Sitting on a sprightly KTM350 idling on a dirt road somewhere in the Transylvanian woods, I was waiting to kick it in first gear. In front of me was a cavalcade of riders on dirt bikes ranging from Yamaha WR 250’s to Huskies and KTM’s; our Romanian tour guides were discussing the route, and we were getting ready to hit the single track leading off into the mountains, thirsty for another day of dirt bike survival somewhere near Oituz, Transylvania.
There wasn’t anything that unusual about the eleven dirt bike riders huddled together on a narrow gravel road on the outskirts of the village, except for the ponytails and braids sticking out from underneath the helmets. This was our very first women’s enduro training tour: a five-day off-road adventure in Romania where we tackled local trails, woods, logs, water crossings, and just about everything in between riding in an all-female team lead by our fearless local guides from Enduro Escape, a dirt bike rental and tour company based out of Targu Secuiesc, Romania.
Following a few all-female dirt riding weekends back home, my friend Jurga and I decided to take it a step furher and invite women riders to join an off-road training tour abroad. Having ridden with Enduro Escape before, I called them up, asked for some bikes, some guidance, and local hotels, and we were off: despite several COVID-related postponements and last-minute changes, almost a dozen gals showed up ready to ride, and the adventure began.
Black Bears and Survival
Riding dirt bikes in Transylvania – especially with Enduro Escape – is always unpredictable: trails change with every heavy rainstorm, fallen trees may block off a track forcing riders to detour on gnarly, steep climbs, the water crossings may or may not be flooded, and the mountain trails may or may not be littered with rocks and boulders; it’s Transylvania, the landscape is wild, and you improvise as you ride. That’s a huge part of why the riding here is so awesome, but when you’ve got a group of riders with skill levels varying so wildly it ranges from complete beginners to experienced riders, chaos and mayhem is inevitable – and this time around, it was chaos and mayhem of the best kind.
Despite having divided our riders into two groups – beginner and mid-level – we still got thrown right into the deep end from Day One, as our planned tracks turned out to be an unending sequence of knee-deep mud soup, slippery rocks, wash outs, and monster ruts due to heavy rains in the previous days; we started off on a section of gravel roads but, as the trails shot off into the dark Transylvanian woods, we headed deeper and deeper into muddy single track territory pushing and pulling each other out, cheering each other on, and laughing our butts off as we tackled yet another river crossing or rocky slope.
Eternally grateful to our guides Toni, Sani, and their friends who turned up on their own dirt bikes to see what the fuss was all about, we made it through the first couple of days three hours slower than planned and pushed to the very edge of our limits, but grinning from ear to ear as we made it back to our hunting lodge-style hotel tucked away in the countryside, complete with bearskin rugs and huge bonfires at night while the local staff prepared Hungarain goulash and welcomed us with shots of palinka (local Transylvanian moonshine).
We rode tracks, trails, and eventually, no trails at all as Toni and Sani took us cross-country through the woods, tackled hill climbs, scrambled atop mountains, got covered in mud from head to toe, spotted black bears, avoided deer hunters, and dug bikes out of ditches and mud pools. There were accidental wheelies, sections where our guides needed to ride the bikes up or down for us, and spectacular landings – I managed to deposit my KTM into a tree uspide down as I tackled a particularly steep climb, hit a massive tree root, and flipped the bike overhead – but, a sprained wrist and a few bruises here and there aside, we managed to survive more or less unscathed…and kept coming back for more.
After a rest day at a local spa and a sighsteeing trip to explore the famous Dracula’s castle in Bran, two more dirt biking days followed. And somewhere along the way, there was a change in the pace and rhythm of our raggedy band’s dirt biking attemps: a new feeling of confidence among all of us, even the complete beginners. Barely perceptible at first, the contrast was clear on Day Five when we rode mountain trails, crossed rocky creeks, and tackled steep forest tracks: while there were falls and spills still, there was less hesitation. Gals who’d never tried dirt riding before and were terrified of mud now seemed to sail through the slippery sections; water crossings that seemed scary on Day One barely registered now, and the steep downhills that terrified some of the women in the beginning were now…fun.
We were still slow, we still dropped the bikes, and Toni, Sani, and the rest of the guys still needed to help out – a lot – but as we rode the last few miles back to Oituz on the final day, the air of confidence among the gals was palpable. High-fiving and hugging each other once we arrived back to basecamp, we knew we somehow managed to pull it off and went from mere survival to pure joy of dirt biking, making progress with each day, feeling more confident, and improving our riding by leaps and bounds.
When it comes to women’s riding events, whether it’s ADV, dirt biking, rally training, or all of the above, there are lots of opinions of whether it’s necessary at all; and, sure, women are perfectly capable of riding and training in co-ed groups, it’s fun riding with the guys, and there’s lots to be learned.
But whatever your take on all-female ride-outs is, it’s hard to describe a feeling of riding dirt bikes alongside a dozen women traveling cross-country together, ponytails whipping in the wind, hearts racing, and a feeling of belonging and bonding that happens out on the trails.
Is there a difference of riding in an all-female crew versus a mixed one? Not much in terms of bikes, trails, skills, or falls. Some, in terms of speed. A lot, in terms of support versus competition – and that builds confidence faster than anything else.
So much so, in fact, that we’ve got more of these dirt bike campouts and rides setup across Europe and Northern Africa – Andalucia, Portugal, Morocco – and, with a little help, we’re ging to keep on riding, exploring, and getting into all sorts of dirt bike trouble together.