I love anything that gets women on bikes… Primarily because women on bikes are at least 15% more attractive than all other women (it’s a proven fact, don’t bother disputing it), but also because I feel that cycling (especially mountain biking) can be a slightly intimidating environment for women.
Anything that able to put women in a comfortable environment and let them immerse themselves in the awesomeness of cycling is something I can get behind!
Not being of the female persuasion, and not willing to pull out some Ms. Doubtfire action, I reached out to two of my friends to recon the 2010 Trek Dirt Series (originally the Sugoi Dirt Series) and answer some questions for me. I wanted some different perspectives, and since both Cate and Kim come from fairly different backgrounds, I think I got it.
If you’re sitting on the fence, or even considering doing something like a mountain bike camp, I’m sure the answers below will have you signing up in no time!
So without further ado, meet your hosts:
What’s your background? Tell us a little bit about yourself. How does cycling play into the mix?
Kim: I’m a yoga instructor and ex-competitive swimmer who took up mountain biking three years ago. It started off as another way to spend time with friends. By my second season I had purchased my first hardtail and learned how to use clipless pedals (that was fun *sarcasm*). I’m hooked now.
Cate: Getting involved in regular physical activity only happened for me when I moved from Regina to Calgary. Something about the city and mountains made me want to be outdoors and move. While studying geology at the UofC, I was coerced into thinking I should learn to swim at the ripe age of 22 and joined the UCTC (University of Calgary Triathlon Club). Sadly, I never made it out of the shallow end of the pool – not because I drowned, but because I fell in love with my road bike.
How did you hear about the camp? What made you decide to do it?
Kim: I believe I heard about the camp while perusing the Trek site, or was it Ridley’s site? Either way, it was while I was researching the purchase of my first bike. The hardtail I eventually bought was a Trek.
I distinctly remember the moment I decided on taking the camp. It was on a ride earlier this season (my third) while riding again at the back of the pack with a bunch of guys. I was so frusturated at having to AGAIN get off and push that I said “That’s it, I’m signing up!!!”. Before that moment, I had only been toying with the idea.
Cate: I’ve heard about the Dirt Series camp in previous years through advertising. Aside from Kerstin [Ed. Kerstin = my wife], I don’t know anyone else who had done the camp. This year, I was gently persuaded by Kim McNeil and you. It made no sense to me to take a Dirt Series camp as the focus is mountain bikes. All I could think was “but, I’m a roadie and I’ve never been on a mountain bike!” However, the same love for the mountains that got me rock climbing was also prodding me to – as you say – ‘rip it up in the dirt’.
Plus, if a new bike is on the horizon, I wanted to make an educated decision on whether it should be a mountain or cyclocross bike.
What were your feelings leading up to the Dirt Series? Nervous? Excited? What things were you worried about?
Kim: I actually wasn’t nervous at all. Quite the contrary…I was VERY excited!! I think that’s because the descriptions of the camp on the Dirt Series site as well as the info emails sent out beforehand answered all my questions and laid it all out. I knew exactly what to expect!
Cate: The days leading up to the camp were filled with what is best described as nervous excitement. I was nervous because of my complete lack of knowledge, yet excited to gain new skills and meet new riders. Kim is an experienced rider so I’d expected to not be in the same group.
Strangely, I was worried about what I needed to wear. I don’t have a hydration pack, proper shoes, pedals, clothes, and, most importantly, A. BIKE. The bike situation was mitigated by the Dirt Series coordinator who had arranged a demo bike for me to use on the first day, which since attending the camp, I know is a highly coveted model: the Trek Top Fuel. The second day, I was planning to use Kerstin’s Specialized Era. Justin and Lisa (you met them on the ride to Cochrane) lent me some platform pedals and body armour. Pretty sure I was the only one stuffing a water bottle in my jersey pockets though.
I hate to admit it, but I really did look up the meaning of ‘hardtail’.
What did you think about the format of the camp? Tell us a little bit about the set up.
Kim: The format of the camp was simple: two days where AM = skills development, PM = trail ride to practice skills learned. Participants were divided into groups based on experience, what type of rider they were (cross-country, downhill, etc.), and what they wanted to focus on. This was true for both the skills and ride portions of the camp. Day two AM skills session was a little different as we got to choose to work on whatever skills we wanted…more advanced from the previous day.
The ONLY drawback of the weekend was I had hoped for a more challenging trail ride, especially after missing the Sat ride. I’m not implying I had nothing to learn on my ride, I DEFINITELY did, but I’m the type who wants by butt kicked and I do well when I’m pushed WAY passed my comfort zone.
Saturday evening there was a dinner/drinks/get-together hosted by Ridley’s Cycle where we could mingle and attend in-store bike sessions, for e.g., a bike fitting on your own bike, trail bike repair, etc. Oh, did I mention there was beer by Sleeman’s??
Cate: Early Saturday morning, the group met at Ridley’s in Calgary to check in, pick up gear, determine skill and ride groups and leave to Bragg Creek. I was assigned to Skill Group B and Ride Group 2, which seemed appropriate as I can ride along a white line for a really long time!
