Ladies of the trail
Women-only mountain bike group fosters friendship and develops skill
On the weekend of Elizabeth Brent’s 60th birthday back in February, she faced her nemesis. For a year, she’d been riding her mountain bike on Middle Trail in Upper Bidwell Park, attempting to pull off a technical move—a quick succession of sharp turns, drops and steep uphill sections.
“I had gone through boxes of Band-Aids trying to master that move,” she said. “I have scars on my knees and elbows from not making it.”
When Brent finally pushed through that tricky section of Middle Trail, she reflected on the support and guidance she’s received from the Chico Women MTB, a group of local female mountain bikers whose members range from age 21 to 65.
“It’s because they stopped and told me, ‘Go back and try again,’” she said. “They encouraged me, they’ve checked my wounds, and when I finally got it, they were all so happy for me. It’s like, now I get it, and I can make that move.”
Brent is one of more than 60 members of Chico Women MTB, founded by Katherine Ketterer three years ago while she worked as a sales associate at North Rim Adventure Sports (now she works for Chico Velo as an event coordinator). Her inspiration was spurred by comments made by female riders who came into the shop.
“I saw so many girls coming into the shop and they would say something like, ‘Well, I want to ride, but I’m not skilled enough yet, so I’m just going to keep working on it then maybe join a group someday,’” she said. “I just thought, ‘There should be a place for them.’”
Ketterer credits the support of other members for maintaining the energy in the group. Janine Rood, executive director of Chico Velo, rallied community members while Rachel Kagan, a longtime member, created the Facebook page that allows it to grow. Rood and Kagan became leaders on group rides and started working closely with beginners.
The more advanced mountain bikers in the group are ambitious about taking beginning riders and supporting them throughout a process where they learn how to conquer more technical trails, often by overcoming their fears, Ketterer said. Sometimes that involves injury, other times laughter.
Chico Women MTB members have conquered trails in Oroville, Susanville, Whiskeytown and, of course, Upper Park. Out of all those spots, though, Ketterer said the trails here in Chico are the most challenging because they involve some of the most technical features in the entire state.
Its members meet weekly and communicate via its private Facebook page about where and when they’ll ride next. Riders of all skill levels are encouraged to join.
One of the group’s main purposes, Ketterer said, is breaking the “I can’t” mentality often adopted by less experienced riders. There are many success stories, including that of Brent, who’s overcome many of her own self-doubts.
“Some of these girls are held back by saying, ‘Oh, that’s too advanced for me,’ or ‘I’m not there yet,’ Ketterer said. “Once they’re with the group, it really analyzes what’s going on and all the options available, and they’ll really be able to ride a lot of the things that other people think that they can’t.”
While Ketterer enjoys riding with men, too, the dynamic of an all-female mountain biking group creates a unique environment that offers a comfortable space for its riders. The women take their time to accommodate all skill levels and create a culture of encouragement while still pushing each other.
“We kind of make it fun; there’s a lot more cheering each other on, a lot of ‘woo-hoos’ and ‘you go, girl’ and ‘go get it,’” Ketterer said. “A lot of stuff that we’re comfortable with expressing when it’s just women. If we have some more experienced riders, but there is one beginner rider, we kind of ride to their level.
“Being together with the group, no matter if you’re being totally goofy or super serious and really focused, it’s developed by egging each other on, by promoting each other’s strengths and encouraging them to use their strengths, whatever they may be. It’s not really focused on any weaknesses at all.”
It’s that aspect that Brent credits for helping her reach her potential as a mountain biker.
“In a mixed group, male and females, you don’t want to hold anyone up and you don’t want to be too slow,” she said. “When you’re with just women, in this particular group, there’s no pressure. You can relax and work at getting better instead of worrying about [whether] I’m holding anybody up.”