Updated: Aug 27
Even the strongest native New Zealand tree needs a supportive environment to flourish at the start, and many burgeoning women mountain bikers are no different. Creating this type of environment was the incentive behind Revolve, a “down to earth” women’s cycling club that caters to women of all skill levels, who want to ride a bike!
Founded in 2009, Revolve was the brainchild of two local bike enthusiasts – Ash Peters and Marjolein (MJ) Cook – who found there was a severe lack of women riding the trails and racing in local events. With a little prompting from supportive local bike shop owner Nigel Welch, they decided to do something about it. “What started as a casual weekly ride quickly grew and, as more and more ladies started to turn up, we thought… maybe we’re onto something,” says Ash.
With the simple mission to get more women on bikes – be it mountain or road – Revolve’s popularity grew quickly and captured the hearts of many – both guys and girls. By 2012, over 1000 people had signed up for the ‘Weekly Revolver’ e-newsletters to stay in the loop with the weekly rides, events, and skills and maintenance clinics.
“Given the response and commitment we received fairly quickly, it was hard to believe there wasn’t a club before,” says Ash. “They say ‘build it and they will come’ and, with Revolve’s inception, I’ve had countless women reiterate this saying – whether they were too nervous, unacquainted with the trails or not keen to ride with their partners, these women were looking for an outlet and, through Revolve, found a club to call their own.”
Fast forward ten years and Revolve is much more than a two-woman band – the committee of nine, headed by co-presidents Meagan Robertson and Abbie Bull, continues to be the driving force behind a club that remains committed to empowering the women of Wellington, and ideally beyond, through their love of cycling.
Keeping the wheels turning
Over the years, Revolve has provided its members with a wide variety of activities and benefits; bike maintenance classes, women-only events, trips away, subsidised skills courses, quiz nights, shuttle days, and more. While the options vary and evolve from year to year and committee to committee, one core offering has remained constant since Revolve’s inception in 2009: its guided weekly road and mountain bike rides.
“No matter what else is going on, be it event preparation, first aid course organisation or injured Ride Guides, Revolve Ride Guides always pull together to ensure consistency through its ride schedule,” says Dee Skilton, who has been on the committee as a Ride Guide coordinator and Trails Liaison for the past four years.
With road rides every Saturday morning, and mountain bikes rides every Thursday evening (every second week in winter), Revolve members always have something to look forward to. Ride Guides also organise additional rides beyond the weekly offering, such as the Weekend Excursions led by Ride Guide Nicole Hoy and the Wainui Weekend Rides led by Dee, which draw good crowds and have become much-anticipated calendar staples.
“If our rides are our constant, it’s drawn from the strength of our Ride Guides, and a key part of Revolve is ensuring we have enough Ride Guides who are trained and passionate about our mission. They are the face of Revolve, and the ones who influence whether those who turn up for rides end up coming back – it’s a big responsibility!”
To ensure the Ride Guides feel confident and are well prepared to lead rides, Revolve organises and funds Ride Guide training, first aid training and skills courses, as well as bi-annual get togethers and an appropriate thank you at the AGM.
For many of the Ride Guides, like Weekend Excursion extraordinaire Nicole Hoy, it’s a way to give back to a club they feel passionately about. “Nine years ago I found Revolve. I loved riding a bicycle and wanted to become a more confident mountain biker. Ashley and MJ were amazingly patient with riders like myself, and their love of mountain biking was infectious. My confidence grew, as did my list of bike riding women friends. I've met some of my dearest friends through Revolve and am eternally thankful for that. It’s a big part of why I continue to Ride Guide – I want to support this unique and welcoming community of riders.”
More than just riding
While Revolve’s initial goal was to get women on bikes, the lack of women riding was particularly obvious at the start line of an event, so building women’s confidence in attending events became another club aim early on.
