When Manda Freyman started up a new group for female cyclists three years ago, she had no idea she would end up with a local network of more than 100 active riders, let alone a collection of mountain bike enthusiasts spanning across the province.
It all began with the simple objective of creating a way for women to get together to mountain bike.
“We have so many amazing athletes in our area,” explained Freyman, “and they’re looking for people to ride with and connect with.”
Freyman is one of those amazing athletes, who is turning her passion for mountain biking into an adventure to encourage and enable other women to get out riding.
Now living in the Horseshoe Valley area, Freyman grew up in Sudbury, where she bought her first mountain bike on a layaway plan from the local bike shop. As a young teenager, she was soon shredding single track on the trails around Sudbury. She went on to excel at not only mountain biking, but road riding, downhill riding and racing, and has enjoyed many other athletic pursuits. She has been a varsity volleyball player, barefoot waterski instructor, is an avid snowboarder, and enjoys outdoor adventure of all sorts, whether in the mountains on the water or in her backyard.
More than anything else, though, Freyman thinks of herself as a mountain biker.
“It’s part of my life; I can’t imagine not mountain biking.”
And for the past few years, Freyman has helped make it part of the lives of others. In 2018, she launched a Facebook forum, Peace & Wheelies, for female mountain bike riders in the Simcoe County area who want to connect with others to advance their skills, improve fitness, and have fun. It’s not for beginners. The Facebook page invites riders who “don’t mind suffering on the climbs, want to get faster on the descents … and be comfortable riding distances of 15 to 20 km on a trail without feeling crushed.”
“Everyone was so keen,” said Freyman. “It started as a way to get women biking together, but now many of us have made connections to do other things as well, whether it’s other sports or planning trips and social events together.”
Word about the activities of Peace & Wheelies quickly spread. In 2019, Kathy Downes, president of the Durham Mountain Bike Association, contacted Freyman to see if there was interest in her group coming to Durham forest for a ride “date,” and in turn, Peace & Wheelies would arrange to do the same.
This was the eureka moment for Freyman. “This is a good idea!” thought Freyman. She was certain there were many women out there who were hesitant to ride because they didn’t have anyone to go with, or were not confident getting through unfamiliar trail systems.
“Let’s put the idea out there,” Freyman said to Downes.
Within just one week, 15 riding groups responded, wanting to be involved in hosting rides.
This is when Freyman realized that her idea would need a bit more structure, and a name. With past experience running her own small business, Freyman was able to take on the task. She put together a “pitch” for “The Mountain Bike (MTB) Exchange,” describing how the new initiative would work, and sent it out to group leaders.
“The response was incredible, with word-of-mouth really spreading the news. We now have 17 different ‘hubs’ on board, representing social riding groups from as far south as London and as far north as North Bay.”
“Born out of a desire to attract more women riders to our local trails,” the idea of the mountain bike exchange is to bridge the gap between social ride groups found at different hubs across Ontario.”
Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit just as the new MTB Exchange was ready to begin hosting rides. Nevertheless, the group is moving ahead and is hopeful that they will be able to offer safe rides for the 2021 season.
The local Peace & Wheelies group intends to host a demo ride in May for group leaders so everyone knows what to expect when hosting or attending a ride.
“What’s really great about this is the opportunity not only for women to enjoy a day of guided trail riding, but to create friendships and ongoing connections to help them get out with others and be able to enjoy all the rad mountain biking we have in Ontario.”If this sounds like something you have been looking for, connect with The MTB Exchange on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more and to keep up-to-date on the group’s 2021 plans.