by Danielle Carty
An ambassador for mountain biking in the Bemidji area, Kristi Sorgenfrei can tell you what you need to know about getting started in this adrenaline-filled hobby.
Invited to ride
It was a nice summer day around five years ago and Kristi was hanging out with some friends, they were going mountain biking on trails at Movil Maze. They invited her to come along and Kristi, as the adventurous go-getter she is, agreed. She had never been mountain biking before but thought it sounded like a great activity. She rode and realized this was a progressive sport and she wanted to put the time into learning the skills and knowledge of this fast-growing activity.
Kristi started going on biking trips including Copper Harbor, Mich., and Sedona, Ariz., and riding around the area.
She was hooked. There was a woman’s weekend workshop she attended, and it was a pivotal trip that really enflamed her passion for women’s inclusion in the sport. “There were all women there who wanted to learn different skills and become better riders.” They were working on the fundamental skills and spent two days in the field, “and that’s when I realized this kind of thing would be great in Bemidji for women who want to start mountain biking.” A year later, she started working at the bike shop to learn more about bikes and maintenance.
Last August Kristi went to Waterloo, Wis., on a Trek Certified Service Scholarship, it was the first group of women ever to be offered these scholarships. Kristi said Trek “had the same ambition to get more women not only on bikes, but have more confidence and knowledge to work in the shop because it is such a male dominated industry and women spend just as much money in bike shops. So it makes sense that they want women working at Trek and bike maintenance.” Learning these skills, Kristi said, helped not only to expand her knowledge working at the bike shop, but helped “in the field.” Every bike trip should have at least one person knowledgeable on bike maintenance in case of flat tires, bent rims, loose handlebars, etc. To make the trip more enjoyable is to ride the most you can on all the trails that you can and not have a worry about having to get to a bike shop however far that may be.
Pushing the pedals
Kristi saw there weren’t as many women involved with biking and she was usually the only female going to group rides, “and a lot of my friends who were women were intimidated to ride with a group of mostly boys.” Kristi dreamt up the idea and decided to start women’s rides every week to try to make it a more inviting way to get into mountain biking. The idea is that each ride, depending on which people would show up, would be different and they would work on specific skills catered to the people who attended. “The skills that I like to work on with people depend on their strengths and weaknesses; we usually have a smaller group, so as we start riding I like to see where they are at and make different suggestions that will hopefully make riding more fun for them.” The fundamental things she likes to tell riders is how to position their body on the bike, especially while on the trail, braking, shifting and how to handle corners.
Essential items you would need to come to women’s ride would be, of course, a bike, which you can rent from the Outdoor Program Center at Diamond Point Park. Also make sure the bike is in good condition because you don’t want to have issues with your brakes or anything else while riding if you don’t have a mechanic with. You definitely need a helmet since the single track has many obstacles such as trees and rocks and you need to practice safety. Definitely bring water because you want to stay hydrated on the track. You need a pair of sturdy tennis shoes or hiking boots. But, really, don’t need a lot of other stuff to get out there and try it out.
Kristi suggests to sign up for women’s training clinics or a women’s weekend workshops since they are specifically set up for beginner riders. “Lindsey Richter led my workshop when I first started and just recently she went out to Nepal and taught a bunch of girls who have never rode a bike before to ride mountain bikes and learned those skills.”
Like most things, the more you want to learn about it, the more you get out and actually ride, the better you will get. The difference between road biking and mountain biking is that it is a lot more technical, “what I like is that you have to stay focused on what is going on around you and have focus on the trail and what is coming up.” You can focus on many different skills. If you want to work on jumps, or getting over rocks, or become a faster rider, there are many different skillsets to develop with the sport.
As far as the mountain biking season goes in Bemidji, you can go in the spring as soon as the trails are dry. “Riding on the trails when it is wet ruins the single track that was built. Then volunteers have to fix them, so as soon as the trails are dry which is usually around May, you can ride until the snow flies and then there is more opportunity to ride fat bikes.” Movil Maze is where she likes to ride mostly because it is the closest and most local track since it is right here in Bemidji. “I also like to ride in Duluth on Spirit Mountain on their lift access trails and just their other single tracks there.” Kristi recently went to Moab, Utah, this past spring on a weeklong trip, and their trails are some of the best in the country along with Copper Harbor in Michigan. “I try to get up to Copper Harbor at least a couple times throughout the summer.”
Copper Harbor is Kristi’s favorite place to ride, “because the town is really small and cool. The trails are super fun because you can either ride cross country all day and have a really long epic ride or you can ride shuttles all day and ride some of their harder trails.” You can notice your skills progress with the large variety of single track offered. “You also get to meet people on the trails each day and learn more about them and mountain biking.”
Why women should ride
Women’s riding has definitely became more of a focus in the industry as it has gained in popularity the past couple years. “When I went to the ladies weekend in Copper Harbor I was on a wait list to get in, and at that time there were about 80 participants.” This last year’s ladies weekend, the list filled up in about five minutes. “I have seen a lot more women’s skills weekends pop up more throughout the country.” She says more women are riding, and more scholarships and workshops are being offered specifically for women getting into the sport and into the industry.
Why mountain biking?
“I like mountain biking because it forces me to be in the moment and let go of everything else. You can always find successes in your riding” for example if you were able to ride in an event, or you were able to ride over an obstacle you haven’t before, or you were able to get a little bit more air. “There is always something exciting happening when you bike. It is a fun way to get outside and get in shape and spend time with friends.” The people you meet riding and the friends you make is a main reason why Kristi recommends people to start, and also all the places you can go and explore and take trips. Another aspect that is cool about mountain biking is that you can volunteer and help maintain the trails and connect with the mountain biking community. There are specific nights that you can go out and either help build or repair parts of the single track at Movil Maze. “It is really rewarding to be able to ride and then maintain what you have rode on, it gives you more gratification.” Everyone really helps each other out in the sport. “You can go at your own pace and everyone is really willing to help you because it is a community activity, you can ride on your own or you can ride with a group. It is a great sport and I encourage women to come join us!”