The rise in female mountain bikers.
By Lindsay Southwick
It’s 2019. Female stereotypes have as much place in our world as floppy disks and Blockbuster video stores. The concept of women now being in places they haven’t previously been is becoming commonplace. Women are running Fortune 500 companies and piloting shuttles into space. They’ve pushed their way into boardrooms, created space for themselves at the table, and are greasing their chains and showing up on mountain bike trails more than ever before. The rocks, roots, ruts and mud don’t deter them. They are taking on the rugged terrain in packs and bringing their friends with them.
The notion of an all-women’s mountain bike group seemed ripe for the taking. And that’s just what a group of Bentonville women set out to do. The Women of Oz (WOZ) is the brainchild of Ashley Patterson, Aimee Ross, Allyson de la Houssaye, Elizabeth Dougherty, Betsy Soos and Kourtney Barrett. The six founding board members created the group at the beginning of 2019 with the intention of bringing women of all ages and abilities together in the name of mountain biking.
“We knew there were small pockets of women in the community that were biking. We just wanted to bring them together and invite more women to join in.”
“Mountain biking is a social sport,” de la Houssaye said. “We knew there were small pockets of women in the community that were biking. We just wanted to bring them together and invite more women to join in.”
Since their inaugural ride in March, WOZ has had more than 300 women participate in their Flagship Rides, some coming from as far away as Kansas and Chicago. The Flagship Rides take place the first Saturday of every month, are free and offer women the choice of beginner, intermediate or advanced rides. If they’re not quite ready to hit the dirt, they can opt for the beginner skills clinic to learn the basics and adequately prepare themselves for the trails.
While the Flagship Rides are the heart and soul of the group, they are just the beginning. The WOZ is like a one-stop shop for she-shredders. Struggling on the berms? There’s a clinic for that. Want to learn the basics of bike maintenance? There’s a clinic for that. How to change your tire? Clinic. Curious what stretches are best pre- and post-ride? There’s a clinic for that, too. The founders are committed to keeping their eyes and ears open to what the needs of the group are, and building clinics and rides to suit. Additionally, women can make connections with each other through the group’s Facebook page and create rides whenever they want.
The most exciting part about this whole thing is that WOZ is seeing new women every single month who want to give this crazy sport a try.
“At our Saturday rides, the beginner skills clinic continues to be the first to fill up,” Soos said. “That’s a big deal! I’ve been riding for more than 10 years and it’s been typical to be one of only a couple women among a bunch of dudes. I love that so many women are starting to see the beauty of this sport, and it brings me joy to share it with them.”
The barriers many face when taking on mountain biking can be narrowed down to three things: intimidation, lack of instruction and not having a bike. The founders knew that to be successful they would need to take on — and eliminate — these barriers. Having fun and skilled ride leaders who act as patient coaches is the first and most important step in instilling confidence in their participants. They teach that there is no shame in getting off your bike and walking when the terrain is beyond your skill level. The confidence comes through learning the skills from knowledgeable teachers.
“No one is out here to prove themselves to anyone,” Patterson said. “We just want to encourage, and teach, to enjoy being outside together, and to make some new friends. That’s it.”
There’s been a natural rise in interest in mountain biking in NWA as the trail systems continue to expand, and WOZ is like a freight train taking off full throttle with no inclination to pump the breaks.
“These women came together and created this at just the right time,” said Lindsay Custer, president of Friends of Arkansas Singletrack (FAST). “They could see there was a need, and, thankfully for our community, were the type of women who were willing and able to do something about it.”
There’s no such thing as a “typical female biker.” They are entrepreneurs, they manage and care for their busy families, they work in IT, they work in fashion and they’re executives, nurses, doctors, lawyers, graphic designers and accountants.
The rise in female mountain bikers in Northwest Arkansas attracted the first Women Shred event in May. Trial bike world champion and professional mountain biker Kenny Belaey had the idea of an all-female bike event after visiting the Bentonville Film Festival last year. Balaey and his wife, Fien Lammertyn, who is a mountain bike enthusiast as well as an award-winning event planner, had no problem drawing support and interest from local women, or recruiting female mountain bikers from all over the world to act as their ambassadors.
The four-day event offered rides and workshops for both experienced and new female riders, trial bike shows, meet-and-greets with the pros, and short films highlighting women in mountain biking.
“This is the first event of its kind,” said Caroline Buchanan, Shred ambassador and a professional in both mountain and BMX disciplines. “This is the first event I’ve seen that was designed just for women.”
The WOZ founders, along with their all-female board, are a perfect representation of the women they’re passionate about bringing together. They wear all sorts of hats. Their differences as well as their similarities are what set the group’s steady pace. Some of them have been riding for as long as they can remember, bringing their longtime passion for the sport and the desire to ride with more women to the table. Others just recently got into the sport. The barriers they faced are fresh on their minds and they know firsthand what they need to do to ensure others feel comfortable and confident on a bike.
Which is what you find among the sea of women who participate in their rides and clinics. There’s no such thing as a “typical female biker.” They are entrepreneurs, they manage and care for their busy families, they work in IT, they work in fashion and they’re executives, nurses, doctors, lawyers, graphic designers and accountants. But when they’re on the trails, they’re mountain bikers. They’ve replaced the uniform of their day jobs with a jersey and bike helmet.
The WOZ founders are committed to bridging the gap between women wanting to bike and being able to bike. They are finding the sweet spot of encouraging women just enough to make them better, without pushing them to defeat. Their hope is to create the blueprint for a beginner skills program for others to use. They want to take the ideas of encouragement and inclusivity that they’re so passionate about and spread it around to other biking communities. Because the most important part of women breaking into new spaces — whether it’s a boardroom or a mountain trail — is to champion other women to meet them there.