Women’s Mountain Bike Opportunities Break Open Sport

Photo courtesy of Charisma Arbogast

Mountain bikers know Asheville, and Western North Carolina, as a playground of singletrack — trails that are about the width of a bike— and double-track trails that offer riders everything from rolling rides along riversides to steep downhills flush with root-pocked berms and banks for the more adventurous and experienced.

As the popularity of the sport has increased over the past decade or so, the demographic of riders has also shifted to reflect an increase in women’s riding – a trend that is evident in the marked increase in women’s apparel and gear sales, reported by outdoor retailers, and the increase in availability of local women’s programming, from beginner clinics to group rides.

“When I started riding… there were no ladies rides,” said Asheville rider, Charisma Arbogast. “I was oftentimes the only girl on the ride, which meant that I was usually completely off the back of the ride and just riding by myself in the woods. When I would finally get to the intersection, the rest of the group would leave because who knows how long they had already been waiting, so I would never get a rest or a chance to hang out and chat with the rest of the group.”

While mountain biking has traditionally been a male-dominated sport with many barriers to participating — ranging from the expense of gear, to a lack of community — the idea behind the local women’s clinics and groups rides is that they offer an inclusive environment for women who may have found the sport intimidating, or difficult to get into.

“Fear was, and is, my biggest barrier [to the sport], and I know that I am not alone in this,” said rider, Michele Patterson Smith, who lives in Brevard. “Fear is also what drives me to continuously grow as a mountain biker… There are so many resources for mountain bikers in our area. I have found that while it isn’t free, there is so much to benefit from in skills clinics. We are very lucky to have so many truly talented women coaches that come through our area or within a couple-hour drive… these ladies-only clinics are a great way to meet other amazing women that enjoy to shred.”

To make the sport more accessible and increase education, local bike shops and riding groups are responding with an increase in women-specific clinics and rides.

“There are a number of groups on Facebook that are specific to women: Motion Makers Women’s Wednesday, Women Cyclists of Brevard NC, and WNC Women’s Mountain Bike Meet Ups,” said Arbogast. “There are also a number of women’s specific racing and cycling groups in Asheville and Hendersonville. The Asheville Women’s Cycling Team has traditionally put on a beginner’s women’s mountain biking day in Bent Creek each year. Brevard has women’s social, no drop mountain bike rides each Thursday from the first Thursday in April through the last Thursday in September. There are also once a month Sunday rides with this same group. These rides are posted to Facebook through Sycamore Cycles Pisgah Forest.”

Riding groups not only offer the opportunity to connect with other women and gain accessibility to the sport, but to learn about the gear, terminology, and trail etiquette — an important part of the sport as mountain biking is not allowed in national parks, including the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as what is not allowed in wilderness areas of the national forests, such as Shining Rock and Linville Gorge.

“Local bike shops are excellent resources when you’re starting out — [especially] during the awkward phase of trying to figure out what type of bike to ride, which trails to ride, clothes to wear, etcetera,” said Smith. “All of the skills clinics that I have participated in have provided me with key information that has drastically improved my abilities.”

A local hot spot is DuPont State Recreational forest, where riders can work on increasing their fitness base, gear shifting, and general familiarity with the sport on less technical hills with shorter climbs. Beginner friendly trails include the Pitch Pines and Three Lakes loop from the High Falls lot, and the trails from Guion Farm lot, which can be combined with other roads and trails to modify a ride to be longer. 

“Riding your mountain bike is about getting out in the woods and having fun. Don’t take it too seriously.  Don’t worry about what other people can ride that you might have to walk initially. Don’t worry about how nice of a bike you have or what gear you have. Just get out and enjoy the ride. Find folks who are enthusiastic about riding and want to share their joy with you. Then, keep going back and trying it even if it is tough to start with. Most of all, have fun,” said Arbogast.

By: Whitney Cooper