What began four seasons ago as three weekend mountain bike camps for women run by a regional cycling federation in British Columbia has grown into a sell-out 13-camp series across Western Canada and the United States for nearly 500 women now run by Sugoi.
Today's Sugoi Dirt Series is likely the largest mountain bike weekend camp program of its kind devoted to women bikers and run by women.
"When you look at any kind of mountain-bike related statistics -- whether they are elite racing, grassroots racing, club membership or simply casual participation -- women came out as a relatively small percentage," said Candace Shadley, camp co-organizer for title sponsor, Sugoi, about the emphasis on women. "So, from a cycling perspective, women made a great demographic toward which to put some additional effort."
Since 2003 under the flag of lead sponsor Sugoi, the camp (www.dirtseries.com) also introduces women bikers of all levels and ages (20-somethings to 60-plus) to a host of other companies that are now also involved as sponsors (some only in Canada). Other than Sugoi, cash and product sponsors include: PowerBar, which has also supported the camps since their inception as a part of the Cycling British Columbia program (www.cycling.bc.ca), Nokian tires and Sleeman's beer (hey, gals do beer too!). Other product sponsors include Rocky Mountain bikes, Synchros, Giro, Hoots, Deuter, Brave Soldier, Kryptonite, Sea-to-Sky Ford (truck lease) and Kicking Horse coffee (java's gotta be a part!), as well as other smaller companies that provide lunches at various campsites. All sponsors also provide product, some of which is divvied up for a drawing at the end of the camp -- allotted so every single participant gets something (leave it to the women to make it all-inclusive), from clothing or bike gear to first-aid supplies or water bottles and sports nutrition products.
For the first two years as a Cycling BC program, Shimano was the title sponsor. Sugoi joined as a clothing sponsor in the second year and decided to become title sponsor and grow the program starting in 2003. That growth also took two of this year's 13 camps into the United States -- Sun Valley, Idaho, and Hood River, Ore.
With this year's huge jump in numbers, the camps will accommodate in one year alone nearly the same number the program has accommodated in its previous three years combined.
Shadley said the original program began by Cycling BC under her guidance was an effort born from some research to find out why more women don't cycle or mountain bike. The research showed most didn't feel they had the technical skills.
"I can tell you that it's just plain fun teaching women," Shadley said. "They listen to what you're saying, are awesome at making adjustments to their riding, support each other like you wouldn't believe, and then get so incredibly excited when they do things they didn't even imagine they could."
SNEWSÂ® took part in one camp near Calgary recently and found the comparison to other camps and other co-ed camps black-and-white: Catering seemingly to the (OK, stereotypical, but mostly true) needs of women to get everything explained to them step-by-step, and then demonstrated before personal practice, the camps spent both of two mornings doing drills in and around the base of the host resorts. Those drills included the most basic braking skills to downhill bike control to wheelies, ratcheting, manuals and log jumps. All participants are broken into about five or six smaller level-specific groups with two instructors each. Building on the confidence gained from all the practice on the flats, the afternoons are spent on the mountains and trails doing rides. Lunches are taken together and are very social, and Saturday evening is spent with casual dinner munchies and beverages as mechanics demonstrate maintenance skills with Q&A. Amazingly, all instruction, light breakfasts, lunches, snacks and the Saturday evening program is included in the CDN $195 weekend fee for Canadian locations and USD $175 fee for U.S. locations (except lodging and transportation to the camp).
Several attendees told SNEWSÂ® they feel safe and supported and have gained confidence in the skills they previously disparaged as not good enough.
"It's just different being with women, because you see someone who's your same size and she can do it," said Jackie Simpson, 36, co-owner with her advanced biker-husband Kevin of an area bike shop, Rebound Cycle, in Canmore, Alberta. "So you think, 'Well, I can do it too.' But if you see a guy do it, you don't think that because he's, well, a guy -- just bigger with more muscle."
The program finishes this year on Sept. 18-19 with a so-called "reunion weekend" (a co-ed camp that attracts about 70 participants) at Whistler Resort that is just like the other instructional weekends, but attracts many previous campers for a festive "reunion" atmosphere.
SNEWÂ® View: The support and encouragement, even between different levels of bikers, was phenomenal. Even with instructors who all had national and international biking credentials and titles, no one seemed intimidated. Enthusiasm was indeed contagious, with instructors nearly jumping out of their skins when a participant accomplished something she hadn't thought she could. "Ohmigawd! That was perfect! Ohmigawd, that was so exciting!" shrieked Shadley at one point during drills, clapping her hands and leaping in the air when a participant managed a wheelie drop off a box. Companies would do well to get involved in efforts such as these since it's been shown that women become extremely dedicated to a company that supports and seems to understand their needs.