Morning sessions for each day were designated for skills. On Saturday, there were three predetermined skill sessions. On Sunday, the participants chose two skill sessions to attend. Each skill session was instructed by different coach/assistant pairs. Saturday morning, almost immediately after I’d put on my helmet, my first session coach stated we would be attempting to go downhill three ways: back brake only, front brake only, and then both. I simultaneously thought I was in the wrong group and that she was crazy for asking me to only use my front brake. All the sessions went this way for me. The coach would say we’re going to learn skill “x” and I would think, “what have I got myself into?”
After pleasantly surprising myself with “what I had got myself into”, I was looking forward to the Saturday afternoon ride. A torrential downpour consisting of 7.2 mm of rain and 28 km/hr winds halted that plan. [I checked the Springbank Airport for that info ;)] We all headed back to Ridley’s for maintenance and technical sessions, food and drink, and a plan for Sunday.
Coach Julie was assisting the riders in their skill session selection for Sunday. When I told her that today (Saturday) was my first day on a mountain bike, she looked at me in disbelief. I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you very much. We collectively agreed that I would attend the climbing and switchback sessions.
After Kim lead us in a yoga warmup, we spent an hour at each skill session on Sunday. After lunch, I was getting mentally prepared to go on the ‘pathway’ as I mistakenly referred to the Moose Mountain trail. Being in Group 2, I’d assumed it would be rated beginner with rolling and wide tracks with few, but surmountable obstacles. Remember, I’d had never been on a mountain bike, which means I also don’t really know what the trails look like. What does steep mean to a mountain biker?
Back to lunch….as we’re sitting on the grass, Coach Julie and Coach Audrey walk up and tell me that they’ve moved me to Group 5. Apparently they thought I was learning the skills quickly and I should challenge myself. Everybody together: “What have I got myself into?” My mouth went dry.
The new ride was Prairie Link. Since we left almost immediately after the Group change, I didn’t have time to fret. I still don’t know what this trail is rated, but it felt like superb! The ride was lead by one of the Spin Sisters (Sandy, who I also know from UCTC) and coached by Audrey. What a blast! Who knew tires could go over roots, puddles, mud, gravel, boulders, logs, and …? I usually avoid those things with my wee 700 c x 23 mm tires!
Do you think the camp helped your skills?
Kim: ABSOLUTELY! 200% improvement! I’m a new rider….honestly. The skill sessions in my mind were the best part. I can’t wait to use them more on the trails…and to go back next year to learn more!
Cate: Absolutely. I’m probably an extreme case at these camps. It’s likely not often someone shows up that’s never been on a mountain bike. Coach Audrey agreed with my idea to do a camp before buying a bike. Now, I need to find a cyclocross camp.
Any highlights you’d care to share?
Kim: Our trail ride on Saturday didn’t happen because right after lunch, the skies opened up and we were caught, under the bike repair tent, in a monsoon!! I have to say, it was rather comical seeing 50+ women and one bike mechanic huddled under the one tent hoping the downpour would stop. I think in the end only one group of riders went out. The rest of us went home to dry off/warm up prior to the evening get-together at Ridley’s. I wasn’t very disappointed I didn’t get to ride. No fun being on top of a mountain in the lighting storm!
I also had the chance to teach a brief yoga class to the gals on the Sunday am prior to our skills camp. I was excited to get that chance and to share a little of my other passion with the group. Flexibility + mountain biking = less sever injuries!! ;)
- I rode Prairie Link.
- I rode Prairie Link.
- I rode…just kidding…I really wanted to meet some girls who shared my love of bikes. I ride mostly with men so if expanding my riding options to include women means I need to change bikes, I am willing to do it…especially if it means I get to ride $5,000 demo bikes
- There was a girl from my high school in Regina at the camp. Odd. She’s going to take me out with her friends that road ride.
- Another girl, Saleena, asked me for my phone number so we could arrange ride times.
- Coach Janet is a cyclocross racer from Calgary. I hope to pick her brain sometime.
What were the main things you came away with after the camp?
Kim: I would say they are all skills: tight switch-back turns, straight-line technique (balancing over wood plants, teeter-totter, etc), front and rear wheel lifts. I could go on and on. Oh, and I decided I’d one day like to be an instructor at the camp. Several of the instructors had been camp participants in the past and “moved up the ranks”. Finally, I’d also like to teach yoga to the group again next year.
- A non-threatening environment combined with encouragement, positivity, and loads of laughter is the perfect combination for me to learn.
- A good sense of accomplishment that an experienced coach recommended I push myself to do a harder trail ride
- Buy a hydration pack because the water bottle in a jersey pocket system is not practical
How were the rentals? (I believe Cate is renting, not sure about you Kim)
Kim: I had my own bike but I did demo a pair of flat pedals for the skills sessions. I didn’t have the correct shoes to use with them so at times it was frusturating when my feet slipped off but overall they were good. I did miss my clipless pedals though.
Cate: Torie from Trek is probably still mopping up the drool…not from me, but other camp participants. To me, the Top Fuel was light, fun to ride, responsive, and black.
After running the gauntlet at the Trek Dirt Series what advice would you give anybody thinking of signing up? Especially those just getting into mountain biking.
Kim: SIGN UP! There were gals at the camp who had barely touched a mountain bike before. They offer demo armour to use if you’re really nervous.
If you’re a more advanced rider, the instructors there know their stuff and will accomodate your skill level. Some are even hard-core MTB competitors. VERY inspiring to hear their stories!
Cate: See above. Sign up and meet me there next year!