By Ange Gagnon
I’ve heard about the Ride Like a Girl at the Wheel Mill for a few years,but this was the first year that I actually had the nerve to pursue it. After years as a bike commuter, I’ve decided that this is my year to learn how to mountain bike. Of course, I made this decision right as winter hit, but some of my fellow lady bikers clued me in that the Wheel Mill is a good place to start learning.
The Wheel Mill is an 80,000 foot indoor bike park filled with eight rooms of ramps and trails in an old warehouse in good-old Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ride Like a Girl is a weekend event geared toward women who ride BMX and mountain bikes. I was already interested in going but when I read the list of instructors I was floored; Carley Young, Kathi Krause, Cory Coffey, Nina Buitrago, Karen Brooks, and Hillary Marques. If none of these names sound familiar to you, Google any of them. They are all pioneers in cycling and will blow you away.
Leading up to the weekend of instruction, riding the Wheel Mill with fearless eight-year-olds has been the kick in the ass I needed to start this endeavor. They are fearless dropping into ramps like no one’s business, so I did the same. It was a great month full of lots of screams, fun and bruises. So, when I heard about Ride Like a Girl I figured that it was just the opportunity to actually learn some skills that might help my daughter and me with our riding.
There had been a snowstorm the night before, so the day started with digging out the car. By the time we got there for the 7:00AM start we discovered that 72 other ladies had done the exact same thing and were excited to start riding. The building was full of women of all ages ranging from 6 to 60 years old. Some of us hadn’t ridden a bike in 25+ years, some were just starting out and some were old pros.
We were signed up for Fundamental Skills, Cornering and Drops and Rises. In our first class we met an array of ladies, including a mother and friend who brought their three daughters from Atlanta. They were all on BMX bikes while my daughter and I were on mountain bikes. Despite the bike differences, the mixed classes went well.
The day was filled with tons of information, stories and mini triumphs. My ah-ha! moment came as we rode into our last class. There is a room in the back of the warehouse that houses a pump track and the beginner jump line. The pump track is very approachable but the jumps have intimidated me since the day I walked into the place.
In jump line encircles a mountain bike skills zone; logs, drops and turns made from reclaimed lumber. As I waited for my turn, I found myself being drawn to the jumpers around us. Then I gasped as I saw the Atlanta crew riding the jumps. At the end of day I ran up to her to tell her how impressed I was that they were doing the jump track. Before I could say a word she yelled out in excitement, “Oh my God, I saw you and your daughter doing the mountain biking track, that was so impressive!” I followed with “ Holy shit, I can’t believe you and your daughters were doing that jump track, Im so intimidated by that!” She continued that the track she was doing was just fun but the one we were doing took skill. Even though I totally don’t agree with her, it was a great lesson that as long as you are out there doing something, people are watching and you are inspiring them just as they are inspiring you. I feel like that was what the experience was about for a lot of the ladies there; support, ups, downs and triumphs!
We were only able to attend one day of workshops but were completely blown away with how wonderful, excited and open everyone was to be there. The instructors were so supportive and enthusiastic, I’m so thankful that this happens in Pittsburgh. Come next year! Don’t be intimidated like I was, there is no reason to feel that way. If you can’t wait until next year, come on out to Ladies Night at the Wheel Mill on Monday nights. Oh yeah, the next time I’m there, I’m riding the jump line.
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