Words and photos by Kona Ambassador Lita Monaghan.
I recently connected with a group of women out of the Olympia area who host a ride series called, “Chick Gravel.” And yes, it is as badass as it sounds.
The Chick Gravel ride leader, Colleen Welch, is badass numero uno (far left in the picture above)! A few years ago, she was invited to ride at Capitol State Forest and was immediately hooked. After participating in a variety of group rides there, she saw an opportunity to create and lead a women-centric gravel ride. Chick Gravel was born! She fosters a non-threatening environment for women to learn and gain confidence by leading gravel rides that are not too long, not too fast, and not at all intimidating. In other words, just right… Complemented by a ton of support and encouragement, Chick Gravel is a growing community of amazing women!
A short drive from Olympia, Washington USA, Capitol State Forest is a 110,000-acre forest open to horseback riding, hiking, mountain and gravel biking, or sometimes an activity lovingly called “hike and bike.” And while Chick Gravel rides are tailored to accommodate new and seasoned riders alike, there is no shortage of challenges. With plenty of grueling climbs, rolling hills, and thrilling descents–something fun awaits every turn and switchback. The hard work always pays off though with amazing views such as Mt. Rainier or Mount St. Helens on a clear day or some hidden gems like beautiful waterfalls.
The women who participate in Chick Gravel truly augment the ride experience to make it really fun. Everyone that joins Chick Gravel rides is welcoming, warm and supportive, creating a really fun, party-like atmosphere. There is plenty of regrouping and no pressure to go at a pace with which you are not comfortable. There is always a lead and a sweep, ensuring that the “no-drop” ride is actually a no-drop ride.
I have been riding in the forest on my 2019 Kona Rove ST. I made some recent modifications to help me better tackle the terrain. As the weather turned wetter, I switched out the smooth-rolling Rene Herse Babyshoe Pass tires for the knobbier and wider grip of the Rene Herse Juniper Rides tires. This was also a great opportunity for me to learn how to convert to a tubeless setup to run at lower pressures. I have noticed how much more confidence I have bombing down muddy hills–these tires stick! The other significant change I made was switching out the crankset to achieve mountain bike gearing to conquer some of the really steep and rocky climbs. I like to say, “I may be slow AF climbing to the top, but I will get there eventually!” And when I do finally arrive at the top, I am met with cheers and no judgment.
While banter and camaraderie during the ride is great, the after-ride “party” back at the cars has been another highlight for me. Hanging out and enjoying treats such as donuts, pumpkin bread, coffee, boozy cider and more feels like an extension of the ride. For me, it’s a chance to get to know people better and share a story or two myself without being winded from a hill climb or two. It’s a time to ogle at everyone’s bikes and talk shop. In the moment, it feels so empowering to have a big group of women swapping stories of this awesome thing we just conquered.
If you haven’t had a chance to ride in Capitol State Forest, put it on your list! And if you want to join the Chick Gravel party and hang out with some truly awesome women, DM me on Instagram at @arabicabike. Colleen would love to have more of us out there!