Opinion: Women. Mountain Biking.

Working in this sector the challenge, for me, is to find ways to discuss women’s riding with integrity. Ways that reflect the sport as riders experience it, vaginas and all.

I often find mountain bike media that syphons women’s riding into its own special category somewhat artificial. To rephrase a gay marriage meme, I don’t put women’s petrol in my women’s car to women’s drive down the women’s freeway. And I don’t women’s mountain bike in this way either. Or do I?

When you get a group of female riders together for an extended period, something special happens.

When you get a group of female riders together for an extended period, something special happens. Defences come down, chattiness goes up, and conversations, rhythms and images appear that contrast to the sport as it’s often portrayed. I saw this again and again last month while spending four days filming ‘Like a Local: Tropical North Queensland’. I was working in a group where the women outnumbered the men.

Some of the things that stood out reminded me of things I value in any crew: people who look out for each other, a sense that we’re in it together, an attitude that a social ride is a social ride (not a competition), and that all good rides start or finish with good food. There was also a strong sense of femininity that came through in the way these women enjoyed cycling as part of an active lifestyle. This is a femininity that I don’t always see in mountain bike media or advertising material that tends to focus more on women who race and those who are getting into the sport for the first time.

 This is a femininity that I don’t always see in mountain bike media or advertising material that tends to focus more on women who race and those who are getting into the sport for the first time.

Take Cassie Abell for example: “It’s called a ‘vaginjury’,” she yelled at the top of her lungs in the middle of the forest, explaining what happens when you smash your groin. She didn’t just say it quietly to the trees or the person next to her, she yelled it. Part of me empathised with the region of bike inflicted, saddle munting pain she was talking about, as I think any female would. But as a writer I couldn’t help but love this word for its humour, its agency, its economical clarity, and its ability to make something awkward no longer awkward at all.

Take Jade Robinson: “I can’t get a good tan when I’m wearing kneepads riding a bike,” she explained to the camera on the way to the reef. It’s a comment that seems like a joke at first but one that a lot of other riders can relate to, even some dudes, and even if they don’t want to admit it.

When asked about her favourite trail, Mandy Michna’s perspective wasn’t so much about the trail itself as what it signified at a certain point in her life. “My favourite trail out at Smithfield is a trail called Blake Snake,” she said. “It was a personal challenge for me when I first started riding. Straight after I’d had my second baby – about two months after that – the fitness that I needed to achieve to get to the top without stopping…I got there. And that’s kind of memorable for me,” she added. “And then there’s a really great, fun, cut in descent on the way down,” a mountain biker through and through.

While it’s hard to pinpoint to a single moment, or event, or type of rider, this femininity came through in the multiple ways this crew, all at very different stages in their lives, talked about their reasons for mountain biking, the friendships they’ve made and their goals on certain trails. It came through in the clothes they wore while riding and at the bars we visited afterwards, the language they use to describe bike mods, whether and when they chose to wear makeup, and the comfort and ease with which they do these things and more.

These women don’t need to be one of the guys to have people to ride with. As the scene has developed there’s a much bigger space now to (quite happily) be one of the girls.

These women don’t need to be one of the guys to have people to ride with. As the scene has developed there’s a much bigger space now to (quite happily) be one of the girls.

“The girl gang is amazing. I couldn’t imagine my life without them anymore,” said Jacinta Pink listing off the endless number of activities everyone gets up to on a typical weekend.

“I’m a mum and I’ve got kids at school and I hang out with mums who don’t really do anything for themselves,” said Cass. “I really want to get them back into having fun and finding themselves and finding the ‘rah’ woman, you know, rather than just being mum and unappreciated.”

Audience comments have been interesting too. “I feel so good being able to be a girl now,” said a friend talking about the clothing options available for female mountain bikers that no longer make them look like blokes.

If there’s a group of people in your own riding community who enjoy the sport in different ways to the majority, take more notice of the things they say or share when given space and time to do so. My hunch is it will make the rest of us become better at talking about the myriad reasons all sorts of people enjoy this sport and better reflect on our own experiences while we’re at it.

