Have you ever taken a friend out on her first mountain bike ride and it turned out being possibly one of the most miserable experiences ever? From your perspective, you were patient, encouraging, and the model coach. From her perspective, you told her you didn’t understand how she could go any slower, told her you didn’t understand why she thought it was so hard, I mean all she had to do was just pedal over that log. Then you added icing to the cake when you didn’t hide your laugh well enough after she fell over in the road because she couldn’t get her foot out of those stupid clipless pedals you insisted were “easy” and “beneficial”. No it hasn’t? Well, you sir and your lady, are a very lucky couple!
Now, before my cycling comrades get the wrong impression that I’m being unfair, STOP! Yes, some people were born natural athletes. They have a running stride like a cheetah, a bicycle pedal stroke as fluid as the earth’s rotation, and I for one am envious of their natural abilities. However, I have never been one of those people. My natural running stride sounds like a herd of elephants, and my natural pedal stroke is actually a square. I have many scars from my entry into cycling, particularly mountain biking, but I wouldn’t trade those scars for anything. I may, however, trade in a few unpleasant circumstances of digging rocks from wounds or incessantly scrubbing what I thought were rocks, but were actually flesh that looked like it had been through a meat grinder! Therefore, my intent is to share my experiences and hopefully help others avoid the not so pretty ones.
How do we avoid these not so pleasant cycling beginnings? How do we make sure that she gets hooked on cycling for life? First we have to ask the question of why you do want to get her into cycling? Well, cycling chicks are cool…bonus, cycling keeps you in shape…double bonus, and it would be super cool to be able to spend some quality time with your girl and hit the trails at the same time! Ding, ding, ding! This last statement is the reason you want to get her into cycling for life. Remember this, even if you are waiting for her at the top of a climb or trying to keep up with her because she has surpassed you in both speed and skill.
When you invite your friend out to the trails, always remember that your intent is to spend time with her. It is NOT to squeeze in the ever important training ride, or to try out that newest super technical trail. This eliminates the expectations of speed, eliminates the coaching that can be interpreted as criticism, as well as other possible frustrations for both parties. If she doesn’t have a bike, rent her preferably a quality bicycle from a local bicycle shop or even hit up a demo day. That way, when she goes on her first ride, she’s on a quality bike that isn’t going to give her problems or have mechanical issues.
Now that you’re on you first ride together let her set the pace, and just enjoy the feeling of cycling with someone you enjoy being around. If she is only comfortable on beginner trails, don’t attempt to talk her into intermediate trails. This is only her first or maybe second ride! As she’s having the time of her life, she may ask you for tips. Now you may give her advice, however, don’t tell her she is doing it wrong, but rather ASK her to try it this way, and then ask her if your tip made it easier. If it doesn’t work for her, assure her that it’s ok because all people ride and learn differently. As you spend your day, cheer on her successes, be concerned over the falls, and most importantly have fun while you’re doing it.
The day is now over, she had a great time and wants to ride again. Now what? Find a bicycle shop or club that has female cyclists or women oriented rides and clinics. Take her into those shops or on one of the club rides and introduce her. No you aren’t pawning her off, but you also can’t give her the same first hand knowledge and advice of female saddles, bikes, or clothing that a woman can. It is often easier to take advice or coaching from a person other than your dad, brother, or significant other. Not to mention, the more people she knows in the cycling arena, the more likely she will enjoy it and ride more. You may have read this and thought, I don’t want to baby her to get her into cycling. Of course you don’t, and sometimes it’s very beneficial to learn things the hard way. However, I do believe that giving someone the right tools and resources increase their chance for success and fun! So, why not avoid those possible uncomfortable situations and be the reason she became a cyclist for life!