Why every woman needs mountain biking in her life – and how to make it happen. Mum and freelance journalist Adele Mitchell has some tips.
1. The ‘Wild’ moments
Had a bad day? Find a great mountain bike trail – natural or trail centre – and within ten minutes of fairly hard pedalling the chances are you will be alone. You can strip back your thoughts, have a little weep with no one but the rabbits to notice, or just practice a little gratitude for having this space to yourself: it’s like Wild – only a bit more convenient, and on a bike.
Not that there is time for indulgence, of course. Mountain biking is a technical sport that demands focus and connection. The best trails keep you coming back for more because they never ride the same twice – the weather, the season, even the time of day all come into play. In short, every ride is an adventure.
2. The friendships
Basically, as a working mum, my life is a walking, talking episode of Modern Family, where I am drowning in a sea of dirty washing, teen dramas and deadlines. Mountain biking with my girl friends – every week on my day off, for the last ten years – has, basically, kept me sane.
It’s like a coffee morning, but outside and with adrenalin: we laugh (a lot), confide in each other (what’s said in the woods, stays in the woods) – and push our fitness and riding skills to the limit. We’ve picked each other up off the ground (and driven each other to the small injuries unit) and we’ve cheered each other for FINALLY NAILING THAT DROP OFF. Then it’s a mad dash from trail to school run via the supermarket. Believe me, there is something quietly empowering about standing at the checkout in Waitrose, still wearing your mud splattered body armour.
3. The challenges
Mountain biking demands technical skills of women more quickly than it does of men – and anyone who denies this, frankly, doesn’t know what he is talking about. Mountain biking is all over workout that uses your legs, core, back, arms and shoulders. It builds endurance and stamina too. However most of us lack the physical power to pedal up and over roots and rocks, and up and down near vertical climbs, using force alone. Hone your skills though – shifting your weight, looking ahead, for instance – and you’re on your way to being a truly awesome rider, rather than just a foolhardy one.
For me though, the biggest challenge is having the confidence to either get out of my comfort zone and take risks, or uphold my own chosen boundaries without losing face. No one wants to be the one at the back, holding everyone else up, nor walk a technical section when everyone else has sped on ahead. As a consequence, when your ride doesn’t go to plan, mountain biking can take your self-esteem and wring it out to dry. But also teaches you that will always be another day, and another ride, which brings me on to…
4. The ‘penny drops’ moments
Everyone has a trail that is just that is a little bit bigger than they are. It continually defeats you, presses all your wrong buttons, and frustrates and terrifies you in equal measure. Then one day the universe conspires, and being brave and working on your skills pays off, and suddenly you’re flowing through it in a bubble of wonder. And you can take that moment home with you, and it makes you feel good for a very long time indeed.
And that’s why you need a mountain bike in your life.
Inspired? Here’s what you need to know…
What to wear…You just need to rock up with a helmet, cycling gloves (full finger are best) for protection, and cycling clothes that you don’t mind getting muddy (i.e. not white). Trainers and flat pedals are the best option at first. Also, carry a spare tube, pump and set of Allen keys, a phone (though reception may not be guaranteed), a waterproof jacket, water and a snack.
What to ride…
Despite often looking like something that’s been thrown together in a garden shed, mountain bikes can come with a hefty price tag. Meanwhile discussions on the optimum wheel size, women’s specific design vs ‘men’s bikes’, fork size, slack angles and sag are endless and, frankly, a bit off putting.
In truth you simply need to be confident that the bike you hire or borrow for your first few rides is the right size and has fully functioning brakes,forks and gears, and decent, grippy tryes pumped to the correct psi (you’ll find this on the tyre wall).
Who to ride with…
Riding and learning with friends is half the fun, so head out with someone you know and trust to be a competent rider. Alternatively you can book a mountain bike coach: there’s no nationally recognised qualification (mountain biking is in frontier territory in that respect) so ask for recommendations at your local bike shop or trail centre. I’ve had coaching with http://www.b1ke.com and found their advice invaluable.
Where to ride…
Mountain bike trail centres are either purpose built or on land that is managed. Many trails are graded like ski runs so you can plan your ride to suit your ability. Bike hire and coaching (book in advance) are usually available on site but check each trail’s website for facilities as they do differ. Outdoors is free – and so is the riding at trail centres – though you will need a few quid for the car park and the café.
If you can’t get to any of these areas, there are also miles and miles of off-road trails and bridleways, throughout the UK (many riders prefer these natural trails). Your local bike shop will be able to advise you, as well as knowing of friendly groups and coaches that you may wish to ride with. Be prepared to travel a little and make a day of it: you wont regret it!!!
For friendly women’s mountain bike forums and support, check out
Total Women’s Cycling
Birds on bikes