In Praise of Mountain Bike Clubs

One of the things that amazes me about mountain biking is that it takes what should be a solitary experience and makes it social. I’ve mentioned before that when I first met Rivers I was amazed at the mountain bike community he was surrounded by – not only his (then) roommate and riding buddies, but also the broader community. I’m talking about the people who will tweet you a welcome if you mention you’re in their town then show you the best local trails and the best post-ride drinks. I also mean the local bike shop mechanics who will let you know when a part that solves that problem you were having becomes available. And, now that I’m more familiar with them, I also mean the clubs that keep the whole sport growing.

While any group of riders can plan to go out for a ride, mountain bike clubs have a larger mission – these are the people who build and maintain trails, who organize learn-to-ride weekends, who provide low-cost workshops on bike maintenance, who plan community events, and who generally spread the love of mountain biking wherever they go.

My first interaction with my mountain bike club of choice, The Dirty Girlz Riding Club, was on a fantastic weekend to Hornby Island. I hadn’t yet joined the club, but am friends with the communication officer, had heard such good things about Hornby, and since it was a co-ed weekend, I could bring along my mountain biking security blanket Rivers. Win-win-win. It was a fantastic weekend despite some typically wet westcoast weather, and a nice balance of riding, socializing  and time on our own. The weekend was a great way to get to know a few more women in the club.

I later attended a learn-to-ride weekend hosted by the club. That was my first, and so far my only, club ride. The Saturday skills-building session at a local bike park was awesome. I learned some really simple skills to immediately improve my riding, basics that Rivers may have tried to tell me at some point, but I might have blanked out. It was a good day of riding, and I felt well-equipped for the second day that would take us out on the trails. Unfortunately, five minutes into day two I had my first really scary wipe-out and was so shaken that one of the more experienced riders offered to stay with me on the lower trails while everyone else went ahead. I have never in my life been in a remedial class, except that day.

On the up-side, I totally respect the sacrifice of the three experienced riders who took the time to guide a group of newbies (relative and otherwise) around the park. That I was the feeblest of the group is no reflection on anyone but me. And, the leaders’ commitment to teaching safe, fun riding was clear throughout the weekend. I will be going out on the beginner weekend again this year, as it’s a great kick off to the season.

More recently, I finally attended a Dirty Girlz annual general meeting. I work and volunteer in the non-profit world, so I have attended way more than my fair share of annual general meetings. My experience, by and large, is that AGMs are something you live through. Not this one – the executive booked a local wine bar, broke the business into easy-to-take chunks interspersed with breaks for visiting and refreshing our glasses of wine. They also managed to round up enough door prizes for every member who attended – that is how AGM’s should be run!

I’m not under any delusions that I’m a great mountain biker, or that I ever will be. But honestly, if it were only Rivers trying to teach and encourage my riding, I’d have quit long away. I may never go on a multi-day ride. I may never tackle a black diamond run. Then again, I might. If I do, it will be because the community of women who form the Dirty Girlz who also encourage me not to give up on the little wins of getting back on the bike, climbing a hill, dropping a rock, and remembering that particular ride. Bike clubs are, as far as I can see, an essential element of mountain biking – why are you a member of your local club?

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