BIRDS HILL PARK -- Thirty-eight women and children showed up Wednesday to compete in the Dirt Skirt race series, a cycling event specifically for women. The event gives female cyclists the opportunity to race in a fun and friendly setting.
The event started last year when one of the event organizers, Moni Robertson, noticed there weren't a lot of women competing in Manitoba Cycling Association races. She and some friends wanted to create an event that would encourage women to grab their bikes and hit the trails.
Last year's event featured one race. Robertson said it was thrown together quickly just to see what it would be like. Roberston couldn't believe last year's turnout.
"I just hoped to see women that I didn't recognize out on the race course. We had initially planned for 50 and hoped for 30 riders to show up and we had 47 come, so we were pretty excited about that," she said.
While this year's mountain bike event did see fewer entries, but they are also holding two additional events later this summer: An individual time trial Aug. 7 and a cyclocross race Sept. 11.
They've also opened up a kids' division to get children involved in the sport.
Last year, the event was only promoted within bike shops. This year, they got the word out to a larger audience and have increased the event with sponsorship.
"There's more to cycling than just mountain bike racing so we thought we would do a small series," said Roberston, who is hoping to get 50 female racers for each event.
Wednesday night's event featured a kids race, a women's two-lap race and a women's three-lap race.
Robertson believes Dirt Skirt helps women realize they are not alone when it comes to having an interest in cycling. The event allows these women to bond over a common interest in a supportive setting.
"We don't always want to cycle with our husbands or our spouses," Robertson said. "We want to cycle with other women at our same ability and the same kind of camaraderie and that's what's so important about an event like this."
Jane Braun competes in cycling competitions whenever she can and she's proud to be competing in the female-sanctioned event.
"There usually aren't a lot of women at mountain bike races so this helps drive more women out and encourages them," Braun said, wearing a hula skirt. Prizes were awarded to the biker with the best skirt.
"I think it's great that these women can get together and draw them to the sport. It's less intimidating when it's only women and hopefully we're friendly," she said with a laugh. "It's a little nerve-racking for newcomers, but the sport has actually gotten friendlier. I think when you come in and you're new and you don't know anybody -- especially races here where they're pretty fast -- it can be intimidating. But it's a great opportunity for women to get a start in cycling, make some connections with people and find it less intimidating."
Robertson is excited about what the future will hold for Dirt Skirt and encourages anyone interested to give it a try. She doesn't believe the goal of these races is to win. It goes much further than that.
"The most important thing we can do is let them know that it's not that scary to race. We're all there to make sure that everyone has a good time," Roberston said. "That's what it's about. It's not really about winning in an event like this; it's about going out there, pushing yourself to your limit, getting better and finding other women who enjoy the same sport as you do."
For more information visit http://www.dirtskirt.ca.