Dirt Birds Spread their Wings
17 September 2015
Last Saturday’s West Sacramento Cyclocross Grand Prix, presented by Cederon, was an outstanding reflection of the NorCal Nevada cyclocross community. The City of West Sacramento, Matt Hargrove, and NorCal CX organizers worked hard to put on this festival-event. Sponsors, food trucks, music bands, local businesses, and many, many individuals shed blood for the cause. And, the day saw nearly 400 starts across the categories of competitive racing.
In a cyclocross version of a cotillion, introducing themselves for their new team and in their new kit, were racers in the Women’s ranks from Dirt Birds!
This brand new team had fifteen of its 23 members put their rubber down onto the WSCXGP course, including co-founders JT Teerlink and Audrey Biehle racing in Elite Women. Many members, whether they raced or not, volunteered at the event. The team itself spans the entire gamut of categories from Master 35+ to single speed to Juniors. Riana Young and Parker Miller each earned podium finishes that day for the Under-19 and Under-15 Junior Women’s races, respectively.
On a Meet Your Maker tour last June, Biehle and Teerlink, competitors in some of the same cyclocross races in previous years, realized an immediate affinity for the idea and quickly founded the Dirt Birds team. “It speaks to the really strong community of cyclocross racers in Sacramento,” remarked Teerlink, “that there was a need for a Women’s team. People were just waiting for the opportunity.
“We liked the idea of a flock and a community. We liked the idea of racing on the dirt. So Dirt Birds.”
The Dirt Birds web site has team riders identifying with specific birds; the endearingly lanky Audrey Biehle uses her height “to see over the competition”, much like the high-perching Red-Tailed Hawk. Teerlink is the water-loving Osprey because she “is at home in rivers, streams, and mud pits”.
“I am really excited to be part of a team dedicated to women’s cyclocross,” wrote Biehle by e-mail. “To me, a team is more than just a group of people wearing the same stuff on race day. Our team is a network of women for group rides, race questions, hangouts, and every type of support imaginable. Having all this makes me want to ride and race more, and I hope it does the same for my teammates. I hope more women see how much fun racing and being on a team can be and it inspires them to get out there and ride.”
“Audrey [Biehle] came up with ‘more women, more racing’,” continued Teerlink. “It can be very intimidating to show up to a race and feel like your going to do something wrong or feel like you don’t know anyone. So we hope to lower any barriers to women getting into racing.
“We are interested in more women’s start times in races. But with current numbers it just doesn’t make sense for race promoters to add women’s races. We hope to be a part of the solution by encouraging more women to race and increase field sizes. I think Sacramento was ready for a women’s team because of the strong cyclocross community built by the creative and passionate work of individuals here. There are many but specifically [that includes] pro racer and Squid Bikes owner Emily Kachorek. She has such a positive and fun demeanor. It is contagious. She is an honorary Bird and has already hosted a skills clinic for us.”
The team has an altruistic bent to increase the number of women cyclocross racers, whether they are Dirt Birds or otherwise. Expect to see the Dirt Birds work with other Bay Area women’s teams for group rides and larger events for women.
“One of the things to emphasize is we want to be known for our positive beat. Whether that means encouraging your competitors, noticing when someone has a good race, or just being a positive force on the race course, we are all out there for fun. Cyclocross just embraces that fun community. We want to fit into the heckling, hand ups, and just the party atmosphere.
“It seems like, women were just waiting for a team forum. We had to cap off [membership in the team]. We were worried about having too large a team and not feeling it was cohesive. We ended up turning some folks away because we were already up to 22 and that’s a pretty big number. Maybe people will be motivated to start their own teams and we’ll grow the sport that way.
“Men and women can race for different reasons and I think a lot of women enjoy a social aspect of being on a team. Having a women’s only team adds to that cohesion. There’s something about changing a flat or showing someone how to ride a hard technical line that challenges them when they see another women do it. It makes it less intimidating and seem more accessible.”
The Dirt Birds flock will race the Sacramento and Sagebrush Cyclocross Series. Expect to see some riders leave a few feathers at Bay Area races. The team is clearly adding to a trend in NorCal Nevada bicycle racing that places an emphasis on both genders.
Audrey Biehle (Co-Founder)
Jennifer ‘JT’ Teerlink (Co-Founder)
Photo Gallery: Dirt Birds at WSCXGP