When I get Kim on the phone, I can hear the voices of her son and husband teetering in the background. They are in the middle of a big family road trip, a winding-down for Kim after completing the manuscript of her book – a narrative nonfiction account of the biggest tornado outbreak in the history of recorded weather. As soon as the book was turned in, she, her husband Eddie, and their six year old son strapped their bikes to their car and hit the road in search of some good off-road biking and to visit some friends and family. As she speaks to me, they are on their way from Durango to Santa Fe after visiting Shonny Vanlandingham, big-name mountain biker and triathlete and the family's close friend. While Kim sounds a bit frazzled after her busy day, I sense that I'm speaking to the woman in her ideal state: on the move, exploring a new place, packed tightly with her husband and son and the family bikes, a finished book and a long day of riding lying in her trail.
So my classic story is that within my first eight times on a mountain bike, I was on the Slickrock Trail in Moab in clipless pedals, bleeding and crying. It was a little rough. I was just too stubborn to quit, but I was definitely not good at all when I started, I just refused to give up.
I recently found a letter I wrote to myself in high school where the teacher asks you to write, what do you want to be doing in 10 years? And I wrote, I'm going to be the editor of a science magazine! And I found it, and I was an editor at a major magazine. And then I quit my job because I wasn't writing enough. I was sitting in a lot of meetings and assigning and editing, which was great, but I just wanted to write. I love telling stories, and I love making sentences.
The Ride Leader
I actually recruited a friend of mine to lead it because part of my thing is, I don't feel like I'm always the expert, I like to sort of round up the sister riders and round up the expert, and put them together. Vero Vanblaere is an artist who started doing this Le Tour de Ham ride. It's on a weeknight after work each week, and it's just like a 10 mile joy ride downtown that's grown to around 80 people. So I thought maybe I'll get Vero to lead it, because I don't know this route, I don't ride this route, I don't consider myself an expert on riding in the city of Birmingham. So I let her lead it, and I just sort of organized the event and got everyone there. We made it a skirt ride, so everyone wore skirts! I think one woman brought her adult son and was like, "Is it ok if I bring him?" And I said, "Yes – he can't half wheel us though!"
Kim Talks Bikes
We don't want a woman to feel like she couldn't ride without a guy because she wouldn't know how to change the tire, or wouldn't know what to do if a friend got hurt.
All in the family.
I feel like biking is part of who we are, and what fuels us as a family, as a couple. As soon as my son was walking, we got him a balance bike, and we have this picture of us on a road trip out to Durango to see Shonny when he was two and a half, and she took him out on the BMX track. He would fall down, and she was kind of teaching him. Now he's six and we went back to the BMX track, and they're racing around it. He's on his fifth bike now and he's six years old.
We're kind of dilettantes with sports. When we were moving, we were packing the attic, and I was like, do we really need an ice ax and a scuba spear gun? And Eddie's like, yes, of course we do! So we really do way too many sports for our own good. But biking is the one thing that I think is just core to us.
Keeping up with the boys.
I'd always ridden with Eddie, probably for 9 or 10 years before I ever rode with another woman. I would just chase him and his buddies, and I'd feel kind of bad about myself because I just thought I was not a very good biker because I was always the one in the back, struggling to keep up and crashing. And so I thought maybe there were other girls out there like me who didn't have anyone to ride with.
Magic City Cycle Chix (MC3).
MC3 is a pretty much total grassroots organic group that started in January 2011. What we try to do is lower the barriers from entry that prevent women from feeling like they have to ride with men. We're definitely not against riding with guys, but we don't want a woman to feel like she couldn't ride without a guy because she wouldn't know how to change the tire, or wouldn't know what to do if a friend got hurt. We try to just educate all of those concerns to a degree that they feel confident enough that they can do it themselves.
From little sticks to big logs.
We'll do things like put a stick in a field and teach the women how to do a wheel lift over the stick. And once they feel comfortable with that we'll make it a small log, and then we'll make it a bigger log, and if you fall you're falling on grass and not on the street. And their abilities and confidence increase very rapidly. So by the time we get them on a trail, they're already feeling confident, and they already have some skills in handling a bike, so their first trail ride is going to be so much more successful than if they were just thrown out on a trail and told, RIDE! RIDE FASTER!
As long as it's needed.
It's its own entity, and I may have founded it, but maybe someone else steps us as president at some time, where it lives as long as it needs to. There might be a point where it's not needed anymore. Maybe we get to the point where women have enough confidence and it's easy enough to find people to ride with that it's not as needed, and maybe then we'll organically go away.
Never too late.
One of my favorite success stories is my mom, who was 69 and had never been a cyclist before. She came to one of our clinics, and she learned to mountain bike at 69. Then my mom started leading rides! For my mom, the CF ride was sort of a big deal because she always gets nervous and worried that she won't be able to keep up. She has was really really sick a couple years ago, and we didn't know if she was going to live, much less ride a bike again. And for her to get back out there was a very courageous thing. She's a good example for any other woman who's out there making excuses for why she can't do it.
Feeding the village.
I guess what I love about women's biking is there's this pay-it-forward model. You teach a woman something, and she goes and she teaches ten more women. The t-shirt I want to make would say: You give a man a fish, he eats for a day. You teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. You teach a woman to fish, she'll teach ten more, and the whole village eats!
What I hope to see is an opportunity for the regional groups to connect so that we can maybe share tips like, hey, this is what's working for us. Or when we go to another city, we can hook up with the local women's bike group and know how to find a local ride. I would love to see it organically merge into a network of networks.
Maybe we get to the point where women have enough confidence and it's easy enough to find people to ride with that it's not as needed, and maybe then we'll organically go away.
It's the idea that we should all encourage another woman. At least one.