Photo by Karl Nielsen

Since the beginning, Machines For Freedom has been about girls on bikes and all the epic adventures, community vibes, and personal growth that idea encompasses. Amidst all the craziness that comes with launching a business, we try to stay grounded to that idea: we love riding our bikes. The only thing we love more than riding our bikes, is riding bikes with rad girls. That spirit is at the heart of everything we do at MFF and we’re stoked to be bringing that vibe to NorCal with our newest endeavor… Machines Unbound.

Machines Unbound is, at its essence, a team. A team of women based in the Bay Area who have joined up to challenge themselves mentally and physically via the Grasshopper Adventure Series. In true Machines For Freedom spirit, they will conquer these challenges together. The best part about this team of crushers is that while being a unit, Machines Unbound is really more of an idea. An idea that will continue to grow with Machines For Freedom and with each individual girl as she sets and conquers goal after goal. It’s about being unbound by paved roads and perceived limitations.  An idea that you can take part in, and we hope you do.

The first leg of the Machines Unbound adventure was Old Caz – the first Hopper in the series. Some of us from Machines LA drove up to join them. We wanted to get to ride with the team as they came together for the first time. I had never met any of the Unbound girls in person, though enough emails had been sent back and forth to make them feel like friends to me already.

Photo by Karl Nielsen

The Grasshopper Series is tough to describe – but after doing one I feel it’s safe to say (as a complete non-Norcal person), that it’s got a particular vibe that feels unique to that region. Tons of folks smiling and sharing snacks, ready to get out there and explore new dirt that to me felt different than any event I’ve taken part in NY or LA. All that aside, the Grasshoppers are tough to describe because they take on so many different challenges. One event per month for 5 months in Spring, always distances upwards of 50 miles and at least 5,000’, varying terrain (technical dirt, steep grades, fire roads, creek crossings) and they are definitely a race, but for a lot of us just completing the course is a win in itself. Bottom line is they are events like no other, and they’re sure to test you on more levels than one.

Photo by Karl Nielsen

So the Grasshoppers seemed the perfect opportunity to put the Machines Unbound girls into action and get their hands dirty. We opted to tag along (after all it’s deceptively easy to register for an event when it’s three months away), but as the day loomed closer we started getting nervous. I looked at my cross bike that had been hanging on my wall in pieces since the season ended and it stared back at me in its dismal, dust-covered state. You could hear our panic in the frenzied group emails that flew back and forth among the team: What tires are you running? No knobbies, are you crazy? PSI? That 19% grade is a joke right?

But time did as time does, and all of a sudden the day was upon us whether we were ready or not. Tracy, Jenn and I piled our bikes in the back of Jenn’s truck and drove the 8 hours up to Guerneville, CA. When we woke up in the quaint cabin we had rented, breakfast was quiet. Jenn made her famous scrambled eggs and avocado and we discussed the pros and cons of tortilla vs. tortilla chips for your morning vehicle of carbs. We laughed, but you could tell tensions were high.

Photo by Karl Nielsen

As we drove the ten miles to the start line, I stuck my head out the window hoping to clear it of some nerves. The misty forest roads were beautiful and quiet, but I was scanning the sky for some clues to the weather, wondering if arm warmers would be the right choice. I was still scanning the trees when Jenn slowed to a stop, looking for parking near the registration area. Suddenly two girls riding in sweats and flannels buzzed by my window.

“That’s Shelby and Brooke!” I squealed from the backseat. Jenn honked, but the girls kept riding away so I hauled my ass out the window and shouted, “BROOKE!” When that didn’t work I really yelled, “MACHINES FOR FREEDOM!!” and the girls pulled a quick u-ey. I kissed Shelby hello, still hanging out the truck window, when a little Subaru pulled up from the opposite direction. It was Amity and Bridgette, all shouts and hands waving out the windows! We were all laughing, shouting and talking over each other, immune to the honking behind us. A flood of relief washed over me and I realized we had nothing to worry about. This was our team, this rad little posse, and I knew it was going to be a good day.

