Our membership may still be relatively small, but the number of women who call themselves mountain bikers is steadily growing.
That’s surely due, in part, to women-only clubs, which create a safe space for women to begin, and then excel, in this traditionally male-dominated sport.
For anyone new to riding, women’s clubs can be a godsend. It was for me.
I remember heading out to ride with the guy who introduced me to the sport and coming home covered in bruises acquired from several brake-induced endos.
Despite this less-than-auspicious beginning, I fell in love with mountain biking and was convinced I would improve over time.
And I did, after finding a local women’s club.
But what if your town doesn’t have a women’s club? You start your own, of course.
In the age of information and connectivity, and with growing numbers of potential recruits, it may be easier than you think to create your own estrogen-powered haven of shredding.
Just last spring, two women in Bellingham, Washington, found a way to create an official and welcoming women’s riding club without starting from scratch.
Bellingham, meet the Joyriders
Despite having a strong mountain biking community full of women riders, Bellingham, WA, didn’t have a women’s club until last spring.
Tanya Sloan and Zoae Spackman had been leading weekly rides through a local bike shop for several years when they decided it was time to make things a little more official.
Sloan, an import from North Carolina, was inspired by the camaraderie she had experienced with her Charlotte, North Carolina, club, the Dirt Divas. With two out-of-town trips each year and plenty of organized local rides, the Divas provided fun and a sense of community that Sloan hadn’t found since moving to her Pacific Northwest home in 2008.
“I kind of wanted to build that thing again,” she says. “We wanted to create something that was inclusive, open to anyone, just a bunch of fun.”
As busy working mothers, both Spackman and Sloan preferred a “plug and play” solution over building something from the ground up. They didn’t want to worry about doing the research on insurance, club administration costs, and the resulting membership fees.
In the fall of 2015, they approached the Muddbunnies, a women’s group that started in Vancouver in 2003 and now has chapters in Bromont, Quebec; Mt Dora, Florida; and Seattle, Washington.
About 15 Bellingham riders met up with representatives from the Seattle chapter to explore possible affiliation. Shortly after the meeting, though, it became apparent that concerns over liability insurance were throwing a wrench into the plans.
As fall turned into winter, it became clear that the Muddbunnies wouldn’t be a viable option, at least not yet.
At the same time, the president of the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition (WMBC), Barbara Karabin, asked if Sloan and Spackman would consider forming their club under the WMBC umbrella.
A well-established non-profit organization that takes care of local trail maintenance, the WMBC provided a framework for a women’s club and liability insurance for ride leaders. The affiliation also eliminated any need for membership fees.
“All these things that we were a little uncomfortable about, they offered it,” says Sloan.
The deal did come with one tough requirement.
WMBC insists that ride leaders have International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) level one certification—a $500 USD course—which limited the number of qualified candidates to two: Sloan and Spackman.
Since both women would have to be at each ride to accommodate different skill levels, they could only offer two official rides each month.
The club also can’t offer out-of-town rides…yet. Sloan hopes to reopen the discussion on that with WMBC for the coming year.
Despite the challenges, the club enjoyed great success in its first year. The launch ride last April drew 90 women. The after party, sponsored by a local brewery, drew a large crowd as well.
“It was amazing,” says Sloan. “The mountain was crawling with women that day! It was a female takeover of Galbraith Mountain.”
Enthusiasm for the club continued throughout the summer as 10 to 30 women of varying skill levels showed up for each ride.
The secret to their success was largely the result of a Facebook group for local women riders.
Established several years before the Joy Riders launched, the Bellingham Women’s Mountain Biking group has 500 members and has long been used as a way for the town’s female riders to connect.
“Definitely the social media presence helped,” says Sloan. “I’d say the biggest thing is that Facebook group with women and having a place to reach them.”
The Joy Riders also now have an Instagram account, @wmbc_joyriders, with over 1,000 followers.
As the 2017 riding season nears, Sloan hopes to build on what she and Spackman started last year, including offering more rides.
“We’re trying to attract more people who are IMBA certified and are trying to find ways to bring more folks into the riding,” she says.
There are also plans to participate in trail maintenance days, host a club fundraiser, and get more swag to further raise the club’s profile.
Despite seeming like a “plug and play” club, the Joy Riders took a lot of time to establish, from establishing an agreement with WMBC to organizing and executing the launch event. Sloan has no idea how many hours she and other volunteers put into making it all happen. “But it was worth it,” she says.
“It was the most amazing feeling of success to see something you’ve worked so hard on come to fruition like that and having all these people come up to me and say, ‘Thank you. You guys did such an amazing job. I can’t believe how many people are here.’ It was very validating.”
If you live in the Bellingham area or will be visiting this season, check out the Joy Riders on their website
https://wmbcmtb.org/joyriders/ or on Facebook,
Carmel Ecker is a writer, graphic designer and avid mountain biker who is grateful for the year-round riding provided by southern B.C.’s temperate climate. She hopes to encourage more women to join the sport by sharing her adventures with others.