By staying home, I missed both the Midwest Women's Mountain Bike Clinic and the DINO race in Ft. Wayne. It all goes back to a few months ago when the organizer of the women's clinic asked for volunteers. As soon as I saw the date, I wondered if she knew it was the same day as a DINO race. After a few more requests for help, it became obvious that she knew and just didn't care. It's not that a DINO race is soooo important that girls who race wouldn't be willing to miss it for a good cause (and I think some did), but I thought it was kind of rude of the organizer, who doesn't race, to completely not acknowledge that racing is important to people who race and politely ask us to make a sacrifice to help out.
This is the first time I have spoken out publicly about this topic. Until now, I have simply not replied to any request or forum thread and kept my feelings to myself. It seems like there is already enough friction between the racers and the non-racers in the mountain bike world, and being the self-absorbed racer that I am, I'd rather just stay out it.
I think my approach has been good, in general, but I still feel a bit guilty because it's not really about my feelings, or those of the clinic organizer; it's about helping women who want to mountain bike get better. Part of the problem is that I was so into advocating women's mountain biking my first couple of years, only to have my efforts run into a brick wall, that I gave up and decided just to worry about myself. Which is what I did today.
I still don't know if clinics, etc. do that much good in increasing long-term female participation in the sport. Sure, participation is increasing, but I think it's a side-effect to the rapid growth of cyclocross. 'Cross is relatively safe and unintimidating to a new racer, and now some of the girls who started with cross are spilling over into other disciplines. It's pretty much the marijuana of cycling. In the end, it seems like the girls who really want to become good mountain bikers will find a way and the ones who aren't so committed will fall away no matter how much encouragement they get.
So what would I have taught if I'd decided to help with the clinic? I'm not sure that I would have been that great of an instructor, but I felt like writing down some mountain bike lessons that I've learned along the way that I wish someone had pointed out sooner.
1. I raced almost an entire season before learning about getting out of the saddle in the "attack" position for descents. I just kind of figured out how it was supposed to be done after a few months of watching other people. When I finally decided to try it, I started on the straightest, shallowest downhill I could find, and pretty much death-gripped the saddle with my thighs.
2. Once I was willing to loosen my death grip, I realized that all of the drops that I was afraid of weren't so bad if I would lean back behind the saddle. Adam told me this when I first started riding, but the problem was that I had to learn to get out of the saddle to get behind it. Oops.
3. After about a year and a half, I ran into Sally Marchard Collins at Brown County one evening and she ended up giving me a lesson on counter-steering so that I could corner faster. I spent quite some time trying to copy the move at low speed, but despite all of my slow-mo "stay upright and tilt the bike towards your outer thigh" practice, I never officially got it. I think some of it eventually absorbed and I'm pretty sure I do it now without trying. I still can't do it when I try.
4. When descending, keep your middle and index fingers ready on the brakes and grip your bars with your ring and pinky fingers. I actually raced two seasons before figuring that one out. I used to put all four fingers on the brakes, but then I had a nasty crash when my hand bounced off the bar on a high-speed descent. Not long after that, I was looking at pictures in Velonews and observed the correct hand position from the racers in the magazine. I didn't crash hard again until the Brown County race a couple of weeks ago.
5. Finally, it is easier to straight over a rock or root, even if it is a bigger bump for your front tire. I first realized this at the Ouachita Challenge, and it was confirmed at the Brown County race when the girl in front of me was trying to steer around everything and going so slow.
After reaching this conclusion, I really don't understand the idea that new riders should start out on a hardtail because it will help them "learn to pick lines better". It seems to me that usually what appears to be the harder line is a actually the better one, and having a full-suspension to help you through it isn't going to impede your progress.
Of course, regardless of the type of bike one is riding, it's always better to learn to roll over stuff in a technically correct manner. I still don't think I have this one down. Instead of popping my tire and putting it where I want it, I kind of "monster truck" over stuff. It's kind of amazing how far I've gotten using this technique, but I will probably never be able to do this with it:
From www.sonyalooney.missingsaddle.com. Very cool picture.