Women’s riding groups are on the rise for all skill levels
Edmonton has some of the best urban mountain biking around, with its vast network of trails for riders of all levels. The sport is becoming more popular every year, and recently a slew of women-specific events, groups and training camps have burst onto the scene. Why the growing interest? Mountain biking is more accessible than you might think.
“You can get a used inexpensive bike, a helmet and away you go. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to be hard. There are tons of people who want to help you get into cycling of any kind, and are very welcoming to new riders,” says Amy MacKinnon, co-founder of the riding group Women on Wheels, along with Natalie Rix.
The sport is evolving to better accommodate beginners—and women. “Bike brands have developed women specific bikes which allows for more comfort and fit when riding,“ Rix explains.
Marketing is a big part of it too, with manufacturers and bike shops recognizing their role in encouraging women to start cycling and build a community.
Not to generalize, but a lot of women (myself included), get into mountain biking because of a boyfriend or husband. But, “they quickly discover how much the sport is great for their physical and mental health and confidence,” says Dee Turner, who leads weekly rides with SheShreds, a women’s group affiliated with United Cycle.
Turner’s best advice for new riders?
“Stop going with your husband/boyfriend/dude posse if you’re just getting started,” she says. “Find a tribe of women who support you, understand your goals and build confidence progressively, all in a fun environment. This eliminates the inherent pressure that comes with romantic relationships.”
Fortunately for beginners, there are rides to attend nearly every night of the week. SheShreds and Women on Wheels run biweekly rides for beginner to intermediate riders. DirtGirls has weekly rides, but registration is already full for this year. If you don’t want to commit to a weekly ride, you can also attend the monthly Bell Joy Rides, held on weekends.
All of these groups started with a realization that beginners had nowhere to go. Rix and MacKinnon were interested in riding with women as well as leading their own rides. A mutual friend suggested they join forces, and Women on Wheels was born.
“Offering weekly beginner to intermediate ride groups allowed us to tap into a market of women who … were intimidated to ride with a bike shop or group of guy friends,” Rix says.
“A lot of the women-specific bike clubs in the city assume an ability level that might be too challenging for some women, and that prevents women from trying and loving the sport,” Turner says. “SheShreds is aimed at this gap.”
Groups like SheShreds and Women on Wheels offer a supportive environment for beginner riders.
“We choose appropriate trails, stop and analyze ‘features’ and work together to demonstrate form and skills,” explains Turner.
If you’re intimidated by the sport, it may be comforting to know even the ride leaders experienced nerves when they first started mountain biking.
“All kinds of things used to make me nervous on my bike when I first started. Where do I start?” MacKinnon says. “Tight trees, sharp corners, roots, hopping up onto the curb, going too fast and hills that appeared to be steep at the time.”
“While it always looks chaotic and potentially horrific,“ Turner explains, “most people have a pretty high level of self-preservation and don’t go ‘fast enough’ to really injure themselves.”
If you’re serious about trying mountain biking for the first time or developing your skills further, the ladies of SheShreds and Women on Wheels have some advice.
“Practice your skills on the same trail or trail section over and over,” says Rix. “Riding with others is a great way to learn; watching for different line choices or body position helped me a lot.”
In terms of gear, a well-fitting pair of padded shorts, called Chamois, is essential to “protect the lady bits and bum bones!” Eye protection is also important on those narrow trails, as is a hydration system.
And if you get hungry grinding it out on the trails? I’m on board with Turner’s advice: “ALWAYS have gummy worms.”