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Shifting Gears: Creating Community Through All Women’s Mountain Bike Events

Story by Katie Cooney

It’s the end of our final day at Roam Bike Fest in Brevard, North Carolina, about 90 degrees, and the humidity is off the charts. Nobody has had dry shoes since day one.Things are finally settling down after more than 200 women took over the REEB Bike Ranch for the weekend–with the sole purpose of having fun on their bikes. Ash Bocast and Andi Zolton plop down on their cooler-turned-chair in front of the big, teal bus that doubles as their home (her name is Nancy, by the way).

“Pooped” would be an understatement for these two. They’re totally exhausted, haven’t slept much, and have probably forgotten to eat at least one meal, but here they are, laughing and carrying on, all the same.

“Holy shit, does it feel good to sit down,” Bocast says, cracking open a beer.

Ash Bocast and Andi Zolton are what you might call crazy people. When they’re not busy running Roam Events, you’ll find these two mountain biking with their dog or driving the Roam bus around the country… on the way to another event, probably planning more events simultaneously.

These are two wildly passionate individuals that are pursuing their dreams to the fullest extent, and they’re hell-bent on teaching other women to do the same (with bikes, of course).

The Lady Shred Power Couple 

Both women have long been passionate about biking and the outdoors. Zolton picked up cycling after high school in Seattle, then mountain biking in college–because, in her own words, “it’s the best.” She learned how to be a mechanic, threw herself into the Pacific Northwest’s race scene, and fell completely in love with the sport.

Ever since a young age, Zolton has loved riding her bike. This passion would eventually grow into an accomplished career within racing. 

Meanwhile, Bocast was traveling the world pursuing a career in adventure travel guiding. Somewhat unexpectedly, she landed a gig with Liv Cycling, an all-women’s bike brand, where she found herself in the midst of an amazing network of women. Bocast traveled the country putting on demo days with Liv, meeting countless women whose lives had been enriched by their bike. Time and time again, she saw how empowering it was to gather a group of women with mountain bikes–and how much fun they all had.

She also saw a niche to fill.

Bocast was dissatisfied with the way that bike brands and manufacturers were activating with consumers–largely informal demos that land you in a hot, dusty parking lot, and only an acquaintance with the bike. In her opinion, if you’re gonna spend a few grand on a bike, you should probably have the chance to get to know it pretty well. Without really asking, Bocast booked Liv a spot at the Whitefish Women’s Bike Retreat weekend.

Liv is a bike company–not an events company. So they contracted Bocast for the event–and looking back, that was Roam’s first real gig. A background in adventure guiding and events meant Bocast was no stranger to weekends like this. She was determined to get these women on Liv’s bikes for a few days (rather than a couple of hours), answer all of their questions, and show them a fantastic time. They didn’t all walk away with a new bike, but at the very least, they’d made a connection and had a positive interaction with the brand. By both Ash and Liv’s standards, the weekend was a huge success–something worth repeating.

So, with Liv’s blessing, Ash purchased the domain name, googled how to set up an LLC, and started Roam. She picked up Andi along the way, and can’t imagine running Roam without her partner in crime.

These two are a power couple. They’re partners in both life and business, and joke that they’re only a little amazed that they haven’t killed each other yet (have I mentioned that they live in a bus and spend nearly all of their time together?). “If there were two people like me trying to run this business, it just wouldn’t work,” Ash tells me.

Growing up Bocast had no shortage of energy, which she poured into extracurriculars like soccer, ballet, and biking. Later she would channel that energy into a variety of roles within the outdoor industry, for example, an adaptive ski coach in New Zealand.

They’re good at playing good cop and bad cop. Ash describes her business self as hot-headed, demanding, and more serious. Andi is easy-going, a people-pleaser, and energetic. Ash is good at saying no. As a duo, they like to think of themselves as easy to do business with. They’ve worked their asses off to secure partners like Sram, Industry Nine, and Liv Cycling, and are well on their way to making Roam a household name within the industry. 

So... What is Roam?

