Making the leap to riding trails can be intimidating. YouTube fueled images of death-defying runs down steep mountainsides and a cringe binge of Ultimate Trail Fail videos can deflate even stoutest fat-tire dreams.
The truth of mountain biking is much more inclusive. Trails take many forms, from mild to wild, and riders come in all shapes and sizes. Since 2001, no group has been more instrumental in shifting the perception of what a mountain biker can be than the Charlotte-based Dirt Divas.
Every activity that the all-women mountain bike club is involved—skills clinics, providing bikes for kids, group rides—is done in a spirit of non-judgmental acceptance. To help explain this mission, Dirt Diva Brandy Pace took some time to speak with us about the club, why Charlotte is a great place to ride, and how a chance meeting on her very first ride changed her perception of the sport.
How did you get into mountain biking?
I started biking four years ago. After I finished college my husband and I decided we wanted to start a hobby together. It was one of those things where you go into REI and go, “OK, do we want to go kayaking, do we want to go biking, what do we want to do?”
And how long before you hooked up with the Dirt Divas?
We went on our first trip at the White Water Center. And I loved it. Funny thing was, there were these two women who came up to me and said,“We need you to lift your seat up cause it’s gonna hurt your knees. We’re with the Dirt Divas. We’re an all-women’s mountain biking group. We’re used to this. We encourage women to ride and ride properly.” They handed me a Dirt Diva’s business card.
I thought it was pretty empowering that here were these two women that were cycling in front of me. And I thought if they can do it, I can do it.
I went to a Tuesday night meeting and it was interesting to me the diverse background of people. You’ve got people of all ages, in different careers, in different stages of their life. I started attending the Tuesday night rides at the different mountain bike trails.
Why do you think riding with the Diva’s attracted you? Though I always love riding with my husband, there’s something different about riding with different women. It’s kind of like a sense of empowerment. We lift each other up and encourage each other. It’s funny, when we ride through the trails you know there’s a group of us. We’re yelling out to each other “watch out for the mud” or “rider back.” It’s really different than when you ride with your husband, guys don’t say too much when they ride.
Now I find myself watching. When I see women rent at the White Water Center I say, “you need to lift your seat” or “make sure your helmet is on properly.”
Community focus is important to the Divas. How does the group stay involved?
The Dirt Divas do a lot of things with Trips for Kids and Project Angel, we donate a lot of money to those groups. We have always had a very active relationship with Trips for Kids. We partner with them throughout the year. We hold skill clinics for them. Maybe it’s the first time some of (the kids) have been on a bike. We get them comfortable on the bike and being in groups. By the end of the day, you can see how the kids progress.
Over the course of the year we’ve saved up some money and at Christmas time we buy a couple bikes, helmets, biking gear and we pick some kids in need that would like to get more into the biking scene and we donate those bikes to those kids.
We also organize rides for the Girl Scouts and work with the Tarheel Trailblazers. They are the ones who actually build and maintain our trails for us so we go out and help them.
Tell us about the regular events the Dirt Divas organize
We ride, every Tuesday, at different trails. Ride starts at 6 p.m. We do a brief intro and everyone says their skill level. Then we break up into groups. There’s always a ride leader who takes them based on their skill level.
The third Tuesday is not a trail ride but our monthly meeting. We meet at six for a social urban ride from the parking lot of Kickstand Burger Bar on Central. We do an urban ride through uptown Charlotte at a social pace then the meeting starts at seven.
We have skill clinics that everyone can come out to. Those are on the calendar. Women, men, kids, whole families can come out. Skills clinics are free. We pick different trails throughout the area. We split people up into groups based on their skill level. If you’re just a beginner we’ll teach you how to get comfortable on the bike. Then we also teach very advanced skills. Maybe you’re wanting to learn how to ride skinnies, or jumps, or dips, or whatever, we’ll teach you how to do that as well.
Why is Charlotte a great town for mountain bikers?
Charlotte is a really great place to live. We’ve got good weather and beautiful places to see. Now that we’ve got the White Water Center—that’s huge for us. It’s a great way to get people out and let people rent bikes to see if they even like it before they go buy an expensive bike.
We have wonderful groups like the Tarheel Trailblazers that have gone out and built really fun trails and make sure they’re maintained. It’s really brought the mountain biking community to life. Now it’s such a big thing.
What are some of your favorite rides around the Queen City?
My personal favorite is Anne Springs in Fort Mill, right outside of Charlotte. The funny thing is, it was my most hated trail when I first started riding. Now I love it. It’s got beautiful scenery (and) it gives you options, whether you want to do a couple miles or do a lot of miles.
The White Water Center has the best trails for all levels because they’ve got the green trail, intermediate trails, which are blue, and advanced trails, which are black. There’s every type of situation you can imagine. You’ve got smooth track, jumps, creek crossing, rock climbing. Everything you can think of. I think a beginner would have the best time at the WWC.
They’ve also got enough advanced terrain in there for more experienced riders. They would be challenged and get a good workout. And they’ve got food and a beer garden.
What about for a post-ride fuel up?
We tend to all go to Kickstand. They’re really good to us and they have really good food. And they have bike décor so it goes with our theme.
What’s next for the Divas?
We just came out with a new design for our jerseys. They’ve always been green and white. That’s how you can find a Dirt Diva on the trail. Now it’s kind of the same but it’s a purple and white. We’re kind of changing things up.
We’re also planning some day and weekend trips. We’re going out to Pisgah (National Forest). We take time to see waterfalls and take pictures. The fall trip is to Tsali, which I absolutely love. Very fast and flowy. We’ll stay in some cabins nearby.
What advice do you have for the newbie rider reading this right now?
Do not let you what you think mountain bike people should be or look like alter the way you feel about it. If it’s something that you think would interest you, get out and just try it. It’s such a good way to meet other women who empower you.
I didn’t think that I would even like mountain biking. You hear some of the dangers that come with it. You fall and get hurt. I gave it a try. That’s what I tell someone. Just try it. You never know how much you’d love it until you try it.
To meet up with Brandy and the Divas, drop by one of their weekly rides or monthly meetings. You don’t need to be a member to attend those events. Just check the schedule and watch their Facebook page for last minute updates. Or just go for a ride. Chances are you’ll run into a Dirt Diva ready to help you become a better rider.