Mt Buller Welcomes The MIND BODY BIKE Women’s Festival

A weekend away at Buller means smiles all around!
A weekend away at Buller means smiles all around!

A new event for the mountain, the MIND BODY BIKE Women’s Festival is designed exclusively for women, offering a variety of activities to suit a range of interests.

No matter what sort of riding you're into, Mt Buller has you covered.
No matter what sort of riding you’re into, Mt Buller has you covered.

The festival encourages women to get away from the ordinary and reconnect and recharge with friends in beautiful mountain surrounds.

Does it get any nicer?
Does it get any nicer?

There is a range of programs for each facet of the event, with four different activity and accommodation packages available.

For bike lovers there are two options; a cross country mountain bike package suitable for beginner and intermediate riders, ‘BIKE’, and for the truly adventurous the ‘BIKE – GRAVITY’ package, which is downhill focused.

Bring your full face along to the Gravity weekend!
Bring your full face along to the Gravity weekend!

The ‘BIKE’ package offers a full weekend of mountain biking for women to brush up on skills, learn new techniques and enjoy the highs of riding alpine single track, whilst the ‘BIKE – GRAVITY’ program will have riders hitting the downhill trails with expert instructors, as well as specialist suspension and bike setup classes.

Ready to ride at Mt Buller's Mind, Body, Bike Women's Festival (c) Andrew Railton, Mt BullerSuitable for beginner to intermediate riders, this event is not just about bikes. The ‘MIND’ Package focusses on tranquility, mindfulness and relaxation, with activities including painting, cooking, an optional beginner bike skills course, Metafit class and yoga, whilst the ‘BODY’ Package combines food and fitness, featuring cooking classes, guided mountain bike rides, Metafit class and yoga.

We don't think it'll be too hard to get into a relaxed mindset.
We don’t think it’ll be too hard to get into a relaxed mindset.

There are also day trips available on the Delatite River Trail that include lunch, guides and shuttle or for guests seeking a customised itinerary tailor-made weekend packages can be put together for individuals or groups.

The Delatite River trail is an absolute classic.
The Delatite River Trail is an absolute classic.

Group Marketing Manager Gill Dobson is thrilled to welcome the event to the mountain. “The idyllic mountain scenery at Mt Buller will provide the perfect backdrop for women to take some time out to focus on themselves, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Mt Buller’s world-class bike trails are the ideal location for women to come together to ride, relax and recharge.”

Along with riding, there'll be plenty of time to put your feet up over the weekend.
Along with riding, there’ll be plenty of time to put your feet up over the weekend.

“The range of activities on offer over the weekend, and the quality of the tuition will ensure everyone leaves feeling exhilarated and re-engaged, ready to tackle the world head-on!”

Smiles for miles.
Smiles for miles.

For further information visit mtbuller.com.au.

Racing: Dirt Maidens Challenge

They may never be the big names in the sport, and they may not be the most ‘sik’ or ‘shred-ready’ riders on the trails, but they know how to get involved and support one another in taking up a new sport.

Dirt Maiden Challenge

Riders from as far north as Port Macquarie and as far south as Phillip Island gathered with new friends at the starting line, which appeared as a sea of stripes, stars and spots- girls dressed in theme to identify them to their team. Over 35 Jindabyne girls signed up, many for their first ever mountain bike event, as the sport amongst local women has grown at an unprecedented rate.  With a large number of girls entering the event alone, these teams were successfully designed to encourage inclusiveness and also spark a little competitive rivalry between friends. Magnificent costumes and vibrant colours wound their way through the flowing trails; fast and fit, or slow and steady- the event catered to all levels of riders.

Dirt Maiden Challenge

Dirt Maiden Challenge

With an all-male volunteer crew spicing up the trails, pink bunting and cheeky signage around the course, and a relaxed and social atmosphere created by sweet tunes and a charismatic MC, there was nothing for competitors to do but smile, ride, and enjoy themselves. Rolling Ground Jindabyne showed their support with professional timing and the setup of a sensational course, leaving the girls raving about the trails and keen to come back for more. Beers for every rider, courtesy of local sponsor Kosciusko Brewery, were well received on completion of their final lap, as was the free yoga session for riders to stretch out their weary muscles.

