Real Girls Go
Mountain Biking

by Darla Warrior

Girls, whether you’re seven or seventy-seven, mountain biking is a sport for you. Erase from your brain the media-created images of buff young men careening down frightening trails or flying off 10-foot drop-offs.

Instead, picture the people you work with, shop with and live next to. In other words, picture average individuals enjoying a lush green marshland, while they traverse rolling dirt trails, navigate stumps, and dodge roots and rocks, all for fun. Delete from your mind the concept that mountain biking happens only in the jagged mountains of the west, because that is not the real picture.

Now, picture yourself enjoying the warmth of the sun and the laughter of friendship, as you join other women to change the face of mountain biking. Your companions will include dedicated females like Fort Myer’s News Anchor Dyan Zedeker and Laura Agnew, also of Fort Myers.

“I want women to know how much fun mountain biking is and that anyone who can ride a bike can do this,” Zedeker shares. “Girls should know that they don’t have to be afraid of mountain biking; it can be something you can do for leisure alone. Most of Florida’s trails are cross-country trails, meaning we don’t have the high cliffs or the intimidating mountains.”

Florida offers some of the best trail riding in the country. Bikers experience towering wild oaks trees draped in Spanish moss or they can ride along the swamplands.

When Zedeker took up mountain biking in 2001, she didn’t expect to be hooked so quickly. Rather, she expected to have a little fun and get into better shape. However, within months, she found herself training for races and winning the 2004 Florida State Mountain Biking Championship Title, in the 19+ women’s beginner division.

Laura Agnew began riding off-road after she and her husband tried out mountain biking in Vermont. She remembers the changing of the leaves being a very personal and enjoyable experience, an up-close experience she would only get from the trail.

“The easy trail we chose that day in Vermont heightened our experience and led us to invest in mountain bikes,” notes Agnew. Unlike Zedeker, Agnew also participates in road cycling. Agnew admits that the road and the trail, although different, both offer many rewards. Of the trail, Agnew says, “I like it that I can hear the birds, enjoy the scenery and the animals.

“Newcomers should think of mountain biking as something that can be as easy as they want it to be or as hard as they want it to be,” states Zedeker. “It’s the type of sport that you make fit your lifestyle.”

Whatever intensity you desire, mountain biking is a wonderful exercise: depressing and lifting the pedals, in addition to the muscles used to maintain a balanced ride, make it a great all-over workout. For many, mountain biking offers a fun way to burn calories, a 145-pound female can burn approximately 500 calories/hour in a moderately intense ride. Mountain bikers like Agnew and Zedeker both agree that they leave the trail feeling invigorated—as though they recaptured their youth.

Agnew also describes mountain biking as the type of sport that feels as though the challenge is coming from within rather than from the pack, like many other outdoor sports.

“Mountain biking is a sport that allows you to show up when you want, ride at your own pace and ability.”
Mountain bikers describe a sense of accomplishment after completing a ride, leaving the bikers with a sense of confidence that they can do anything. Biking has helped Dyan to feel better about life and better about what she can accomplish. She is proud to say that she is in the best shape of her life and she looks at turning forty without the feelings of despair that many women feel.

“I never dreamt I could feel like this. For the first time in my life I feel like an athlete.”

For both women, the sport of mountain biking has turned them into athletes. Interestingly, Agnew chuckles to admit, she was the type of high school student that played chess to fulfill a physical education requirement. While in high school, Zedeker participated in gymnastics, but shares, “I wasn’t really into sports. Funny thing: the only bike I ever owned was stolen, when I was a 5th grader.”

Cycling helped Agnew to branch out into other outdoor sports, such as kayaking, hiking, white water rafting and glacier climbing. Soon Agnew plans to add Alaska to the already long list of states where she has mountain biked.

Women find out quickly that mountain biking is a fantastic way to escape reality.

“The trail demands that you focus. It pushes everything stressful out of your mind, kind of like meditation,” Zedeker says. “Mountain biking demands that you listen, watch, and feel the trail. You don’t have time to focus on your problems.”

Mountain biking becomes a way to escape the rigors of work and the daily grind. Agnew agrees that when she is mountain biking she has to put her life on hold for a short time to concentrate, admitting that it’s almost a ‘Zen-like’ experience.

