Two years ago, Sheri Fayal, a transplant from San Diego to Bend, began mountain biking with her husband. Although she struggled on much of the terrain, her passion for the sport gradually began to take hold. Moreover, as much as she enjoyed riding with her husband, she longed to find a group to share her newfound love of the sport.
"Men and women ride different mentally," she said recently. "I felt I needed to find other women that understood a woman's mentality of riding, especially since I was so new to the sport."
By the spring of 2013, Fayal was excited to improve her riding skills, and eager to find other riders to join her. By chance, she heard about the Bend Bella Cyclists.
"I knew right then this was the club to check out," says Fayal. "What I didn't expect was the wonderful support and camaraderie I found in this group of ladies."
This spring, the group, which has been providing what it calls "a non-competitive and supportive environment" to over 100 female cycling enthusiasts since 2004, celebrates its 10th anniversary. Hosting gear swaps, presentations on nutrition, and regular group rides, the Bellas, as they shorthand call themselves, offer a nurturing environment where women of all cycling levels can come together and find their athletic niche. By offering weekly group rides—often within the region, usually no further away than La Pine—for both mountain and road cyclists alike, the group's mission is to provide women with a safe, confidence-building setting; even though many of the group's founders were Olympic-level athletes.
"We're here to support each other," says Michele Farneth, a native of Pittsburgh and the group's longest standing member. She also joined the group to find others to share her love of cycling. "That being said," she added, "I don't want to give the impression that we're a bunch of softies or wimps! We have members who presently do several road centuries per season, participate in the STP (Seattle to Portland), and who race in the Chainbreaker."
"The group just brings us all so much joy and happiness," adds Farneth. "I mean, if I have a bad day, I just get on my bike and everything's good."
Trying to find a group ride away from the overt stress of trying to keep up with competitive partners, many members say they found the Bellas. "At the time," laughs Melanie Grandjacques, reminiscing about her reason for joining the group, "I had an impatient boyfriend." She adds, "The women I met in the early years are still my best friends in Bend."
One decade later, the group is still going strong. Currently sponsored by Pine Mountain Sports, the Bellas have had new team jerseys designed to celebrate their 10-year anniversary, as well as a kickoff meeting on Thursday, April 10. This year, along with weekly rides to accommodate all schedules and abilities, members can expect an annual picnic, training rides for the Tour des Chutes in July and volunteer trail work days in conjunction with the Central Oregon Trail Alliance.
The group is open to all ages, assures the organization's leaders.
"Our oldest member is 72," says Moe Slater, the group's treasurer, "and she can ride several of us into the ground!"
The Bend Bella Cyclists kick off their 10th year at 7 pm on Thursday, April 10, at Pine Mountain Sports, 255 SW Century, Bend. The social (non-ride) event will include drinks and a discussion of the season's upcoming activities. Club dues are $25 annually.