Radical Rippers cover photo
Women in Cycling
In Our Own Words

“The young women really feel like they belong and have a place”

By: Angi Weston  November 17, 2020

Angi Weston, owner and head coach of Radical Roots Mountain Bike Instruction, started a mountain bike development program for girls in Bellingham, Washington. The mission of Radical Rippers is to give youth a fun and safe space to build confidence, strength, and community - on and off the bike. Professional Cyclist Jill Kintner is a regular presence with the Radical Rippers.

The concept of Radical Rippers started with Kari Young - a local mom and co-founder of Transition Bikes – whose daughter was participating in some of the after-school ride programs around Bellingham (WA). A lot of the elementary schools here have volunteer-led ride programs and kids love them! But, her daughter would consistently be one of the only young women there and would tell her mom that it would be great if there were more young women she could ride with. The feedback gave Kari the idea of starting an after-school ride program specifically for young women – “Flying Squirrels”. The program started in 2017 and Kari reached out to me as a professional coach and ambassador Transition Bikes, asking if I would be willing to provide some skill sessions for these young women. My answer? Yes!

I started with teaching basic mountain biking skills to the young women and then after a couple years of that program, some of the elementary school aged young women were leaving elementary school and going into junior high/middle school. All the rides were led by parent volunteers rather than actual mountain bike coaches, so Kari came to me with this idea of growing a sister program that the Flying Squirrels could feed in to and would focus on coaching and rider development. I loved the idea and in a short-time, Radical Rippers was created. The first spring we had ten to twelve young women involved.

Fall of that same year, we had maybe 15 young women registered so we grew the program by a few, and I was able to add additional professional coaches – all women living in Bellingham. With the uncertainties of 2020, we halted Spring registration because it was becoming clear that we weren't going to be able to do group events. Last minute I decided to host a virtual book club to support the young women meeting and learning and engaging with each other, even though we couldn't meet in person. We read a book called ‘The Confidence Code for Girls’ and we even had young women from other states join in. It has been such a success that I plan to continue it moving forward - we will have weekly virtual meetings to keep the young women engaged through the winter and it will allow for young women outside of Bellingham to be involved as well.

With so many after school activities, sports and clubs being canceled, combined with the fact that cycling is on such an uptick right now, we have 40 young women registered for Radical Rippers this fall – 2020 – and a growing waitlist. I had to increase the coaching team due to the popularity. I now have about nine lead coaches, with an assistant each, who take a group. We are breaking the girls up into small groups given the restrictions presented by COVID-19, but the demand is there!

Practice is different every week, which gives the young women a chance to work on their skills. We do more than just group rides – we mix in skill building at pump tracks at a local park, I have all these ramps and stunts that I bring to the park and we do skills-focused progression sessions. Fitness is another big goal of the program. A lot of these athletes are one of the only young women they know at their school that mountain bike – so we bring young women together to meet like-minded people in their communities that are into biking so that they don’t have to feel like they are the only ones doing it.

All of the young women that ride for Flying Squirrels and Radical Rippers have a great passion for biking and for the programs - they really feel like they belong there and have a place. They have an excitement of being around like-minded young women, and they’re excited to talk about their experiences and share them with others. Their parents want them to gain confidence and enthusiasm toward mountain biking and confidence on and off the bike. Also, parent to parent, they see such a difference in their daughter and then those parents are telling other parents about this program. A big part of the success and increased rate of participation in our sister programs is from referrals and people who have experienced it.

We have skilled female coaches, some who make a living in the bike industry, others are sponsored and race professionally. The young women participants who are really into mountain biking get this high caliber level of coaches that we are so lucky to have access to here in Bellingham. That is definitely fueling interest as well. Mountain biking helps kids get and stay healthy and it gets kids outdoors. The young women may see it as a path for themselves to take in life and be surrounded by bikes and this lifestyle and maybe even make a career out of it.

When you're learning to mountain bike or you're learning to progress on your mountain bike, you're vulnerable. Learning in any situation you might make a mistake, you might crash, so to bring young women together to let their guard down a little bit, they are less self-conscious about being vulnerable to learn and try new things and push their limits when they are together.

Co-ed programs absolutely work and I think there's a place for it and there are plenty of co-ed programs for the youth that exist in Bellingham already, but it doesn't attract as many young women into the sport as women-only programs.

Being on an all-women team, they have camaraderie and encouragement that exists amongst each other, and some of them have expressed that they didn't feel that when they were in co-ed groups. Sometimes when they see a young man do a jump, drop or a technical section of trail, they don't necessarily picture themselves being able to do it. But, when they see a young woman their age, roughly the same weight and size as them, accomplish it, they're able to visualize themselves doing something similar.

My advice for starting up a women's cycling group would be - just do it! I had so many personal reservations about starting this program. For example, I am not a parent, so there was a part of me that felt like an imposter coming in to guide the youth without actually having raised any children myself. But I now see how misguided that fear was. The other big reservation was just the time commitment. But I had support and I have now hired some administrative help so it’s less of a concern. It has all been worth it.

I never would have thought that some of my favorite mountain bike companions would be 11 to 13 year old young women! They're so fun to ride with, and I'm so glad that I made the leap to try this out.

Professional Cyclist Jill Kintner
Photo Credit: @brynatkinson

As for her involvement in the local Bellingham cycling scene, Jill Kintner added:

I get asked the question a lot, "what do you think the future of women's mountain biking might look like?" and these junior development classes fill my heart, just knowing that the next generation will thrive and have a head start. Angi and Kari have created an ideal situation for these young women to gain confidence by learning solid fundamental skills and progressing together with their friends. The benefit of this kind of mentorship will last a lifetime.

Bellingham is a strong biking community with a ton of local industry support, talented coaches like Angi and Shaums March based here, easy access to trails, kids programs, and a handful of pro riders helping out to share their knowledge and experience. I like being involved and giving back, especially with the young women, knowing the challenges I had as one of the only women on two wheels in a world of men. These women-specific classes are fun; I enjoy seeing them try new things, laugh, share insights, and progress with limitless potential. We all learn from each other, and it is incredible to witness how far a bit of organization and consistent learning can go. We are in the future I have been dreaming of, where everyone feels supported, enjoys riding their bike, and can grow together with equal opportunity. 🤘

About the Contributor

Angi Weston, from Bellingham, WA, is the owner and head coach for Radical Roots MTB Instruction. She has been coaching mountain bike skills since 2002 and is Level 3 certified (BICP) making her one of the most qualified and highly-experienced mountain bike coaches in North America. It is Angi's mission to get more people, especially women and girls, riding and loving bikes. Teaching is a great passion of hers and it shows in her enthusiastic and patient approach.

Angi is sponsored by Transition Bikes, SRAM MTB, RockShox, Industry 9, Ride Concepts, Maxxis Tires, Honey Stinger, and TroyLee Designs.

Follow the radical adventures on Instagram: @radicalrootsmtb & @angiweston or Facebook: @radicalrootsmtbinstruction