This was all followed by presentations, a mouth-watering meal and rad live music where participants, volunteers and spectators could socialise and enjoy the balmy temperature in a perfect setting for an after party on site at Bungarra.

Prizes were in abundance, thanks to our generous sponsors, and as well as prizes for the fastest in the XC and gravity events, prizes were awarded for a number of other achievements. The ‘Iron Maiden’- was awarded to those that battled on despite crashes, mechanicals and lack of experience, ‘Mini Maiden’- for the youngest rider, and the ‘Maverick Maiden’- which is awarded to the token badass that turns up with a bmx, a hangover, or in this case-no bike at all.

Dirt Maiden Challenge

Dirt Maiden Challenge

The following day, after a cruisey morning exploring more trails in the area, a large crew of girls gathered in Thredbo to show their support to one of our sponsors, and to our local gem and downhill legend, Tegan Molloy- who also generously donated a horde of prizes. No one was disappointed by the show she put on, as she hit the last jump and got bigger air, and applause than most of the lads.

For a first time event, with no marketing budget and no reputation to precede it, the first ever Dirt Maidens Challenge has been hailed a great success. With nothing but positive feedback, there appears to be a large number of girls who will be back- with a posse of friends in their wake. This means we will also be looking for more sponsors to make the event even better, and more volunteers of the (single) male variety to come along and support the girls, and spend a weekend riding in the beautiful Snowy Mountains.

Video: Ride Rotorua Top Ten Trails #10 – Challenge

Even if Lisa’s infectious grin hadn’t done the trick, Challenge is the kind of trail that forces you to smile and holler. It’s 100% off the brakes; roller, berm, double, double, berm, berm, roller, step-up…. you get in the flow just thinking about it! It’s a trail you can ride on any bike and with a five minute cruise back up the fire road to start it all again (or perhaps you’d prefer one of the other similarly awesome options in the Challenge Block) it’s no wonder this has become one of the most popular in Rotoland already.

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Calling All Women! Take The MTBA Survey And Win A $200 Gift Card

Women who ride bikes are being called on to give their comments in the Cycling Australia and Mountain Bike Australia 2013 Female Member Survey.

The highly active Cycling Australia Women’s Commission, re-established in April and headed up by Chair, Monique Hanley, are focused on improving conditions for women who ride; from women riding their bike their local community through to women competing in the sport of cycling from club to international level.

Since their inception, the Women’s Commission have established operational procedures, set out a two year project program and now invite you to be part of the process of making positive changes for women in cycling.

The survey, to be introduced as an annual process, asks why you cycle, what you enjoy about your membership, and what could be further improved in terms of membership, CA/MTBA operations, recreational riding and racing. All feedback, good and bad, is welcome so we can work on improving all aspects of our sport.

Survey responses are anonymous and they close on 8 November 2013.

As a Christmas bonus, when you complete the survey you have the opportunity to go into the draw to win a $200 Myer Gift Card.

The survey can be found at MEMBER SURVEY

Should you wish to provide further feedback, please send an email to the Women’s Commission secretariat Alex Bright or Chair of the CA Women’s Commission Monique Hanley.

Find out more about the CA Women’s Commission at cycling.org.au or read more at www.austcycle.com.au

Women And Girls Urged To ‘Have A Go’ At Mountain Biking

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher launched the 2014 Dirt de Femme on Wednesday, 16th October – a series of mountain biking events for women and girls at Stromlo Forest Park, to encourage women and girls to ‘have a go’ at mountain biking in a fun, competitive environment.

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Dirt de Femme distances are between 20 and 25 kilometres and are open to all female cyclists aged 10 years and above, with three mountain biking events taking place on 16 February, 30 March and 4 May.

“Canberra has the highest rates of female mountain bike participation in Australia and with some fantastic mountain biking trails, this event is a great opportunity to get involved in the sport,” the Chief Minister said.

