Two years ago my love of mountain biking was ignited by a spur of the moment decision to take advantage of the free women’s clinic at Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park here in Milwaukee. This year I was fortunate enough to be able to attend both of Ray’s women’s events, the February clinic at the original Ray’s in Cleveland, and the March event in Milwaukee. Hosted by 1995 UCI Women’s Downhill World Champion, Leigh Donovan,these events are a resounding success in bringing women interested in mountain biking together, an amazing 218 women in CLE and 203 in MKE.
Ray’s and Leigh put together a list of coaches that read like a who’s who of women in mountain biking, too many to mention but included: Tammy Donohue, Cory Coffey, Angi Weston, Hillary Eglert, Lindsey Voreis, Carley Young, Sarah Rawlings, Suzanne Summer, Nadi Stenbrecher, Wendy Palmer, Rae Gandalf, Jeni Roosen, Tania Juillerat. The women who attended the clinics were a diverse group in all respects A wide range of ages from 8 years old to late 50s and beyond; skill levels from never mountain biked to regular racers; interests covering cross country, jumping and freeride, along with BMX racing. Both Ray’s locations offer areas for learning technical skills like log overs, drops, rocks and skinnys, areas to work on jumping and bmx freestyle skills, along with pump tracks and a cross country loop around the perimeter All sections are defined by skill levels from novice to expert allowing visitors to Rays to progress through the park as their skills develop. Following introductions of the coaches, everyone split into groups around the Rays park, complete newbies to learn body/bike position in the Novice room, beginners and intermediates to the sport and beginner skills areas, many to beginning and advanced jump lines, others to the pump track.
The reasons behind the success of these clinics are twofold. First by the enthusiasm, passion and expertise the coaches bring. They break down skills. First explaining in words and gestures and then demonstrating themselves with their bikes. Angi Weston using her hands to explain cornering, Lindsey Voreis using her entire body, and Jeni Roosen demonstrating rolling over a drop with perfect form.
But probably the biggest factor is the women only format. It’s not just the lack of testosterone driven egos and bravado. There’s a sense of safety in the encouragement. Encouragement and urging to not doubt yourself and just try. Cheering as you attempt, even louder cheering when you succeed. A group that picks you up if you fall, and nudges you to succeed. Even more there’s the witnessing other women learn and do. A sense of if she can do it, perhaps so can I.
Both clinics ended with shared stories over beers while the coaches conduct a swag raffle. All participants were winners – not just of t-shirts, water bottles, forks, tires, even season passes, but of a sense of accomplishment. I will always fondly remember a young woman XC racer animatedly talking over lunch about crying in joy when she finally mastered the pump track. Or of plans being made for summer rides, contact info shared with other local women. Huge thanks to Rays for sponsoring these clinics, and to Leigh for hosting…and to all the coaches and women riders who traveled far and near to come together for these great days of riding!
I’ve written on this blog how a couple of women’s only clinics are what got me started mountain biking. The first one at the Fall Colors Festival in the Kettle Moraine. This was a casual affair, almost better described as demo, which introduced me to some great trails, and got me over my fear of leaving the pavement and trying out some dirt. The next at the Ray’s Mountain Bike Park was a more formal clinic following the International Mountain Bike Instruction Certification guidelines for teaching. Beginning to learn proper body position made immediate improvements in my riding.
Wanting the same for my family, was thrilled when I saw the 2011 Midwest Women’s Mountain Bike Clinic was also offering a Kid’s clinic (ages 8-12) and a Men’s Novice to Advanced clinic. Started several years ago as a clinic for a small group of women, The Midwest Women’s Mountain Bike Clinic is a weekend long event attracting over 150 people annually in June to Brown County State Park in Indiana. Sub-9 Productions does a great job of organizing the clinics using only IMBI Certified instructors and guidelines. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to sign up my kiddo and my hubby (after all I was attending no matter what!).
After checking in and receiving their name tags for their bikes, the kid’s clinic begin with introductions and questions from the coaches about what they wanted to learn. Coaches spent some time checking over bikes, adjusting seats, and getting the kids at ease, before they rode off to do skills drills on the pavement.
Soon the kid’s were split into two groups based on abilities. Kiddo was placed in the more advanced group where Angie Weston and Todd Boucher began working on things like high speed cornering, front and rear wheel lifting. After some practice time, the group took off on a ride on the LimeKiln trail, where they were introduced to the concept of sessioning areas of the trail.
That afternoon when I picked Kiddo up from the clinic, he suggested a quick ride on LimeKiln to show me what he’d learned. I was surprised when he tore down the trail. In order to put that in perspective, I’d written an essay prior to the clinic that talked about how I’d hoped the clinic would help him overcome a fear of riding downhills. Dramatic improvement is an understatement. And done with good form to boot. In May, he barely rode his bike, after the clinic he was hooked.
As an added benefit, because he learned to ride correctly at the time I was also just learning mountain biking, as a family we have been able to push each other. Kiddo doesn’t let me take the bail line around obstacles. Instead there’s a lot of “Mom, you can do that, you’ve been over bigger logs (or drop offs, or jumps or whatever)”. We now feel confident on all the local trails from intro to more advanced. Our weekends typically include getting in weekend rides at our in city trails (Hoyt, Oak Hill or Crystal Ridge), or at the more extensive Muir/Carlin trails in Kettle Moraine of southeastern WI.
