Back in my 20s, I used to think that mountain biking was just for the boys. I had given up the sport after one too many days of chasing down my guy "friends" who were more technically savvy going uphill and, well, freaking fearless going down. I had the endurance, but I gave up because of fear.
A couple of kiddos later, and a sweet pack of girls who just want to ride, a bike that makes it all a little easier, and the emergence of a women-specific mountain bike clinic, and I've found more joy in trail riding than I ever thought possible. The fear—of crashing, holding people back, not going fast enough—is not gone. I've just learned how to get up and over it. After all, we should be able to all ride.
These thoughts all solidified recently at the Beti AllRide clinic at Keystone Resort in Colorado. Part of a growing four-stop—Sedona, Angel Fire, Keystone, Crested Butte—women's mountain bike tour, Beti is the women's arm of AllRide, a skills clinic founded by Kurt and Lindsey Voreis.
While hosted at downhill bike parks, which have become ski resorts' new summer livelihood, the weekend program teaches core skills—basic body positioning, bike-body separation, vision, cornering, etc.—that translate to going uphill as well down.
Our group ranged in abilities from beginner to advanced. Some of us had good base fitness; others were just getting their trail legs—and breath. But, see, it didn't matter. Quality female coaches from around the country were on hand to work with women of all abilities with all different types of bikes, bodies, and confidence levels.
An entry-level skills park took us over logs, down rock faces, and through a set of rollers, while a more advanced jump-and-pump track let us practice launching off small to large lips and maneuvering through rollers and around hairy curves. We tried, some more successfully than others, bunny hops, wheelies, and the "pre-load and punch" over some big branches. We failed, we accomplished, we laughed, and some even cried.
"Having the bike park to work on these skills helps to maximize working on repetitive practice on technical areas (roots, rocks, corners)," says Sarah Rawley, the logistics guru behind Beti AllRide. "One of the things that I can't stress enough with all riders is that in order to be a good cross-country rider, you have to be confident up and down, and many of the same body positioning principles apply."
She was right. It all translated as we rode the lift up (way up) and started screaming down the custom-cut trails on the face of Keystone. We'd stop along the way for tests and tricks on berms, rock drops, bridges, gnarly roots, and other obstacles. It was exhausting and exhilarating, mentally and physically. After, we were ready for beers. And gourmet food. And free yoga. And schwag— plenty of schwag. That made us feel better.
Reconvening with my girls after our all-day experiences with various coaches, terrain, challenges, and elements (it rained parts of both days), I gathered some of the most meaningful skills we learned on (and off) the trail. Here are a few basics that we all appreciated and are now applying to everyday riding. Not only will these help you keep up with (and perhaps surpass) the boys, they will give you the knowledge to overcome some common fears associated with mountain biking. And confidence, in any sport, can't be underestimated.
Ride your bike; don't let it ride you. "I have been riding for years, but the skills I learned in this clinic allowed me to take control of my bike downhill and have way more fun," says Lisa Powell of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. "So much is about the position over your bike. Like every other sport your core is key—back in a neutral position with abs engaged. An aggressive, elbows-out stance with pedals in a neutral position allows you to be ready for anything."
Rock your cockpit. Err, that's the part over your bike from which you drive all moves on the mountain. "My main takeaway was better awareness of where to position myself on the bike in a variety of circumstances—owning and exploring the boundaries of my 'cockpit,'" laughs Amy Dohr, a beginner rider. One of those critical cockpit controls is your index finger. With sensitive disc breaks, it's the only one you need to control the speed of your bike these days. "More than anything, though, I came away with a comfort and confidence on the bike that I didn’t have before the clinic, and the inspiration to get out there and try it some more!" she says.
Craft your cornering. As you come into a corner, "shine your headlights (knees)" in the direction you want to go; then do a little Stevie Wonder, craning your neck looking way out in the direction you want to move your bike. Not at the bank, not at your feet. "Cornering is way more fun when you realize the physics of where you want your bike and body weight on a turn," says Powell. "As you go through a turn, lean your bike, not your body, downhill. Your uphill foot is driving down. As you reach the apex of the turn, look and open your hips to the end of the turn—your bike follows."
Be more forward. This translates to so many things about proper bike positioning. Mountain bikes have changed and so has the fundamental teaching around riding off the back of your seat. No one does it anymore. The goal now is to be centered over your bike for the best results. Leaning back greatly limits control and stability when maneuvering. There's no better example of this than when cresting a larger rock and getting safely down the other side. My coach taught "peek and push," and that's my new mantra. Get to the top, peek over the "peak," and push aggressively forward over the rock. Sounds scary, but works wonders.
For more skills, check out the next Beti AllRide clinic in beautiful Crested Butte, Colorado, August 1 to August 3. More info at www.betiallrideclinic.com
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