Martha Flynn is passionate about getting girls on bikes.
The director of Crank Sisters and an internationally certified mountain biking instructor, she has reached out to recruit a greater number of girls to participate in the Minnesota High School Cycling League and also bring in more women coaches to serve as role models.
A former elite in-line skate racer, Flynn, 50, first noticed the lack of women involved in mountain biking when she hung up her skates and began devoting herself to bike racing in 2011. While she always felt welcome at races and events, she wanted to get more girls and women involved in the sport. Crank Sisters and its outreach mission for the league have proved a good fit.
About a quarter of riders in the league are girls. Since Crank Sisters’ inception in 2013, the number of girls and women involved in racing and coaching in the league has doubled each year. Crank Sisters had 22 athletes in 2012; 102 in 2014.
With a goal to see that trend continue, Flynn, an Allina information technology project manager, and her crew organize social rides for girls to try mountain biking for the first time and special clinics where they can work on skills and technique.
In a recent interview, Flynn talked about her love for the sport, as well as her passion for getting women and girls involved.
On what made her fall in love with mountain biking
The surroundings are always beautiful. When it’s super hot and sunny in the middle of summer, who wants to go on a road ride when you can be on a mountain bike trail in the shade? It makes you feel strong and in touch with nature. You can be scared coming around a corner and then cheering and laughing after — you go through the gamut of emotions on a ride.
On what makes a good mountain biker
You have to be somewhat of a risk-taker. The terrain changes a lot, even on the same trail. It can be super dry or more tacky after a rain, and rocks can move around. You really have to be ready for those things.
On getting girls involved in mountain biking
There’s a ton of momentum going on in the Twin Cities to get more women and girls on bikes. When you’re learning with a bunch of girls or women at the same level as you, it’s a great place to gain confidence. Kids are picking their sports earlier and earlier, so we’ve started a junior Crank Sisters camp to catch them in the second- and fifth-grade age range to introduce them to it. Really, anyone who has the gumption can do it.
On the difference Crank Sisters is making
It’s amazing seeing the impact it has had on some of the girls who have been with the league a few years. You can see their self-confidence bloom with mountain biking experience. It’s so fun to watch when they don’t think they can ride over this rock or trail and then they go over it for the first time. They get a sense of accomplishment, whether it’s finishing a race they didn’t think they could finish or winning the race — it’s all about setting goals and accomplishing them.
On the welcoming atmosphere in the league
Kids find that the biking community is a place they can be a part of a team, but maybe don’t feel the pressure like they do with some of the team sports. It’s more than just making kids stronger riders, it’s about the whole person. I love that about our philosophy. It’s not our driving mission to produce the next Olympian; it’s to include everyone and give them all a positive experience.
Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance writer. She lives in Minneapolis.