It started as a one-off training session to teach a group of women — originally a hiking group — how to mountain bike.
Six weeks later, it’s morphed into a weekly ride through the trails at the Mark Arendz Provincial Park, organized by Cycle P.E.I. They’re adding new members each week, as more and more women look to enter the sport.
“It just made sense that we give this a try because we want to push the envelope a little bit,” said Anne Worth, a regular member of the group who had never mountain biked before.
The group meets every Wednesday night at the park, and coats themselves in bug spray before setting off through the winding wooded trails. Cycle P.E.I. provides bikes and it’s free to try.
If people like it and want to continue, they are asked to become members of Cycle P.E.I., which costs $40 annually.
Cycle P.E.I. executive director Mike Connolly said the group started with about 10 people and has grown to more than 30.
“Once the word got out, we were inundated with requests for the program,” said Connolly.
“It’s just exploded.”
‘Safe’ place to learn
For those brand new to the sport, free training is offered. The group rides together and stops for breaks, making sure not to leave anyone behind.
Worth said the program is appealing for women who want to try something new without the pressure of having to keep up with faster riders.
“People feel really safe, really comfortable, learning together,” said Worth.
“We’re quite a chatty group. We help support each other as we’re learning. I find it very encouraging.”
After, there are snacks and drinks and the promise to meet next week.
Connolly said the goal is to eventually have the ride led and run by women. He said the women’s-only aspect is key to drawing new people out.
In the past, Connolly said, women have avoided the male-dominated sport because they found the atmosphere intimidating.
“That just turns off people that are true beginners and they don’t end up coming back, which is very unfortunate,” said Connolly.
Part of the draw is the quality of the trails on P.E.I., riders at the Wednesday night group told CBC. The paths are well-maintained and free of hazards.
Justin Ellis, of Meridian 63, a company that offers mountain bike tours, said the parking lot at the Mark Arendz park is full nearly every night now. And with COVID-19 restrictions slowing tourism, Ellis said he’s started catering more to beginners, offering more learn-to-ride programs. And he can barely keep up.
“There are more people wanting lessons than we have instructors,” he told CBC.
The trend is being seen right across the Maritimes, with more mountain bike tour companies offering women-specific programming.