Ride Like A Grrl was originally planned to give women a chance to race mountain bikes in a friendly and welcoming environment. We organised coaching sessions in the area so that the girls could gain confidence before the event. We wanted the race to cater for both ends of the racing spectrum – first timers and high-end racers.
After the first Ride Like A Grrl event in September 2012, we got together and decided that a womens-only club would be hugely beneficial to the area and so Petal Power was formed. The club aims to provide skills coaching and led rides on local mountain bike trails. The biggest aim for us was to provide a supportive environment for women who are keen to mountain bike and prefer the vibe of riding with other girls.
The Ride Like a Grrl event was originally set up as a charitable fundraising event. Katrina had spent time in Norway, and there is a women’s event over there which is really popular and almost like an institution with women mountain bikers. She came back to us and we thought it must be possible to organise a women’s mountain bike event here with the same success. The first year we ran the event with the help of Cairngorm Mountain Bikers Club.
The first race was held in September 2012, and we had 100 women sign up. We had thought it would be a small-scale event and that we’d have to drag all our friends and family out to try and make up the numbers! Ride Like A Grrl caters for all ends of the biking spectrum, with the ‘Adventure’ route for women who want to have a go, and are maybe more of a beginner level. There is also the ‘Epic’ route, where women up to Elite level will take part and be the positive role models for the newer cyclists.
We originally planned to run the event every two years, but there was so much demand that it’s become an annual event.
After the first event we realised that there were so many women in Aviemore, the Spey Valley and, even, across Scotland who were keen, fit and active and wanted to participate in mountain biking in a structured way but didn’t necessarily wish to join clubs which are primarily male dominated and have a tendency to be very competitive in nature. We decided, after careful research and planning, to set up Petal Power as a club to cater to the needs of female mountain bikers in the Strathspey region. The club was formed in March 2013, we held the second Ride Like a Grrl event in September 2013 and even though we expanded the number of participants eligible to enter we still managed to sell out all 150 places!
The Ride Like a Grrl event was aimed at any woman who wanted to have a shot at mountain bike racing. We had two race loops – a shorter one for beginners and a longer circuit for the more experienced racers. This allowed us to cater for all levels of mountain bikers, from novices right up to those already competing at a high level. This has really been a successful part of the race, and the club, as the more experiences girls can help support, coach, and most importantly, inspire, those who are just starting out on their mountain biking pathway.
The club, Petal Power, was aimed at a similar demographic. We wanted to make sure that we were not seen to be exclusively for total beginners which would mean that experienced, faster women wouldn’t want to join for fear of rides being ‘boring’. Equally, we wanted to make sure that we were not perceived as a group of ‘racers’ who only did longer, faster rides. The biggest thing that we wanted to offer was a supportive environment to allow women to discover mountain biking and gain confidence as their skills improved.
We put a lot of time into researching the idea for a new club. We wanted to make sure that we were doing the right thing and that a new cycling club would be beneficial to the area and cyclists within it. We did consider creating a new arm within an existing club, but in the end we realised that there was enough demand for a stand alone club.Back
Our first step in setting up the Petal Power club was to approach the Community Sports Hub in Aviemore and our Scottish Cycling Regional Development Officer (SC-RDO) for the Highlands. With the help of those two groups we were able to plan for the club launch and make sure we had all the correct processes in place to ensure that the club was sustainable.
Sophie, our SC-RDO was a great help in setting up the club. She attended our committee meetings, helped with all the paperwork including creating a club constitution, and most importantly, helped us write a 5-year development plan.
The plan has meant that we’re organised and know what we aim to do each year – it’s more to stop us getting over-excited and carried away more than anything!
We launched at a ‘Come and Try’ event at the Community Sports Hub in Aviemore in March 2013. There was bike riding taster sessions and lots of cake, which has become a bit of a theme with the club! We had really prepared how to sell the club to potential members, we wanted to make sure that there was something tangible at the event so that people knew exactly what they’d get for their membership fee. We had a calendar of social events so that people could see all that we’d planned and could already plan bike rides when they joined the club. The target has been to have 50 members by the end of the first year of the club – forty people signed up on the first day alone! We ended up with over 90 members.
The success of the club just blew us away.
We were really keen to make sure that we involved the local community and by working with the Community Sports Hub we were able to launch the club from there. The Ride Like A Grrl event runs out of the Outdoor Centre, where we have good contacts to help us put on the event. Originally, the event was designed to be a fundraiser for the Outdoor Centre, to help their Charitable Trust which works to get disadvantaged children outdoors. We also gave £1 per rider to the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust (COAT) to support the work they do maintaining and expanding the trail network across the Cairngorms.
Working with local landowners and building those relationships is very important to us. Ride Like A Grrl passes through many different landowners land, and we made a real effort to ensure that we cleared all litter. We always aim to ensure that the club earns a good reputation by acting as responsible mountain bikers. We got really good feedback after Ride Like A Grrl that it was well organised and had considered both the context of the environment and the local community. We think these aspects of the event are very important and helped gain the trust and build good relationships.
We were lucky to source Communities 2014 Funding, which helped us to set up the club. We also had a match funded grant from the Sports Council which allowed us to purchase equipment.
Membership of Petal Power is £15 a year, and we don’t charge per ride, however we do charge a modest amount for skills coaching to ensure that our coaches skills are valued (and so as not to undermine local tutors).
The first year we ran the Ride Like A Grrl event, we wanted to make sure it was cheap to enter, however we hadn’t banked on a lot of the costs which crept up in the second year. We learnt a lot from that to ensure that the event is properly budgeted so it doesn’t become a drain on the club.Back
Ride like a Grrl was a complete success story! Both years we have managed to sell out all the places available in the race, which was really pleasing for us. In the first year we had 100 women racing, and in the second year 150 women took part! We had a lot of positive feedback on the format of the event, the coaching days leading up to it, the welcoming atmosphere and the course.
