A nurse, an attorney, an engineer and a high school teacher were among the 15 women who gathered in the morning sun on Saturday, Nov. 4, on the gravel road leading into Bangor’s Rolland F. Perry City Forest. The women, ranging widely in age and occupation, all had one thing in common — a love for mountain biking.
The group, Slipping Gears Ladies Rides, was established in April, and since then, has grown to more than 70 active members. This thriving group is just one example of how mountain biking is gaining momentum in the Bangor area, where a number of bike shops, cycling organizations and trail maintainers are working to increase opportunities for mountain bikers and welcome new riders into the fold.
“We’ll get rolling here pretty quick,” called out Emily Odermann, the founder of Slipping Gears Ladies Rides, as she addressed the boisterous group on Saturday morning.
The laughter and chatter ebbed as the women, dressed in bright colors so to stand out in the bleak November woods, turned their attention to Emily Odermann, who would lead the ride.
“It’ll be no drop, so just take your time. We want it to be fun for everybody, so like no pressure or anything,” Emily Odermann. “I think we have kind of a broad spectrum of riders. We have some newbies and some pretty well experienced people. We’ll try to do a little mix for everybody.”
Then the group was off, speeding downhill to the vast trail network of the city forest.
An occupational therapist from Bangor, Emily Odermann was introduced to mountain biking by her husband, Corey Odermann, about three years ago. It didn’t go well.
“When Corey took me out, he didn’t know how to start somebody into mountain biking,” she explained. “So he took me down these trails that were awful — I mean, like, going down stairs, going over really bumpy things, roots and rocks.”
Knowing that her husband was passionate about the sport, she kept at it, struggling through group rides where she’s often end up walking her bike and getting left behind.
“It was just a really bad way to start, and I hated it so much in the beginning,” she said.
Mountain biking is an activity with a fairly steep learning curve, but Emily Odermann has found the rewards to be well worth the effort. Now that she’s learned a few crucial skills and built up her strength, she’s teaching other women how to ride. And through Slipping Gears Ladies Rides, she’s trying to offer beginners a better experience than she had by leading them on low-pressure group rides with plenty of support and a policy that no one gets left behind.
In April 2016, the Odermanns teamed up with fellow cyclists Jason and Kathleen Neal and opened the bike shop Slipping Gears Cycling on Stillwater Avenue in Bangor, just a short pedal away from the south entrance to Bangor’s Rolland F. Perry City Forest, one of the area’s top biking destinations. Early on, the shop started offering free clinics and group rides on a regular basis in an effort to get more people involved in the bicycling community. Other bike shops in the area, such as Rose’s Bike in Orono, does the same, offering group rides and clinics on a regular basis.
Group rides are an opportunity for people to learn from one another, as well as motivate each other and socialize. In addition, biking in a group tends to be safer than biking alone.
A group of cyclists are more visible than a lone cyclist. And in groups, it’s often easier to deal with problems such as injuries or popped tires.
“We want all to come on in and experience the fun that actually goes with cycling, not just the work, but the community part of cycling,” Jason Neal said. “You can get in shape together with friends.”
Slipping Gears Cycling provides equipment for both road cyclists and mountain bikers, which ride entirely different types of bikes. Road bikes, for example, have very thin tires ideal for moving fast over pavement, while mountain bikes have wider tires with better traction for riding over roots, rocks, gravel and uneven terrain. In addition, modern mountain bikes typically have suspension, shock absorbers that protect riders from the roughness of the terrain.
In the short time the shop has been open, the amount of gear they’ve sold for mountain biking has far exceeded what they’ve sold for road cycling.
“Just by our numbers, we sell mountain bikes to road bikes probably 3 to 1, maybe 4 to 1,” said Jason Neal.
There are a number of trails that mountain bikers have long enjoyed in the Bangor area. In addition to the varied trail network in Bangor’s city forest, there is an extensive network of public trails in Orono, including trails owned and maintained by the University of Maine and trails on Newman and Bangor Hills in Caribou Bog Conservation Area, maintained by the Orono Land Trust. There’s also the The Rick Swan Trail System at the Perch Pond Woodlot in Old Town and a network of hilly town-owned trails in Dedham.
Corey Odermann is on the board of the Penobscot Region Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association — PRNEMBA for short — a group that has been busy working with local towns and land trusts to improve trails and even construct new trails specifically designed for mountain. Currently, one of the chapter’s big projects is building a network of smooth, twisting single-track trails through Essex Woods, with the support of the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department.
When it comes to mountain biking, the condition of the trails can make all the difference.
“You can be caught up in the fun around you, in the trail and all that, and you forget all about the exercise part,” Jason Neal said.
In the springtime, about the time Slipping Gears Cycling was celebrating its one year anniversary, Emily Odermann established Slipping Gears Ladies Rides. Her idea was to create a group for women cyclists of all skill levels to feel comfortable planning rides together.
“So far it’s been really good for people,” Odermann said. “It’s growing, and I’m so glad people are using that page to post [things like], ‘Who wants to go for a ride Wednesday?’ That’s what I want it to be.”
Typically once a week, Emily Odermann leads the group on a ride in Bangor’s City Forest. As the days have grown shorter, the rides have moved from Wednesday nights to the weekend. So far, the rides have been what’s known as “no drop” rides, meaning no one gets left behind. You can count on an experienced rider to stay with you.
“There’s always a ‘sweep’ so we know if somebody’s missing or somebody falls off. They just bring up the rear and make sure everybody’s there,” Odermann said. “And we stop very regularly so people can catch up. And a lot of times we’ll stop and look at obstacles and talk about how to go over them, what’s the best line, what skills do you need to get over this, what should your body position be.”
“I don’t know everything about biking, but I can give a few pointers,” she said with a smile.
On Saturday, the group of 15 women traced an 8-mile loop through the forest, where the trail varied from smooth gravel paths to rooty, rocky single-track trails. As is often the case, the group’s sweep was Raylene Jernigan of Clifton.
“I like the fact that it’s all abilities,” Jernigan said. “New people can come in and we just hopefully help them enjoy getting out and learning how to bike, you know, it’s not competitive. It’s just fun. There’s good camaraderie. It’s a good way to meet people and get outside.”
Jernigan patiently rode at the tail of the group, helping new riders over logs and tricky outcroppings with the help two other experienced riders, Sarah Vickers of Holden and Sarah Healey of Glenburn. Often, they’d climb off their bikes and stand to the side of the trail to spot a biker over a tricky obstacle, offer advice and cheer. There was lots of cheering.
And as the group’s leader promised, no one was left behind.