inspiration, new ride buddies… and a post-ride cupcake, which was very tasty.
For more information about Hopetechwomen rides click here.