On a recent Saturday at Beachern Wood, 30 people assembled dressed in their finest waterproof clothing to ride together in celebration of three years of the New Forest Off Road Club (NFORC). Despite severe weather warnings, we set off on a route meticulously planned by Sue and Martine to avoid the most flooded parts of the forest, in consultation with no less than three flood maps and forecasts. In classic New Forest style, we had just about every type of bike and an age range of well over 60 years. With seven ride leaders in attendance to safely facilitate the group, we negotiated narrow roads, grazing animals, and the usual mechanical mishaps on a magical ride around the forest.
Partway round, we paused under a canopy of autumn leaves with the backdrop of our lovingly sewn NFORC banner (thanks, Robyn!) to drink coffee, pass around snacks, and reflect on how NFORC came to exist. Nic recounted the story of how she was put into a Whatsapp group of women who were interested in riding bikes, which then evolved into regular group rides, and before long, the New Forest Off Road Club was formed. We spoke about our expanding roster of qualified MTB leaders, sold-out PAST events showcasing stories not told in the mainstream media, and facilitating group rides demonstrating the power of matriarchal values.
As the yellow weather warnings came to bear, Martine caught us on video laughing in a torrential downpour, and you can overhear me saying, “It’s raining so hard I might as well be stood in my shower!” We finished the ride back at the car park with tins of homemade cake emerging from bike bags and passed round to mucky cyclists before we made our way to the Foresters Arms. We cosied up by the heaters to dry off and continued the birthday celebrations. I sat on the train home feeling overwhelming gratitude for the club. In fact, I was in such a haze of warm fuzzy feelings that I got on the wrong train entirely and ended up in Poole.
NFORC has undoubtedly had an enormous influence on many of our lives since its inception, and riding through the forest in a group made of new and old faces, finding the fun in the pouring rain (#wereouthere), and watching people make new connections and be welcomed into our community was the perfect way to honour that.
It’s a disservice to try and explain an NFORC ride by recounting miles, routes, and stops, and it’s always difficult to capture things in words at all. Although, this quote from Amy, who came to her first NFROC ride this weekend, does a pretty good job: “My cheeks hurt more than my legs from smiling so much.”
To me, the birthday ride was special because it was a celebration of how we have evolved together and the opportunities NFORC has created over the past three years. I’d like to share some examples below:
- 1. Meeting a breath of different women who lead lives in such a wealth of ways that defy the narrow view of what I should be doing as I get older. Through NFORC, I’ve met accomplished career-focused women, parents bringing their kids into the forest, badass adventurers, and those prioritising living in harmony with nature. They demonstrate the beautiful and brilliant ways we can choose to exist in the world as women beyond the narrow lens of choices society likes to impose on us. Our community is bursting with people who bring fascinating stories, unique perspectives, and differing priorities. Speaking with them on rides has been so valuable in making life decisions and exploring new avenues.
- 2. Making friends who challenge me to do new things. To count, NFORC has provided me with two flatmates, a whole bunch of best friends, some mentors, and a list as long as my arm of people now in my contacts that I wouldn’t hesitate to ring up for a coffee, advice, or a bike ride. Meeting people whose idea of fun is also strapping things to their bike and heading for the hills and who want to swap stories on your return has catalysed many perspective-altering trips that I know will be lifelong memories.
- 3. Growing confidence on (and off) the bike. I’d never ridden off road until my first NFORC ride. Armed with the view that a gravel bike looked strikingly similar to my road bike and a helpful nudge in my Instagram DMs from the Woods, NFORC created the space for me to try something new. Those first group rides were a gateway to three years of off-road riding and discovery of a whole new world of gravel, mountain biking, and bikepacking, somehow finding myself in New Zealand for three months with a hardtail and a tent. Anyone who has felt the freedom and sense of accomplishment from a challenging ride will know how that sense of empowerment percolates into all the other things you undertake in life, too.
- 4. Developing new skills. Outdoor first aid, MTB leadership, public speaking, and leading with trust, to name a few. These are all skills NFORC has afforded its ride leaders, offering the opportunity to grow and develop in an industry where representation is consistently low. Meeting others who have built their own bikes made me feel confident to start learning about mine, and a weekend spent in a mechanics masterclass with Vicky Balfour means I’m now passing my own knowledge onto others and taking bikes to remote places alone.
Nic recently recommended a book called The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker to me. The book is based on the premise that “gathering is one of the most important ways in which we shape and build the world we want to live in.” Gathering with 30 people who want to be part of NFORC, ride bikes on a very wet November day, and celebrate our third birthday was a celebration of the world NFORC is thoughtfully building. It’s one in which we get to discover new things about ourselves, create meaningful relationships, and demonstrate the power of the matriarchal values we believe in.
Quotes from Participants
“To me, the NFORC is such an accepting space full of intriguing people who do cool things and just want to ride bikes. It’s special, and it fills my soul with goodness. The birthday ride was a lovely celebration of the community that the club has built. So many people joined the ride despite the downpours. The snacks were banging, the chat was fab, and the forest was majestic as always. Happy birthday!” —Eve
“It was my first time joining a New Forest Off Road Club ride, and I felt so blessed to be around women from all walks of life who look out for, care for, and miss each other. Despite the ruthless weather, I left New Forest feeling all fuzzy, welcomed, and surrounded by kind women. It is a safe space where trust, kindness, fun, and generosity are abundant. The sense of collective achievement at the end of the three-hour ride, awarded with delicious cakes and a warm pub feast, felt like the best way for me to complete the circle. I can’t wait to join more rides with NFORC and be a part of the circle of love!” —Marsha
“This was the most welcoming and encouraging ride I have ever been on. It was also very enjoyable with an amazing diverse group of people and youngsters. If anyone has been put off cycling in a group (and I can understand why), give NFORC a try. You will not be disappointed. But be warned, it’s addictive.” —John Jackson, GridIron 100 Organiser
P.S., We’re currently recruiting for a director to join our board. If anyone in your community thinks they would be able to help us achieve our aims, please have a leaf through our Director Pack which can be found via this link.
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