Three years ago, this was the very first event we ever went to with Petal Power…I remember how excited I was to introduce all these women to our new company and educate them about the benefits of riding with chamois cream. This year brought the same feelings of excitement since we would also be bringing along our newly launched sister brand, Ladies Only Velo.
Last week as I prepped for the big event, some of my excitement got knocked down a level or two when I saw there was a chance of rain the day of Rocktober at Lake Castaic, the event venue. As the weekend approached, a 20% chance of rain turned into a 30% chance…and then the odds jumped to a 60% chance by the time we left for the event on Saturday afternoon. We actually debated for a short time whether we should even go just in case it got cancelled, but GGR director and co-founder Wendy Engelberg said “rain or shine”, so away we went.
After a beautiful (and rain-free) evening of camping at Lake Castaic, we started to set up our booth at about 6am. It stayed dry until about 7am when most of the event attendees started arriving to check in and pick up their swag bag full of goodies. The rain came down harder as Wendy gave the morning address to 237 women who were bundled up in rain gear, ready to ride. Unfortunately, Wendy had to make the difficult decision to cancel all the rides in the name of safety and trail preservation. As that point, I fully expected to see people pack up and leave, but that wasn’t the case. Just about everyone stayed. One group decided to take a ride on the pavement around the lake. Another couple of groups formed with the ride coaches and they did skills clinics in the parking lot to learn about body position, cornering, braking, shifting, and other skills they could apply to future off-road rides. Other women cruised through the booths to check out the more than 30 vendors. The beautiful thing was even though all these women were soaking wet and cold, they all had smiles on their faces.
So what would compel over 200 women to brave the elements and get on their bikes? I think that can easily be summed up with one word: community. One of the dictionary definitions of the word “community” is “a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.”
Yes, we share a common interest (mountain biking) but it’s the very last part of this definition that really hits home for me: “…perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.” As women mountain bikers, hell yes we are distinct from society. I’d venture to say we’re freaking unicorns. Think about it for a minute. How many times have you come limping into the office on Monday morning covered in bumps, bruises, and/or scrapes…and had your co-workers look at you like you are completely nuts when you tell them your weekend of riding was epic? You eagerly pull out your phone so you can show them photos or video of you ripping down some awesome ribbon of singletrack, conquering that rock garden, or maybe even catching some air off a jump. Your co-workers curiously look at these images, giving you the gratuitous “Wow” or “Oh my gosh” or better yet, “You call that fun?!?“ Then they walk away, shaking their heads, saying to each other, “That chick is seriously crazy!” Not many women do what we do.
Through the eyes of our non-riding friends and family, we’re an odd bunch. The dirtier we get on the trail, the happier we are. We ride down sections of trail most people would have a hard time walking down. We could buy a good used car for less than what we paid for our bike (and due to the probability of n+1, we probably have more than one bike!). Our vacation destinations revolve around areas with awesome singletrack. We love to show off our latest “battle wounds” we got while riding. Our girlfriends want diamond rings…we just want chain rings.
Women who mountain bike are truly a distinct breed. Yep, unicorns. We aren’t afraid to get dirty. We’re independent, have an adventurous spirit, and love the outdoors. We’re self-sufficient…most of us know how to fix a flat tire and do basic trailside bike repair. We’re not deathly afraid of critters we encounter on the trail (OK, maybe we’re a little afraid of snakes, bears, mountain lions, etc but isn’t everyone to a certain extent? It’s certainly not enough to keep us from going for a ride!). We have grit…that determination and passion to become stronger, fitter, and more skilled riders. We work through our fears and challenges with the support of the other women we ride with. We crash…we get bruised and bloodied…and we love every minute of it.
It’s human nature to seek out people who share the same characteristics and interests as we do. This is how community is created. The beautiful thing about the women’s mountain bike community is that it knows no boundaries and carries no prejudice. Everyone wants to feel a sense of belonging in the communities they are a part of. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, as mountain bikers we all speak the same “language”. Nobody cares what color your skin is, what religion you are, what your sexual orientation is, or how old you are. It doesn’t matter what level rider you are or what kind of bike you ride. Everyone belongs. Everyone loves bikes. And most of all, everyone loves to see other women having fun on their bikes.
Here in Southern California, we are incredibly fortunate to have a club like Girlz Gone Riding with over 1,200 members. Wendy Engelberg has a gift few people (if any) have for creating and sustaining a women’s mountain biking community that welcomes women of all ages and abilities. Many women would not have started mountain biking or stuck with it if they didn’t have the support from their fellow GGR members. If it weren’t for Wendy and GGR, the women’s mountain biking scene in Southern California would not be nearly as strong as it is today. GGR is the place we can go to get support and give support. It’s the place we go to become stronger riders. It’s the place we go to learn more about bikes. It’s the place we go to laugh and ride with our mountain biking “sisters” who share the same love for bikes as we do. GGR is our community.
Community. It’s what compels over 200 women to hang out with each other all day and “play bikes” in the rain.
(Editor's Note: we posted this in both the Ladies Only Velo and Petal Power blogs since it pertains to both our sister brands.)