This month, in conjunction with International Women’s Day, PEARL iZUMi celebrates women in cycling. Female riders excel at bringing others into the sport and creating an inclusive space for the love of bikes to flourish. This is one of several stories focusing on women who devote time to the development of others getting out on the bike.
Lisa Mason’s passion for mountain biking with her friends inspired her to create the Women’s Freeride Movement (WFM), a group that promotes female riders and puts on events to grow that aspect of the sport. It’s a segment that has seen impressive growth in high-level riders over the past few years, but it began with a small core.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t feel limited by being female, but when I got to Whistler it was such a small group of women,” Mason said. She had moved to the ski resort in 1996 as a competitive snowboarder. By about 2004, the ski shop she worked in began to rent mountain bikes, and she decided to give it a try.
Back then, she experienced some cliquishness and competitiveness from other women, but as time passed, the riders began to come together, sharing information and helping each other. Mason’s own point of view was altered by a riding friend who told her, “I don’t choose to be competitive; I choose to be inspired by what I see.” For Mason, “This was the catalyst that changed my life. I grew up being short and had this Napoleon complex, so I was always super competitive. But after hearing that, it’s helped me evolve as well.” She described the change among the riders as taking away the negative energy. “Now, it’s like: that chick just slayed that, I’m so inspired that I want to try it. I think everyone has been inspired that way. My friends are here to help me rise up, and vice versa.”
After attending the 2010 Womensworx, a female-focused segment of Whistler’s famous Crankworx event, Mason and four friends started the WFM the following year. “That was such a rad event, it had technical, it had jumping, it was so much fun,” Mason said. “I met most of my current friends there, and the next year we were so bummed because it didn’t repeat. So we formed (the WFM) to fill that gap.”
While waiting to host a WFM jam session at Whistler’s Air Dome training facility the following summer, she focused on her other goal: to showcase what women can do in this technically-demanding, male-dominated discipline.
“I wanted to draw awareness to the ladies who were shredding, and get them the recognition they deserved from companies,” Mason said. “I helped them get more likes, hits, views, share their events, photos, videos — whatever I could do to help them rise up.”
It began with a Facebook group, and in those days, Mason said, “I used to spend three days trying to find something new, to get a photo or a paragraph about a woman. Now there’s tons of women’s media. It’s very exciting and empowering, and I love the idea that maybe I’ve had a role in that.”
Today the Facebook group has 2,400 members, both men and women; plus there is a new website receiving hits from all over the globe, but the focus remains the same. “Our motto is PSI: Promote, Support and Inspire. We promote other people’s events, highlight riders, and share stories of riders in all aspects of mountain biking. We want women to see what they’re capable of and get them out there to try it.”
Now the WFM team is running their own dirt jump events with industry support, which will include coaching to help participants improve their skills over the course of the summer. The finale on Aug. 3-4 will feature amateur, semi-pro and pro categories, with $1,000 for the pro winner. “Our future goal is to bring some other events together like The Little Big, Sugar Showdown, Crankworx Riverside, and create a series that will be recognized by a governing body in the cycling industry,” Mason said. “If we can meet their criteria, that would be a big step for ladies’ freestyle biking.”
Mason grew her skills as a coach along the way, including gigs at the SRAM Women’s Clinics held at Crankworx. She’s as excited as everyone else about the progression of women’s freeride skills. “Now I’m super stoked because before, everything was about learning how to jump, and now I’m excited to help women do tricks. We got past getting our wheels in the air, now let’s throw our hands in the air.”
While women riders and the WFM have faced their share of challenges from both sides of the gender divide, Mason is enthusiastic about where things are today. “Now I go on rides, and the women are kicking a lot of the guys’ butts down the mountain. Kids nowadays don’t even see the difference, which is pretty awesome.”
Best of all, the cooperation among women is making the potentially-intimidating freeride scene a fun and supportive place to be. “I don’t want anyone to feel bad about where they come from,” Mason said. “Get those dreams, reach those goals, we can all do it. I probably couldn’t have gotten this far without my friends, I needed all those people encouraging me. That’s the great thing about mountain biking, we’re all evolving every day and trying to improve ourselves.”