Authored by 2022 Kaden Ambassador Madison Rossen
Volunteering can be one of the most rewarding experiences for those who are able to do it. The why, how, and when someone gets into volunteering is always an individual journey. I’d like to share my journey into volunteering, my experience hosting a bike camp, and share some tips for others looking to get involved:
What inspired me:
When I first started mountain biking, I struggled to feel included. I quickly realized how few women mountain biked in the East Bay (part of the San Francisco Bay Area) and how the group of girls my age was even smaller. I did not feel welcomed into the local cycling community and felt like I had to push my way in. I went to a few of the local girls' rides but discovered I was often the youngest by around twenty or so years. I was able to eventually join a team where I felt included by coaches and teammates alike and have ever since been thankful to those people. Although challenging, not feeling welcomed into the community initially and struggling to find other girls my age to ride with has encouraged me to help others feel included. Since I started mountain biking, there has been an increase in women participants. However, in the Bay Area specifically there is still only a small group of female mountain bikers between the ages of 5 and 20. Because of that disparity, I have made it my goal to help these girls feel welcome in cycling.
How I started volunteering:
A few summers ago, I was able to find a summer coaching job in the Bay Area. I taught kids basic bike maintenance, bike body positioning, and took them on local trails. Over the course of the summer, I coached around 80 kids between the ages of 8-14, of which, only 3 of them were girls. I knew there was a gap that needed to be filled but wasn't sure how to go about it. I then moved to Bellingham, WA and found a girls' bike club called the Flying Squirrels which helps get girls grades 2-5 out mountain biking. I volunteered for them and after a few seasons I gained the confidence to create a girls’ week back in the Bay Area with the help of two local non-profits called Bay Area Bike Project and Wheel Kids.
How to find a local group to ride or volunteer with:
Talk to bike shops: Many bike shops already work with local cycling groups and sometimes they host their own women’s/group rides.
Search online: Search for local nonprofits to volunteer with (or ride with!). In my experience, even if a bike club or group is not actively advertising that they need volunteers, they are often grateful for the help. I have not found a group yet that has said no to me volunteering for them.
Check with your local NICA chapter: NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) runs races for kids and works to get more kids on bikes. Coaches for NICA are volunteers and oftentimes teams are more than happy to have new volunteers join. Contact local high schools/middle schools to see they have a mountain bike team you can volunteer with. I have also found that some of these teams don’t have a website but can be found on Facebook or Instagram.
Create your own ride: Bike shops are often happy to be a meeting place for group rides to depart from. They are also happy to spread the word to others (and maybe even post on social media). Talk to your local bike shop and plan a day for a women's or group ride.
My takeaways from organizing a week long girls’ mountain bike camp:
The community wants to help - especially bike shops: The camp was able to get donations of frozen yogurt and pizza as well as bike maintenance clinics from local organizations.
Advertise early and be mindful of who you are advertising to: The most challenging part for me was getting the word out. I found it especially difficult because the camp was for girls aged 9-14 so I couldn't just post it on social media as many of these girls don’t have social media. Instead, I put up posters in bike shops, ice cream shops, and posted on local Facebook groups. If allowed, advertising at schools would be beneficial too.
People will show up: A fear of mine when planning the camp was that there might not be enough interested girls in the area who wanted to mountain bike and the camp would be a flop. However, I quickly found out that, like myself, when I just started mountain biking, there were a lot of girls out there who love mountain biking but just haven’t found other girls to ride with. Almost every girl in the camp had never ridden with another girl her own age.
Have a “next step”: A big goal of mine for the camp was to create a space for younger girls within the mountain bike community. I wanted the camp to be the beginning of this community/group but I was worried that once the camp was over that the girls would never see each other again and have trouble finding other girls their age to ride with. I tried to combat this by telling the girls and their parents about local middle school NICA teams. This gave the girls a group to ride with once the camp was over.
It's so fun!: It is awesome to get to ride with new people and watch them improve and find a love for mountain biking over the course of a week. It's also amazing to watch younger girls encourage each other and push each other to become better riders.
If you’re able and interested in volunteering, don’t hesitate to get involved! It is immensely rewarding and an experience you will remember long after it’s over.