The riding scene in Brevard is changing, with more and more female riders taking to the trailhead. To quote long-time rider Charisma Arbogast, “It’s not just the guys coming here to ride now!”
Charisma, along with Jordan Salman, co-owner of The Hub, hosts ladies rides throughout the week that are just for the girls. Each ride aims to do just one thing: get women to fall in love with mountain biking. “We’re all about having women coming out and falling in love with it,” said Charisma. “That’s the neat thing. We have new people coming out to ride with ladies who have been riding for years to share their knowledge. It’s a no-drop ride, and if you’re the last person to get to the top, it’s okay. Someone has to be the last person up.”
Jordan echoes that, recalling her first ride with her husband, Sam.
“I remember crying the first ride Sam (her husband) and I went on. After that I was like, ‘Take your friends on these rides,’” she said. Both women credit the trail network in DuPont State Recreational Forest, a 15-minute drive from Brevard featuring less intimidating trails, for helping with the learning curve. DuPont is what many consider “easy fun,” a place where people can go learn to ride without some of the steep terrain that Pisgah is known for. The trails are more groomed and not as rough as other places.
“We ride mainly in DuPont and occasionally in Pisgah, but we really want it to be a no-drop ride,” said Charisma. “So, when we venture into Pisgah we want to push boundaries, but it’s within most people’s capabilities, and if you’re not comfortable, then walk! Nobody is going to say anything if you walk. Last year we had a first-time cyclist who showed up and said, ‘I’m here.’ To watch her growth from April to October was amazing.
“Everyone is out there truly cheering on the next person up the hill,” she said. “It’s a very supportive group. Sometimes there are only four of us, and the largest number was 25 ladies riding. The looks we get are interesting.”
Certainly, trail access is helping get more women on mountain bikes, but gear for women is also a lot better than it used to be. The term “shrinking and pinking” was often used just a few years ago to describe a line of bikes for women and even things like jerseys and Camelbak’s seemed to be the same fit for men as for women, but the options were just smaller and cuter.
Times have changed, as the demand for clothing and gear that fits a woman’s physique and compliments her strengths are available. Options like helmets with hair ports, bikes with women-specific geometry, component choices and even cycling shoes have made riding that much more comfortable for women.
Charisma knows how frustrating and intimidating tackling a new sport like mountain biking can be. Having had activity-induced asthma as a child, she started riding with no fitness or strength and found encouragement riding with her husband and some of the other guys in Brevard before more women were into it. “You always have to keep in mind where you started and remember how hard it was when you first started,” she said. “Now, I look back at my first rides and I was walking my bike up that hill because I didn’t have the skill or fitness level to get up it. When it’s brand new it’s all brand new. Keeping that attitude with a group of new people, particularly women, is important because, for example, I was the very last person on every ride for the first five or so years that I rode. That’s the difference between riding the ladies ride and riding with the group you may have tried with before.”
Jordan also knows what it’s like to start from the bottom, trying to keep up with the guys who surrounded her. She is now a member of the Pisgah Tavern Women’s race team, an amateur race team made up of local women who are competitive, but more importantly are focused on building a community centered on cycling.
“Pisgah Tavern Women plans on leading skills and fitness clinics, as well as groups, but the racing isn’t as important as the community,” said Jordan. “Trying to figure out what’s fun about it is challenging, and it makes me want to learn more. When you’re out with a group of folks who know what they’re doing and they’re encouraging you, then it makes it that much easier. We have teenagers to women in their sixties. It’s a mix of everyone you might meet on a given day in Brevard, plus all the people who come here just to ride.
“I used to be in really terrible shape and was really overweight. Biking has really changed my life. Talking to so many women, they wouldn’t believe that. At nine months pregnant I was 208 pounds, and since then I have lost 75 pounds. I got really motivated to ride, just to get out with my husband and friends. Being in half-decent shape made the ride so much more enjoyable.”
Pisgah Tavern plans on leading skills and basic maintenance clinics each month. These clinics will help with everything from basic positioning on a mountain bike to climbing and descending techniques, and how to do things like change a flat and what to bring on a ride.
“I have a great memory of how hard it is to ride here. These rides are all about getting ladies out on the trail. Getting started is overwhelming and intimidating. The high fives, the beautiful scenery, it’s so worth it,” said Jordan. Charisma agrees. “Are we going to ride as fast and as far as another ride? No. Are we going to have a ball? Yes!” she said.