Photo by Karl Nielsen

Fast forward a little bit to the event itself, and for the moment let’s put aside the many gushy feelings that come with riding with a team of strong women who make you laugh and share their draft when you need it. We knew this day was going to be hard (it is notoriously hard and we did our research) and we were prepared for that. But sometimes, despite all of your training, preparation, and decisions about gear, something turns against you. Whether it’s the universe, the bike gods, or a good old-fashioned coincidence, something clicks (or rather, doesn’t click), and something goes awry. Then, like a domino effect, EVERYTHING BEGINS TO FALL APART.

Photo by Karl Nielsen

Ok, so that sounds dramatic, but after surviving this hellish day and coming out the other side, I feel that I’m allowed to sound dramatic. And it wasn’t all drama and tears mind you – two of our crew, Brooke and Amity, seemed to dance away from the slew of mechanicals and flats that plagued us and came away with some pretty impressive results! (Go girls!) But for the rest of us, we just couldn’t catch a break.

At this point I hope some of you are nodding, because you know what type of day I’m talking about. I mean us 5 women, we’re not novices. We’re strong, we were prepared, this wasn’t not our first rodeo. But we had such a series of unfortunate events (including, but not limited to: four flat tires, dropped gear, a handful of mechanicals, one major bonk, and *someone* rolling 25 feet down a cliff), that it was enough to doom any ride. OK, full disclosure, I fell down the cliff, but it was a very soft and mossy cliff.

After the first few malfunctions we started to get silly. There was no denying that our ride was doomed, and there was nothing to do but laugh about it and keep going. The giggle fits alone probably added an hour of stopping time to our ride, but what else can you do when a “flagger” just watches you pass by the turn that leads into an abrupt 20% grade, forcing you to turn around, losing all momentum, and try to climb that from a dead stop? You just have to laugh. And we did. Til there were tears.

Photo by Karl Nielsen

When we finally made it to the end of the course (a grueling 6.5 hours later and officially Lanterne Rouge), the paramedic van decided to follow us through the woods at 5mph, the perfectly hilarious bookend to our day. Each time we stopped, he stopped. Don’t get me wrong, he kept a respectable 10 feet gap behind us, but for all his politeness we could not escape the fact that we were being heralded home by the sweeper van, tempting us to give in and take a ride home with each loose scrambling ascent. He was close enough that we joked that he could’ve at least turned on the radio and serenaded us!

When we finally see the finish (two cones set up at a beautiful vista, with a table of refreshments left in ruins by the 200 other riders who finished at a reasonable time), we shout with joy and wait for our entire team to line up together and cross the finish line as a group. They are already cleaning up the cones, and the girl responsible for marking down our numbers is very annoyed by our antics. “If you cross together I won’t be ale to write you numbers down!” She shouts, but we’re too busy singing the “Iko Iko” song to hear her. We roll over the imaginary line whooping and singing like maniacs. I don’t know how we did, but we finished Old Caz, and as a team no less.

 

Photo by Karl Nielsen

For the first venture as Machines Unbound, I’d say Old Caz was a success. Amity finished 12th out of 64 women and Brooke 28th. Those two gals made it clear that MFF can kick some Hopper ass. The rest of us had an epic “team-building exercise” also known as the most fun you can have while coming in last place.

Photo by Karl Nielsen

There’s 4 more Grasshoppers in the series, and next up is the Chileno Valley Hopper: 80 miles and 8,000 feet broken into ten climbs. Care to join us? We’ll be hosting training rides the week before each event designed to help us (and you) practice the skills needed for each hopper. I can’t wait to suffer more with these rad girls, and hope to meet even more women who join us on the big day! 

If you see us out on the road don’t hesitate to hop on the #ladytrain. I can tell you firsthand those wheels are good ones to stick on.

 

RIDE WITH US.  TRAIN WITH US.  SPREAD GOOD VIBES.

Whether you're training for the Grasshopper Series, or just want to get your feet dirty, join our team on one of our monthly training rides!  Rides take place one week before each event and feature challenging routes and mixed terrain.  

Details can be found on our Rides and Events page.

And meet the team here!