When most athletes think of a bike club, they think of weekend group rides followed by coffee and hanging out at the local bike shop. But during the pandemic, technology changed the way bike clubs operate. Instead of group rides departing from the shop, meet-ups happened on Strava, and coffee chats took place over Zoom. Though some clubs have returned to in-person meet-ups, the Women on Wheels club has leaned into their new virtual reality. The Facebook group, which was founded in December of 2020 by Hunter Ralston and Jess Willis, provides a virtual meeting place for women to come together to share their love of cycling.
“Our goal is to get more women on bikes no matter your age, ability, size, or style of riding,” Ralston said. “We believe the bike can offer so much to women, and we want everyone to experience that.”
The group originally started through a local bike shop in Connecticut, and the founders originally focused on women riders in their state. But as word spread of the friendly nature of the group, more and more women from outside the state asked to join. Within the past year, more than 1,300 women from around the U.S., plus a few international members, have joined the group. Each day, members answer questions, share tips, and swap gear, all with the intent of helping women achieve their goals in cycling, mountain biking, and triathlon.
“We work hard to make our group a warm and welcoming environment,” Ralston said. “I take pride in reading every single comment on the Facebook page to be sure everyone feels our page is a safe space to share and ask questions.”
This support extends beyond simple questions and answers. Each month, the group has a Zoom talk with a featured speaker (“We have everyone from professional athletes to physical therapists to energy healers to coaches to psychologists,” Ralston said) and a book club where authors often jump in on the discussion for insider info. There are Zoom and Zwift rides, and members can win prizes through monthly challenges like ride streaks and scavenger hunts.
Sometimes, these online activities spill over into real life, as members meet up for rides and at races. In the warmer months of 2022, the group also plans to host in-person mountain, gravel, and road rides. They are also in the process of planning clinics and some long weekend bike packing and mountain biking adventures. All of these events are designed to create a supportive and inclusive environment for women to love bikes–and the people who ride them. Within a virtual forum, where many members have never met each other in person, the Women on Wheels have created a true community.
“We have the most supportive women in our group. They are always sending us ideas and volunteering to help out where they can,” Ralston said. “This isn’t just another cycling group. It is so much more.”
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