“While many female cyclists enjoy being challenged in a competitive atmosphere, an official race can be intimidating for some people, and the Dirt de Femme provides a fun and supportive environment in which to participate.

“Over 250 women and girls took part in the 2013 Dirt de Femme – more than double the participants in 2012. This shows the growing enthusiasm for mountain biking amongst women in Canberra.
“The support and presence of past winners and other cycling role models is a vital ingredient for nurturing a passion for the sport in young girls and there’s no greater motivator than aspiring to be a champion and being able to follow the path of your hero.

“Cycling is great for health and fitness and with thousands of Canberrans today donning their helmets for ‘Ride 2 Work’ day, it is great to see targeted events like the Dirt de Femme see even more Canberrans – young and old – develop a passion for physical activities like this,” the Chief Minister concluded.

The 2014 Dirt de Femme is organised by Canberra-based company Cycle Education. For more information or to register for the Dirt de Femme, visit www.cycleducation.com.au

Women And Girls Urged To 'Have A Go' At Mountain Biking

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher launched the 2014 Dirt de Femme on Wednesday, 16th October – a series of mountain biking events for women and girls at Stromlo Forest Park, to encourage women and girls to ‘have a go’ at mountain biking in a fun, competitive environment.

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Dirt de Femme distances are between 20 and 25 kilometres and are open to all female cyclists aged 10 years and above, with three mountain biking events taking place on 16 February, 30 March and 4 May.

“Canberra has the highest rates of female mountain bike participation in Australia and with some fantastic mountain biking trails, this event is a great opportunity to get involved in the sport,” the Chief Minister said.

“While many female cyclists enjoy being challenged in a competitive atmosphere, an official race can be intimidating for some people, and the Dirt de Femme provides a fun and supportive environment in which to participate.

“Over 250 women and girls took part in the 2013 Dirt de Femme – more than double the participants in 2012. This shows the growing enthusiasm for mountain biking amongst women in Canberra.
“The support and presence of past winners and other cycling role models is a vital ingredient for nurturing a passion for the sport in young girls and there’s no greater motivator than aspiring to be a champion and being able to follow the path of your hero.

“Cycling is great for health and fitness and with thousands of Canberrans today donning their helmets for ‘Ride 2 Work’ day, it is great to see targeted events like the Dirt de Femme see even more Canberrans – young and old – develop a passion for physical activities like this,” the Chief Minister concluded.

The 2014 Dirt de Femme is organised by Canberra-based company Cycle Education. For more information or to register for the Dirt de Femme, visit www.cycleducation.com.au

Fresh Product: Urbanist Cyclist Chamois Underwear

Versatile, vintage inspired cycling underwear for women. Sexy, comfortable underwear with a chamois (foam insert) sewn in for riding.

Chamois Panties are stylish, comfortable cycling underwear for women. They are great for spin class at the gym or a ride downtown. They have a foam insert sewn in for added comfort while riding. Unlike traditional riding shorts with a chamois, these panties will fit discreetly under your clothing. You can wear them under any pants, shorts, skirts, denim cutoffs, and even non-cycling specific work out clothes you already own. Urban cyclists and bike commuters can end up riding 20+ miles on any given day. Obviously spandex is not appropriate day-wear in the city, and ‘jorts’ are certainly not comfy long term on a saddle. Ouch! That’s precisely where Chamois Panties come into play. The foam insert alleviates the discomforts of riding while remaining discreet, allowing you to flaunt your own unique style. Help fund the Chamois Panties and make them a reality. Your contributions will go toward the manufacturing and distribution costs so that we can get these babies on the market!

More information here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cguzman/urbanist-cycling-chamois-panties

Specialized Skill Up Women in Retail

Specialized Australia recently ran a women’s tech training session for female shop staff. It was a world first for Specialized, and is a great show of leadership in this area, Hopefully it’s something we see more of from other organisations as well.