In the club, Petal Power, we now have 90 members. Most of our members come from the Strathspey area, though we do have members who come from Inverness, Moray, Fife and Dundee.
On the committee of Petal Power, we’ve got a really good spread of skills, and all our committee members bring something different to the table. We have a strong network of connections to draw on for help and support, and found that in the committee we had the knowledge and skills to write a funding bid and design a website.
We made sure that we spent the first six months solely focussing on setting up the club, before we invited members, in which time we set up the bank account, sourced funding and wrote out club development plan. It was a lot easier to do all of these larger tasks, without having to worry about the day-to-day running of a club. Now the club is extremely sustainable as we have a committee with 10 members, allowing us to spread the workload and allow people to progress in their committee roles.
Petal Power, as a club, want to ensure that there is good progression in the committee roles, and that new members come in to help with the running of the club, and primarily the Ride Like A Grrl event. Ride Like A Grrl takes quite a bit of organisation, though now that we’ve run two events it’s getting easier. We want to allow the club members to take over the running of the event, with our support and input, and club members seem keen to do this.
We are quite an interactive club, and like to get feedback from our members, and also to pass plenty of information out to our club members. This allows the membership to understand the aims of the club, and for us to manage expectations. Having the development plan in place means that when members join Petal Power we can show them that and say, this is the direction the club is going in.
The ethos in the club is to create a supportive environment for all women to develop their skills, whatever level they may be at. There’s an intangible feeling that permeates through the whole club and it’s that everyone has some skill that they can do, and everyone can try everything.
Finally, we try to make sure that mountain bike rides end up in a café. In Aviemore we not only have the best mountain bike trails, we also have the best cake! We’re lucky to be surrounded by great cafes, which are all so tolerant of muddy mountain bikers.
The Ride Like A Grrl race was a brilliant success, far more than we had ever imagined. Selling out the places was, obviously, great, but the feedback that we got after the event from the women who took part was the best endorsement we could ask for. Women came along who had never taken part in a race before and were able to have a go at mountain biking, and now have the confidence to take part in other events. It was important to ensure that we had plenty of prizes, so that while the podium winners were recognised for their success, it was not an elitist race, and girls could win prizes for the best ‘race-face’ or the best outfit. We were also praised on the atmosphere at the event, where one of the marshalls told us that they had “never seen a race with so much smiling in all my life!”.
Our particular success, and by the same token, the most unique aspect of Ride Like A Grrl is that it’s women leading other women. That makes a big difference in encouraging all levels of women to join the club as women of all levels can find riding with men quite intimidating. We offer courses for everyone – from beginner right up to Elite level, and that’s very important. For the club to be a success, we have to have inspiring women who are highly proficient on their mountain bikes, and to retain these women in our club, we have to have rides for girls with higher abilities and top-level courses. These women then inspire beginners to give it a go, as they are role models, which is something you cannot achieve by riding simply with men. We have female UKCC Level 2 coaches, Trail Cycle Leaders and Mountain Bike Leaders who can all take out groups and up-skill our club members. That’s not to say that we’re all anti-men – we wouldn’t have this club if it wasn’t for our partners at home who can look after the kids and support women’s mountain biking!
Overall it’s about the sense of belonging that you get from riding mountain bikes with other women. At the end of the day, we’re not trying to dumb down mountain biking, just make it open, welcoming and accessible to all women.Back
For other people looking to set up a cycling club, we would strongly advise contacting your Scottish Cycling Regional Development Officer. With the help from Sophie who had a wealth of knowledge we were able to develop a club which was well managed and sustainable. Setting up the club was a lot easier with our 5-year development plan, as it gave us a sense of direction and a focus. It was a big task to pull it together, but it’s proving invaluable through founding the club and the day to day running of the club.
We would also recommend setting up a bank account early on, we learnt the hard way that funding can take a long time to come through, even after it has been accepted. We would also advise setting up committee emails early on, you don’t want everyone email to your personal account. Also, make sure that emails are set up with generic titles such as ‘secretary@...’ or ‘membership@...’ as we’ve had a couple of occasions where women have moved on and we’ve had to change names on emails.
We put a strong emphasis on the fun side of being on the club committee, we don’t want people to feel like it’s a chore. On that note, we always make sure that committee meetings run to time – and that there’s always some cake at meetings!
Our biggest recommendation though would be to just do it! It’s hard work to set up and maintain a cycling club, especially with an annual event, but it’s well worth it!
The basis for Petal Power is the development plan which we wrote with the help of our Scottish Cycling RDO. In future years, we will be sticking to the development plan to ensure that future growth is well thought out and sustainable.
We have lots of ideas for different ideas to keep bringing new things to club members, for example we’re going to have a film night for women and their families and we’d like to organise a weekend away with mountain biking and camping.
As the current committee, we’d like to pass the running of the event to the club so that we can focus on developing the club. We want the club to stay fresh and new, with new committee members coming in and allowing progression. As with mountain biking, we want to give women the confidence that they can come onto the committee of a cycling club, or organise an event and be successful at it.
Our next step, according to the development plan, is to expand to include junior riders. We want to include juniors as they’re the future of the sport, and by developing their skills we will inspire the next generation of riders. However, we need to ensure that we do it correctly, as, for a lot of women, the club is a chance to get away from their kids at home for a wee bit, and we don’t want to get rid of the feeling of an ‘escape’. We’ll spend the best part of this year working out how we set up and develop a junior section, much like we did to set up the club originally, we’ll be looking at the demand, existing provision, impact on Petal Power, there’s a lot to consider.Back