For Alyson Chapman of Saratoga Springs, there is nothing quite like hearing “the sound of girls really enjoying biking; cheering and shouting for each other” at a Saratoga Shredders ride.
The Shredders, a mountain biking club, will hold a skills clinic Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Saratoga Spa State Park. Capped at 20 participants, the clinic costs $50, and is open to girls of any age and mountain biking experience level.
The session will be built around five 15 minute stations, which Chapman said will focus on skills such as “balancing on your bike, braking on all sorts of terrain, and maneuvering in tight corners.” At the end of the clinic, the riders and mentors will come together to demonstrate the skills they have learned, and practice on obstacles like see-saws and raised planks.
The Shredders held two other clinics this spring
Chapman got started as a mentor for the Shredders when she moved to Saratoga in 2018. She recalled going to the bike store for a tune-up, and hearing about the local mountain biking groups, including the Shredders. From there, she jumped into serving as a mentor.
Mentors are volunteer female riders who lead groups of girls at the skills clinics and twice-weekly evening rides.
Last spring, Chapman, along with Shredders founder Anna Laloë, attended a National Interscholastic Cycling Association training. The training “gave us a lot of safety tips, and things to look out for,” Chapman said. “Riding with girls is a different ballgame both safety-wise and emotionally.”
While Chapman began biking as a child in the English countryside, Laloë has been competitively mountain biking for about eight years. Laloë recalled showing up to races, “and there would maybe be one or two other women on the start line with me. That’s ridiculous.”
Laloë started the all-girls mountain biking group in 2018 when her two young daughters were getting bored of riding just the three of them. “They wanted to ride with their friends,” she said. So, Laloë printed up business cards for her daughters to hand out at school, in hopes of recruiting some of their classmates to ride with them.
From the initial circle of 10 to15 girls in 2018, the group has expanded to include over 200 registered riders. Anywhere between 100 and 120 girls show up to a typical week-night ride. Laloë said, “especially because mountain biking has always been sort of a fringe sport, it’s exciting that [the interest] is clearly here to stay.”
All of the Shredders’ spring 2021 group rides are free, though a donation of $50 is suggested for girls attending the full eight-week, 16 ride program. The rides take place every Tuesday and Friday from 5 to 6:30 p.m., alternating between Saratoga Spa State Park, Luther Forest, and Kalabus Perry.
Chapman said she adjusts her work schedule, as a nurse, around mentoring for the Shredders twice a week. This spring, she has been working with the “caddisflies,” or a group of younger intermediate riders. Other groups for beginner and advanced riders have names such as “mayflies” and “hoverflies.”
Laloë’s 11-year-old daughter, Anne-Sophie, explained “I like Saratoga Shredders because I like biking with my friends.” She added, “I like riding in the woods, and the mentors encourage me to try new things.”
Eight-year-old rider Naomi Curtis agreed with Anne-Sophie: “I can be in the woods, doing drops, bridges, and logs,” and “my mentor teaches me new skills and makes me happy.”
COVID forced restrictions on many of the activities kids typically participate in. Luckily for the Saratoga Shredders, though, Laloë said “cycling is naturally socially distanced,” so it has been simple to keep kids properly spaced apart while they are on their bikes. The Shredders’ ability to safely practice when many other sports could not produced a huge increase in membership.
Laloë hopes to keep this momentum going forward by expanding the Shredders to “a couple of hubs of girls mountain biking groups in the Capital Region,” because there are “so many trail systems around, women willing to volunteer, and kids wanting to get outside.”
Looking ahead to the more immediate future, they will be holding eight sessions of summer camp (both all-girls and coed), beginning on July 5. The camps are open to kids aged 5 to 14, and will be held at a variety of trail systems across the Capital Region.
Though the recent growth and expansion has been exciting, more than anything else, Chapman said she hopes that the Shredders “empower girls [to see] that they have as many skills and as much of a right to be on a bike as the other sex,” and encourage them to continue riding “to retirement age and beyond.”