I looked up in time to see Holly O’Brien, one of the women in my pod, ride her mountain bike off a huge boulder, dropping nearly six feet onto a steep, short runout. Both wheels evenly met the dirt and she quickly rolled up the opposing hill, next to where I stood.
“I was too excited to wait!” O’Brien exclaimed, when another rider said she hadn’t started filming with her phone, yet. One by one, two more women flew off the boulder. Cheering each other on, they decided to launch into round two.
I witnessed this high-energy session at Sunset Shred, a nationwide event series of mountain bike meetups for female-identifying riders. Spearheaded by Pivot Cycles, the ticket includes a demo bike (I was riding the Mach 6) followed by dinner and a documentary film screening. I’d driven a few hours from Crested Butte, Colorado, to Grand Junction, Colorado for the closest event.
One of the best parts of the weekend? All of the proceeds benefit World Ride, a nonprofit that uplifts female-identifying individuals worldwide through mountain bike instruction, equipment, certification, and trips.
Despite growing up in Colorado, I’d never spectated a free-ride mountain bike competition. Watching skilled female-identifying riders navigate drops and short segments of chunky, exposed, extreme terrain—on a casual evening ladies’ shred—was a first for me. I’d also never been on a ride with nearly 30 women.
Everyone laughed and smiled the entire time, and the high energy made me wish I could join Sunset Shred more than once a year.
Learning ‘Bike Lingo’ Is Easy When You’re Surrounded by Supportive Riders
While your conscious self might try to con you into not signing up for a mountain bike event, in fear that you’re not experienced enough, the Sunset Shred is an event that welcomes a range of cycling levels, from novices to veterans.
In fact, the goal is to attract women that might be too intimidated to solicit experienced riders for advice on the sport and gear, as well as women that don’t have adequate gear at all.
“The demo fleet achieves access for women that want to participate with group rides but they don’t have a bike that they feel they can keep up in a group ride,” said Elorie Slater, senior brand strategist and marketing leader of Pivot Cycles.
At the event, I opted to ride with an advanced-level group, that hit a seven-mile loop with half of the participants, which was the more challenging route, due to a black-diamond segment. Everyone reassured me that we could go slow, scout sections, and walk any areas that were too big of a challenge.
After the ride, I told Slater that our crew shared a lot of back-and-forth chatter about bike sizes, like, “What if you can ride two different frame sizes—which one do you ultimately choose and why?” and “What if your torso and arms are long versus having long legs?” or “Is it better to ride a 29 or 27.5 wheel size?” Slater said that chitchat was a huge checkbox of the event: to provide a low-stakes environment for women to learn about bikes and ask technical questions.
“Some terms about mountain bikes are intuitive. What’s not intuitive is how those geometric changes relate to how your body fits on the bike… Women often have a quantitative description like ‘I feel squished’ or ‘I feel like I’m sitting up taller,’ but it can be intimidating to learn qualitative terms,” Slater said.
What Draws Women to Sunset Shred: A Hotbed of Opportunity
Regardless of how many years someone has on her pedals, most women typically ride alone, said Slater, who also founded the Women’s Off-Road Cycling Congress, in 2017, a networking event that gathered qualitative data from women for the cycling industry.
“A lot of women say they spend more than 60% of their time on the trail by themselves…and the majority of female riders do their minority of riding with other females. The experience of being around women building energy on bikes is like a shot of vitamin B12 for your riding life,” said Slater. (I agree with that statement.)
Among the many riders I met, Molly Moyer, who is a Grand Junction-based school teacher and Little Bellas coach, was excited to meet new women and for an opportunity to test ride the Pivot Switchblade.
Moyer, 46, said, “I’ve been to Roam Fest and Outerbike, where I met lots of riders, and I love learning about bikes, how bikes works, and the different parts—because I didn’t always. I was on a used bike before picking out my first new bike three years ago.”
Attendee Erin Walter was inspired to network with more female-identifying riders, both local and out-of-towners, and to learn from them about amazing travel destinations for mountain biking. “The women’s ride community is small but growing. Over the last four years, I’ve gained a lot of confidence by meeting and riding with women,” said Walter.
Another participant, Sarah Abercrombie, had her second child two months ago, and the Sunset Shred was a goal for her to work toward as she started mountain biking again. The group ride was a big motivator, she said.
How Sunset Shred Started
Slater piloted Sunset Shred last year, hosting an event at Sports Garage Cycling, the bike shop that she owns in Boulder, Colorado. The second pilot event, in Utah, was led by the formerly mentioned drop-stomping Holly O’Brien, sales manager of Wild Rye, another brand supporting the series alongside DT Swiss and 10 Barrel Brewing Company.
From trail to tailgate, the two gatherings were sold out. The brands decided to ramp up with the first-ever countrywide tour this year, and to funnel the profits to World Ride.
“Growing women’s presence in mountain biking will help the whole industry and sport,” said Julie Cornelius, founder of World Ride, who also attended the Grand Junction Sunset Shred.
“Our mission is to empower women globally through this unique sport that builds confidence and helps women grow strength through biking, which is reinforced by connecting with the community,” she said.
So far, the first three stops this year have also been a full house.
What’s Next for Sunset Shred
The continuous thread between each location is to support female-identifying riders on every level including collaboration with local female ride leaders, business owners, and male allies.
While both facilitators are professional instructors, the ride format was free-flowing and focused on sharing the trail experience versus workshopping skills, which was exactly what everyone signed up to experience.
In addition to being introduced to a whole new trail system in Southwest Colorado, I was excited to ride with so many women with showing off skills that boosted my own confidence. I’m a visual learner, so when I see women navigating obstacles on their bikes, my own abilities start to click, too. If I could go to another Sunset Shred to gain that same knowledge and camaraderie, I would.
This year’s remaining nine Sunset Shred tour stops are in Colorado, Vermont, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Germany, with dates in July through October.
Next year, Sunset Shred plans to “intentionally” expand, said Slater. Specifically, the series will travel to the home communities of three Roam Fest BIPOC Scholarship recipients.
Slater said, “These three women and marginalized communities are becoming our Sunset Shred [partners], will host in their community, and our local partners are invested to share those opportunities. I’m beyond stoked about what will happen. It’s rewarding to help people have these experiences on bikes.”
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