 

As a woman working in a bike store, you’re definitely an anomaly. Last time I worked at a bike shop, every now and then, a customer would ask to speak to one of the ‘guys’. ‘Ask me your question, and if I can’t answer it I’ll go and get some help,’ I’d say.

Things usually went pretty well from there. If help was needed, I’d call on our female mechanic, just to make a point.

In a sport that still attracts a lot more men than women, it follows that female staff in the bike retail sector aren’t as common either. This can sometimes lead to the unfortunate assumption that women aren’t as skilled as their male counterparts, or can’t provide the same level of customer service and advice.

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Megan Scott from Berry Mountain Cycles near Nowra.

This unspoken condescension, coupled with the traditional ‘blokeyness’ of bike shops (particularly the workshop) is an ongoing barrier to more women taking up work in bike retail. And it’s to the detriment of our sport.

Less ego, more attention to detail

Specialized Australia’s training expert, (formally titled, a Specialized Bicycle Components University (SBCU) Professor), Adam Nicholson, came up with the idea for the women’s tech course after a shopping experience for his motorbike.

Impressed with the way that, ‘Women are typically able to articulate technical information with less ego and more attention to detail,’ he saw a massive need to help empower female store owners, managers and sales staff in the bike industry and developed three day technical training course for likeminded ladies.

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We all wished every bike workshop was like this.

‘I wanted to develop a platform where Specialized employees are able to use resources we have, digest the technical aspects of our products and deliver second to none customer service for every cyclist. The course allowed us to do it as a group rather than one on one.’

Empowering experiences

The course is one of a series of workshops Specialized run under their Specialized Bicycle Components University arm. We joined the girls on the final day at Specialized’s HQ in Melbourne where an incredibly impressive training facility has been built. There’s a room full of identically equipped workstations, each suitable for the most involved of workshop task. The group spent the morning bleeding brakes and pulling apart front suspension – the kind of workshop skills that women are rarely taught.

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Each participant had their own workstation (L-R Margot Rupe, Bella Reynolds, Carolyn Lyon).

Next, a test fleet of Specialized’s new women’s trail bike, the Rumor Expert, were loaded into a van and we drove from Melbourne to the You Yangs for an afternoon ride. This was the perfect environment for the attendees to play with the dropper posts they’d pulled apart the day before, and put into practice the suspension setup knowledge they’d learnt to give customers the ride feel they’re after.

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Specialized know how to make a woman feel special. A fleet of Rumor Experts were lined up ready to ride.

Key to the success of the course is hands on technical training, actual riding experiences and ongoing discussion. It enables participants to build skills, digest theoretical information and actually feel what different product innovations mean for experiences had while riding.

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The hands-on was very important. Some of us gain this experience on our own bike while looking at a old manual and to get it in such a professional and formal manner was priceless.
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Margot Rupe from Mikes Bikes on the Gold Coast gets stuck into a nice set of forks.

For Carolyn Lyon, who manages Red Bike in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand, the course motivated her to help customers get more out of the products they own. ‘I have a confidence I never had before in promoting bike maintenance,’ she said afterward.

For someone like Carolyn, who doesn’t have much contact with other female shop staff, meeting likeminded ladies was another critical element of the trip. ‘The women I met on the course are, to me, an extension of our store. They are an important point of contact when making decisions about issues relating to women who ride. We contact each other to solve all sorts of issues and also to share great ideas that work well within our own cycling communities.’

You can’t buy everything online

The women’s tech training was a first for Specialized, but hopefully the first of many courses like it. In fact, Adam, who developed the curriculum in Australia, is now looking to expand this to a global level through the Specialized headquarters in the United States.

The broader context of the initiative is important too. Globally, bike shops have to find new ways to maintain their edge as online retail grows, integrating additional services and points of difference to the once-familiar sales and repairs model. These might include cafes, indoor turbo studios, weekly social rides, exclusive training and racing activities, support at community-based events; things you can’t buy with the click of a mouse or swipe of a touch screen.

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Theory and discussion time were also important aspects of the course. The customer experience is even more important come the online shopping age and any training to re-gain that advantage is critical.

