Meredith Brandt went from mountain bike student to mountain bike master in the space of six years, and along the way turned her skills in the saddle into a nationwide business.
Brandt, 37, co-founder and owner of Grit Clinics LLC, organizes individual instruction and clinics for groups as large as 21.
Grit Clinics, which started in 2011 with four classes in Bend, has a network of coaches in 23 states and has taught mountain biking skills to more than 370 people since spring 2016, Brandt said.
Grit Clinics works in conjunction with a sister company in Bend, Ladies AllRide, which specializes in large-group camps for women.
“Ladies AllRide, that’s inspirational weekend camps for women in mountain bike destinations around the country,” said Brandt, who works as the company’s operations director but has no ownership stake. “Grit Clinics became mountain bike instruction with a focus on private lessons and private clinics for men, women and children around the country.”
About 25 percent of Grit Clinics clients received lessons in Oregon, with about 20 percent in Bend and 5 percent in other Oregon towns and cities, Brandt wrote in an email Monday. “The other 75 percent have taken lessons in other states with Colorado, California, Arizona, Florida, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and North Carolina being our most popular states behind Oregon.”
Brandt said Grit Clinics acts like a brokerage service, linking its network of coaches across the country with individual mountain bikers or small groups seeking instruction.
“We have someone in that local area as a coordinator,” she said. “They get the people on board; we just handle the registration, making sure we have quality coaches.” The local coordinator sometimes handles needed permits and finds a venue. “If we want to keep costs down, we’ll ask them to help us get a local sponsor for food, provide lodging for the coaches, that kind of thing,” Brandt said.
This year, Grit Clinics became the provider of private lessons at Mt. Bachelor ski area, which becomes a mountain bike park in the summer. This year, Brandt said, the company provided about 20 lessons over two months. A late start and a low turnout due to pervasive smoke from nearby wildfires added up to disappointing results, but Brandt said she sees potential at Mt. Bachelor as a place for mountain bike enthusiasts to improve their skills. Grit Clinics will be back in summer 2018, said Mt. Bachelor sales and marketing director Drew Jackson.
Brandt recently talked to The Bulletin about Grit Clinics. Her responses have been edited for length and content.
Q: Where did your interest in mountain biking come from?
A: I really learned to mountain bike when I moved here in 2004. I had lived in Austin (Texas) and Big Sky (Montana) and dabbled in mountain biking and really loved it, and came to Bend, and there were so many beginner-friendly trails, and it was just an easy place to get into mountain biking. I just fell in love with it and kinda went at it in full force. I took some lessons of my own, and it really became a passion of mine, and I really wanted to share what I had learned.
Q: Grit Clinics is something that’s available for everyone, but Ladies AllRide just focuses on women. Why is that?
A: It’s an intimidating sport. But we saw a lot of women interested in it but didn’t feel totally comfortable on a bike and didn’t have a crew of supportive, like-minded people to ride with. So the natural focus was, let’s give them an environment where they feel supported and safe in a scary sport. And make it fun. We relate our mountain bike instruction to life, and in life, we have to face our fears if we want to move up in the world and feel more confident and comfortable. So mountain biking is all about facing those fears and conquering those. It feels great when you can do that.
Q: In Bend, what are the skills that people have the most difficulty with?
A: Technical terrain, we don’t have a lot of technical terrain in Bend. Rocky terrain, obstacles, jumps and drops. People get into a lot of trouble when they go to Whoops trail and they hit a huge roller and they have no idea how to set up for that or how to react. They’re getting air when they have no instruction or built-up skills, and they panic in the air or do something that can hurt them.
Q: Did you bring prior business experience to Grit Clinics?
A: I was a finance major at University of Texas at Austin, but I don’t know how much, really, that prepared me. I worked (three years) for Lay It Out Events here in town, and that’s what got me really comfortable with the event world and running events.
Q: Is there something about running a business that you found challenging the way learning to ride a mountain bike is challenging?
A: Yeah, I struggle with not wanting to take a lot of risk, especially monetary risk and not having a lot of money up front to invest in a business. And this is like mountain biking, you know, taking a little bit of risk at a time and building to a point that I was comfortable that that aspect of the business was sustainable.
Q: What are your goals for Grit Clinics in the next three to five years?
A: In addition to providing a professional platform for our mountain bike coaches across the country to have the opportunity to conduct more lessons, we would like to reach 600 participants a year by 2020 and have coaches available in 15 additional states by 2020. Also, to form relationships with local bike shops in our most popular areas so that they think of us when recommending lessons to their customers, and enhance our online presence so that we come up on the first page of Google when people are searching for mountain bike lessons across the country.
— Reporter: 541-617-7815, firstname.lastname@example.org