Events

How the VIDA mountain bike clinic teaches skills to female riders

The check-in for the clinic had race plates for participants to write their names, with enough markers to rival a craft store, and a variety of fun, shiny, or sparkly stickers to bedazzle your name plate.

One of the great things about the Sedona MTB Festival is the sheer number of women who attend. At least part of that can be attributed to the ladies of the VIDA MTB Series. Equal parts skills coaching and women’s mountain bike culture committee, VIDA has been hosting a skills clinic at the Sedona festival for several years. The all-day event took place on Saturday, March 7, 2020, and started with a few hours of drills before heading out to the trails. While I couldn’t spend the entire day with the group, I did sit in on the morning skills and drills portion of their event.

The VIDA coaches made a point to set a friendly, fun, and welcoming tone from the very start. The check-in for the clinic had race plates for participants to write their names, with enough markers to rival a craft store, and a variety of fun, shiny, or sparkly stickers to bedazzle your name plate as much or as little as you wanted. One of the coaches, Madge Saunders, wandered around in a T-Rex costume talking with folks and eliciting smiles.

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Once through the introductions for the various VIDA coaches and a brief recap of the history of the program from co-founder Amy Thomas, the large group of women were broken up into groups of fewer than ten.  VIDA doesn’t just group folks by skill level; they also assemble groups according to who they think will “vibe” best with each other, emphasizing that having a good time and building community is just as important as the skills. I joined the intermediate group, which  is typically the most popular group. Our coaches were Liz Cunningham and Madge Saunders — both of whom did a great job explaining and modeling skills while keeping the mood fun.

I was struck by the some of the differences in our small group, from age to background, and even motivation. Some had found their way to mountain biking through a male partner; one woman spoke about how she really began to embrace mountain biking as a way to cope with the death of her husband; and another sought out the sport prompted by boredom in the place she lived and the availability of trails to the area.

Several riders had already participated in previous VIDA clinics and were back for more, but this was the first skills instruction for at least one of the members of our group. Some women primarily rode with men, while others either primarily rode solo or with girlfriends. While some were sporting the latest and greatest gear, not everyone looked like they’d just walked out of a photoshoot. Everyone had a nice bike, but a number of them were demos from the festival. (Big thanks to Revel Bikes for loaning me their super fun Rail for several hours.) It’s a lovely reminder that “female cyclists” are not a monolithic, homogenous group.

The group began with a run-through of some basic bike-body separation drills before progressing to a more challenging cornering drill, which combined that separation with tight spaces, and how to spot where you want to go. We then transitioned to front wheel lifts, rear wheel lifts, bunny hops, and just before breaking for lunch, rolling drops. While there were moments of individual frustration throughout the morning, there were visible improvements in both skill and confidence in all the riders. When someone got a skill they’d been struggling with, the rest of the group noticed, congratulating or cheering for the rider.

While I couldn’t rejoin after lunch for the on-trail portion of the day, it’s clear that VIDA is doing good work for the culture of women’s cycling. One of the things that makes mountain biking fun is that it’s always challenging — there is always room to grow and get better — and VIDA makes that a collaborative and encouraging space for women.

We can (and should) stop and session that tricky section of trail until we’re happy with it, because that’s how we grow. Maybe we don’t always ride with other women, and certainly we don’t all have the same goals or experiences, but the success of the VIDA MTB Series is a testament that there is a desire among women to share this experience of learning and growth while having fun.