NIKKI HAYWOOD joins the FS regulars as our latest ladies columnist. Nikki will be focussing on ladies specific topics.

Nikki Haywood is going to be filling us in on a monthly basis with regards to all things related to women’s cycling from a grass roots level. Dealing with over 100 women cyclists on a weekly basis she is the eyes and ears of what goes down in a group of women cyclists. She herself is an experienced rider of over 10 years having completed four Absa Cape Epics, many W2W and Sani2C’s. She is passionate about what she does with the Trail Angels and will be sharing a lot of what she has learnt from women within the group that might resonate with female cyclists.

The Trail Angels started out five years ago to provide a safe and encouraging environment for women to mountain bike. We now have a club membership of about 100 ladies. These women join the club for various reasons, from improving skills, getting fit,
meeting like-minded women, having fun, belonging to a group that provides a weekly ride schedule of 10 rides from beginners right through to the advanced rider. I have been part of every women’s cycling journey over the last five years and one of the most common traits that everyone brings to their ride is FEAR. That fear starts before they even get onto their bikes.

➤ Fear that they are not even good enough to join the group.

➤ Fear that they might hold the group up.

➤ Fear that the bike they ride isn’t nice enough.

➤ Fear of not knowing anyone in the group.

➤ Fear of falling off their bike.

Having worked in the fitness industry for the last 25 years I have experienced a common trait among women: they struggle to take that first step into trying some kind of new exercise, mountain biking being one of them. The FEAR is big. Once they come on their first ride they are hooked and that initial fear of joining the group is overcome once they meet all the ladies riding in their group and see for themselves that they are with a group of similar level riders and also how welcoming the ladies are. Their first interaction is with Lisa. She is the beginner ride leader, the most encouraging, understanding, patient and fun woman you would want to ride with as a newbie. She starts from the very beginning in teaching the girls basic biking skills and gets them fit to be able to move up to the intermediate riding group within a few months. The ladies go from strength to strength and very soon are on their way to entering their first mountain bike race. This is however not everyone’s goal and that’s what is so awesome about the Trail Angels, it meets all woman’s needs, social and competitive. I remember Lisa’s first ride with the Trail Angels. She kept promising to pitch for her first ride and never did, so the group decided to cycle past her house one day and got her onto her bike for the first time … and the rest is history! So how do we help the ladies to overcome their fears? It’s always interesting to see what the ladies bring to the ride … some are unfit and have no fear. Others are super fit (maybe from a road riding background) but their fears are huge. We have found the only way to deal with this is to start from scratch with skilling them up, taking baby steps when learning a new skill, repetition, repetition, repetition. Building self-confidence, one skill at a time. We have recently changed the name of our Tuesday ride to TECH TUESDAYS. This means that every Tuesday we focus on a particular skill for the first 30 min. This is normally done in the car park. The skill is repeated over and over again. We then go on a shorter ride and bring that skill into the ride. We have found this the best way to upskill the ladies and they are really enjoying seeing the progress and slowly as the FEAR of each skill starts to subside, their confidence improves dramatically, and they really start enjoying their riding. For some the Trail Angels has been a start to transforming their lives off the bike. Mountain biking is so much more than just riding a bike, it teaches you lessons that can be carried through into your day to day lives and that has been one of the most rewarding aspects for me to see … It changes lives!

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