Written by: Jessica Conner
I’ve lived in three cities in the past five years, and one of the first challenges to overcome is making new friends. Mountain biking is great for fitness, but it’s even better when you build a community around it. Making friends is an art, and it certainly comes easier for some than others.
Ashley, the first friend I made in Missouri, and I often laugh over how I cornered her in the carline drop-off at our kid’s preschool. “Hey, you have a bike rack,” I stated when she rolled down her car window. “Yeah, so?” She uninterestedly replied. “Would you like to ride together? Here’s my number, could you text me yours?” I quickly ran back to my car, as I made a faux pas and held up carline.
A few weeks rolled by, and I didn’t hear from her. I was feeling particularly lonely since we moved to Missouri where MTBers were a rare breed (though that would change). A few weeks later, I saw her in carline again. “You must have lost my number, can you ride after school drop any day this week?” She relented, probably thinking I was really lame. No matter, once a plan was hatched, we started riding together. She became my tour guide on beautiful, rolling, scenic routes on the Ozark backroads, and introduced me into the local cycling community. All of a sudden, I no longer felt like a stranger.
When our three and half year stint in Missouri was over, we settled in Golden, Colorado. I felt fortunate to find myself nestled in the foothills with trails surrounding my home again. While it was admittedly easy to find women MTBers, I found it challenging to break into established groups. Most of the local organizations and bike shops host group rides in the evenings. Since I have young kids, evenings are not an option for me. Instead, I headed out for solo lunch rides thinking maybe I would meet some people on a ride. I felt like a little fish swimming in a really big pond. Luckily, the approach to making friends is the same; you have to put yourself out there.
Last October, our neighborhood had a block party. Thus far, I hadn’t had much luck linking up with any consistent riding partners. I overheard some ladies talking about mountain biking early in the morning. I swooped in on the conversation and asked, “Alone, in the dark? Are you afraid of big cats and bears?” My soon-to-be-friend, Lisa, replied, “Nope.” We made plans on the spot to ride later in the week. I procured my husband’s old helmet light- that I’d never used- and we started meeting at the park near our houses at 5:30 a.m. to ride Apex. It was exhilarating, a little scary, and difficult! A familiar trail became unfamiliar in the light of my headlamp. Most mornings we never saw anyone; we pedaled through herds of elk, witnessed beautiful sunrises, and finished by 7:00 a.m. to get the kids off to school and daycare before we started our own jobs.
Riding in the morning gave me a new sense of accomplishment. I could ride more days of the week since it didn’t interfere with my job, dinner, or bedtime routines. More importantly, I had found a reliable riding partner. Lisa and I even continued riding when it snowed or the temps dropped into the 20s and 30s. We held each other accountable because it’s hard to hit snooze when someone is waiting for you in a cold, dark park.
How do you find and make friends, and why do you need them? Of course, you can shred on your own, but it’s a lot more fun when you’re conversing and bonding over pedal strokes. Here are my tips for breaking into your local lady shredder scene:
Think Local. Find and attend your local MTB club events. When I learned about the VIDA Ambassador program, I applied for the sole purpose of being part of a tribe that is growing the sport for women mountain bikers. Being a VIDA Ambassador instantly connected me with a vast community.
Volunteer. I had only been in Golden for two months when I volunteered for the 1st ever Golden Giddyup. I met so many great community advocates in the area, many I later learned were neighbors. Check out the community calendar for local trail work days, races or rides. They always need volunteers!
Solicit. Give out your number freely, introduce yourself to strangers, and ask someone out on a date. This may sound silly, like Tinder for mountain biking, but it's real advice if you want to make new friends. You have to put yourself out there, and be okay feeling vulnerable.
Be a “Yes” person. If someone asks you to go for a ride, do everything you can to say “yes”. Many people will only ask once. We’re all busy. I have a million excuses that I can give, but I intentionally say, “Yes!” Even if it means getting a babysitter, waking up earlier than you’d like, rearranging your schedule, or riding in unfavorable weather. If you pass up an invite from someone you don’t know well, then you may not ever get another invite.
Develop a routine. If you meet a potentially good riding partner, then work together to find a day/time that works with both of your schedules and make it a routine. When someone is relying on you to be at a meeting spot, you are less likely to come up with last minute excuses. Plus, a routine makes it easier to invite someone new on your ride, since you already have a standing date.
Don’t cancel. If you’ve made some friends, great. Now you need to keep them, and that means being a good friend. Good friends don’t cancel on each other unless it’s an emergency or a sickness. Lisa and I both have young kids, and our 5 am wake up time can be hard. Our ride usually starts with, “so… how many times did you get woken up last night?”
Attend a clinic. Women are fortunate on the clinic department. You know all the guys would actually love to attend a Vida Clinic! Not only do we get to spend a day practicing skills on the mountain bike, but we do it with our peers. We laugh and encourage, and push ourselves and each other for a whole day of team building and bonding on the trail. At every clinic I’ve attended, the end of the day consisted of swapping numbers, pictures, hugs, and hatching epic plans.
Be a Starter. If you feel like your community is lacking some women camaraderie or women-specific groups, then start one. Back in 2009, along with three other friends, we formed the Women’s Mountain Biking Association of Colorado Springs (WMBA of COS). We created a non-profit with the mission to engage a community of supportive female cyclists of all abilities through organized group mountain bike rides. In the past five years, almost every major bike company has formed a women-specific ambassador program for their bike brand, and most have applications starting in the fall. Here are just a few: Vida MTB Series Ambassadors, Bell Joy Ride Program, Liv Ambassadors, Trek Women, and Juliana Ambassadors.
Plan a [day] trip.
Going on a trip is a great way to get to know a person better or bond a group together. Start with a day trip to keep it simple and learn how the group will mesh and if the ability levels are similar. One of the best trips this year was a day trip up Jones Pass to ride the Continental Divide Trail. My friend, Lisa, and I dropped our kids off at day care and were at the top of the ride climbing over snow drifts by 8 am. The next few hours we pedaled our way through a rocky single-track to a 13,200 foot summit. We were home in time to pick the kids up and eat dinner with the family.
Don’t forget [what it was like to be the newbie]. Once you are comfortably settled with your lady shredders, don’t forget what it was like to be the new one. If you are at an event laughing over beers with your gals and you spot a lone lady, go up and introduce yourself and welcome her to your conversation. Remember how you felt when you were new to the sport, or the area, and pass along the encouragement and welcoming attitude!
Looking back at my own timeline of photos, I see the smiling faces of friends from the places I lived and traveled to. I feel warmth and affection for the memories the photos awaken, while I remember the bonding that happened over the miles of trail we rode.
Jessica Conner is a technical writer for a bike component manufacturer. She enjoys life’s balancing act of kids, work, and adventure.