When Leigh Donovan, American downhill world champion mountain biker and cycling ambassador, retired in 2001, she wanted to use her skills to start a business that would allow her to introduce women to mountain biking in a safe environment. “I wanted to give them skills and confidence to be great bike riders along with gaining a lifetime hobby with biking,” says Leigh. “I want to get the working moms, closet adventure girls, and simply MORE women to join our incredible sport.”
In February 2014, ichoosebikes.com was born. With a mission to educate, inspire and empower women to ride bikes with confidence and joy through private and group coaching, Leigh utilizes her 22 years of riding experience, passion and drive to teach riders the basic skills necessary for mountain biking success.
Leigh chose to partner with Mammoth Mountain to hold a women’s three-day ichoosebikes mountain bike camp. The camp, which took place July 23 to the 26th, 2014, included, not only mountain biking skills clinics, but also hiking, yoga, wine tasting and all meals. Pricing options ranged from $400 to $1,000 depending on meals, lodging (available at Mammoth Mountain Inn), and bike pass options.
She selected Mammoth Mountain due to its extensive mountain biking terrain and facilities and her partnership with Bill Cockroft, senior VP at Mammoth Mountain, who she's known for more than 20 years.
Although she's an ex-pro rider, she caters her clinics to all levels. Leigh says, "Beginners can absolutely do the clinics, that is who my business is focused on. I know most of the riders think because I am a downhiller that the camps are going to be extreme but these camps are focused on making you a better, more confident rider and not the next World Champion."
The Mammoth camp offered skills training for all levels, from those who had never been on a mountain bike to riders that have ridden at a competitive level. “We had riders that could only ride the basic dirt path near the gondola all the way up to the Kamikaze downhill course from the top of the mountain,” says Leigh. “Mammoth has some great trails to learn on and after three days of building on the basic riding skills, the riders found a new confidence and joy on their bikes.”
With about 20 camp attendees, Leigh enlisted the help of fellow professional mountain bikers Mercedes Natvig and Christine Hirst to assist with coaching the group.
The camp started with a welcome dinner at Mammoth Mountain so that the riders could get to know each other, the coaches, and the program schedule. Attendees had the option to ride their own bike or demo a Liv mountain bike. Liv bikes, manufactured by Giant Bicycles, are designed specifically for women.
Each day included an optional morning yoga class followed by a buffet breakfast. Then the riders met at a central location at the base of the mountain and the group broke into three to four skills clinic groups. “Generally I focus on basic skill building during my clinics, like learning to move around on the bike, neutral riding position, front wheel lifts, cornering, and many other skills important to improving your riding,” says Leigh.
The group then met up for lunch and afterwards had the option to put their skills to work on the mountain. The coaches set up three “stations” on beginner trails for the attendees to practice what they learned in the parking lot. Even some experienced riders had to relearn the proper way to ride, which proved challenging. Each day ended with a group dinner, which inevitably led to discussions about the day’s ride.
At the end of the first full day, attendees were treated to a wine tasting event, followed by dinner in the Village. On the second day, after lunch at the top of the mountain with gorgeous views, attendees had the option to ride down from the top and then break into small groups (depending on ability and interest) and ride various trails down the mountain, or to take a break from the bike and go on a guided hike in the area. Dinner included a slide show of photos taken during the camp. By the end of the second day, there was a definite camaraderie amongst riders. The final day included small group rides followed by lunch and farewells.
The camp included complimentary bike valet at the Mammoth Mountain Inn, complimentary bike adjustments provided by a Liv bikes mechanic (who also taught riders how to change a flat tire!), and a pass for local shuttle service.
In the end, Leigh hoped that the women who attended the camp walked away with a little less fear about mountain biking. “The ‘fear factor’ is another reason I chose to launch my business,” says Leigh.” I was tired of hearing how scary mountain biking ‘is’ when I would be in conversation about the sport. When women come to a clinic or event they definitely are taught skills that help to chip away at what scares them and are given new skills to be more confident when riding in the dirt. “
For upcoming skills clinics with Leigh, visit ichoosebikes.com.