By Phillipa Gardiner
Published: July 28, 2012
Downhill mountain biking requires strength, skills and sharp focus to perform well.
It’s fast, gravity assisted style of cycling. Riders take on steep trails and technical stunts such as jumps, drops, gaps and rock rolls.
Traditionally, the downhill mountain biking has attracted a lower proportion of female riders, but one group is boasting higher number of female participants.
Gravity Girlz of Squamish is an all women downhill group for intermediate and advanced riders that meet weekly on a drop-in basis throughout the spring and summer.
Mary-Ann Taylor has been volunteering as ride leader for four years since it has evolved from a casual social ride into a more formal group supported by the Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association.
She describes the rides as ‘positive, non-competitive and social’ where riders are encouraged to improve their bike handling skills in a supportive environment with lots of laughs.
She believes that women’s only groups ‘support women in advancing their abilities, exposes them to more challenging terrain and allow women to session sections of trail that they typically would walk around if riding with a mixed group of riders.
Melissa Sheridan, a group member agrees that guys and girls have a different approach to riding. She loves riding in the supportive and low pressure environment that Gravity Girlz provides.
Riders benefit from the group in other ways – people learn the trails and rides bring ladies of diverse ages and backgrounds together meet, creating opportunities for Squamish women to network and form new friendships.
A lot of the work goes into organising and leading the rides, but Mary Ann is motivated by seeing riders conquer their anxieties progress to riding faster and harder.
‘Riding has changed my life over the past decade, and this gives me an opportunity to give back to the riding community.’
The increase in Women Mountain biking also benefits the Squamish community. On August 4, 2012 Squamish will host Hot on your Heels, the inaugural women’s only mountain bike race.
The race is an endurance event, with riders tackling several stages of cross country climbing and descending on classic Squamish trails, followed by an after party at The Living Room.
More than 80 riders have signed up and with registration open until just before the race. Melissa Sheridan, race director said the profits from the event will be going towards a mentoring program called Go Girls! Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds.
Sheridan said her goal in organsing the race isn’t necessarily to have more women only events in the future but it’s to push more women into the sport.
“The women’s only race isn’t meant so much as to exclude the guys but it’s meant more to embrace the women,” she said.
She believes the women’s only races will grow in the future, as they provide women an opprtunity to meet other women and make new friends.