If you head down to Giba Cafe on a Tuesday morning, you’ll find a whacky, wonderful group of women swapping stories from their weekly mountain bike ride. These are the Ama Angels and they are united by a love of riding
In the photo: 10 Ama Angels on a recent trip to the Transkei
The group was started in 2007 by Ian Wilson of Single Track Minded as a way for women to ride safely and securely, with technical guidance and support from professional guides, who accompany them on all rides.
“Many women get lost in their lives as mothers, wives and career women, but when you’re on the mountain bike, there’s no time to think,” says Ian. “I love to see our riders grow each year, doing things that they would never normally do.”
Ian has been involved with mountain biking for 10 years and acts as a performance coach, but his speciality is “taking people from zero to hero”. He has great vision and hopes to expand Ama Angels to other cities around South Africa.
Ama Angels is a collection of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, from young mums to photographers, travel agents, accountants and optometrists. “We would never have met otherwise, but we’re bound by a shared spirit,” says Sally Veenman.
There are three rides a week – one at Giba, one in Shongweni and often one on the north coast – with up to 90 women taking part. All abilities are catered for, from highly competitive race training to social and beginner riders. It’s no walk in the park, either, and the women cover between 18 and 40 kilometres in a session.
“The support you get is fantastic. The girls say ‘well done’ even if you push your bike up the hill,” says Shayne Van Aswegen.
A number of the women have taken part in competitive races, including Wartburg MTB Classic, Sani2C, and Berg and Bush, with impressive results. “When we pass groups of men, they are often surprised by how strong the woman riders are – and the fact that the conversation never stops,” says Sharon Bell from Glenashley.
There’s a real family feeling and the women regularly involve their partners and children in fun rides and social events. The professional guides who accompany them on their rides are also part of the family. “Nathi and Senzo are our guardian angels! They know everything there is to know about us,” says Natasha Lee.
Recently, 10 Ama Angels went to the Transkei, riding an 80km roundtrip from the Wild Coast Sun to Mtentu River Lodge and back again. “What an experience! The scenery was incredible and could fulfil any mountain biker’s dreams,” said Laura Butler.
Beautiful as it may be, the Pondoland terrain is far from forgiving and, together with temperatures in excess of 35˚C, it offered the ladies a real challenge. Soft sand, steep climbs and river crossings kept things interesting, and there were a couple of cliffs to be negotiated too.
“Bones get broken but our friendships don’t! Mountain biking is a great leveller,” says Nikki Pallini. “No matter who you are, on the bikes, we’re all the same.”