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There’s really no way to start mountain biking without feeling like an outsider at some point. As a newbie, chances are high you’re riding a not-so-gently used mountain bike from the ’90s in a helmet you somehow still have from middle school. You look at other riders on the trail decked out in gear you didn’t even know you needed and pedaling bikes more expensive than your car. Somehow they’re still talking up a storm at the top of the climb, while you’re doubled over gasping for air.
That was me anyway. I’d just moved back to Boulder after five years away and with only two seasons of mountain biking under my belt, I felt horribly out of place. Friends would ask me to ride, but I was too intimidated to join. I feared I’d slow them down or they would take me on trails far above my ability level.
So I stuck to riding the same sad trails over and over. Alone. I stayed within my comfort zone. I felt safe, but also bored and lonely. I knew there was more out there and I wanted to explore it; I just didn’t know how yet. The one thing I did know was that finding the right people to ride with would be the key to unlocking progress.
But it seemed like I could never find the right group of riders—people who pushed me, but who I also felt comfortable being pushed by. And I suspected it was other women who I was missing. So, I decided to organize women’s rides with my best friend and adventure partner Sara. We invited any woman we knew who owned bike. We stopped everyone we saw on the trail and invited her to join us. Week after week, more new faces showed up and the group began to grow. When we reached the capacity of group texts, we started an email thread to communicate ride locations and times. We started taking photos and sharing them with the group after rides. Before we knew it, we had a community and named it The Elevated Alpine. This was a huge turning point for me; I’d found my community, my people, my new Front Range family.
If you’re like I was, new to mountain biking, and feeling a little lost or stagnant on the bike, finding your community is a great way to progress your riding to the next level. Communities like this are a solid resource for local trail intel or conditions, meeting new riding partners or buying used gear.
Finding Communities Takes Research
Communities don’t find you. You find them and here’s where you should start your search.
- Bike Shops: Check local bike shop event pages for weekly rides. If not, ask if they recommend any organizations or groups hosting rides.
- Outdoor Brands: It’s no secret that brands are funneling their marketing dollars to fostering communities, especially in the towns where they are headquartered. Although these communities will always be motivated by brand exposure, they can be great stepping stones to meet people and get connected.
- Breweries and Coffee Shops: Riders love beer and coffee. Often in mountain bike towns, group rides will start or end at coffee shops or breweries. Inquire at your local watering holes for weekly rides and events.
- Online Communities: Search key terms like ‘group ride’ or ‘weekly mountain bike ride’ across Facebook Groups and Instagram hashtags to find communities. Search local trails on Instagram Places and Strava to see who is riding where. Check out their profiles to see if any organizations, groups, or communities are tagged in their bio or posts. Get creative in your online sleuthing. You may be able to find the jackpot in just a few clicks. These searches may also result in virtual communities, which can be a great alternative if you can’t find what you’re looking for locally.
Sometimes the first community you step into isn’t the best fit.
Mountain biking is intimidating enough already as a beginner. If you find yourself in a situation that’s adding to the pressure, get out of there and try something else. Here are some things to consider when you’re looking for and trying out different communities.
- Logistics: How far are you willing to travel? When does this group meet? What time of day?
- Intent: Are you training for a specific objective, wanting a specific style of riding or looking for something more social?
- Safe Spaces: What type of language does the group use? Are the members encouraging and welcoming of one another? How do they treat newcomers?
- Rider Ability: Where do your abilities lie on the sendy spectrum? How does this align to the community you’re exploring?
- Inclusion: Do you see people that both look like you and don’t look like you in this community? Do the organizers represent the diversity you’re seeking?
- The Mission and Leadership: What does this organization stand for? What type of person is the organizer? Does this align to your personal values and beliefs?
Can’t find one? Make one.
Not finding what you’re looking for? Starting your own community could be the next step. It’s easier than you think and it doesn’t have to be huge. Here is my quick start guide to creating a community.
- Get the word out: Invite your friends, colleagues, and people you meet on the trail to join you.
- Decide on a communication tool: Create a Whats App, group text, or email thread for easy coordination and communication.
- Pick a trail: Plan routes on low-pressure trails to encourage socializing and inclusivity.
- Keep it small: Keep the headcount low to ease the intimidation factor and for better communication on the trail
- Schedule: Send calendar invites and personal follow up reminders. Accountability is key.
- Chill: Incorporate a post-ride hang at the trailhead or local brewery into the itinerary.
- Memories: Share ride photos after within your group threads or on social media. Everyone likes to feel a part of a team and celebrate what they’ve accomplished.