Besides the obvious physical and psychological benefits, riders enjoy the camaraderie and sense of family shared by riders. “I’ve always had a problem getting to know people. This sport has changed all of that for me and my daughter.” Zedeker says, as she describes how much energy her seven-year old expends on the trail and how much fun they have camping and riding with other riders.

In a world of internet chatting, online shopping and endless hours of television, mountain bikers find that biking is a fantastic way to have fun with their kids and keep in touch with each other. In addition, single women find that meeting men is a lot easier on the trail, considering the normal 20 to 1 ratio of men to women.

Joining a local mountain biking group seems to be the best way to start biking. Newcomers, affectionately referred to as ‘newbies,’ get support from club members in purchasing equipment, training, bike maintenance and more. A good example of support happens when newbies get help from veterans with buying the right equipment, a daunting task considering the plethora of bikes available. To get the best out of your mountain biking experience it is vital to purchase the right bike.

“If money is an issue,” suggests Zedeker. “A newbie could hook up with a club member to find a good used bike.”

While learning to purchase the right equipment is a daunting task, learning the rules or trail etiquette is not. Mountain biking rules are simple. According to the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), mountain bikers should follow six basic guidelines: ride on open trails, leave no trace, control your bike, always yield trail, never spook animals and plan ahead.

“If you’re unsure,” suggests Zedeker, “ask others, read books and use the internet, as each trail is different and hikers and horses often use the trail too. Local clubs have the information about the local trails. The main thing is to use common sense and stay off closed trails.”

Agnew and Zedeker also suggest that in addition to the IMBA’s guidelines, riders should always: ride with someone, take a cell phone, inform others about your plans, carry plenty of water, and always wear a helmet. Both agree that wearing a helmet on the trail is a cool thing and a decision that will earn you respect from the other riders, as well as protect your brain.

“If you can ride a bike you can ride on the trail. Get out there and start slowly,” advises Zedeker. “Eventually, you will get stronger, braver and faster. Then, you’ll want more.” Women should know that they can participate in riding clinics, sponsored by local mountain biking clubs, but they do not have to.

“It is always the rider’s decision whether to tackle an obstacle,” states Agnew. “It’s okay to have the other rider wait for you up ahead. Depending on your fitness level, you might need to take more time and that’s a good thing.”

Zedeker and Agnew often invite others to ride, to participate in work days sponsored by the local riding group, sign up for instructional clinics and all-women rides. In addition, they speak to women, whenever possible, about the benefits of mountain biking. Zedeker enjoys the all-women rides because the men do the cooking and then follow behind the girls on the trail to fix the girls’ bikes.

Agnew and Zedeker’s enthusiasm does not stop at just riding. They belong to a southwest Florida mountain biking group known as the MudCutters (www.mudcutters.org).

MudCutter members perform many functions: hold meetings, plan functions, organize training clinics, camping trips, lobby for more trail, build and maintain trail, support newcomers and promote mountain biking throughout southwest Florida.

“The people in our club become friends,” Zedeker says. “But we need more girls, of every age.”

Zedeker and Agnew promise that newbies will find friendships on the trail, shore up self-confidence, unlock true potential, and ultimately enjoy the scenery and the animals. Both women report seeing deer, turtles, baby alligators, an occasional wild pig, and, of course, bugs.

“The animals meander along the trail and leave you alone, if you leave them alone,” shares Zedeker. “I had a problem with a baby alligator one time. It decided to sit in the middle of the trail. We tried to shoo it away, but it was not leaving. We figured where baby was, momma would soon follow. So, we turned around and let it have the trail.”

“It sounds silly, but it [mountain biking] is wonderful to think about,” shares Agnew. “We spend our childhood learning to ride on the streets and to go around obstacles, and then we start mountain biking and all that changes. It’s completely alien at first, but it gives you a great feeling of accomplishment when you don’t have to walk around the obstacle anymore.”

Whether you are interested in getting in shape or finding a new hobby, mountain biking is a sport that will have a positive affect on your life. Using a little common sense, asking for other’s assistance, and taking the steps to get started will prove the hardest tasks to overcome. Like, Laura, Dyan and the other women already involved in mountain biking, you will find a sport that will last a lifetime, not just an exercise program that will loose its luster. You will find friends, but best of all you will find that feeling you had when you were seven years old and pedaling all by yourself for the first time. •

from the May-June 2005 issue

"I want women to know how
much fun mountain biking
is and that anyone who can
ride a bike can do this."