Women Involved Series: Ann Pai

Ann Pai is the organizer of the Kansas City Women's Dirt Summit, a womens-only social mountain biking event presented by the Earth Riders Mountain Bike Club in Kansas City. Ann is also a board member of Urban Trail Co., the Kansas City non-profit organization that manages resources and agreements to build and maintain area trails.

A professional technical writer, Ann changed her sedentary life and became an adult-onset athlete in her mid-40s, taking on multisport, then trail running, which led to her great loves, trail building and mountain biking.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
For cycling in general, I think the routines that have to be developed around it are daunting. Even if a person goes the least fussy route, there are still routines of bike maintenance, route selection, clothing choice, dealing with weather, and so on. The peripheral activities can be a bigger up-front time investment than cycling itself, and way more of a mental hassle. I guess that's not gender-specific! Maybe women experience that burden of fussiness differently than men. I don't know.

For mountain biking - it seems like many factors play a part. But it helps me to flip that question around and think: What have I seen that works to get women involved in mountain biking? And the number one thing is being able to ride with friends - people you already know and like, on or off the bike.

What do you feel could change in the industry to encourage more women to ride?
Sew functional pockets for cycling into everyday clothes. In your marketing, show images of women friends riding together casually, to get to places.

Cycling is marketed as a luxury, "free-time" activity -- and who needs to add one more activity to her busy life? With your products -- and with your advocacy for safe cycling infrastructure -- help us better weave cycling into the lives we're already living.

I'd like to see the bike industry focus less on stuff and more on experiences. I'd encourage the industry to seek ways to support local clinics, small festivals, retreats, trips, and promotions like the recent SRAM Mariposa challenge, to help us connect in fun ways that build a scene. We have closets full of stuff. We crave hearts full of memories.

No worries, industry - we'll buy stuff for our experiences.

Tell us about the Kansas City Women's Dirt Summit - what can women expect if they attend?
Kansas City mountain biking ladies and our guests can expect a gathering of women who love mountain biking! We ride, we lunch, we hang out. The amazing Swope Park Trails are open and ladies ride at will. Women mechanics are on site for bike safety checks and other assistance. Though we do not offer beginner instruction, we do have volunteers who will lead a few beginner groups on the trail. Women should bring their own trail-capable bikes.

If trails are closed because of rain, the event rolls on with the social, the lunch, and a swap meet. The trail builders are also very supportive in helping us with potential rain options - so women should still bring their bikes.

At its heart, this is a social event for our local women mountain bikers, who don't get many chances to meet up and ride together. We love meeting our out of town guests, but honestly, because the weather can always shut down the trail, and our capacity isn't huge, we don't anticipate growing this to a regional event. We plan for about 100 women and are ready for a few more.

What are plans for the Dirt Summit this year?
It's always a simple outline: ride, lunch, socialize, raffle! We also offer free childcare, though this must be arranged in advance (RSVPs are closed for this year). Our plans going forward - we are working on a "build kit" that can help women in other cities start their own local Dirt Summit events. Imagine it! 2nd weekend in November, women all over the country riding together on Dirt Summit Day! If anyone's interested in that, they can contact me through the web site, kcdirtsummit.blogspot.com. (Check out Dirt Summit on Facebook)

What are some challenges have you encountered with the Dirt Summit when you first started it?
Weather! Our soils are clay-based, and trails close when it rains. In November, the weather can be unpredictable! The Swope Trails are so amazing to ride - every year I'm on pins and needles with hope that we'll have weather that keeps the trails open.

Our first year, we had no idea how many women would attend, so it was hard to plan for food for the lunch. There were people who thought we had only 20 or so women mountain bikers in Kansas City. Seventy-six women attended. Then 96 last year. We always cross our fingers and hope we've planned for enough food.

All challenges have been minimized by the phenomenal support for the event throughout the community, including 20 local bike shops and several women owned businesses, like Nanny Nexus, which provides our professional child care. The Dirt Summit isn't a separate non-profit or anything like that - it is an event put on by the Earth Riders Mountain Bike Club. Behind the scenes, there are men as well as women working hard for the event. We're all mountain bikers who want people to love mountain biking.

What is the most exciting part about the Dirt Summit for you?
I love seeing the scene grow and friendships beginning! The best thing ever is when I meet two women who are riding together and they say, "Oh yeah, we met at the Dirt Summit."

What suggestions do you have for women who would like to create a women's group in their area?
Creating ride opportunities is important, but it's just as important to create social opportunities. Women want to ride with their friends. So we need opportunities to bond as friends, and that's not always easy to do on the bike, especially on trails, where you are somewhat strung apart and yelling over your shoulder to talk to the next person.

For folks in places where there's no women's group, I'd encourage organizing a social event that has bike or ride aspects. Let women meet and talk and get to know each other. And look for a way, whether it's a social media page or an email group or whatever works, to help women connect for rides. In your efforts, don't be shy to ask your local bike shops for material support. They want to see more people on bikes.

For some areas, attendance for women's rides/groups might not be great at first. What suggestions or advice do you have to help women not feel discouraged?
More a lesson learned the hard way than advice: It's better to stay relaxed. Let go of expectations for what you hope the group ride turns into or is "supposed to be," and accept and enjoy what happens when people ride together. It seems to take a group of regulars to sort out the ride dynamic, so be patient with uneven experiences.

Group rides seems to start well from a core group of friends who then open up the invite. So even if it's just you and a friend or two, keep focusing on - and telling others - what a great time it was to be riding together, and that you're open to having others join up if they want.

You are a member of your local trail organization- why is it important for women to be active with their local trail groups?
Building trail is incredibly empowering. You spend a few hours outside in the company of great people, you work up a sweat, and at the end of the work session, you've helped build something you love, that could last for 100 years. Your great-grandkids could ride the trail you build!

The trail groups have a lot of influence in helping events and experiences get off the ground, and it's important to have women's voices in the trail leadership. But the only way to get that is for women to become trail builders. It all starts with a single, no-experience required work session. And it's a great upper body workout outdoors on a winter day!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Their smiles.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I like proverbs from around the world. Here's one of my favorites. It's Russian: "Love's not a potato; you can't throw it out the window!" Tell me that doesn't paint a picture.