Last September, 130 people from 18 states and Washington, D.C., gathered at Centennial Park in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to spend three days riding bikes and building community at Grit MTB Festival. Starting out as a singular women’s event in 2019, “Grit Fest” was soon folded under All Bikes Welcome, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in northwest Arkansas, and has become the keystone event for the organization. 

The mission for All Bikes Welcome is to build racial equity and gender diversity in cycling by providing free and low-cost outdoor programming. Rachel Olzer was hired as executive director in 2022. “I was stoked on providing programs that focused on gender, diversity, and historically economically disadvantaged individuals,” she said.

Olzer’s vision was to take All Bikes Welcome to a post-2020 organization, particularly after the big racial reckoning that happened that year. From her experience, women-specific events could only serve so many people, so she became intentional about the language for Grit Fest: 

Grit MTB Festival invites trans men and women, cis women, and non-binary folks to join the festival. We aim to create an environment where you feel safe to learn and grow, on and off the bike, and comfortable to be your whole self with the group. In order to keep this space safe for all, we will not tolerate any harassment, transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, bike shaming, or non-consensual touch. We encourage all participants to practice sharing pronouns, consent, and body neutrality. Grit Fest firmly supports the Black Lives Matter fight for justice and equity.

“Right at the front, this is who it is for,” said Olzer, “which clears up any confusion.” 

For Olzer, there are so many things about the event that are huge wins. “I know how ridiculous it must have sounded when I said I was going to put on the most inclusive cycling event possible and do it in Arkansas,” she said, “and then actually pulling it off. It is such a testament to what is possible.” 

What to Expect
Last year’s event featured guided rides for beginner through advanced riders. Because the event welcomes all skill levels — even those who have never ridden a mountain bike — there were multiple clinics that met riders where they were and with the intention to build both confidence and skills. The 2023 festival welcomed 20 first-time mountain bikers, all of whom went home with a brand-new helmet, thanks to the event sponsors. 

Grit MTB Festival

Adaptive/para off-road cyclists workshop. (Emily Sierra Photography)

Over the span of the three days, participants had the opportunity to attend multiple workshops on topics ranging from self-care to bike maintenance to support for adaptive/para off-road cyclists to art and nature activities. They could listen to keynote speaker Izzy Sederbaum, who spoke about inclusive outdoor spaces, and build community during meals, happy hours, and a dance party. 

Olzer expects the event to continue to grow but wants to maintain the grassroots vibe, keeping relationship-building at the center and foregrounding a responsiveness to the needs of the community the event serves. Looking ahead, she wants a hard launch for adaptive programming, offering clinics with people who can communicate with deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals as well as adaptive-specific coaches and ride leaders. 

“I want to continue inviting into the fold those who are often overlooked,” Olzer said.

To maintain All Bikes Welcome’s mission of providing low-cost programming, Grit Fest organizers worked with sponsors and donors to keep ticket prices from being a barrier to those who wished to attend. The organization offered a scholarship program and group discounts. 

At the same time, Olzer envisions Grit Fest as a fundraiser for All Bikes Welcome and is working toward growing a donor base to help cover costs.  

The St. Louis Connection
A highlight of the event was that St. Louis-based organization Black Trans Bike Experience (BTBE) brought 10 folks to the festival, many who had never ridden a mountain bike before. 

Pacia Elaine Anderson of St. Louis, a ride leader for BTBE, says her experience at Grit Fest was eye-opening because she had a lot of firsts. She hadn’t been on a mountain bike since she was a little kid, and this was also her first time biking in the woods. “It was a very human and personal experience outside of the politics of attending an inclusive event,” she said. “The event itself, it was amazing to be in a place where everyone was excited about bikes. Everyone was there for a shared purpose.” 

Grit MTB Festival

Grit MTB Fest 2023 drew 130 attendees to northwest Arkansas. (Emily Sierra Photography)

Anderson says it is important to go to places outside of St. Louis where that energy is the same. Supporting spaces where everyone is welcome and the makeup is reflective of that honors who you are and makes the cycling world much bigger, she says. 

Nesha Newton of St. Louis, also new to mountain biking, says that if the event was not so focused on holding space for women, trans, and nonbinary folks, she probably would not have attended. But there was also another space she was not aware of before she got there: a space for beginners where she didn’t feel bad about her skills or for slowing people down. 

Newton says being part of the BTBE group also made the experience more memorable. “It was nice to have a base and people to count on.” 

Roc Rochon of Connecticut joined BTBE at Grit Fest, and they felt the experience was enhanced because of the group they went with. “We meditated as a group, rode together as a group, just really focused on these folks who live in these liminal spaces, bringing attention to community connections, and being more in touch with personal determination,” Rochon said. They also emphasized the importance of doing something that is scary and how that can be such a tremendous opportunity to build confidence that bleeds into all areas of life.  

As Olzer reflects on this year’s event and looks ahead to the next Grit Fest, “gathering together is always going to be needed,” she said. And she intends for this event to continue serving the people who need it the most, at all times. 

Get Involved 

The 2024 Grit MTB Festival is scheduled for September 27-29 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Those interested can follow the event on Facebook or Instagram or visit the website

Folks wanting to learn more about Black Trans Bike Experience (BTBE) group rides and community events can follow the organization on Facebook and Instagram or visit the website

Author: Missy Phegley is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Top photo: Mountain bike skills training at Grit MTB Festival. (Emily Sierra Photopgraphy)