They want to talk about fear. They want to talk about fit - of biking shorts and saddles. They feel comfortable bringing up personal subjects at the REI all-women's mountain biking clinic.
"How many of you know how to fix a chain?" asks the instructor, Jen Tribe. Tribe is a professional, a racer - but still, one of them. Tribe is also funny and wry. The women in the class don't feel dumb admitting to her that some of them don't know how. Pretty soon they are all squatting together on the pavement, 18 women around Tribe, watching her wrestle a loose link.One of the women in the group is REI employee Amy Abbott, the special events coordinator at the Salt Lake store. Abbott is the one who comes up with the topics for the store's weekly free clinics. The all-women's mountain bike clinics are so popular - tonight's is the second one this summer - that she's considering more all-women's clinics on different topics.
Abbott says a female science teacher first told her how adolescent girls act more confident and ask more questions if there are no boys in the class. Abbott has observed the same phenomenon in bike workshops.
"How should I move from toe clips to cleats?" a woman asks Tribe. "Just do it," says Tribe. Another woman in the group says she's been trying to ease into the idea of cleats by wearing one cleat and one clip. Tribe tells her to "just do it," too. "Do it in the grass first. You are going to fall."
"Should I lower my saddle to go downhill?" asks another woman. "Never change the position of your saddle," Tribe advises. When your pedal is at the bottom of its circle your knee should have a slight bend. Tribe says she's seen so many women riding with their seats too low or too high. Too high and your hips have to slide from side-to-side, causing chafing. Too low, too much pressure on your knees.
You won't be able to touch the ground when you are sitting on your seat, Tribe says. But when you are standing on the ground your body should clear the cross bar by several safe inches. If it doesn't, your frame is too big for you.
And speaking of size. One woman who has small feet feels swallowed up in her toe clips. Another feels swallowed up when she tries on those chamois-lined biking shorts. Tribe laughs in agreement. "You're small. You want them to fit? You're going to have to wear kids' sizes."
How much pressure do you have in your tires? the women ask. Tribe says it depends on your weight. She weighs 120 and has 55 pounds in her rear tire and 45 in the front.
What to wear under biking shorts, they ask. Nothing - the chamois-lined shorts are designed to be worn without underwear. Cotton underwear invites blisters.
What kind of seat is best? Tribe holds up one of the new cut-out saddles and one of the traditional gel saddles and says she doesn't notice any difference between them. They are both fairly narrow, yet wider than a man's saddle.
If you aren't a racer, Tribe says, "the wider and heavier the saddle the better."
One of the women in the audience, Carol Gora, says she finds herself relaxed in the company of women. Another, Lea Hall, says she also enjoys an all-women's clinic. "I've done some biking with guys. It is nice to just be with women. We have different concerns."
Here's one concern: Fear. How do you get over it? "Experience," says Tribe. "Fear was my biggest thing. Still is. Because you go out and ride with guys and they'll fling themselves down anything. Anywhere." Whereas a woman might think about what she's doing, Tribe says, and her audience laughs.
But when you hesitate, you fall, Tribe points out. "I've never gotten hurt when I've fully committed to a trail." You want to learn to get over your fear? Ride with women who are better than you are. If you ride with guys who are better, you might tell yourself, "Well, these are guys." But if you ride with women, you'll know you can do it too.