When asked what they do, Ash will say, “A little bit of everything,” and tell you about the countless days she’s answered emails in her bed at 7 A.M., until Andi tells her to quit. Then, she’ll say, “Oh, our company!”

Meet Roam Events: Events for the Adventurous. Roam specializes in women’s mountain biking vacations, but they don’t stop themselves there. They help put on the Sturdy Dirty, an all-women’s enduro series in the Pacific Northwest. They put on Roam Bike Fest East and West, the all women’s mountain bike festival where I had the pleasure of meeting this energy-packed duo. Their flagship events are Roam Retreats, which they bill as super-fun, hassle-free bike vacations in premier mountain biking destinations across the country.

Participants of the ROAM Bike East festival gather for a group photo. Their festival in Brevard, North Carolina, was the first large event they held on the East coast.

Bocast addresses the crowd during what she calls a "really fast raffle that doesn't suck".

Roam’s business model is unique: it’s run from the road in that big teal bus I mentioned, Nancy. No office, no homebase. 

Running Roam from the bus keeps Ash and Andi constantly on the way to the next destination, but presents a fresh set of challenges. It’s hard to know when they’ll have enough cell service or WiFi connection to get work done–they’ve gotten good at sniffing out the nearest Starbucks and making a cup of coffee last four hours.

There’s a monumental checklist and tasklist to slog through before every event. “The only guarantee [with these events] is that you definitely forgot something. You just have to be prepared to deal with whatever that is,” Zolton explained. About a month out from the first festival in Sedona, Ash was ready to pull the plug, with nowhere near the number that they had hoped for signed up. They would have run the event anyway, but knew in their hearts that more people would equal more fun.

The team celebrates with their school bus before it received its iconic teal top coat. Nancy, that’s what they named her, serves many purposes: home, office, and mountain bike shuttle rig.

Bocast and Zolton have high standards: the festival had to be amazing. After “quite a few panic attacks,” Ash called up longtime friend and mentor Janette Sherman, marketing director at Yeti Cycles, to ask for help. Janette gave Ash a to-do list and some advice: “You’re gonna have to hustle your ass off. If something doesn’t come of it, you move on.” And boy, did they put the H in Hustle that week. Ash and Andi called up their brand partners, who were all eager to help get the word out. After some serious guerilla marketing and a few all-nighters, the festival sold out. “It was scary as shit, but it worked out.”

Filling the Niche

As it turns out, Roam Bike Festival is the first event of its kind. Some of the coaches that Ash knew had jokingly considered creating a blacklist for their clinics–women who they couldn’t teach anything new, but kept coming back for the camaraderie and to ride their bike in an awesome new place.

Ash and Andi credit the clinics movement for giving many women the confidence to go ride their mountain bike without a boyfriend or a husband tagging along.

To make one thing clear: Roam events are not skills clinics. Roam’s intent is to fill a hole in the industry: putting on women’s events that are simply about getting together, riding bikes, and having “a shitload” of fun.

Top: Our group waits for the shuttle to grab us after a lap through the Pisgah national forest. Bottom: Michelle Warner effortlessly hits one of Pisgah’s iconic rock drops, watching women like Warner made approaching similar obstacles less daunting. Katie Lozancich Photo.

“I don’t think we realized we’d be as successful as we have been,” Ash tells me. “[When we started out], we were just passionate and excited, working our asses off and hoping for the best. We’ve gotten so much more out of that than we ever imagined.” It works: to date, they’ve sold out every event that they’ve put on.

Why Woman Need Roam

According to Zolton, Roam events are like a smartphone: if you’ve never had one, you don’t know you need one until you have one. I certainly didn’t.

We didn’t know quite what to expect when we road tripped out from Jackson, Wyoming, to Brevard, North Carolina in our Chevy Colorado—but let’s just say our experience at RBF exceeded expectations.

Anecdotally, many women cite not seeing other women in the sport (and the industry) as a reason not to get into it. The idea of jumping headfirst into a brand new, challenging sport with a bunch of dudes can be pretty intimidating.

