It all started in September of last year when I joined 49 other women to ride the komoot Women’s Torino-Nice Rally; a week-long non-competitive bikepacking event taking in no less than 10 mountain cols on the Italy-France border.
Unlike any other event in mainstream cycling, the komoot rallies bring women, non-binary and trans bikepackers of all experience levels, ages, backgrounds and nationalities to tackle challenging off-road routes in a unique, supportive and energizing environment.
Joining the komoot Women’s Torino-Nice adventure had been a very special experience to me. The route was absolutely amazing, and it was certainly really hard but also so much fun. But was even more unique was riding with a group of women from different ages and backgrounds, often with a great variety in approach such as equipment, preparation, fitness and experience for a trip like this one. Taking on such a challenge together with a big group of women definitely brought us closer together in just a few days with a wonderful sense of camaraderie.
By the end of the rally, a seed had been planted in my mind. The thought was cemented when I came home and tried to explain the whole experience to my friends. It was actually surprisingly hard to explain to people who had not been part of it.
What could I do to bring this joy to others that are curious for adventure, but find the bigger rallies a step too far? Recognising that both komoot and IRIS both aspire to increase opportunities for women in adventure cycling, especially for those who face greater barriers, could there be room to collaborate? With such spectacular success from the women’s rallies already, it didn’t take much to get komoot’s Roebijn Schijf and Carola Groeneveld on side.
For women who might find an adventure in the mountains too daunting, too costly or involve too much prior planning and experience. There was no doubt in my mind that bringing the adventure closer to home would make it even more accessible to all.
Condensing the adventure into a three-day weekend was also a conscious decision, aiming to enable more riders to participate who have other commitments that make taking time out for themselves a rare luxury.
We ran a ballot-type system for entries, with a limited number of places to keep the group manageable while trying to involve as many riders as possible. With over 80 applicants in less than a week, you can’t argue that there isn’t an appetite for events like this catering for women.
Three months in the planning, route plotting, scouting and refining, venue hunting and designing some colorful caps and finisher’s roundel for the riders, it was time for the inaugural Lowlands Rally.
Radical rally riding with 45 women
Rows upon rows of loaded bikes stacked up and the hubbub of excited (and perhaps slightly nervous) riders signalled the start of the Women’s Weekender, the ultimate meet and greet over coffee at Kamu in Breda.
Between here and the finish with a pasta party at Fixed Gear Coffee, Maastricht, three days stretched out, with a hugely varied 280 kilometer route. Komoot’s Community Manager Carola Groeneveld had been responsible for carefully putting the route together, with some help from local riders Bjorn Kamman, Yorit Kluitman and Bram Tankink. They’d also included a few different shortcuts, so riders had the option to take a more direct route.
Linking Breda to Maastricht in the south of the Netherlands with a few crossings into Belgium was largely a decision driven by terrain. These are some of the most forested parts of the Netherlands, offering a great variety of forest tracks and moorland trails through the heather. Both cities also have great railway connections to allow riders from far and wide to join easily. The cherry on the top would be the fantastic cycling cafes bookending the route, both of which are IRIS stockists.
Between the two cities, two great semi-wild camping grounds had been selected to bring riders back together each evening, sharing stories from each day on the trails. In between, they were free to ride as and how they liked; allowing everyone to enjoy the Dutch and Belgian scenery at their own pace, and pause for as many pancake stops, wild swims and photo opportunities as they desired.
The first day, Friday, would include a slightly shorter distance of 85 kilometers, then 110 kilometers from Alphen to Weert on Saturday and finally another 85 kilometers into the center of Maastricht to finish.
The route had been designed to take in a huge variety of terrain and scenery. The one thing it didn’t include was elevation gain though, with an impressively low 900 meters over the whole 280 kilometer distance! Fun singletracks, forest trails, gravel paths lined with blooming purple heather, technical sandy sectors and even some mud; the journey really had it all.
The gorgeous weather had only lifted the whole experience, meaning more leisurely drinks stops, and a new daily ritual of stripping off jerseys and jumping into the nearest body of water, bibs and all!
Enough from us, let’s allow some of the riders to share their experiences from the IRIS x komoot Women’s Weekender.
This was a bikepacking weekend that I will not soon forget! IRIS and komoot teamed up and made this happen. Cheers! 45 women who go out together for three days by bicycle.
Anyone who knows me knows that it really doesn’t have to be women only’ for me… but rather secretly on the contrary. That turned out to be a mega false belief that I held about myself.
I was very curious about what kind of women would participate, and who. Immediately at the start it turned out that my careful assumption was completely unjustified and I found about 40 women who, each in their own way, are cut from the same kind of cloth! Logical actually, because otherwise you wouldn’t sign up for an event like this.
The conditions were almost too perfect, with three dry and sunny days. It had rained the day before which made (even the sandy Pathfinder Giro) trails almost perfect sectors.
The camping grounds were fantastic, (including the bathing water) and the routes were surprisingly beautiful and evidently composed with care. Congratulations to the route builders!
It was a super cool group of like-minded cyclists, and I feel grateful that we were all drawn to participate. Once again confirmation for what we all knew for a long time: cycling connects!
Ashley Gruber, photographer
I had no real expectations of what it would be like to bikepack with a group of women that I didn’t know, but I was nervous and excited. The weekend was better than I could have hoped. Everyone looked out for each other in a way I haven’t experienced before. It was incredibly positive and friendly, and I’m so glad I got to be part of it.
I wouldn’t normally take part in a women’s only event, as I don’t see myself as a ‘typical woman’ and thought I would not fit in. But being part of this group of women from all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience was a real eye opener for me. We all share a love for adventure and riding my bike with these women for three days really gave me a sense of unity.
I actually wanted to write a few lines, I was so impressed by the weekend. Then I read the comments from Roebijn in the rider’s chat and from Petra on Instagram, and they speak from my soul, there is really nothing more to add. IRIS-x-komoot womens weekender was women’s cycling, bikepacking, the finest gravel, nature, outdoor adventure, joy, pleasure, and community. The whole was so much more than the sum of all parts.
Finally, a big shout out to Komoot for backing such a great initiative and to the wonderful Ashley Gruber for capturing it all on camera.
Feeling a bit sad you’ve missed out? Don’t worry, as we consider this first Weekender a huge success we will definitely organize it in the future. Follow our instagram and komoot page for more opportunities!