Cre­at­ing Com­mu­nity Through Moun­tain Bik­ing

Cre­at­ing com­mu­nity through moun­tain bik­ing

Mountain Bike for Her - - Front Page - Words by Kat Glover | Pho­tos by Jes­sica Ver­plank

“Betty rode the trail with her brake cal­liper squeez­ing her ro­tor and she still was the fastest girl I had ever rid­den with, and Mary was a rip­per - she would bomb down any­thing and left us in her dust. This was my first ex­pe­ri­ence rid­ing with peo­ple who were way out of my league, and def­i­nitely not my last.”

If you were to meet up with Jes­sica Con­ner to­day, you might have a hard time be­liev­ing she was once the strag­gler on the trail. Af­ter all, she is one of the co-founders of the Women’s Moun­tain Bik­ing As­so­ci­a­tion of Colorado Springs (WMBA), a pre­mier rid­ing group for fe­male cy­clists in the Rocky Moun­tain re­gion.

But Con­ner wasn’t al­ways a shred­der and cy­cling ad­vo­cate. When she moved to Colorado Springs, CO in 2005 and took to her moun­tain bike, she found her­self in­tim­i­dated by the var­ied ter­rain and abun­dance of highly skilled rid­ers. Based at the foot of the Rocky Moun­tains, Colorado Springs boasts a di­verse ar­ray of trails, ev­ery­thing from flat dirt to steep, de­com­posed gran­ite. Cou­pled with the de­mands brought on by high al­ti­tudes and stren­u­ous moun­tain climbs, the trails can be daunt­ing to in­ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers.

Through a chance en­counter at a dog park, Con­ner re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion to ride with a group of girl­friends. She be­gan meet­ing up with the group reg­u­larly, and those gath­er­ings would prove fate­ful.

“Rid­ing with other ladies gave me con­fi­dence to try ob­sta­cles. I learned of new trails and bet­ter routes, and it taught me the eti­quette for rid­ing with a group. The bond that grew with the ladies I rode with was so dif­fer­ent then the friend­ships I had with school­mates or co-work­ers. We shared our frus­tra­tions at try­ing to tackle an ob­sta­cle, gain skills and fit­ness, and over beers af­ter our ride we shared sto­ries about our lives. Th­ese friend­ships felt pur­pose­ful in my new life in Colorado and started to make it feel like home.”

The group rides made an im­pact on Con­ner. She be­gan to talk with other rid­ers about form­ing a group specif­i­cally de­signed to en­cour­age and sup­port women in­ter­ested in the sport of moun­tain bik­ing. With the help of Betty Gil­bert, Mary Hoyle, and Hil­lary Hien­ton, the WMBA was born.

“We re­al­ized that the ca­ma­raderie of the group would be the big­gest mo­ti­va­tor for women to join us. But for them to want to come back af­ter the ini­tial ride, we needed a safe, non­threat­en­ing place for women to learn from each other; there­fore, our rides would be no woman left be­hind, and split into abil­ity lev­els with a fo­cus on skill over fit­ness. To lead the rides we needed ac­com­plished rid­ers who knew the trails and had the skills to lead th­ese rides.”

Colorado Springs pro­vided a per­fect back drop when it came time to search for great rid­ers to lead the group. The city has a cul­ture of rid­ing. While the snowy win­ters and high altitude moun­tain in­clines can seem daunt­ing, if the will is there, rid­ing a bike can be done ev­ery day. As WMBA Chair­woman Jes­sica Ver­plank de­scribes, “It’s very inspiring to see how many peo­ple re­ally do get out each day to ride no mat­ter the weather! Fat bikes in the snow, road bikes when the trails are too muddy and moun­tain bikes the rest of the time. “

The search for skilled guides to teach also

led to the birth of a race team. Team mem­bers are cho­sen each year, and must com­mit to par­tic­i­pat­ing in sev­eral races each sea­son, in ad­di­tion to lead­ing rides and work­shops with the WMBA. But rac­ing is not re­served for team mem­bers. The group en­cour­ages mem­bers to take part in races, even as they are de­vel­op­ing their abil­i­ties as begin­ners. Con­ner says “We de­cided to form a race team and have the rac­ers lead the group rides and be our vol­un­teers for get­ting the group off the ground. The re­sults were two-fold, we bridged the gap of ex­pe­ri­enced woman cy­clists to em­power and en­cour­age newbie cy­clists, and we also suc­ceeded in get­ting more woman en­ter­ing lo­cal and state moun­tain bik­ing races. While many peo­ple think race teams and spon­sored rid­ers are only for elite ath­letes, our race team con­sisted mostly of be­gin­ner and in­ter­me­di­ate rac­ers. I think a lot of women found this en­cour­ag­ing.”

The WMBA pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth at ev­ery level. From May through Au­gust, the WMBA hosts weekly rides, led by mem­bers of the race team or other skilled vol­un­teers. Bik­ers are di­vided into groups based on skill level-be­gin­ner, in­ter­me­di­ate, and ad­vanced, and then bro­ken into rides to ei­ther work on spe­cific skills or train for fit­ness. The group also co­or­di­nates skills clin­ics and other events. The WMBA wants to give women the sup­port they need to reach their fullest po­ten­tial, both on and off the bike. For proof of this mission, one needs to look no fur­ther than Ver­plank.

“I’ve been with WMBA for 5 years. I was su­per in­ti­mated to join a bad ass group of moun­tain bik­ers be­cause I was just a be­gin­ner and had some ex­tra pounds on me. My friend and I de­cided to take a chance and join to­gether and I haven’t looked back! The group ride lead­ers were so sup­port­ive and nice and there was noth­ing in­tim­i­dat­ing about it! Women of all ages and lev­els of rid­ing have a good time rid­ing. I went from a be­gin­ner rider, new to town, to an in­ter­me­di­ate racer of sorts and now Chair of the board!”

While the WMBA has the ex­per­tise to as­sist new rid­ers, one of the main draws of the group is the at­mos­phere of sup­port. Skilled lead­ers get a boost by pass­ing on knowl­edge to begin­ners. New mem­bers flour­ish un­der the guid­ance of ex­perts, and see­ing women just like them­selves con­quer new chal­lenges. While moun­tain bik­ing can of­ten be a solo en­deav­our, there is some­thing ap­peal­ing about strength in num­bers.

Ver­plank says “There’s noth­ing more fun than rid­ing with a group of 80+ women on a Thurs­day night and to just to watch all the smiles.”

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