MTB group “Girls Rock” inspires international following
By Betty Gilbert
At nearly five foot six and sporting a ponytail, simple tee and casual riding shorts, Jessica Klodnicki ascends the nearest stool. Her husky voice casts over the crowd as she thanks the riders for attending and calls out the four numbers that determine who’s going home with a brand new Bell helmet. Around one hundred women surround the scene, conversing with coffee in hand, and waiting to gather into groups to hit the well-known Santa Cruz trails at Wilder Ranch and Pogonip.
Klodnicki, at first glance, is unassuming with her skate-inspired flat pedal shoes and laid-back style. She’s not an elite racer fully kitted out with sponsors and fitness prowess and quads-for-days. Despite coming in as a beginner to the sport herself last year, her humble and inviting demeanor has created quite a following and her efforts are steadily compounding. In fact, this is the woman who founded the latest women’s mountain biking movement that’s spreading like wildfire from Santa Cruz to the rest of the US and Canada.
In early 2015, Klodnicki set out to learn how to mountain bike. Hoping some guidance could jumpstart a positive experience on the bike, she registered for one of the camps at the Trek Dirt Series. At a local trailhead weeks later, Klodnicki bumped into one of the women she met at the camp and the two decided to ride together. The excitement of teaming up with another female rider was all it took. Klodnicki decided it was time to start a club.
Word of this new women’s mountain biking group blazed through Santa Cruz County and surrounding areas. It was the word local gals were waiting for: here was an organized group dedicated to women who want to share the joy of mountain biking together. Klodnicki named the group Girls Rock and began recruiting volunteers organically as the invitation list multiplied from four to 400 within 18 months, with an average attendance of 80 women joining each monthly ride. “As this group has grown, it has taken a BIG team effort by women who have been pitching from the start – like Juliann Klein who designed our logo and built our website, Alexis Morgan who is now leading up our volunteer organization, and Krista Gray who is expanding our coaching efforts,” Klodnicki says. She adds, “The list of local companies that have helped us along the way is long and that has played a major role in making our events even more fun and educational.”
Tom Morgan of Ibis Cycles says the company is inspired to continue supporting Girls Rock. “We always talk about the latest technology representing the biggest development in mountain biking, but to me the biggest change I’ve experienced is the growing number of women and young people in the sport.” Epicenter Cycling’s Candice Covello echoes similar sentiments. “Girls Rock is helping us accomplish one of our biggest shop goals – to help women feel comfortable and welcome in the cycling industry.”
Klodnicki sums up her personal motivation for growing the group, “I struggled in the beginning to navigate the sport – where to ride, what to ride, how to ride and more. I want to make that path easier for other women so that they can experience the joy of mountain biking.” To account for the rapid success of the group, Klodnicki offers, “We welcome riders of ALL levels – from those who are touching wheels to dirt for the first time to those who are seasoned, advanced riders. We really strive to keep it social and fun to take away any intimidation.”
Sounds welcoming, right? But there’s an even more powerful force in action during the women’s-only group rides. Girls Rock has created an environment where women are actively encouraging one another through tough physical and mental obstacles; where they extend support to each woman to carry on long after they may want to give up.
A wondrous phenomenon occurs when women are positioned as partners in exciting challenges – they have an absolute blast. During that moment when a rider grits her teeth in the face of difficulty and wins a small battle that feels like a monumental achievement, the rest of the group is at her side with a celebratory roar of applause and high-fives. That is the special ingredient that can’t be bought or supplied by sponsors, and that’s the magic that enriches the community, fosters new friendships, and elicits personal growth. And that is where the profound and enduring addiction to mountain biking takes hold.
Birth of Bell Joy Ride
As Girls Rock’s powerful message ignited at the local level, it sparked a new idea. As General Manager/Executive Vice President of Bell Helmets, Klodnicki pondered the possibility of leveraging her resources and launching her vision to a whole new level. She had unearthed a glaring need for women’s mountain biking groups, and it happened to align with hunches the company was already investigating. After some research and a widespread survey of female riders, Bell jumped on board and began to develop a program to transform the Girls Rock model into a movement. Bell launched an application process that brought in a response from over 200 women who wanted to help lead the way as Bell Joy Ride Ambassadors, creating additional sites for new women’s mountain biking groups to flourish.
Eight charming ladies from all over the US and Canada were hand selected based on their passion and enthusiasm for the Joy Ride vision, and were brought to Santa Cruz in March for formal training with Bell. The women were armed with the Bell Joy Ride Ambassador toolkit, given plenty of Girls Rock tribal knowledge, and, of course, they all went for a ride together. Putting rubber to dirt instantaneously joined the women in a bond of laughter and joy. The ambassadors are given free rein to adjust the program to their location’s specific needs, but the goals for each group will remain the same: be obsessed with dirt, be fun, be organized, and be inclusive.
Klodnicki openly revealed her secrets to success with Girls Rock. A large part of that success hinges on the social aspect of the group – sharing tales of triumphs and crashes and making friends over beverages (preferably roasted bean or barley-flavored) – but that only goes so far. The program can only create community by reaching straight into the hearts of cities and towns; harnessing support from bike shops, local businesses, and (yes, of course!) the wonderful men who support women on bikes. Another key component is allowing ample time for women to plan ahead by scheduling ride dates in advance.
The Joy Ride Ambassadors departed Santa Cruz with plenty of new Bell swag, resources, and inspiration to propel them straight into operation. It’ll be exciting to see how each location develops and what new ideas transpire to connect women with dirt and with their communities. As for the future of Girls Rock, it will remain separate from the Bell Joy Ride Program. Klodnicki shares, “I am looking forward to formalizing our structure, possibly seeking official non-profit status. And, I look forward to exploring new options like additional coaching opportunities for riders and mentorship for women who are considering racing enduro or cross country.”
Betty Gilbert is a technical communicator and copywriter specializing in the bicycle industry. She works for a number of different companies, near and far, to create high-quality communication and design. Playtime consists of mountain biking adventures in the perfect dirt of the coastal redwood forest.