You know those rocks and roots and pleasant little inclines you come across when you’re hiking an easy-going local trail? On foot, they’re no big thing (simply lift foot and step over). But when you’re on a mountain bike, and you’re mostly new to the whole mountain biking thing, those rocks and roots suddenly become monstrous barriers to forward movement.
A few shin-high rocks on the trail are enough to stop many new riders in their knobby-tired tracks, either because hitting those rocks brings the entire bike to an abrupt halt or because the mere sight of them prompts some of us to immediately dismount and walk our bikes over (because we tried riding over rocks like that before and it didn’t go so well).
And trail bridges? Forget about those. I don’t care if they’re wide enough to accommodate a golf cart – trail bridges are scary on a mountain bike. At least, until you get used to them (and used to your own capabilities on aforementioned mountain bike).
As with anything, practice helps. Attending a few skills workshops makes a difference, too (like the Wednesday night foundations of mountain biking classes that take place on Portland’s East End).
Finding a welcoming group of area riders who’ll show you the ropes and not leave you in the dust (or a ditch – damn you, trail bridges!), well that’s mighty great, too.
Single Track Sisters is a group of women riders from greater Portland (and beyond!) who meet a couple times a week for rides in Cape Elizabeth, Pownal, Portland, Yarmouth and elsewhere. The Wednesday night rides are perfect for experienced riders looking for a cool group of women to ride with every week. And for us beginners, there’s the Monday night ride (lovingly called MNR).
The Monday rides are beginner friendly, no-drop rides that are ideal for riders like me who’ve been on the trails a bit, but who still sometimes tip over on bridges or bounce off seemingly innocuous tree roots. We’re still working on basic skills – when to change gears, how to shift our weight, remembering to keep our pedals level – which means the idea of riding with other people is both fantastic (I’ll learn new things! Meet new people! Get to know this sport better!) and daunting (They’ll all be way better than me! I’ll look like a fool! The whole world might explode!).
Which makes the Single Track Sisters even cooler: They’re an easy-going group of riders with varied experience, and the Monday night rides are especially welcoming to newer riders, so everyone shows up knowing the deal: You won’t get dropped. You will meet new people. You won’t get laughed out of the woods. You will learn lots of stuff.
When I joined the group for a ride a couple of weeks ago, we had a pre-ride round of introductions where we talked about how much riding we’ve done and what things we were working on. (Note: Even the really experienced riders are still working on skills. It’s not like anyone hits a “well, now I know everything” level. Ever.) I struggle to get up hills. Others are hesitant on bridges. And most of us still aren’t quite sure how to attack a big pile of rocks.
So we set off on the trails at Bradbury State Park in Pownal, riding along until we came upon an obstacle. A nice pile ‘o rocks. Julie Coleman and Emily Helliesen, who were co-leading the ride, had us all watch how they went over (how fast they were going, what gear they were in, what route they chose to take). They pointed out how going over the rocks here was easier than going over on the other side, and how we should keep our eyes looking this way instead of at that nearby tree (because your bike goes where your eyes go). And then anyone who wanted to give it a go was able to do so.
So we all tried it. Some more successfully than others. We tried it again.
And the ride went just like that – plenty of cruising along in the woods and plenty of obstacle attacking (with tips and advice thrown in along the way).
By the end of the ride, I’d conquered a few obstacles myself, but I certainly left a few to be conquered another time. A good excuse to come back for another Monday night ride. (Not that I need another excuse. The good company and trail camaraderie is reason enough in itself!)
This informal group is free to join – just check them out on Facebook!
Group rides will continue through summer and into the fall, as long as there’s interest and enough daylight!
Note: This story was originally posted Sept. 9, 2016