Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ride Like a Girl...Ray's Women's Weekend

Seriously, they expect me to ride up that ramp the very first thing...don't they realize topping little steep hills is one of my weaknesses...I am going to embarrass myself right from the start...I have to get to the top.....

Ok, I know what to do, pedal hard, shift weight forward when losing momentum towards the top, keep pedalling.....

And so began the day at the Women's Weekend Ride and Clinic at Rays Indoor Mountain Bike Park in Milwaukee. I'd read about the women's weekends (they also do one each year at their Cleveland location) on the forums of  Team Estrogen and MTBR.

I was both nervous and excited about this day. Kiddo and I have been talking about checking out Ray's since it opened, but I've been a bit too intimidated by my lack of experience and fear of riding ladders to go on my own. However, when I saw they'd be having the park closed down to women only with a free clinic, I jumped at the chance.

I arrived as the day's format and trainers were being introduced. I chose to rent a bike for the day. I'm trying to get a feel for what kind of MTB to invest in, and want to ride as many as possible. I choose a XC (cross country) style bike - dirt jumpers were also an option. 

I'd estimate there were close to 75 women in attendance - all levels from "1star" beginners like myself to "4-5 star" advanced riders looking to hone their skills on the expert jumps. Many had traveled several hours to attend, were making a weekend of the event. In addition to the women only clinic day, the weekend included half price admissions for clinic attendees on Saturday and Sunday plus a party on Saturday night. 

After the introductions, the groups split into different areas of the park based on ability and goals for the day. Some headed upstairs to the pump track, others to the more advanced sport/XC area, a group on the beginner jumps, an advanced jumping group, and the beginner XC group I'd joined. We'd been told to meet at the top of the ramps by the beginner section. Somehow, I made it up the ramp (I really have struggled with powering up short inclines). In fact getting up the ramp was easy.

Then it hit me, the other half of the equation. That the MTB mantra of "Momentum is your friend" meant...

Oh shit, they expect us to ride down the ramp to hit the I'm seriously freaking. I don't know how to do this. The one time I tried to ride the wooden skill obstacles at Muir had been a bit of a disaster.

I must not have been the only one with a bit of fear showing on her face. When Tania and Jeni, our coaches, arrived, they sized up the group, moved us off the ramp, and over to a flat area to work on beginner skills. Tania and Jeni are both graduates of the International Mountainbike Instructor Certification (IMIC) program and followed that program for beginners. We learned bike-body positioning from neutral to attack position, how to brake, steer, shift weight forward and back, stop fast bracing our heels down, and began to work on front wheel lifting.  Tania or Jeni would talk us through the skills, demonstrate and then have us practice on the flats, offering comments and suggestions to each rider individually.
Quickly our confidence grew and the group headed back over to the ramps, to the beginner sport area. It was time to use our new skills on the trails. The coaches stayed down on the runs. This position allowed them to coach the riders as they passed; often giving extra pointers as the rider headed back up to the ramps. They encouraged us to try increasingly difficult obstacles. The teeter tooter, going over a small log, a larger log, riding over a boulder, pedaling our way through a rock garden.
Before we knew it, it was time for lunch, and then the group picture. Finding a spot to get this many people in one shot was difficult, but the expert BMX area provided a decent set up.
After lunch the group headed back over to the Sport/beginner area. Much of the group was ready to progress from the beginner area, while a couple of us did a few more runs in the beginner area. Jeni went with the more advanced group, Tania stayed with the rest of us. 
Eyes up, Kim.....

I think that's my new slogan. Somewhat of my Achilles heel. When I get nervous I look down. Not sure how many times Tania had to tell me that. I can't say enough about how great and patient she was with me. How encouraging. Pushing me when needed, talking me through my first time down the steeper ramps, helping me find lines, determine where to look.

Even "picking me up" when this small patch of rocks, taught me a slightly painful lesson about momentum... specifically what happens when the bike stops and you don't, my first "endo". Not going fast enough, looking down, my front tire stopped by a rock, me flipping over the bars, hitting my head. Being both embarrassed and just slightly disorientated. A quick check over by one of the Ray's staff. Then being encouraged by Tania to try a slightly easer run to get my confidence back. And finally moving back to this line to make it through, prove to myself that I could do it.

I feel like I learned so much on this day. I'm getting more confident in trusting that I can look ahead, becoming more aware of my position on the bike. Understanding a bit more of the difference between controlled momentum and out of control speed. That much of this sport I am enjoying learning is a mental game, pushing both physical limits and those set by our minds.....which makes it all that much more appealing to me.

Ray's has done a great job in building this facility.  There's something for all skills levels. A great option during the cold and snow. And this women's weekend a perfect way to get acquainted. I can't wait to take these skills out on the dirt. And am even more excited for the Midwest Women's Clinic in June; an event hosted by Sub-9 productions, a company owned by Tania and her husband. Can't wait!


  1. So cool and not at all how I've ever ridden. Good on you!!

  2. Yeah!!!! Great job Kim! And this is the reason we love coaching so much! The day wasn't about us, it was totally about you. So excited for you and your new found confidence!

  3. Go Kim!!! It was such a pleasure working with everyone and seeing the confidence levels grow by leaps and bounds. I said it once and I'll say it again... I was SO PROUD OF YOU!!! I can't wait to see you in June. Keep in touch! ~Tania

  4. Monica - definitely different than riding a road bike or our commuters. But fun and challenging. Not to mention felt really good to be on a bike (can"t seem to fall in love w/ my trainer, or maybe more honestly hate trainers, just hate em, and still too much snow to commute given all the hills, unplowed bike path and narrow or busy roads between pt A and pt B). Can't wait to learn more, explore more places and trails.

    Jeni and Tania - Thanks again for everything Friday and your kind words still today!!! The way you teach is excellent - and for a more or less rank beginner such as myself, so good to be learning the right way more or less from the start. Hopefully, less bad habits to break and more and more good ones to learn! See you in June, and will stay in touch between now and then!