Building the confidence, skills and professional networks of female staff is part and parcel of this; in this day in age, you cannot afford to have staff members who are unable to provide a high level of service across the board. It’s widely recognised that walking into a bike shop can be an intimidating experience too, particularly for women – it’s one of the reasons some people turn to the anonymity of online shopping. Having well-educated female staff who, as mentioned by Adam previously, generally approach sales with less ego helps make bike shops a more welcoming environment.

As the bike industry continues to reinvent itself we look forward to seeing what additional opportunities become available next. Especially if it means better experiences for customers and staff, and helping riders of all types get even more out of their time on the trails.

Meanwhile, the next time you receive help from a staff member of either gender, take a moment to consider the passion for products, servicing and ongoing learning they bring to the shop floor. Working in a bike shop is a lifestyle as much as a job.

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Thanks to companies like Specialized there’s a growing group of women more involved in all aspects of our sport.

 

Knights In Shining Lycra

As I darted out of work one Friday afternoon in a rush to get on the road, I began to mentally check off the things I would needed for my first 100km mountain bike race. Without noticing at the time, my biggest concern was about whether or not to don the typical cross country race attire or to ditch the lycra for my more recent, stealthy amateur female mountain biker getup. I had been teetering between the downhill and cross country look, finding myself more comfortable with loose fitting clothing, and happy to look like a punter so expectations weren’t built around the image I portrayed. I admired the men who comfortably strutted their lycra-clad stuff with blatant disregard for those anti-lycra fundamentalists who liked to eat meat pies and watch sport on TV whilst making fun of cyclists. I tossed in my brand new Jindabyne Cycling Club Jersey and decided to make my mind up on the day.

It’s an interesting experience being a female in the cycling world. As a teenager, I often tramped around the country with my family to watch my big brother race on the track and road, and I became increasingly aware of the ratio of men to women at these events. My brother often had fit, good looking friends and I slowly came to enjoy this as a spectator sport. I gave road cycling a go during this time, but the social butterfly in me did not enjoy the lonely hours training in the cold, wet Cootamundra winters, taking refuge instead in the camaraderie of team sports such as netball, soccer and touch football.

Almost three years ago I moved to Jindabyne for work and play. I began mountain biking with the Jindy crew on sweet single track and scenic fire trails in the Snowy Mountains not long after I arrived. My introduction to single track riding had taken place only 6 months earlier when I was roped into riding an eight hour enduro at Beechworth. The competitive spirit within me went hell for leather right from the start, with no regard for tight switchbacks and technical descending on a course I was unfamiliar with. I returned to my team after that first lap, slightly embarrassed as the blood and bruises gave away my rookie status. That didn’t stop the passion, and coming first in our category only added fuel to the fire that had begun deep within.

As I geared up for the Capital Punishment, a little wiser and even more excited than that first race, I wondered if I really should have signed up for the 100km. My brother- mentor, bike mechanic and voice of reason- wasn’t convinced that I was up to it, with my ad-hoc race preparation that I had tried to fit in around a busy month of outdoor guiding and my soccer, netball, touch and rugby commitments.

Lining up for the race with my friends Matt and Ed, I scanned the crowd for other females. We were few and far between and I had a flashback to the days of my brothers cycling career. I always felt a strange connection with other girls who were racing, and the nods and smiles exchanged gave me the impression that they felt the same way. I felt a rush of pride standing there in my club jersey. All of the fears I had about being seen in lycra had been washed away by pre-race excitement. It also seemed like the most appropriate way to maintain a low profile where I was already in the minority. The odds were looking pretty good for a single girl, but I was too nervous to be checking out potential man-friends, and I was more interested in perving on hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of sexy high tech machinery that hovered between their legs; two years ago I didn’t know what a dualy was.

When the start horn sounded, I drifted off into what would become five hours of solitary daydreaming, interrupted only by a phone call to request an ambulance for rider who had an unscheduled dismount, and brief encounters with encouraging marshals and empathising fellow competitors. One rider who sat on my tail through a long section of single track, commented “how ‘bout this view?? I could do this all day!” and as I agreed, I wondered if he was being a smart ass and referring to my lycra adorned rear end. I decided to take it as a compliment.

