At Buck Hill during a recent Thursday night mountain bike race, cyclists snaked back and forth, riding furiously on paths mowed through the tall grass.
Only a handful of the riders at the Burnsville race were women, but according to cyclists that’s pretty typical. Men generally outnumber women in mountain bike racing, said April Morgan, of Hopkins, who has competed for three years.
“The only positive thing is that we never have to wait in line for the bathroom,” she said.
But there’s been a concerted effort lately to attract women and girls to the sport. Dakota County Parks has introduced workshops and camps for women and girls, and a new mountain biking group for women organizes events and rides at places like Lebanon Hills and Buck Hill.
Teri Holst, of Minneapolis, who works for Penn Cycle, started the group called Ride Like a Girl last winter. Since April, they’ve organized regular group rides and skills and maintenance clinics. Their next clinic is tentatively scheduled for July 19 and will likely be held at Lebanon Hills, she said.
Since she started the online community (www.facebook.com/groups/RideLikeAGirlCycling), over 450 women have joined as members. Holst said she plans to launch a website soon.
“It’s just kind of a gathering place,” said Holst. “It’s really going crazy.”
Martha Flynn, of St. Paul, who directs Crank Sisters, a program for girls through the Minnesota High School Cycling League, helps out with Ride Like a Girl clinics and women’s workshops put on by Dakota County Parks.
She said she usually tells women, “Don’t learn how to ride from a dude.”
Holst and Flynn said women can sometimes be intimidated by the sport, especially the way many men ride.
“It’s easier for guys to wipe out,” Flynn said. “They don’t care.”
Lynn Peterson, who has been racing for 19 years, trained with her husband when she first started to ride.
“It didn’t work very well,” said Peterson, of Burnsville. “He’s a lot faster than me.”
By meeting people in the bike community, partly through the Buck Hill races, she found a group of women to train with.
Kim Kelley, of Minneapolis, recently got into mountain biking. But she said many of her female friends “think it’s too hard and scary.”
“I’m still just in awe there’s not more women doing it,” she said.
Courtney Norman, of Minneapolis, also recently got into the sport. She braved the trails alone at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage and found she was in over her head on the intermediate loop.
“The bike community was foreign to me,” she said.
She eventually connected with Ride Like a Girl and attended clinics that taught skills like getting the front tire over rocks or logs.
“It’s nice to have a coach,” she said. “My body won’t always do what I want it to do, but I know basically what it should do.”
She regularly goes on impromptu rides posted on the site, and she also just completed her third race.
Dakota County Parks started offering mountain biking workshops for women and camps for girls at Lebanon Hills a few years ago.
Katie Pata, visitor services coordinator for the parks, said they found that “women feel much more comfortable learning new skills when they are taught by and surrounded by other women.”
Jeff Milbauer, president of Valley Bike and Ski, organizes instructors for the park’s workshops and camps, and according to him, male bikers tend to ride more aggressively and display the attitude: “If we don’t crash, we must have [done] it right.”
“Most women actually want to have the skills first so they have the confidence,” he said.
Dakota County Parks has a mountain bike camp for girls scheduled July 6-9.
In past years, they’ve had to cancel the girls’ camp and women’s workshops due to low attendance, said Autumn Hubbell, outdoor educator for Dakota County Parks. But not this year. Milbauer said the women’s workshop filled up and the girls’ camp is close to full.
Janna Krawczyk, of Minneapolis, has been racing for 18 years and has witnessed the changing landscape. In the early years at races, she said, “God, there were like five of us always.”
“All the sudden, there’s more women,” she said.
Milbauer said mountain biking in general has grown in popularity in recent years. He points to factors such as the creation of high school leagues and significant improvements to trails, with additions of jumps and berms.
“They’re just so much more fun,” he said.
“You don’t have to be awesome at it,” said Norman, the newer racer from Minneapolis. “It’s just fun to get on your bike and go fast.”
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer. Her e-mail is email@example.com.