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American women are hitting mountain bike trails in greater numbers today than ever before. In fact, 23-yr-old Kate Courtney represented the United States when she won the Women’s Cross-Country event at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championship last year in Switzerland, the first American – male or female – to win gold in a cross-country event at the championships in 17 years. Even so, the sport still maintains a testosterone-heavy reputation due to many years of male domination.
But things are changing rapidly.
Looking for Something Different
Earlier this year, when some women in Northwest Arkansas started looking for a local riding group to join, they weren’t satisfied with their options. After some conversation, they did what women do when faced with an unacceptable situation – they made a plan to change the status quo. They posted an event on Eventbrite in March and set about creating a group that would tick all the boxes they thought women would be interested in, and Women of Oz was born.
According to their Facebook page’s “about” section, Women of Oz aims to promote women’s mountain biking in Northwest Arkansas by creating an inclusive, welcoming environment for all experience levels to learn or expand their mountain biking skills. There is just something different about any group when women come together to support one another, and mountain biking is no different.
The Women of Oz aren’t out to change the face of mountain biking, but if that’s a side-effect of their efforts, they’d probably be OK with that. And there is no doubt that their message is catching on. In the short four months the group has been active, meetups have grown from around 30 members at their first ride to 100 at the last one in June.
How Does it Work?
Monthly meetups occur in Bentonville and begin with an optional beginner skills clinic, which fills quickly on the event page. Women self-identify their skill-level, and at least two leaders ride out with each group. Workshops on bike maintenance are also scheduled on occasion to help riders become more comfortable in the sport.
Organizers Betsy Soos, Allyson De La Houssaye, Ashley Patterson, Kourtney Barrett and Elizabeth Daughrity are passionate about helping women learn and grow their skills, but fun is also a priority. To that end, there are post-ride gatherings held at local restaurants that provide participants with the opportunity to meet other women, download what was learned on the ride and ask questions of the more experienced riders.
Leaders within the group have organically stepped up to offer to lead members on rides at times other than the official group meetups. To date, no advertising has been done aside from the posting of events on Facebook and Eventbrite. The phenomenal monthly growth of the group has all been through word-of-mouth, confirming what the organizers suspected – women are looking for something different.
Eventually, the group will have a website, but for now, women interested in keeping up with Women of Oz can hop onto their Facebook page or join their group. If you’re a beginning rider, or just curious about mountain biking, Betsy Soos, one of the group’s principal founders, suggests the following gear to get you started:
Helmet – If you don’t buy any other gear, a helmet is a must-have. They come in a wide range of prices, but beginners can enter the sport with a basic brand available at a local retailer and save the investment-level purchases for when they’re sure they’ve found their new fitness passion.
Sturdy Shoes – You might have seen road racers wearing shoes that clip onto their pedals, but for mountain biking, you’re better off with shoes that can drop off the pedal in a hurry. Your feet act as kickstand and bumper when you’re on a dirt trail, and you need to be able to adjust their position quickly. Trail-running shoes or similar styles will work fine.
Athletic Apparel – I mean, you can ride in jeans and a flannel, but you won’t be very comfortable. You don’t have to rush out and buy anything specifically made for cycling just yet, but some leggings, comfy shorts and a tank or tee shirt will be fine.
Mountain Bike – The most important item is also the biggest investment, so it’s recommended that you look into renting a bike the first few times you ride to make sure you are truly dedicated to the sport, and to try out a few styles (if there are options available) to see what works best for you. You’ll want a bike with a wide handlebar and fatter tires. Be sure to let the folks in the shop you rent from know you’ll be on a dirt trail. In Northwest Arkansas, Women of Oz has partnered with Highroller Cyclery to offer discounted rides for women testing the waters with the group.
Flat Kit – No one wants to have a flat on a trail, but it happens. Fortunately, you can pick up a few items at the same store where you purchase or rent your bike that will make your day a lot more fun if the inevitable happens while you’re a couple of miles into a ride.
If you’re in Northwest Arkansas and have been considering ramping up your cycling hobby, check out everything Women of Oz offers. They welcome all ages, body-types and skill levels, and promise they’ll help you find satisfaction on the trails. As Soos puts it, “It’s empowering when you tackle and achieve a new skill you didn’t think you could do.” So, what’s stopping you?
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