Mountain biking has become part of our family travels. I was able to work in a couple of days of Brown County riding around a business trip in September, and over Thanksgiving, we tackled trails in the Nashville area. To keep active over the Wisconsin winter, the entire family are season members at Rays Indoor Mountain Bike Park (where kiddo is also taking up BMX and jumping). Next summer we’ll try our hand at riding Keystone in Summit County, Colorado, our first trip to a downhill/lift shuttled bike park.
I credit the Midwest Women’s clinic with not only helping our family find a great family activity, but also with helping our skills and abilities progress at levels we would have never been able to attain on our own. This will be an annual family activity for us….and one we look forward to immensely.
Seriously, they expect me to ride up that ramp the very first thing…don’t they realize topping little steep hills is one of my weaknesses…I am going to embarrass myself right from the start…I have to get to the top…..
Ok, I know what to do, pedal hard, shift weight forward when losing momentum towards the top, keep pedalling…..
And so began the day at the Women’s Weekend Ride and Clinic at Rays Indoor Mountain Bike Park in Milwaukee. I’d read about the women’s weekends (they also do one each year at their Cleveland location) on the forums of Team Estrogen and MTBR.
I was both nervous and excited about this day. Kiddo and I have been talking about checking out Ray’s since it opened, but I’ve been a bit too intimidated by my lack of experience and fear of riding ladders to go on my own. However, when I saw they’d be having the park closed down to women only with a free clinic, I jumped at the chance.
I arrived as the day’s format and trainers were being introduced. I chose to rent a bike for the day. I’m trying to get a feel for what kind of MTB to invest in, and want to ride as many as possible. I choose a XC (cross country) style bike – dirt jumpers were also an option.
I’d estimate there were close to 75 women in attendance – all levels from “1star” beginners like myself to “4-5 star” advanced riders looking to hone their skills on the expert jumps. Many had traveled several hours to attend, were making a weekend of the event. In addition to the women only clinic day, the weekend included half price admissions for clinic attendees on Saturday and Sunday plus a party on Saturday night.
After the introductions, the groups split into different areas of the park based on ability and goals for the day. Some headed upstairs to the pump track, others to the more advanced sport/XC area, a group on the beginner jumps, an advanced jumping group, and the beginner XC group I’d joined. We’d been told to meet at the top of the ramps by the beginner section. Somehow, I made it up the ramp (I really have struggled with powering up short inclines). In fact getting up the ramp was easy.
Then it hit me, the other half of the equation. That the MTB mantra of “Momentum is your friend” meant…
Oh shit, they expect us to ride down the ramp to hit the ladders….now I’m seriously freaking. I don’t know how to do this. The one time I tried to ride the wooden skill obstacles at Muir had been a bit of a disaster.
I must not have been the only one with a bit of fear showing on her face. When Tania and Jeni, our coaches, arrived, they sized up the group, moved us off the ramp, and over to a flat area to work on beginner skills. Tania and Jeni are both graduates of the International Mountainbike Instructor Certification (IMIC) program and followed that program for beginners. We learned bike-body positioning from neutral to attack position, how to brake, steer, shift weight forward and back, stop fast bracing our heels down, and began to work on front wheel lifting. Tania or Jeni would talk us through the skills, demonstrate and then have us practice on the flats, offering comments and suggestions to each rider individually.
Quickly our confidence grew and the group headed back over to the ramps, to the beginner sport area. It was time to use our new skills on the trails. The coaches stayed down on the runs. This position allowed them to coach the riders as they passed; often giving extra pointers as the rider headed back up to the ramps. They encouraged us to try increasingly difficult obstacles. The teeter tooter, going over a small log, a larger log, riding over a boulder, pedaling our way through a rock garden.
Before we knew it, it was time for lunch, and then the group picture. Finding a spot to get this many people in one shot was difficult, but the expert BMX area provided a decent set up.
After lunch the group headed back over to the Sport/beginner area. Much of the group was ready to progress from the beginner area, while a couple of us did a few more runs in the beginner area. Jeni went with the more advanced group, Tania stayed with the rest of us.
Eyes up, Kim…..
I think that’s my new slogan. Somewhat of my Achilles heel. When I get nervous I look down. Not sure how many times Tania had to tell me that. I can’t say enough about how great and patient she was with me. How encouraging. Pushing me when needed, talking me through my first time down the steeper ramps, helping me find lines, determine where to look.
Even “picking me up” when this small patch of rocks, taught me a slightly painful lesson about momentum… specifically what happens when the bike stops and you don’t, my first “endo”. Not going fast enough, looking down, my front tire stopped by a rock, me flipping over the bars, hitting my head. Being both embarrassed and just slightly disorientated. A quick check over by one of the Ray’s staff. Then being encouraged by Tania to try a slightly easer run to get my confidence back. And finally moving back to this line to make it through, prove to myself that I could do it.
I feel like I learned so much on this day. I’m getting more confident in trusting that I can look ahead, becoming more aware of my position on the bike. Understanding a bit more of the difference between controlled momentum and out of control speed. That much of this sport I am enjoying learning is a mental game, pushing both physical limits and those set by our minds…..which makes it all that much more appealing to me.
Ray’s has done a great job in building this facility. There’s something for all skills levels. A great option during the cold and snow. And this women’s weekend a perfect way to get acquainted. I can’t wait to take these skills out on the dirt. And am even more excited for the Midwest Women’s Clinic in June; an event hosted by Sub-9 productions, a company owned by Tania and her husband. Can’t wait!