Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Western MTB Club as an informal club. This story has been updated for clarity and to correct the error.
Editor’s note: Olivia Palmer, who is quoted in this story, previously served as Editor-in-Chief of The Front.
Western Trailblazers is Western Washington University’s newest mountain biking club, designed to get more women and non-binary folks into the sport. The club is a safe space for all skill levels, from total beginners to those who have spent some time behind the handlebars.
The Trailblazers were founded spring 2023 by Leanne Robbins and Taylor Michaels, two Western students who have a passion for mountain biking and wanted to make it more accessible.
“It's very male-dominated," said Michaels, a third-year student. "When you're on the mountain and the trails, it's just dudes passing you right and left.”
Olivia Palmer, a recent Western graduate and self-proclaimed “total newbie” to mountain biking, was also intimidated by the prevalence of men in the sport.
Western has another mountain biking club, the Western MTB Club.
"I know people in that club, they're great," said Palmer. "But they're also really good."
Palmer joined the Western Trailblazers after seeing an Instagram post emphasizing the beginner-friendly attitude of the club.
Palmer, who has road bike experience from a past triathlon, has been interested in the sport for a while but has been unable to find a way to break in — until now.
“I'm really looking forward to joining like-minded folks … in an environment that feels like a lot better fit for me to try something that otherwise might be kind of scary,” she said.
Another major barrier that interested students like Palmer might face is the cost of gear. This is something that founders Robbins and Michaels hope to tackle.
“To get into biking you have to pay, like, $1,000 for a bike and most people can't do that,” Michaels said.
The Trailblazers were able to team up with Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, who retired more than a dozen bikes for Western Trailblazer members to use. Club members are able to check them out for the remainder of the quarter.
“I really appreciate this club's intentionality when it comes to looking at some of the barriers that are prevalent in the community itself,” said Palmer. “And I think connecting folks with free bikes to rent out for the quarter is a really great start.”
Looking ahead, the group hopes to do an “end-of-the-year-hurrah” ride in Canada, as well as volunteer at events with the WMBC JoyRiders.
The JoyRiders are the main inspiration for the Western Trailblazers, according to the club's founders.
JoyRiders, a club within WMBC, was founded in 2016. Similar to the Trailblazers, the club also focuses on getting women and non-binary folks on bikes regardless of experience level.
“We’re basically the Western version of JoyRiders,” said Robbins, a second-year at Western who has helped lead rides for JoyRiders in the past.
Ride leads, all certified, lead four rides a month and host events such as ride parties and an all women's race during the Whatcom World Cup, a series of community races held each spring and summer.
Molly Prentice, the head ride leader for JoyRiders and a rider of more than two decades herself, emphasizes the importance of preparedness when it comes to leading rides.
“I think the things that have worked for us is having a consistent schedule and time when the rides are, and having a signup,” Prentice said.
Signing up added a sense of formality as well as accountability, she said.
For Prentice, the most rewarding thing about taking women and non-binary folks out on the trail is being able to watch them grow as riders.
“It’s really really awesome to see people learn and be so excited and proud of themselves,” she said.
Above all, Robbins and Michaels hope that anyone interested in the Trailblazers finds a fun, inclusive community to try out something new.
“You do it one time and it is scary, but it's also very empowering,” said Michaels. “It's also a huge adrenaline rush, and it's just so much fun. As soon as you finish riding, you’re like, ‘I want to do that immediately again.’”
Ava Glaspell (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a first year journalism/news ed major. Outside of reporting, Ava enjoys climbing, eating ice cream, and jumping into the ocean. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.