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Dig In: Even New Mountain Bikers Can Welcome Others Into the Fold

Josie Smith, who is the store manager at Decorah Bicycles in Iowa, shares her story of “Fearless Women of Dirt,” the women’s MTB group she started in a place where there is a noticeable absence of women riding on trails.

I hadn’t been mountain biking for very long when I started wishing I could encourage other women to get involved with the activity. The number of female mountain bikers in Decorah, Iowa, (population 8,000) is very small so, if a woman is starting out, she’ll most likely find herself riding with a more-experienced male (friend/spouse/etc.). Because men and women generally approach the activity differently, this situation can prove to be challenging.

As more of my friends became “dirt curious,” I got to thinking about how I could make mountain biking more accessible and help alleviate the familiar apprehensions they were sharing with me:

1. Getting hurt
2. Not being "good enough"
3. Not being "fast enough"
4. Not knowing where to go
5. Equipment--don’t have any and/or don’t know how to use it

Even though I was only a couple of seasons into mountain biking, I had been brainstorming ideas since starting work at Decorah Bicycles alongside my partner, Travis (who is the shop owner). The serious interest of some friends inspired me to get serious, myself, and I launched Fearless Women of Dirt (FWD).

I’m not a high-level rider with years of experience and wisdom. I don’t have any formal skills coaching certifications. But love mountain biking, and I have just enough know-how to guide others without having lost perspective on being a true beginner nor having developed impatience for slow, frightened newbies. That perspective has allowed my friends to feel comfortable going on rides with me.

Word spread. Travis’ friends began asking if I would take their girlfriends on mountain bike rides.

Just call me, "The Godmother."


Above left: FWD riders. Above right: Travis and Josie.

At first, FWD was designed to be a Sunday ride-by-appointment arrangement, intended for women to go on one-on-one rides and avoid a potentially off-putting group setting. However, that all changed one Sunday when four women joined me for a ride, including one who hadn't ridden on our trails at all. I knew, then, that a formal group ride had potential for success.

I went back to the drawing board and, now, every Sunday (weather permitting) I lead a ride from Decorah Bicycles at 5 p.m. I welcome all levels of riders and promote a casual-pace, no-drop ride that allows for rest breaks. I want it to be easy for participants to determine if it’s something for them, and I want them to feel completely welcome. (There is also a casual, coed shop ride once a month.)

I know there can be a demanding, internal struggle with attempting to learn alongside someone who has years of mountain biking experience; you can sometimes feel rushed or unnecessarily pressured to improve at a rate faster than what comes naturally. Learning everything from bike handling skills to local trail navigation is not a quick process for many.

Through FWD I promote: "When in doubt, walk it out," along with "No apologies!" I want all women to feel that they are welcome and that I and the shop are providing an encouraging and positive environment. If you have to step off your bike or walk a section, no one is going to judge you in the slightest.


Travis and I still allow women to schedule led rides from the shop during the week if they can't make it on Sundays. The guided, one-on-one rides are great for women who want a helping hand with gaining more confidence with our awesome mountain bike trails. Also, we reduced Decorah Bicycles’ mountain and fatbike rental rates for the FWD and coed group rides to encourage people to try mountain biking and lessen the perceived equipment barrier.

FWD is still in the very beginning stages but has already received positive feedback from the locals, both men and women. Passion for our trails, a bit of hope and a leap of faith went into creating FWD. I'm already working on a plan to have “Team FWD” at the local mountain bike races next year.

Both Travis and I feel strongly about mountain biking and the community of current and future riders. My desire is simple: create an environment where all are welcome and for all to enjoy. Sometimes that is easier said than done, but I'm a very determined person! I view FWD as doing my part for our community and for women riders.

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