It’s a warm, humid, and smoggy March day in Kathmandu, Nepal. Moab resident Julie Cornelius leans on her handlebars with a group of eight Nepali mountain bikers—two women, six men—on a grass-lined trail on the grounds of Tribhuvan University. Over the course of two days, Cornelius will assist with this Professional Mountain Bike Instructors Association course. By the end of the course, the two female participants, Nishma Shrestha and Usha Khanal, will become Nepal’s first PMBIA-certified female mountain bike instructors.
Cornelius, founder and executive director of the nonprofit World Ride, organized this certification course with women like Shrestha and Khanal in mind.
Shrestha is a Nepali mountain bike racer and founder of Skills & Thrills, a Kathmandu-based company offering mountain bike skills clinics and camps. After receiving her PMBIA certification, she says that Cornelius has helped her “gain confidence in being creative and working for what I am passionate about.” She hopes that World Ride will continue providing a space for women the world over to “learn, support, and share the knowledge about this sport and create various kinds of opportunities where they can [make a living] doing the work they love.”
Khanal, a Nepali mountain bike racer and freelance guide, says, “I was very happy to achieve the course certificate.” She’d like to see World Ride continue supporting women from Nepal’s rural areas to participate and work in the outdoors.
In March of 2017, Cornelius first traveled to Nepal to work on a film called Moksha, which tells the story of Khanal and Shrestha and their work to spread the joy of mountain biking to women across the Himalayas. But, says Cornelius, “I didn’t want to just go and do this one project. I wanted to do something that had a lasting impact.”
Cornelius, herself a mountain bike guide and instructor, realized she could support the growth of women’s mountain biking in Nepal. She decided to form World Ride, which has a simple yet powerful mission: to empower women around the globe through mountain bikes. Today World Ride offers programs not only in Nepal but also Guatemala, Peru, Lesotho, and Botswana.
Cornelius’s personal experience with mountain biking shapes her approach to working with women new to mountain biking: she understands how intimidating the sport can be, especially when there’s no one else that looks like you doing it. She knows that having a supportive community of peers and mentors can make all the difference. And she also recognizes that investing a bit of time and resources into building skills and confidence can go a long, long way.
After discovering her passion for bikes through road riding as a student at the University of Arizona, Cornelius says she fell in love with riding bikes because of the community. “I love that bikes are something that bring people together from all walks of life.” Even though she was curious about mountain biking, she says she was “terrified to actually try it.” Eventually, though, she took some mountain bike lessons to build her skills and confidence. “And that was it,” she says. She’s been mountain biking ever since.
Cornelius says that the countries she works in have one thing in common: women don’t have equal opportunities to recreate in the outdoors or work in the outdoor industry. In each country, women face unique cultural barriers to outdoor recreation. In Nepal, for example, women may be discouraged or outright forbidden by their families from riding bikes, and they may have caregiving opportunities that prevent them from getting out on the trail to ride. Mountain biking is also expensive, and this financial barrier alone can be enough to keep women off the trails.
Through World Ride, Cornelius hopes to make it easier for women to feel comfortable, confident and supported riding on their local trails. In addition to offering training and certification courses to mountain bike guides and instructors, she’s created local bike libraries, where women can check bikes out for free. The bike library she started in Guatemala, for example, has helped that community of female riders grow. “Women were borrowing bikes from the library to try out mountain biking, and some of them have now saved up their own money to buy their own bike,” she says. “So then other women can borrow the bike and get into mountain biking.”
And then there’s women who want to compete and race in mountain biking, often in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field. World Ride supports these athletes by helping with travel expenses, purchasing race bikes and gear, and hiring professional coaches.
To fund World Ride projects, Cornelius offers multi-day mountain bike trips in each country she works in. The co-ed trips are guided by local, certified female guides, and all proceeds go towards World Ride programs in that country.
Back in Kathmandu, Shrestha and Khanal celebrated their certification by organizing their own mountain bike confidence-building session. About 25 participants attended. “During the event, we shared our knowledge and skills to the riders and that is how we celebrated,” says Shrestha. “It was really an amazing experience for me.”
“There are many women out there, unrecognized and in need of good guidance,” says Khanal. “I have high hopes that World Ride could be a platform for them.”