If you are an avid cyclist in Central Oregon, there is a good chance you have shared a road or a trail with the Bend Bella Cyclists.
The women’s cycling club offers organized road- and mountain-bike rides weekly from May through October, along with monthly activities such as spin classes and potlucks in the offseason.
Many cycling clubs focus on competition and racing. The “Bellas,” as they call themselves, do not. Instead, as their website notes, their mission is to “provide Bend women with a safe, enjoyable and supported cycling club.”
The club, formed in 2006 by several local women, now includes more than 60 female members, according to club treasurer Moe Slater.
While the club is open to female riders of all ages, current group members range in age from 24 to 67 years old.
“There are women (in the club) from all walks of life,” notes Bellas president Barb Smith.
“It’s a diverse group, but (we have) so much in common ... we run together, ride together, ski together,” adds Slater.
The club is split about equally between those who ride either mountain bikes or road bikes exclusively and those who enjoy both. It is divided into two groups: “Conversational” and “Easy Riders.” The Conversational group (for intermediate riders) alternates each weekend between road and mountain bike rides, while the Easy Riders typically mountain bike once during the week and occasionally on the weekend at a slower (but not beginner) pace, according to Smith.
Smith says those new to road or mountain biking are encouraged to attend a beginner’s cycling clinic (offered by several local bike shops) to learn basic bike-handling skills before joining the Bellas.
Most of the time, says Slater, the Easy Riders spend one or two hours riding singletrack trails on weekday mornings. They frequent the Deschutes River Trail and Phil’s Trail in Bend, and they often carpool to locations such as Suttle Lake and Peterson Ridge in the Sisters area, says Slater, 57.
A retired naval officer, Slater says she had been looking for a group to mountain bike with before joining the Bellas three years ago.
The camaraderie of a cycling club appealed to her. “When you are out (riding a trail) by yourself you need a map,” she says. “It’s nice to have a group to know the routes and where to turn.”
Slater and Smith agree that riding as a group is of paramount importance to the Bellas, who have adopted the military maxim, “leave no one behind.”
“Even if someone is slow they are not going to get left behind,” says Smith, who adds that a group leader routinely rides in the back of the pack.
“We look out for one another,” adds fellow Bella rider Janice Adair.
Adair, 56, speaks from experience. When a tire fell off her mountain bike during a group trail ride with the Bellas last season, another member stopped and helped her reattach it.
Adair says she joined the cycling club last year soon after moving to Bend. At first she mountain biked with her husband, who often rode ahead of her at a faster pace.
Now, she rides with other women at her own pace. “It has enhanced my living experience tremendously,” says Adair of her involvement with the Bella Cyclists. “It’s a fun way to get exercise.”
For some members, the club’s organized rides serve as motivation to exercise.
“If I don’t have a commitment, I’m not going to get out the door,” says ride leader Catherine Conlon. “I have to show up (to group rides).”
While Conlon, 47, helps determine which trails or routes the group will ride, Smith says other members are expected to lead rides on occasion.
The rides are social in nature. “We talk the whole way,” says Smith, noting that most excursions conclude with lunch or drinks at a nearby restaurant.
“We joke that $25 buys us friends,” she adds with a laugh in reference to the club’s annual membership fee (which covers club expenses such as insurance, winter activities, and gas for carpool trips).
For many members, the Bellas community is one of encouragement.
Slater, who has a self-described phobia of descending steep hills while mountain biking, says fellow club members have shown support instead of prodding her to go down hills on group rides.
“We can be so critical of our own riding as women,” says Slater. “But we are so accepting of each other.”