The Lady-Powered Mountain Bike Revolution

Since the beginning of mountain biking time, men have outnumbered women on the trails—but that’s finally changing.

In the early days, Joe Breeze, Tom Ritchey, and Gary Fisher were flying down the fire roads of Marin County with a lone female, Jacquie Phelan. Even Jacquie, who’s a total badass and often referred to as the godmother of ladies mountain biking, has admitted that she was initially given the cold shoulder from the guys when she started riding with them.

So why have women invariably been outnumbered on the trails? And why does it sometimes feel like we’re are not welcome in the mountain bike community?

Maybe mountain biking’s marketed image (think flannel-clad dudes roosting corners) feels less-than-relatable. Or maybe deeply-ingrained societal norms have kept many women from even considering such an “extreme” sport. Or, possibly–and this is something I dealt with personally when getting into the sport–the lack of female role models has led to an aspiration deficit amongst women.

Right then and there, I dropped my crew for this new, super rad, all-female mountain bike group.

My introduction to mountain biking fits an all-too-common mold: My boyfriend was a mountain biker and he wanted to share his passion with me. Thankfully I caught the bug, but for my first five years as a mountain biker, I rode with exactly zero other women. And though I loved my dude crew, something was missing. So, when I spotted a huge group of women at the trailhead one day, my interest was piqued. Right then and there, I dropped my crew for this new, super rad, all-female mountain bike group.

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That was my serendipitous introduction to Ride Like a Girl (RLAG), a ladies’-only instructional mountain bike group based in my hometown of Austin, TX. The group was exactly what I had been waiting for: I found camaraderie and comfort from learning with and from other women.

Once a week throughout the summer, RLAG volunteers introduce women to mountain biking through successful teaching methods and, of course, fun. And it’s all free. I was totally hooked after two short years riding and volunteering with RLAG, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to step into the director role and help continue the program’s more than 20-year pedigree of teaching women how to ride mountain bikes.

The lady-powered mountain bike revolution has been a long time coming and it’s being fueled by the camaraderie of a shared passion.

In the years since I started riding and since getting involved with RLAG, I’ve noticed a marked change in the face of mountain biking. I’m seeing more and more shredders like Rachel Atherton, Cecil Ravanel, Kat Sweet, and Lindsey Voreis winning world titles, riding no-hander wheelies, and paving the way for the next generation of female mountain bikers. The ever-increasing number of ladies’-only mountain bike rides, skills clinics, clubs, and blogs has played a major role in the changes I’ve observed.

In addition to RLAG, groups like Ladies All-Ride, Little Bellas, Grit Clinics, Stan’s No-Tubes Women’s Elite Team, Bell JoyRide, and Dirt Divas exist to advance women’s cycling and empower more women to live a life on two wheels. They get women outside and help break down the barriers of an intimidating sport like mountain biking. Having these experiences builds confidence and strength, which ultimately makes our mountain bike communities more enriching environments for everyone, regardless of gender.

The lady-powered mountain bike revolution has been a long time coming and it’s being fueled by the camaraderie of a shared passion. Few people embody that spirit of camaraderie better than the women I’ve had the pleasure of teaching and learning from during RLAG gatherings. Here’s what a few of them had to say when asked about the importance of such programs:

RLAG Volunteers and Participants On Why Riding With Other Women Matters

Jennifer Stankard // 13-Year Volunteer Ride Leader

There is no high for me like seeing a beginner rider be able to ‘put her fear in her pocket’ and descend a ledge, then do it again with a smile on her face. Facing fear, learning to engage determination, and learning to trust are all skills the women in RLAG learn as beginners and take with them, not only on the trail but also to their relationships and jobs. 

Patti Tsai // 1-Year Participant

In my experience as an MTB newbie, women learn differently than men so I think it’s very important to have women’s specific programs to continue to grow the sport. When I ride with women, I will try the scary drop that I would otherwise walk because I know my friends will pick me up if I fall. Actually, now that I look back, I definitely got many more bumps and bruises riding with the girls in RLAG. We definitely pushed ourselves.

Margie Nolen // 11-Year Volunteer Ride Leader

I enjoy assisting the ladies in learning how to overcome fears of riding ledges and other technical features, and I find that women tend to learn better from women. They’ll watch me or other women riding over technical features and think, “If she can do that, then I can do that!” Men tend to ride differently over technical features, using more strength and power. Women can demonstrate a different style of riding using less power and strength and more finesse.

Rachelle Wood // 8-Year Volunteer Ride Leader and Participant

I enjoy seeing the women do things out of their comfort zone and sharing in the excitement they feel when it all comes together, when they’re able to do something they thought was unimaginable. I love the infectious excitement from the ladies when they ride a technical feature or obstacle that they never thought they could ride; they all cheer and encourage each other and it’s such a positive energy for me.

Pam Downs // 2-Year Participant

My very first time at RLAG, I walked my bike more than I rode it and no one made me feel wimpy or weak. One of the ride leaders even told me that she was just like me when she started mountain biking and that gave me hope that if I just kept trying, maybe I could be like her one day. I probably wouldn’t have stuck with mountain biking if it wasn’t for RLAG and a few friends who were very patient with me. Seeing other women who struggled with their fears, but did it anyway, was such an inspiration. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Other women felt just like I did. That gave me courage and made me want to try to get better.

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