Women’s Skills Clinic and musing about women’s cycling

Three years ago I moved to Chico and started working at a local bike shop. At first I was intimated by the thought of being a salesperson who would answer people’s questions about bikes and riding equipment all day. Sure I’d been riding and racing mountain bikes since I was 16 years old, but I still felt like a rookie when it came to working on my bike. Most of my male riding partners knew way more about their bikes (and mine) than I did. They would banter for hours about their bike parts and could tell you their gear ratio, make of their hubs, and their favorite rear tire on command. I never thought I would get to know my bike that well and to speak with that kind of bike-expert suave. 

At Sports LTD I quickly learned that most people coming into the store looking for bikes were entry level/ intermediate riders looking for a good quality, visually appealing bike that was either comfortable, versatile, or fast (and sometimes all three). I became well versed at explaining the difference between 700c and 26 inch wheels, SRAM and Shimano, compact double vs. triple. The more I talked to people about what kind of ride experience they were looking for, the more comfortable I became in talking about my own bikes (women’s specific road bike, 26″ racing hardtail, 140mm full suspension bike, euro style commuter bike) and what I loved about them.

Three years later, I feel competent and confident at my job. I especially love helping female customers find the perfect bike for their riding style. I love explaining and showing what makes a women’s bike female specific (do you feel the narrower grips? do you see the curvature of the frame for more stand-over height? do you feel the suspension compress easier under your weight?). I love showing people the difference between presta and schrader, explaining how to change a flat tire or how to adjust the air in their front fork. I do these daily for women and of course plenty of men too. My goal is to demystify the bike shop and to make it a place where everyone feels welcome and no question is a silly question. 

To complement that goal, I have been teaching women’s skills clinics for mountain biking during the summer months over the past 3 years. The goal of the clinics is to empower women to feel confident taking their bikes out on some very rough terrain for a mountain bike ride. We start in the shop and go over how to set up your bike for a ride (tire pressure, suspension, chain lube), what to bring with you on a ride (clothing and gear, multi-tool, tube, levers, ect), and how to change a flat. We then ride through lower Bidwell park and practive track-standing. We then climb up the first steep rocky face of NorthRim to practice climbing position. Once we’re in Upper Park, the cheering and energy amps up and people push themselves to make it up the tricky climb. It is always inspiring to see women exert themselves up the hill and to hear the cheers of joy when they make it. We then head out Middle Trails and make our way through a tricky ditch with an awkward exit where we go one at a time and cheer. 
Then we get to the hardest obstacle of the day, a rock face with a tree root leading up to it and a drop off the other side. I admit that the first few times I rode in Bidwell Park, I walked this section. We first walk it and talk about the best line, and then our brave group of women attempts the section. Many will roll up to the drop and stop and walk it. A few ride it. Occasionally, someone crashes here. That happened on my last clinic and it scared me for a second, but thankfully Tammi was OK. She had her awesome group of co-workers with her (all physical therapists) who cleaned off her scraped knee and elbow and bandaged her up on the trail before we headed back home. It was inspiring to see them working together to help and comfort their friend with her scrapes. 

It is that kind of spirit that we need more of on the trail. Which is partly why I am so dedicated to teaching these women’s clinics and to encouraging women to ride mountain bikes. Especially in Chico where the terrain is so rocky and gnarly, I see a lot more guys out on rides than women. But, in the years since I started teaching this clinic, over 50 women have attended and ridden sections of Middle Trail in Bidwell Park. They have pushed their limits, exerted themselves, and shed some sweat and even blood on the trails. When I’m out on a ride and I see one of the previous clinic attendees climbing NorthRim, I feel a sublime sense of joy. When a rider comes back into Sports LTD and asks if I can show them how to change their flat or what pair of bike shorts to buy, I am all too happy to help. I love riding with the boys and being challenged by their pace, but I also hope for a day when there are just as many ladies doing epic 50 mile mountain bike rides. On that note, I have been super inspired by the Cannondale Reve Tour and all these brave women are doing for the sport of cycling. In their own words- In what we believe will be a first for women’s cycling, a team of six amateur women will take on the ultimate road cycling challenge of a complete grand tour. Starting in Liège one day ahead of the pro peloton our riders will complete the entire parcours of the 2012 Tour de France arriving in Paris on the 21st of July. In the process they’ll prove to themselves, other female cyclists, and women thinking about taking up the sport, that any bicycle dream is possible. Check out the video above and follow their blog– http://reve.cc/blog/. 1.163 miles ridden so far with 144,812 feet of elevation- awesome ladies!

1,163 miles with 144,812 feet of climbing so far, awesome job ladies!