Life lessons through MTB

Nikki Hayward of Trail Angels has nursed many a rider from screaming with fear to shouting with enjoyment, from battling up small hills to competing in races, from just living to self-actualization, here are her tips for getting more confident yourself and gaining more out of mountain biking than just fitness and fun.

Seeing someone hardly being able to get on their bike and shivering with fear to three months later having the confidence to tackle singletracks rides that would normally be aimed at experienced mountain bikers only is exceptionally rewarding for skill coaches. That is what we do at Trail Angels; it is a life changing experience, because the improvement in your riding flows over into every other part of your life.

Here are some great lessons that I’ve learnt through coaching the girls (and they apply beyond mountain biking too):

  1. Confidence and believing “I can” goes a long way.
  2. Realizing that commitment, perseverance, determination and grit produce results.
  3. Feeling alive by living in the moment while riding the singletracks is amazing.
  4. Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone and believe you are going to survive the experience.
  5. Always expect the unexpected and you will never be disappointed.

When I started riding on the mountain in 2006 I was one of the few women training in Tokai forest. It was a very male dominated sport with the races on offer aimed largely at men. They were marketed as tough, hardcore, events for the male population. The odd female cyclist was seen as a crazy adrenalin seeking woman. However in the last eight years the ratio of women to men mountain bikers has increased so much. Nowadays the mountain is full of ladies, and we enjoy every moment.


So what has led to the increase in female mountain bikers? Mountain biking is one of the fastest growing sports amongst women. Over the last few years many more family friendly races, with kiddies’ distances and less tough billing, have been added to the MTB calendar. This has led to more women participating in the sport. There are also a few ladies specific races where women can participate without any pressure from men on the trails.

Many of the multiday stage races offer the opportunity for couples to ride as a team, in a mixed category. This has encouraged women to participate with their partners and it’s not just in racing where couples spend time together on the bike, it’s a great excuse to train together too.

Overcoming Obstacles

Having worked with women riders for the past two years, I have made some interesting observations as to what their fears and worries are with regards mountain biking. A large percentage fear falling and hurting themselves as they lack the skills needed for mountain biking. Many women also find it really hard to step out of their comfort zone and mountain biking surely does provide a platform to do this! Also quite a few women don’t have anyone that they can ride with on a regular basis. Their husbands/partners put too much pressure on them during the ride and they end up feeling inadequate and despondent. Taking all of the above into consideration, I found there was a massive need to provide a facility for women to get involved in the sport from an entry level.

So… two years ago Trail Angels was conceptualized. We operate out of the Trail and Tar bike shop in Tokai. I started out by taking a group of about six girls on an hour ride once a week. Through word of mouth the group has grown to offer six rides a week to more than 40 ladies (and it keeps growing). We are a group of like-minded women looking to enjoy mountain biking on a regular basis during the week and we offer a variety of rides from beginners through to advanced riders.

We’ve found it’s essential to offer a non-competitive environment where everyone feels confident to ride at their own pace without feeling any peer pressure. And being part of a group motivates women to ride regularly. It has been a huge eye opener for me to see how mountain biking has not only been a physical journey for the ladies, but it has opened their minds to realize that there are many life lessons to be learned through mountain biking.

Nikki Photo

I can honestly say that I feel very privileged to be a part of every woman’s journey who has joined the Trail Angels. I have seen incredible growth in both mind and body amongst the women. For most of them it has been a life changing experience. Some women ride for fun, some for fitness, for comradery, to improve skills, to feed their soul, to train for an upcoming event… and so the list continues.

It is up to us recreational riders, weekend warriors and amateur racers to make everyone stand up and notice the impact women are having on the sport of mountain biking and the impact the sport of mountain biking has on women.

Promote your Cycling Group with Full Sus

Full Sus would like to offer our services as a platform to promote your social cycling group. Drop us an email to with your group’s name, the town you’re active in, the days you ride and a link to the group’s Facebook page or website and we’ll put together a directory for our readers.


Nikki Haywood is passionate about encouraging women to mountain bike. With a degree in Sports Science, four Cape Epics done and dusted and the owner of a popular Pilates Studio and a Ladies Mountain Biking group called “Trail Angels”, she really thrives on seeing what a positive impact exercise can have on women’s lives.

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