If you’re a girl who has ever been on a bike, you’ve probably had an experience that nearly all women riders have had – hauling butt to keep up with the boys, and the frustration that typically ensues when, despite hauling butt, you can’t keep up or can’t get over that tricky rock.
I started riding bikes when I was a kid. I remember purchasing my fancy red, white, and blue Trek 8000 in the early ‘90s. It was my first bike with front suspension. With it, I’d barrel down the dirt roads of my small hometown or ride the local horse trails (which, sadly, are no longer open to mountain bikers). As I think back on it now, I realize that if I was riding dirt, I was nearly always riding with the boys – usually those I was hoping to get a kiss from.
I only rode with girls when I was on the road, and perhaps, that’s part of why I left the dirt. Throughout high school and my mid 20’s, I was a spandex-wearing, lycra-loving roadie – counting miles, carbohydrates, and calories. Over time, it became exhausting. I was no longer riding for the enjoyment of it – the breeze in my face didn’t feel as fresh; the road didn’t seem as enticing as it once had.
And so, after a long hiatus, I found my way back to the dirt, and back to a sport that I hadn’t even realized I had missed. Yet once again, I found myself riding nearly exclusively with boys. That frustration would well up when I couldn’t keep up, or when I was told to, “Just drop off that rock, you’ll be fine.” What?!?
I knew I had to find other women to ride with – not just for the mushy emotional supportive stuff that you hear about (all true, by the way), but because I needed women to teach me, as a woman, how to ride; to teach me the skills I needed to hit the big drop, to teach me how to not freak out and grab the brakes as I raced toward a feature that was blind. Yet life was starting to get in the way. I was in the midst of getting ready to move across the country to California to begin a doctoral program.
Now, after three years and two knee surgeries from an old road cycling injury, this year has been my first full year back in the mountain bike saddle. Here’s what I’ve found: if you live anywhere between the greater Bay Area and the Tahoe area, you’re a woman who likes to ride on dirt, and you’re not going up to Northstar for Pumps on Pedals, you’re missing out.
I happened upon Pumps on Pedals somewhat by chance – I was riding (with the boys) at Northstar and saw a group of women clustered together by the gondola. Not just one or two women; a whole group! Since this rarely happens with mountain biking, let alone downhill, I did what any other woman would have done; I went up, said hi, and got invited to go ride with them. As it happened, that group had been assembled to ride for the Pumps on Pedals promo video and that’s how I learned about the event.
Two weeks later, I arrived on Friday evening at Northstar for the inaugural Pumps on Pedals ride and a couple of amazing things happened. First, nearly 30 women of all ages and abilities came to ride. Second, we were all offered free coaching (free!) for two whole hours. The coaches did a great job of dividing us into ability levels: cross-country riders, DH newbies, and riders with some DH experience. I set out with six riders with some DH experience, along with local pro and coach, Adrienne Schneider. Adrienne is not only incredibly supportive and encouraging, but just down right fun! She led us over to the Boondocks trail, and set out a challenge for all of us; to ride “Big Daddy,” a drop none of us had previously attempted. There was definitely some nervous eyeing going on at that point with each of us thinking, “Wait, I’m not sure about hitting that six-foot drop.”
For me, the most intimidating part of Boondocks had always been the Big Daddy drop. Previously when I’d ridden that trail (always with dudes), I had been told to just hit it fast enough. Turns out, you don’t actually have to hit the drop fast at all…but I wouldn’t have known that if it hadn’t been for riding with Adrienne and all of the other women at Pumps on Pedals. In turn, each of us rolled into that drop and each of us made it. There was a whole lot of whooping and squealing in excitement. We are girls, after all. After that drop, we also sessioned a ladder to rock feature, a big rock that sticks up in the middle of the trail where we learned to go right over it, instead of taking the go-around line, and a couple of gap jumps.
I’m not saying we all rode perfectly; I freaked out and hit the brakes going into a jump and tumbled into the gap. But we all tried every single feature. When we tumbled, we got right back up. I ran my bike back up the trail, and to lots of hoots and hollers, pedaled as hard as I could, consciously made the decision to not grab my brakes, and hit the jump, sailing beautifully through the air, even if it was only for a second or two.
Something else amazing happened at Pumps on Pedals. Not only did more than 30 women show up, get free, awesome coaching, and conquer terrain they previously thought unattainable, but we also had the opportunity to meet other women riders and to start developing a new community. A community of women who ride for the fun of it, not because there’s someone to chase, but because we want to be up on that mountain, outdoors, pushing our own personal limits, whatever those may be, and whatever our ability level. And who knows? Maybe I won’t be the one doing the chasing anymore, maybe I’ll be the one getting chased.
Written by Pumps on Pedals regular Courtney Henderson.
Pumps on Pedals happens every Friday night at Northstar from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. during the summer mountain bike season, weather & conditions permitting. Learn more about Pumps on Pedals here. Or join the Pumps on Pedals Facebook Group to stay updated.