Mountain biking is a sport best done in a group, no one wants to pootle along trails alone, but what do you do if no-one you know rides?
Aoife Glass chats with Sarah Selwood, founder of Birds on Bikes, a group set up to encourage women to start mountain biking and facilitates group rides in the South East of England.
I have always enjoyed cycling; my Gramp raced road bikes so I was never without a bike as a child. My husband, Stuart, has been mountain biking for eighteen years, racing for the last five, and I’d always been curious. After setting up my salon six years ago, spending the first two years working excessive hours, I had put on weight and needed to find an exercise that I enjoyed. It didn’t take me long to realise that it would probably involve a bike.
There’s a small bike shop close to work, so I popped in one day and walked out with my first mountain bike. That was exactly four years ago. I spent the first year riding mostly with Stuart and his friends, which as you can imagine was frustrating at times, I felt so inadequate. However, after doing some skills training and finally getting to ride with other women, I properly fell in love with it.
‘Birds on Bikes’ is a social riding group for female mountain bikers of all abilities in the South East of England. We operate through Facebook as it’s a great way for us to build our community, and spread the word. We use it to ask advice and share information and knowledge. If we fancy going out for a ride, we use the page to hook up with anyone who might be available and to organise regular group rides. If we’ve been out on a ride, we share our pictures and stories. In fact, anything to do with cycling gets shared on the page.
Mountain biking seems to be a very male dominated sport and when I first got into it, I found there wasn’t a great deal in the local area to support those new to mountain biking, especially for women. Having discovered the benefits of using Facebook for my business I came up with the idea of starting a women’s only mountain biking group - I had nothing to lose! After a couple of minutes pootling on the laptop, Birds on Bikes was born.
To begin with, I added the small amount of women that I’d met up to that point. Then began the poaching, scouring other Facebook pages for potential members. It took a while to gain any momentum, but slowly and surely the group grew and now it is buzzing with activity. I could never have imagined that it would grow to be so popular. Needless to say I’m very glad and proud of what it has become. Birds on Bikes has been one the best things I have ever done.
The Birds on Bikes group currently has over 130 members. We span the length and breadth of the M4 from London down to Port Talbot. Now, after some recent national press attention, we’ve members from all over the UK, although I would say that the majority are in the South. We have women from all walks of life with very mixed abilities: from absolute novices right up to the very competent, technical riders, with quite a few members race regularly for their local clubs.
Birds on Bikes had it’s first Group Ride at Swinley in July 2012. As it was such a huge success, monthly rides were organised off the back of it. Going forward, I hope to increase the regularity of these, especially during the summer months. I’d also like to move the locations around, have rides that are further afield to try and capture those members that aren’t based so centrally.
Many of our members have made new friends within the Group and meet regularly in and around their local area using the Facebook page to communicate availability. It seems we’ve planted a seed for these women, Birds on Bikes is a platform for them to grow and share their love of mountain biking, while making friends in the process.
I’m aware the group is growing at an amazing rate and want to ensure that we keep bringing fresh ideas in. Julie Fox helps with the group on a day-to-day basis, bringing a wealth of riding experience to the table. Claire Conway also helps out and has organised our first weekend trip to Dalby. Their help is invaluable. Having our own kit has also been very exciting. Pitching up for a ride and seeing everyone in their jersey’s has been an amazing feeling.
I live in Purton, a village on the outskirts of Swindon, so I regularly ride at Ashton Court, the Forest of Dean and Swinley. If the time allows, then I like to get down to Wales as often as I can. I’d say my riding ability is average, I’d like to be fitter, faster and braver. It’s thanks to my fellow birds with their support and encouragement out on the trails, that I’m improving all the time; watching, listening and learning. I am rubbish at climbing, but I’ve been told I’m good at cornering and I’m fairly nifty on the downhills. I always have a little list in my head of what I want to achieve and I’m not afraid to ask for help. Speaking to our members, I am certain that being involved in the group has also helped their riding, as much as it has helped mine.
The advantages of a women’s mountain biking group like Birds on Bikes is that it creates a community for like-minded women. It enables them to do what they love with other women that share that passion.
If someone wants to join us, all they have to do is check out our Facebook page. All newcomers get a little welcome and we encourage them to introduce themselves. We’ve found, the more you use the group, the more it works for you!