At the end of the untimed section I stopped to join a number of others who were using their last few minutes of rest to stretch. I became acutely aware that I was the only girl around and I tried to blend into my surroundings. I smiled politely and quietly ate another gel as a fellow racer noticed me and loudly verbalised his approval of my skills on the single track. Another man turned and asked if I was single, announced that his friend was looking for a girlfriend, and wanted to know if I was going to the after party. As heads turned to see my reaction, I got back on my bike and in an instant I was gone.

I was shocked at my sudden lack of confidence and inability to act cool. I shook off the embarrassment as I rode along on my own, and in my daydreaming I began to ponder the idea of the after party. I didn’t know about it until just before the race and so I hadn’t planned to go. But now my mind was ticking over. A room full of men that can ride 100km on a mountain bike? Wow. This is what my dreams are made of, and an opportunity that doesn’t present itself very often.

As I crossed the finish line, there was no cheering and clapping. In fact there was no one waiting to congratulate me except my friend Matty who crossed the line in front of me and understood how far I had just come. It didn’t matter. I felt amazing. I was ready to call my brother to let him know that I had not only survived, but did it in a timely fashion and enjoyed it immensely.

Packing up to go home, I asked my friend Ed if he wanted to go to the after party. With a ratio of roughly 1:7, he didn’t seem interested in being my wingman, and despite my usual healthy self-confidence, there was no way I was entering the lion’s den without some backup.

On the drive back to Jindabyne, I thought about all of the brilliant aspects of mountain bike racing: sweet flowing single track; pushing the physical and mental limits; checking out all of the different bike rigs; and the feeling of exhaustion after completing a personal challenge, alongside a thousand other like-minded people. If I had missed an opportunity to meet a lovely gentleman that shared my love of mountain biking, it didn’t matter.

The next day, back in the comfort of our local coffee hangout, I found myself surrounded by friends who were eager to hear about the race. When I told them about the after party that I didn’t attend, and hamming it up with talk of fit, athletic men and favourable ratios, they quickly offered to come along to the next one and wanted to know when it was. Well, there’s the Tathra enduro, the Kowalski Classic, the Wicked Wombat….

Looks like I’ll have a support crew on and off the bike from now on. Hopefully it will entice a few more of my friends to try mountain biking and add to the numbers of girls on the start line. Who knows, I might even meet my knight in shining lycra.

First Time Racer: The Before, During and After

Do you still remember the first time you raced? The nerves, the excitement, the anticipation – and even, the fear.

Have you yet to make the leap into the world of mountain bike racing?  Do you think it will be too hard?  Do you worry that you won’t be able to make the distance?

Flow takes you on a journey with first time racer Cassandra Du Boulay, as she takes on racing for the first time in the recent For the Birds women’s only event in Canberra.

 

A Month Before The Big Day

A month before the race we caught up with Cassandra to see what she was doing and how she was preparing for the big day.

First time racer and new MTB rider Cassandra De Boulay
We are a month out from your first ever race, how are you feeling?

I’m actually quite excited.  I think that it may be a little too soon to enter a race especially since I have only been to Sparrow Hill once. I’m also not at my fittest but I’m busting to give it a go.

How long have you been mountain biking?

My first time was in May this year (2012).  I had done an introductory women’s course followed by an intermediate course.  As of today I’ve been on the MTB tracks a total of 11 times

Who or what got you into it?

My husband’s friend Adam has all the credit for introducing me to mountain biking.  He was visiting from Perth and asked us if we knew of any places in Canberra to ride.  We only knew of one; Mt Stromlo.  The boys had planned to go out and convinced me at the last minute to borrow my mother-in-law’s bike (which had no suspension whatsoever) and head out.

They thought the beginner loop would be too short and easy so we went straight for the intermediate loop. After a mix of horror and exhilaration, not to mention a couple of spectacular crashes, I was busting to get a proper bike and learn.  Given that I felt like I’d been hit by a bus after my locked-arm-death-grip adventure I knew I had a lot to learn.

