Over the weekend, I headed down to Sedona for ROAM Bike Fest, the first ever womens-only mountain biking festival. The festival itself was three days filled with group rides, bike demos, clinics, talks, and so many smiles. As a first-year event, and especially as a first-ever event, the organizers accepted the importance of putting on a fabulous event and really took the responsibility to heart.
The event demographics were diverse and far-reaching. The youngest participant was a fearless seven-year old and the oldest had to be at least in her late 70s. Some participants could simply walk out the door of their homes to the event, while others traveled from as far away as North Carolina, California, and Alaska. There were pro mountain bikers mixing it up with true beginners who had never ridden a bike before! The only demographic that wasn’t diverse was race, but that’s more an issue with the sport as a whole and was in no way a reflection on the event organizers desire to provide a truly diverse and inclusive experience.
Before I left for Sedona, I had lots of people asking why I was choosing to drive all the way to Sedona for a 3 day (really 2 days since we had to drive 12 hours on Sunday) bike festival. They were skeptical about the “women’s only” part of it. Many people were confused when I said it wasn’t a race. Most of the questions went something like this: “why aren’t you racing? will you have fun riding with just a bunch of women? why are you traveling so far when you have world-class trail riding here in Colorado?” And those questions really point to why women-only events need to exist.
I’ve gone on a decent number of mixed gender rides. I’ve also gone on a few where I was the only woman or one of the only women. And don’t get me wrong, those rides are great. I love pushing my limits for speed and endurance with the boys, but there are plenty of women who can make me push just as hard. And on many of the rides where I’ve struggled, both the men and the women have cheered me on. But I know how to ride a bike. I have decent technical skills. I’m also not embarrassed when I have to walk sections or when people have to stop and wait for me. I’m not most women.
At a women-only event, the ladies weren’t trying to beat the boys. There were certainly some ladies who wanted to ride hard, and there were some ladies that wanted to ride easy, and everyone was pushing their limits on the technical terrain of Sedona, but the overall mood and sentiment were more welcoming. There were a couple of examples that really stuck out to me that explain this better than I can.
For the new mountain biker
The Pivot demo driver/mechanic who came to ROAM was a woman. The marketing manager of Pivot Cycles who came to ROAM was also a woman. Both women mentioned to me that on Friday there was a woman who wanted to demo a bike that had never ridden a mountain bike before and had ridden any type of bike only a handful of times. The cheapest Pivot bike starts at around $4500 for the retail price. Instead of encouraging the woman to go to one of the booths where they offered a wider price range of mountain bikes, both women offered to ride alongside the new rider to make sure that she was comfortable on the bike. They then encouraged her to join one of the Specialized group rides and to have a good time. Yes, they took a credit card and ID for every woman that demoed a bike, but they didn’t discourage her from trying any of their bikes. Instead they helped increase her enjoyment by giving her personalized attention and recommendations suitable to her skill level.
Another woman was a strong rider on the non-technical up- and downhills, but was terrified of the technical downhills. She was from the Navajo Nation and had lots of experience riding on the sand roads around the reservation, but didn’t have any experience with rocks. She was one of the ladies on the group ride I participated in on Friday afternoon. The lady from Specialized who was leading the group was also a certified mountain bike instruction and gave her personalized advice on the technical downhills. Another lady in the group was a Sedona native and told her stories about how long it took her to overcome various obstacles on the trail. By the end of the ride, her smile was as wide as her face and she felt comfortable riding things that had terrified her only 30 minutes before.
Although those types of coaching sessions can happen in mixed gender situations, I know the beginner riders felt more comfortable getting advice, from another woman, that was tailored specifically to them. They didn’t feel the need to act like they knew more about mountain biking then they actually did and were able to take full advantage of the advice, tips, and tricks they were given.
Throughout the weekend there were suspension clinics with the women’s program coordinator at SRAM who also happens to be a bad-ass female bike mechanic. Before working for SRAM she was one of the mechanics for the US Paralympic Cycling Team. She taught participants all about how to set up the suspension on their bikes so that it worked for them. She didn’t use technical terms, and even nicknamed the rubber O-ring on the suspension the “funometer” because the farther up the fork it goes, the more fun you’re having. She was imparted advice based on her experience as a female mechanic. After listening to her talk, I felt comfortable enough to buy my own suspension pump and set up the suspension on my mountain bike, something I would have taken to the guys at Golden Bike Shop to fix before ROAM.
In another presentation, Katie Holden talked about traveling around the world with her bike. Katie is a professional downhill and big mountain rider on the Liv Cycling Team. Even though she’s traveled to unique places and has had very memorable experiences doing extreme things on her bike, about half of her presentation was about riding bikes in family and beginner friendly places. Yes she talked about riding through the high mountains of Peru, but she also talked about riding road or cruiser bikes in Washington, DC on the bike paths and around Mexican beaches. She talked about making bike trips family friendly, knowing that over half of her audience had families. She shared valuable information on what she packs and how she plans her trips with the hope of encouraging all the women at ROAM to find new experiences by bicycle and to open our eyes to how traveling by bike (with a smile) can open doors that you didn’t even know were closed. The most impactful part of presentation was hearing her stories of solo travel and the specific things she had to consider when traveling alone as a woman, pieces of advice that most likely wouldn’t have been shared with a mixed gender audience.
Industry Influencer Panel
Perhaps the most memorable experience was the Industry Influencers Panel on Saturday night. The panel included Carla Hukee (marketing manager of Pivot Cycles), Sara Jarell (Women’s Program Coordinator at SRAM), Jen Audia (US Marketing Manager at Liv Cycling), Janette Sherman (Marketing Manager at Yeti Cycles), Laurie Tewksbury (COO of the Outdoor Women’s Alliance), Victoria Hunt (USA Women’s Category Manager at Specialized), and Ashley Rankin (Owner/Founder of Shredly). The women shared valuable insights for how they got into the bike industry, anecdotes of working in a male-dominated field, and how they see the roles of women in cycling expanding in the near future. It was amazing having so many accomplished and inspiring women in one place, sharing insights woman-to-woman. And it was the perfect end to my experience with ROAM since I had to leave early the next day to make the 12 hour drive home.
Do I think the event still would have been a success if it wasn’t women only? Yes. Do I think it would have been as inspiring? No. Women’s only events are important because they serve as venue to bring together diverse women in a comfortable and open environment. They allow for growth in a way that mixed gender events just promote. And if the boys want to have their own men only mountain biking festival, then I say go for it. Sometimes women needs girls nights, events, and weekends and men need the same thing.
If you’re interested in attending a ROAM event, they have lots to choose from across the country! They have ROAM retreats scheduled in Arizona, Montana, Oregon, and Georgia, ROAM Bike Fests in Sedona and North Carolina, and a special event in Moab and Fruita all happening in 2018!