Before I went to Roam, I spent about a week worrying that I wasn’t a good enough biker to go to a women’s mountain biking festival. What if I couldn’t keep up? What if the trails were too hard?

Roam played a big part in changing that. The culture at a Roam event is easy. It’s inclusive. And most importantly, it’s a shitload of fun. I slipped easily into group rides with industry professionals and seasoned riders, none of whom had any problem letting a relative newbie tag along: instead, they were thrilled to have me join, stoked to see me challenge myself and give me pointers along the way.

When you put yourself outside of your comfort zone, you’ll find yourself saying “yes” more often. You’ll see other women struggle on a climb, hop off and hike-a-bike on the steeps, eat shit, and laugh it off. I looked at all of the badass ladies around me and thought, “Hey, if she can do it, so can I.”

That, I realized, is one of the most valuable lessons you might take home from a Roam event––be it a mechanical workshop, a tough ride, or landing your dream job in the industry––you’re surrounded by women that can do it. And have done it. So you can, too.

“Every aspect of mountain biking can be extremely empowering, and that’s pretty amazing,” Andi tells me. “Learning how to fix your bike? Empowering! Riding a hard new trail? Empowering! We’re so lucky to be able to share that feeling with so many people.”

Why Women?

Following a glorious (and much needed) taco dinner, Bocast gets out her megaphone, making sure we are all quite aware of the 80s dance party (sub-theme: animal onesies) that will take place in the barn later. She can’t promise anything, but she heard that everyone’s good friend tequila will be joining the party via a “bucket of fun.”

Elsewhere, Zolton is running around positioning spotlights and setting up director’s chairs, cramming in bites of guacamole when she gets the chance. Before we can get our boogie on, Roam treats us to SHREDTalks, their signature panel series that features inspirational women in the bike industry. Tonight’s panel features industry powerhouses like Yeti’s Janette Sherman, Sara Jarrell, women’s program director at SRAM (link to her SG), and Lisa Slagle, founder and owner of Wheelie Creative. They’re here to share their stories, answer questions, and, hopefully, inspire someone to apply for their dream job.

One of the greatest takeaways from the Roam Bike Festivals is their industry panels, which pulls together incredible women from different facets of the bike industry.

Bocast sees a huge disconnect between industry professionals and the riders they make products for. “These industry people are put on pedestals. We’ve been really lucky to be on both ends–as recreational cyclists, working bike shops, in adventure tourism–and we’ve gotten to know the incredible people working at these big brands. And yeah, they’re incredible, but at the end of the day, they’re normal people.”

She tells me that they’ve met countless women across the country who would love to do just that but have no idea where to start.

“We’re providing a platform for folks working in the industry to share their stories,” Bocast says. “It evens the playing field and shows the women at our events that these are you-and-me people who have turned their passion into their profession.”

Bocast and Zolton recognize that taking the leap into a new industry can be challenging, but stress the importance of showing up.

“Go beyond the cold call,” Bocast recommends. 

“The people who are successful are the ones who are willing to be present, show up, and invest in making connections.”

“If you want to be a coach at Liv Ladies AllRide, don’t just show up and ask to be a coach. You need to go to the camps a couple of times, then volunteer a couple of times, and then ask to be a coach. You have to be willing to show these companies that you’re invested in them, and that they should invest in you.”

Their advice for breaking into the industry? Apply for the job, even if you don’t check all of the boxes. Don’t be intimidated. Zolton tells me that what they hear most often from industry colleagues is that women simply aren’t applying for these jobs–which makes it pretty difficult to hire them. The industry needs and wants to see women in these positions–but it’s on us to show up.

Apply for the job, even if you don’t check all of the boxes.

Ash and Andi tell me that they like to think of themselves as therapists: they’ll help to give you the tools and connections you need to grow, but it’s on you to actually go out there and do it–and they hope that you will, so that eventually, we won’t need events like Roam to help women feel connected in mountain biking. Until then, watch out for a big teal bus ripping around the country with two crazy, sleep-deprived humans, one dog, and a bunch of bikes. And while you’re at it, apply for that job you’ve been dreaming about.