Alison Gannett is a competitive mountain biker and free-skiing World Champion. But all that did not come naturally — Gannett discovered her inner athlete well into adulthood, rising through the ranks in her late 30s to worldwide recognition.
The Colorado resident operates KEEN Rippin Chix Camps, which teach women to bike, ski and surf at venues around the globe. Each year she instructs hundreds of women to ride singletrack trails, maneuver over obstacles, and generally enjoy the sport of mountain biking.
Gannett said she reached out to work with KEEN for her camps and as an ambassador because she was looking for an environmentally-conscious shoe company.
We interviewed Gannett this week for tips on riding for beginners — or really any woman hoping to improve her game. —Sean McCoy
1) Small Steps — Men and women often learn differently, Gannett said. “Women love learning by baby steps,” not diving full in, she said. At the KEEN Rippin Chix Camps, for example, clinics might start with beginners challenged to ride over a 2×4 board on the ground. They build slowly to a large pile of boards. Baby steps lead to confident riding technique.
2) Same Skill Level — When you are learning, ride with people that are also new to the sport, Gannett said. Then you don’t have the pressure of holding up the faster people in a group.
3) Build On Basics — Like anything, practice makes perfect. “Confidence is increased by practicing over and over in a non-threatening environment,” she said, explaining that it builds muscle memory and makes riding more automatic.
4) Look Ahead — Even when approaching an obstacle, keep your eyes focused on the trail further ahead. To practice, put a stick or a piece of lumber in your driveway. Practice riding to it, over it, and past it all while looking at a specific object further ahead.
5) Chin Up — When going over any obstacle, the underside of your chin should always be parallel with the ground. It should not tip down for even a second to look at that object.
6) Keep Pedaling — When the going gets tough, pedal harder! Momentum is key in getting over obstacles. “One of my personal mantras, and one I teach, is: ‘Pedal, Pedal, Pedal!‘”
7) Practice With A Curb — Pick a road curb to ride up and over. Practice looking ahead, making sure you are always perpendicular to it. Once that is easy, ride over it while pedaling. Keep pedaling through the obstacle.
8) Right Hand Shifting — Shift almost exclusively with your right hand. Your right hand controls the rear sprocket, which makes small shifts — that’s where most all of the shifting needs to take place.
9) Good Gear! — Gannett notes many women she instructs think they are “not good enough” for nice gear. “I say B.S. on this one!” she said. Putting a beginner on a good bike can make a huge difference.
10) ‘Toys’ Versus Training — Don’t call it “training.” Your bike is really just a big toy. “A big thing for me,” Gannett said, “is being outside playing and having fun, versus training for something in the future.”
—Connect with Alison Gannett and the KEEN Rippin Chix Camps. Says Gannett “Many mountain bike camps are hundreds of dollars, but thanks to KEEN and my partners I’m able to offer most of Rippin Chix camps at around $75.”