So you got the MTB bug.  Did you get any coaching or go straight into it?

Yeah, not long after (that first ride) I saw an email on a social mailing list about women’s MTB courses run by Cycle Education and I enrolled.

And you mentioned you wanted to get a new bike, did that happen?

I recently bought a second hand Giant Anthem and have found that having a good bike makes all the difference.

How much riding are you going to be able to do in the lead up to the For the Birds race?

I am planning to ride at the race location twice a week and in addition to that I will do some spin classes at the gym for fitness.

 

Race Day

The big day of the race for any first timer is always full of nervous energy and a mix of emotions.  Sometimes it has been a big planned lead up with a goal and other times it is a last minute decision to throw yourself into the under-prepared deep end.  No matter where you fall in those extremes it’s always an exciting day and experience.

We caught up with Cassandra again just before she was about to start her first race.

Cassandra out warning up for the race.
What is your goal for this race?

I’d really like to finish the race without hurting myself or my bike.  I am realistic enough to know that I can’t expect to place but I think it will give me really good race experience to take forward.  My inner competitive streak would like me to finish in the top half of the field!

What made you pick the 20km distance?

I chose the 20km on advice from the people that ran the intermediate course I did.  They thought that based on my riding I would get to the end of the 10 km and would be left wanting more.  Also, I have never been good at sprinting (on foot or on a bike) and I think the longer distances would be too much given my fitness!

Are you competitive by nature?

If you ask anyone I have ever known I think you would get a resounding, YES! I was quite competitive when I was younger but as I am getting older I am starting to enjoy things for the fun of it, but I think I’ll always have a little voice in the back of my mind that wants to win.

 

We wished Cassandra a huge, ‘good luck’ and waited impatiently for her to finish the race.  When you’ve been part of mountain biking as long as Flow has it’s always an exciting time to see people frothing on mountain bikes. We were just hoping that she would finish the race with a huge smile and love mountain biking as much as we do.

 

Post Race Analysis

It doesn’t matter how much you are “doing it for the fun”, it’s still good to see how you went against others.
How were you feeling during the race?

I was full of adrenalin and I think that helped me up the initial fire trail climb. Once I got on the single track I settled down a bit and focussed on keeping in touch with the girl in front and away from anyone that might be catching me. I knew I was stronger on the uphill and I felt I needed to push myself on the downhill.

Did the nerves settle down?

I think I was just really happy to get going, standing at the start made me nervous. I wasn’t sure if I should have gone out so hard so early but I turned the nerves into adrenaline and was pretty pumped for the whole time.

Do you remember what you thought as you were riding?

I was mostly trying to think positive and not slow down or slack off. I had practiced at Sparrow a few times in the weeks leading up to the race and so I tried to think about taking good lines, not over braking and all the tips I had learned at the courses I’d done.

How did you feel when you finished?

Other than exhausted I was really happy, I’d had a great time and couldn’t stop smiling.

When I saw that I had finished 4th I was shocked and ecstatic. Then to find out I was 2nd in my division was amazing. I had never hoped for such a good result. I knew that I had gone out hard up the fire trail and that no one had passed me but didn’t realise that I had taken 14 minutes of my best time for that track.

How did you find the distance?

It was a good distance for me; the 10km would have been over too soon. As for the 40km or 60km I don’t know how they do it. Maybe it is a good goal to work towards.

Did you enjoy the women only aspect to the race?

Since it was my first race I think it was a little less intimidating than if there were guys on the track too. It is not why I initially chose it for my first race but I’m glad it was.

Will you race again?

Absolutely! Now that my husband has a bike I’d love to race in a team with him.

Would you recommend it to other people thinking of giving it a go?

Definitely, I liked that it was a really supportive and friendly atmosphere. I chatted to other people that were new to MTB as well as seasoned pro’s that were really encouraging. The race was well run and was a really positive experience.

Cassandra has caught the MTB race bug and will be racing again. Flow froths on anyone who picks up a mountain bike, be it for race or ride.