Women of Dirt was the club’s first event and has arguably become its most notorious. Designed as an inclusive and fun six-hour relay – complete with baking and best dressed prizes – the aim is to encourage women to try their hand at racing in a comfortable atmosphere. “It reiterates our mission, which is to build confidence in women of all abilities and skill levels through their enjoyment of riding,” says co-president Abbie. “Women of Dirt is unique in that it encompasses an awesome blend of fun and competition. With girls aged seven through to women in their late fifties – some that have ridden a handful of times and others that ride several times per week – it proves an opportunity to get together, ride bikes and meet like-minded people.”
With the ninth Women of Dirt event plan underway, co-president Meagan – who took part for the first time in 2011 – says it’s been incredible to see the event grow over the past eight years. “On my first-ever Revolve ride, myself and another newbie – now one of my closest friends – were talked into putting together a team for Women of Dirt. It was such an amazing way to find out what Revolve was all about – the people were friendly, the biking was fun and the atmosphere was almost electric.
“For the next few years, I rode and helped organise with more new friends, and since taking on the president role four years ago, I’ve been mostly organising – but always taking time for a lap or two!”
The event, which took place at Makara Peak for the first five years, became so popular that the committee decided to move it around to help give women exposure to trails further afield – in 2017, it was held at Wainui Trail Park and last year at Belmont Regional Park.
Meagan says the decision hasn’t come without its own challenges. “It’s already challenging to convince women to take part in an event at all, even when it’s on home turf, which is Makara for a lot of people. Convincing them to give new trails a go takes a lot of encouragement, and a lot of pre-rides.” Looking to cater for a wider variety of riding abilities, and expose women to a different racing format, the Super V was born in 2012. Held at Polhill Reserve, the pedally downhill race gives women a chance to get shuttled to the top of stunning singletrack that can rarely be ridden at speed due to its dual-use status and popularity.
“It’s similar to Women of Dirt in that the environment is incredibly supportive and friendly, plus you get time to chat to the other women on the way up in the shuttle. It feels a bit more like a race though because you start one by one, and you don’t want to let people pass you,” says Tina Frew, who was convinced to join in after only a few weeks in Wellington, and has participated every year since.
Both events are organised wholly by the committee, who continue to refine the processes around them.
“Where we see areas for possible improvement, we make a change,” says Meagan. “Over the past four years, our focus has been on ensuring volunteers feel valued, sponsors feel appreciated and the atmosphere at the race is welcoming and fun. It’s a massive job organising these events, and we’re lucky to have such an incredible committee, and race day volunteers, making it happen.”
Friends of Revolve
In addition to its two staple events, the Revolve committee also organises a Christmas party, an AGM and an AGM Shuttle Day for Ride Guides; members and volunteers, and Friends of Revolve are welcome at all three events.
“While Revolve is all about empowering women, it wouldn’t be as successful as it has been without support from those outside the club, who we call Friends of Revolve,” says Abbie, whose membership research led the club to introduce an actual Friends of Revolve membership earlier this year.
“Every committee member and Ride Guide has people in their life who supports their volunteering, and many of our event volunteers are men who support Revolve’s mission. It’s so close to our hearts that we acknowledge a Man Friend of the Year at every Christmas party.”
Why women only?
Much like the hashtag #ifyoucanseeityoucanbeit, Revolve caters for all women, particularly those who are nervous about “not being good enough”. In any given week, Revolve receives a handful of emails from women wondering if they are “good enough” to join a ride and, nine times out of ten, said women are more than capable of joining the ride they’re enquiring about.
Committee member Sarah Murray, who has now been the Roadie Ride Co-coordinator for the past three years, admits Revolve’s ‘no one left behind’ policy was a major drawcard for her. Two Coast to Coasts, an Ironman and few half Ironmans later, she recalls her nervousness vividly.
“I joined Revolve to learn how to ride a road bike and meet some new people. I looked around at quite a few riding groups but was pretty intimidated by the sound of most of them, while Revolve seemed so welcoming and forgiving of out-of-their depth rookies like me. My first ride was led by Leonie and despite the fact we had to stop half way up the hill to pump up my tyres (I didn't know you needed more than 40psi in them....) she was so friendly and encouraging - after that I was hooked!”
Words: Meagan Robertson
Images: Dan Sharpe