Little Bellas biking Santa Cruz
November 2019

Small Bikes, Big Confidence

Girls Take to the Trails in Little Bellas Program

Extremely Sports: November 2019

By Karen Kefauver

When I first considered volunteering with the Little Bellas program in Santa Cruz, I thought, ‘I don’t have time!’

karen kefauver

Then I reconsidered: Just like chocolate and peanut butter, the combo of mountain biking and mentoring sounded irresistible.

I took a closer look at the eight-week commitment on Sunday afternoons in Scotts Valley and learned that Little Bellas is a national program for women mentoring girls on mountain bikes. I felt proud that Santa Cruz, our cycling mecca, had its own chapter. After I talked to the leadership crew, helmed by Sara Rauch of Scotts Valley, I wanted in!

Sara oversees about 30 girls (7 to 13 years old) and 16 women mentors locally for the annual fall program. She told me how her own girls, Lily, 10, and Josie, 8, had grown more confident thanks to Little Bellas.

“The girls get a chance to see that they can do hard things, and this self-confidence can carry over into many other areas of their lives,” said Sara.

The girls in my assigned 9 to 10-year-old group had various degrees of cycling skills. But after they chose the name Bella Warriors, the team bonding began.

Little Bellas biking Santa Cruz

Photo by Karen Kefauver. Girls just wanna have fun — on their mountain bikes. The Santa Cruz Little Bellas Program is a chapter of the national program, Little Bellas, that aims to empower girls though mentorship from women on mountain bike trails. The 2019 sessions wrapped up in October and took place at Siltanen Park in Scotts Valley. Registration details: https://littlebellas.com/camp/santa-cruz-sunday-program

It seemed that the slower and faster riders blended better as they navigated some of the steep hills and singletrack trails at Siltanen Park, next to Scotts Valley High School.

From decades of mountain biking, I know there’s nothing like the exhilaration of tackling roots, rocks and hills, improving bike handling skills and respecting nature and fellow riders. I also feel passionate about encouraging girls’ interest in mountain biking, in part, because they are still vastly outnumbered by boys, across all cycling disciplines. I was elated to watch what unfolded, week after week, during our rides: girls getting to know each other better, cheering each other on and feeling excited to share the twists and turns of the trail together. It was a blast guiding those blossoming bikers!

I don’t have kids, but love them, and was initially excited to impart all my cycling tips and tactics. But I had to shift gears: Little Bellas is not a coaching or racing program although learning skills is an important component. Our Bella Warriors would stop to practice technique (“session’) on steep uphills, downhills, and tight turns. Bottom line: We always supported and encouraged each other. 

Once in a while, a Little Bella would tumble off her bike — and get right back up again. Physical, mental and emotional safety are central to Little Bellas. I appreciated that the topic of bullying was addressed in our training. And bike safety was covered weekly (see the checklist).

The most rewarding moment was in the final week, when of “my girls” hollered, “Look at me!” She was ecstatic, riding down a hill that she had walked down a dozen times, because she had been too afraid to ride it.

This September and October groups of girls ages 7 to 13 rolled out on their mountain bikes at Siltanen Park in Scotts Valley, to be mentored by women in a local chapter of the nationwide Little Bellas program. Visit https://littlebellas.com/camp/santa-cruz-sunday-program for details.

That ear-to-ear smile made my day. By the end of 8 weeks, I remembered that volunteering is a two-way street, er, trail. I got as much as I gave.

For information about 2020 registration and becoming a mentor, visit littlebellas.com

Karen Kefauver is a freelance journalist and social media coach based in Santa Cruz since 1993. Send story ideas to [email protected]

The ABC’s of a Bike Safety Check

To get rolling with your bicycle safety check, think of the alphabet. 

Air – Check the tire pressure on both wheels by giving them a firm squeeze. Tire pressure varies by terrain; for dusty and loose trails, avoid over-inflated tires.  

Brakes – The most important safety feature on your bike, brakes must be in good working order. Inspect the brake pads, squeeze the brakes one at a time, and rock the bike forwards and back (while standing next to it) to see if front and rear brakes work. 

Chain – Bike chains get worn out and some of the first signs are that when the gears are shifted, the chain “jumps.” Have a bike mechanic use a measuring tool to see if it’s time for a new chain. Keeping the chain lubricated and rust-free is a priority!

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