Kim Coleman: How to Inspire a Women’s Cycling Movement

For Kim Coleman, it all started with a dog.

An Australian Cattle Dog.

Kim acquired the dog, Tess, while in college, and discovered this breed needs a lot of exercise. “She was tearing the house apart,” says Kim. Kim ran with Tess frequently, but it wasn’t enough. Her now husband, Ben, suggested she take the dog mountain biking. “I was like, Oh! This is so much better than running in the woods.” She began riding a lot and really fell in love with it.

Tess, the Australian Cattle Dog, atop Mt. Pisgah.

Tess, the Australian Cattle Dog, atop Mt. Pisgah.

Driven to Make a Difference

Talking with Kim, it’s clear that it’s very important to her to make a difference. Her career as an assistant professor of environmental science at SUNY Plattsburgh focuses on managing forests at the national level in order to reduce the risk of wildfire. And in 2017, Kim became a Trek Advocate, a program aimed at growing the women’s cycling community. Its focus is on connecting women to the support mechanisms Trek offers, such as the Trek Dirt Series, which offers clinics throughout the US and Canada to build mountain biking skills. Advocates also host rides, events, and clinics. Kim has led cyclocross skills clinics, an introduction to e-bikes, bike maintenance clinics, and more.

 
Photo Credit:  Angelica Dixon

Photo Credit: Angelica Dixon

 

 “Ok, so here’s truth: I go to work every day and work on conservation issues and I RARELY feel like I’m making a dent. Like, I write a lot of papers—is that getting us any closer to solving the wildland fire issue? I hope it is but sometimes (a lot of the time) I don’t think so. Do my lectures get through to students? Time will tell I guess.

 “Same thing with bikes. Does me posting Trek photos on Instagram inspire more women? Maybe. It’s certainly possible. But I can point to last year’s Ranger and say, “This had important and REAL conservation outcome. And I heard from women that they wouldn’t have done the event without the no-drop ride. So this is a time when I can really make a difference in creating a more sustainable and equitable future.”

Women’s Cycling Advocate

The mountain bike rides and clinics that Kim led were great, but something about the experience was unsatisfactory. For one thing, many of the women who showed up were already committed riders. For another, in Kim’s neck of the woods there are many opportunities for new women riders to learn about mountain biking in women-specific rides and clinics.

Kim turned her attention to gravel. “I figured I’d lead some rides and see if anyone shows up.” Kim was shocked at how many women turned up and “felt empowered to come out and bring their totally not gravel-worthy road bikes. A lot of learning and a lot of empowerment happened.”

Last year, Kim proposed a women’s no-drop ride-within-the-ride of the Ranger, a 36-mile gravel race (with an 18-mile option), to promoter Alex Buskey. About a dozen women signed up. All of them were on the fence about the event, and the support and leadership Kim offered gave them the confidence to sign up and do it. Of all the clinics and rides Kim has led, this ride was the most successful in getting more women on bikes.

Riding that wave of success, Kim has also been instrumental in getting a women’s no-drop pre-ride organized for Rooted Vermont, a new gravel event happening in August.

 
Cycling pregnant

Cycling During Pregnancy

Kim worked with a nutritionist, a prenatal strength expert, and her doctor to be able to continue to exercise through both her pregnancies. “My big advice is to talk to your doctor, do what feels good, and don't listen to other people's judgments. Bodies are different, pregnancies are different, and I think every woman needs to choose, in consultation with a medical professional, what feels best for her.”

 
Women’s group gravel ride in Vermont.

Women’s group gravel ride in Vermont.

 

Kim points out that plenty of gravel rides exist, but they tend to be geared towards people who are experienced riders, the ones who are “going hard at the front of Rasputitsa or Muddy Onion. I wanted to offer a more approachable option.” Due to the success of last year’s Ranger pre-ride, Kim will lead one again this year.

 “Gravel riding is fun, it’s down home, it’s also a sufferfest—it checks a lot of boxes for a lot of people. It’s approachable. People ask, can I come on my gravel bike? Yes. Can I bring my mountain bike? Sure. Can I ride my road bike? Well, do you have good bike handling skills? Then, yeah.”

More Women on Bikes

Kim has seen firsthand the power cycling has to empower riders. “In general there’s disparity [between men and women] in everything. Cycling is no different. But cycling has the ability to create opportunity for empowerment.” She’s seen this blossoming confidence in other women as they realize they are indeed capable of completing a ride or learning a skill, and she’s had the experience herself. As she learned to descend technical mountain bike trails, she learned that not only could she do it, she’s actually quite good at it. This led to increased confidence in other areas of her life, “like negotiating for more money. It’s confidence inspiring, and you use that confidence to do other things and grow yourself in other ways.”

 
Women’s gravel ride. Early spring in Vermont is like winter anywhere else.

Women’s gravel ride. Early spring in Vermont is like winter anywhere else.

 

This possibility of empowerment is true of many sports, but Kim says there’s something unique about cycling. “There’s something grittier about it, there’s some ‘grrr, I did it’ behind it.”

Conservation Outcome of the Ranger

The Ranger ties together Kim’s individual interests into one event. She works hard every day on trying to solve the landscape wildfire problem. But, she says, “there’s no tangible, visible piece of land that’s conserved right now.”  The Ranger raises money for actual conservation and acquisition of land. “With the Ranger, here’s this day where everybody comes together. And they get to teach a bunch of people who otherwise wouldn’t have done this thing.” For Kim, The Ranger brings together conservation outcomes, getting women on bikes, and riding some beautiful roads with a group of like-minded people. “For me, it’s a perfect event. It makes me feel like I’m making a contribution.”

Have you been inspired to learn a new skill or take on a longer or harder ride? We’d love to hear from you about what inspired you and what you learned. Tell us in the comments!