It's much more difficult than it looks. Photo: Courtesy of Justa Jescova

It’s much more difficult than it looks. Photo: Courtesy of Justa Jescova

The Trek Dirt Series, the longest-running women’s mountain bike camp in North America, is proving that more females than ever are finding the fun in this action sport.

A record number of early-entry participants for the summer camp’s 18 clinics, mostly in Whistler, BC and western states, supports a bigger national trend. The most current data from Sports Marketing Surveys USA, which conducts the country’s largest survey on sports participation for the Physical Activity Council, shows that last year there was a 9.3% growth in women participating at least once in mountain/non-paved surface bicycling. This is an upward trend, from 2.4 million participants in 2014 to 2.6 million in 2015.

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More women are starting to explore where off-road biking can take them. Photo: Courtesy of Ronny Kalchhauser

“To me it feels like the sport is growing throughout Canada and the U.S., but I travel predominantly in the West so that’s where I notice it more,” Candace Shadley, founder and director of the Trek Dirt Series, told GrindTV. “Every year there are new mountain bike clubs, new instructional programs, new high school leagues, new competitive and recreational events, and it seems that every year there are also more participants in each of those, too.”

Dorothy Raffo, 32, a Whistler-based mountain biker thinks the upward trend is because more women are sharing inspiring riding experiences. “They’re realizing just how much fun it is to get their friends together and head out for an adventure,” she told GrindTV. “The more women who do it, the more their stories and experiences are being shared, which is encouraging other women to give it a go.”

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Camps like Dirt Trek are leveraging the small-group environments that women like for gaining confidence in the sport’s technical aspects. Photo: Courtesy of Justa Jescova

The community aspect of the sport is certainly a proven draw for women, who tend to find confidence in numbers. “There’s something about watching someone who is your gender, your level, and who came in with many of the same fears as you did do something that they couldn’t do just a few hours ago,” Shadley says of the camaraderie at the Dirt Series. “It gives you that extra nudge and that extra motivation to see that you can indeed do it now too.”

Mountain biking’s big barrier to entry — fear — is lessened in a camp setting. “What I hear people say all the time about mountain biking is that it looks too tough or dangerous. When people look up at the bike park and see the riders in neck- and back-brace protection hucking themselves off huge jumps it’s intimidating to say the least,” says Raffo. “But no one starts from there, and you’re not expected to either. It’s sometimes tough as an adult to go back to being a beginner, but if you’ve got a curious and open mindset it feels absolutely awesome when you achieve something you’ve never done before. I can still remember the elation I felt after a rock roll I did at camp that I would never have attempted on my own.”

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The action sport is also attractive because it allows women to connect with friends in the outdoors. Photo: Courtesy of Justa Jeskova

The Trek Dirt Series’ two-day format, similar to other mountain bike programs around the country, is organized into skill sessions in an open grassy area in the mornings, where new riders learn the basics of stance and balance, and then get to practice techniques in low-risk environments. This could be planks on the ground, small ledges to launch off of, gentle logs to roll over, and choices to redo or progress at every stage. Afternoons are on the trails to put newfound skills into action, all in supportive small groups.

It doesn’t hurt that mountain bikes are now lighter, more agile and more fun to ride, along with an increasing focus on women-specific rides that actually work for, rather than against, the female body.

Ladies have a lower center of gravity. They need to feel confident going downhill. They like their own kind of styling. Shadley says, “Bikes are light and have lots of travel, helmets have MIPS, hydration packs are comfortable, knee protection fits great and there are so many options for clothing and accessories overall.”

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New bikes and gear made for women’s bodies are supporting the trend in females coming to the sport. Photo: Courtesy of Ronny Kalchhauser

With the right bikes and the right motivation it seems there’s nothing stopping the evolution in women’s mountain biking. “It’s a positive cycle,” says Shadley. “Whether it’s because we’re good at championing the causes we love, organizing others or providing our own style of inspiration, women’s participation fuels more women’s participation. I think we’re lucky that way.”

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