By Kierstin Kloeckner
I would say I’m in love with most styles/types of bicycle riding. Road riding is the nearest and dearest to my heart, gravel road riding being a close second (if I didn’t have to clean my own bike, this would be number one for me), urban riding on a single speed or fixie brings out the inner child in me every time, and I’ve even been known to have a wide grin across my face while doing a bit of cross riding. As a kid, I spent hours upon hours on my bmx bike even though my bag of tricks was almost non-existent.
Really, the only form of riding that hasn’t taken complete hold of me is mountain biking. This may be about to change.
Enter in Amber Krueger and Kelsey Walsh of Madison, Wis. Both of these stellar women, in collaboration with Bell Helmets, Revolution Cycles, and CORP (the local IMBA chapter), have formed this amazing female mountain bike/gravel group called She Shreds, which falls under the Bell Joy Ride program. Yep, that’s right guys, eat your hearts out ‘cause there’s an entire group of women killing it out there on two wheels and their main focus is having fun.
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“My goal is to not only get as many women started riding as possible, but to have these events allow women to find others to ride with and form some friendships. It’s truly a bonding experience, to ride gnarly roots and rocks with other women!
“For me, cycling has always been about empowerment. My bike is my sole means of transportation, I ride everywhere I need to go. I know how to fix it and maintain it and now I ride it for fun and fitness. It’s just an amazing feeling when you don’t have to rely on anyone else for help. It would be amazing if other women started to feel this!”
So, of course, being a complete idiot on a mountain bike—let’s just say I almost always hit trees—I wasn’t jumping up and down squealing when I was invited to join this group for a ride. But I was assured, again and again, that this is an all-level group. Yep, women who spend most of their free weekends at places like Levis and Copper Harbor help out beginners. Whoever ends up helping me this summer should get an award for charity work AND should be adept in all forms of first aid. And although I’m not looking forward to crashing and burning, I am looking forward to hanging out with this group of amazing and diverse women.
This winter I showed up to a gathering at Revolution the night before the She Shreds/Madison Bell Joy Ride inaugural event… a fatbike ride at Quarry Ridge. The temps were hovering near zero and eight degrees was the forecasted high for the end of the event. Being the first official event, Amber looked a bit nervous and concerned about how many women would end up showing since it was also an official demo of Surly fatbikes and some of the female crew from QBP (Quality Bicycle Products) came down. She didn’t need to worry since every “t” was crossed, every “i” was dotted and she had done an amazing job with marketing it.
The women showed up in droves – almost 70 in total– and the guys were all put to work with volunteer tasks. A little cold snap wasn’t about to slow these women down. For those of you who put on outdoor events, you know it’s pretty difficult getting 70 participants your first time, let alone all of them being women and in freezing conditions. Most of the women who showed up had very-little-to-no experience with off-road riding let alone fatbike riding. So essentially in one day, the female organizers and volunteers opened up an entirely new world of play to a ton of women.
The Bell Joy Ride Program is designed to inspire and enable female mountain bikers with regular, structured, fun and social rides that appeal to all levels of riders. This program will allow female riders to enjoy both challenge and camaraderie in a non-race oriented environment.
It may seem a bit confusing having this group under both the name She Shreds and Bell Joy Ride, so I asked Amber for a bit of background on both groups and how she got involved. Believe it or not, Amber is quite new to mountain biking. It wasn’t long ago when her then boyfriend brought her out onto rocky trails in the middle of the night for her first ride. Needless to say, this isn’t a great way to introduce someone to the sport. Amber said she hated it and cried and didn’t try it again until she did a group ride with her co-workers at Williamson Bike Works.
“They led and would wait for me at intersections, but for the most part they left me to figure things out on my own, which was a nice low-pressure kind of way to learn,” Amber said.
She then began to work at Revolution Cycles and the owner, Jeff Fitzgerald, along with staff member Earl brought her out for their weekly Thursday night rides. Although she said she was never really sold on the “women’s bike movement,” that all changed when she met Kelsey, Cat, and Alyssa and began to ride with them. She Shreds at that time was just a forum for female cyclists on the CORP website and ended up not really taking off. Michelle Barker, the local IMBA rep for Madison must have seen something in Amber because she helped her get the ball rolling with Bell. Soon after, Amber was chosen to be one of the six U.S. ambassadors for the new Bell Joy Ride program and everything changed.
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“It’s all about getting women riding off-road and riding more often. My personal mission for the group is to also give back. I will be working with our high school NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) girls as well as with CORP to encourage membership. The plan is to hold an event every month, all women welcomed, all free, all rider levels!”
One person, woman or man, of course, could accomplish none of this. The saying “It takes a village” could easily be used here. That’s where women like Kelsey Walsh come in. When I asked her how and why she got involved with this program, this was her reply:
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“Mountain biking is a pretty intimidating sport looking in on it. Men have a tendency to not fully appreciate or be considerate of the emotional difficulty it presents. Riding with women is really cool – it’s often that there just aren’t women to ride with, or when women get interested it’s because of a guy and they end up not really riding after they break up. I joined the Joyride program after Amber asked if I would be a ride leader, which I was excited about. The program really tries to build a community of women, which sounds awesome. Creating a group that is empowering to women will build relationships and skill sets both on and off the bike, and is really the key piece that has been missing in other mountain bike arenas that are specific to women. I’m really hoping that this will succeed as a program and start to build the sport and allow us to grow as a community.”
All I know is that things are changing for the better. My belief is everyone, woman, man, girl or boy should feel comfortable getting out to explore on two wheels. No one, because of his or her ability, financial status or gender should be left behind.
With the help of women like Amber and Kelsey, organizations like IMBA, and businesses like Revolution Cycles, Bell and Surly, things will continue to improve. The world of all types of cycling will continue to open for people who may have not gotten an opportunity before. As a female cyclist, I can’t thank all involved in this program enough!