A mountain biker fresh off a ride is easy to spot. They’ll have dusty riding clothes, and they might be sporting a gash or two on the odd patch of exposed skin. They’re off-road riders. They relish downhill rides, dirt paths, and a forest canopy above.
What used to be a male-dominated sport now includes all genders as more and more women saddle-up and stick around.
“When I started, girls who rode, rode because their dads took them out, or their brother or boyfriend. They got into it because of guys. Luckily some of us stuck with it,” says Kate Sparling, part of the team behind Collingwood Off Road Coalition.
Sparling says the landscape of mountain biking, both locally and internationally, is much more inclusive now.
“It makes me happy to see that women are getting stronger within the sport. There are more women picking up a bike, even just for fun,” says Sparling.
She says it’s awesome, but is a little bit jealous.
Sparling reminisces about her introduction to the sport, the abundance of tears and amount of times she wanted to give up. But it was too late, she fell in love with the thrill of it.
“I think about how different it would feel to start out riding with a bunch of girls. There’s a sense of safety and support, and a lack of pressure. It’s a different vibe,” says Sparling.
“But it made me a very strong cyclist,” she continues. “I’ve been very lucky to have had a group of guys who really brought me along through the sport.”
Sparling, along with her husband and a group of their friends, established CORC while sitting around the dining table one evening.
CORC is designed to help instil a sense of community for mountain bikers in the Collingwood area. The coalition encourages you to bring the family, make friends and find riding partners, and focuses on the enjoyment of mountain biking without the competition. Sparling says they hope to bring the “apres-mentality” to the biking community.
Charlotte Batty admires the community feel of the sport as well. Batty was also introduced to mountain biking by the men in her life.
The youngest of four, it was almost a given she would follow her older siblings and join the race team her father created.
Batty raced until she was 18 before deciding to retire from the competition.
When Batty moved to Collingwood, she fell more in love with the coaching and guiding side of things. She started working at the Blue Mountain Bike Park and obtained her professional instructor training.
It wasn’t long before she realized there was a growing number of women interested in the sport, so she started a Wednesday night ride for women. Batty now owns and operates Minii Adventures, where her mission is to provide educational mountain bike experiences for groups and individuals of all skill levels.
Like CORC, Batty focuses on the inclusivity of the sport. While she continually advocates for more women to join the bike community, the majority of her events are co-ed.
And it really is all-inclusive. Sparling says the most important thing is to find whoever supports you along the way and stick with them.
“I truly believe support from women in cycling is important, but there are guys there too who are super supportive and shouldn’t be discounted. I wouldn’t still be in this sport if it weren’t for those guys and their patience with me,” says Sparling.
Both Sparling and Batty have high hopes for the future of mountain biking in the area.
While Batty continues to grow Minii Adventures and engage with the mountain bike community at a larger scale, Sparling has hopes to bring a women’s mountain biking festival to South Georgian Bay.
The two women want to keep the spirit of the sport alive, because for them it’s more than a sport. It’s their sanity.
“There is nothing better than going out after a crappy day at work. You go ride your bike for an hour and you’re a different person at the end of it,” says Sparling.
“I don’t do it just as a sport anymore,” she says. “It’s good for me mentally and emotionally, it’s good for the soul.”
When Batty comes across an obstacle she don’t know how to tackle, she simply stops and breaks it down. Batty will work through the problem until she finds a way to overcome it.
“You have to recognize the bigger picture but take baby steps to divide and conquer. I think it’s a big metaphor for a lot of life,” says Batty.
For Sparling, it’s all for her children.
“Five years ago I might have said it’s the intensity... the personal challenge. But now I just love that it’s a multigenerational sport I can share with my kids,” she says. “We hope to create a legacy so when my kids are grown up, they are still riding with their friends.”