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The Common Ground: Birds of a Feather

An Ode to the Women's Group Ride.

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I’ll be the first to admit that there’s no shortage of things that suck about being a mountain biking woman. Full disclosure, about 43% of these things involve peeing while wearing spandex, including but not limited to failed attempts copping a trailside squat in bibs to using race-day port-o-lets that appear to have been previously occupied by a troupe of very flexible, lactose-intolerant corn merchants.

Based off a recent self-administered survey I gave to myself right after telling my editor that I was almost done with this column, 100% of the people polled agree that for that all could be better, nothing quite compares to the ridiculous energy that happens when a group of women assemble for the sheer purpose of shredding.

At last count, I’ve been to approximately a bazillion and four group rides. I’ve seen it all. Naked butts and whiskey shots. Costume-clad night rides and exhausted trail builders who transform into giddy kids when it’s time to put down first tracks. The camaraderie of long-time friends mourning another and the palpable buzz that happens when a group of strangers realize they’re all the same kind of weird.

Photo: Sterling Lorence

It’s all magical, but none of it, not the post-ride barbecues or the pre-ride coffee-assisted faffing, rivals the energy of the women’s ride.

Your mileage may vary, but a lot of folks seem to go through each day shouldering slightly more than they did the day before. Some days they succeed. Some days they fail. But the bittersweet reality is that most of the time, it’s all met with silence. The irony of life is our greatest performances are often given to an audience of none.

Now, imagine you’re going about your day, but there’s a palpably enthusiastic group of people on the sidelines acting as your personal hype team. Thinking about trying that new rock drop? You got this. We already have the video recording. New bike? Hot damn, those are some sweet hubs. Are you feeling fat and tired and embarrassed that you’re walking obstacles you know you can ride? We’ve been there too. Hell, some of us are right there right now. Don’t worry, you got this.

The soundtrack of these rides is filled with laughing and cheering seasoned with a nice coating of swears and innuendo. Someone always has beer. Someone else always has tools (that’s me, because I never have the beer). Guacamole magically appears. And dancing. There’s so much impromptu dancing.

Nothing quite compares to the ridiculous energy that happens when a group of women assemble for the sheer purpose of shredding.

For women riders, the wheels have been turning for decades with clinics, bikes sized to fit fun-size riders, and girls who grow up surrounded by other girls who ride. Now there’s a new wave of riders who are so damn good. And when I see them push their limits, I can’t help but join the voices cheering them on. I want them to be faster than me and float off drops I’m still too scared to attempt. I want to watch them fly.

I know all the cool kids are supposed to be secure enough in themselves to not need their own personal cheering section to tackle their fears. Of course, if I were a cool kid, I probably wouldn’t have invested so much of my middle school years reading books about cats.

We spend our whole lives facing our hardest challenges alone. Talking your kid through when their best friend moves. Deciding when it’s time to say goodbye. Taking the first step of an uncertain path. The closest thing to a hype section most of us get during these times is an internal voice telling us not to screw things up too badly.

And if I had a magic wand, I’d give everyone the chance to experience having their own cheering section at least once in their lives. Toby, you’re absolutely crushing those TPS reports. Alexis, you’re killing it at holding things together. Taylor, here’s a gold star for folding the laundry this time instead of letting it linger in the dryer purgatory until the hamper is full again.

At last night’s ride, we all gathered around to check out the new drop. It had a blind landing into a berm–overshooting it was a quick recipe for a bad day. As the first of many riders lined up for the maiden voyage off the rock drop, voices once again filled the air with different versions of the same message.

You got this.