Gravel Inspiration - Ride Like A Girl Project

Regional sponsors of the European leg of Grinduro, Gravel Union, took a trip to Massa Marittima, Tuscany, home of Grinduro Italy. There, they met with the co-founders of the Ride Like a Girl Project, an Italian-based community-driven group whose aim is to get more women riding off-road. The founders combine incredible enthusiasm and passion for riding with practical measures in order to help grow their riding community.

Image courtesy of Ride Like a Girl Project

The Ride Like a Girl Project was created in 2015 by a “group of bicycle-loving friends with the desire to create a community of women on bikes, able to support each other and share their experiences on both road and mountain bikes [and now on gravel too…]” They have a super impressive end goal in mind for the project “Our goal is to ensure that all the girls who follow us are able to tackle their bike rides alone. Becoming independent both in the management of problems related to mechanics and in terms of organisation of the tours is the key to fully enjoying every bike experience.”

Image courtesy of Ride Like a Girl Project

We recently chatted with two of the three co-founders, Arianna Hutmacher and Elena Martinello to get some background on the project, how it works and what their plans are for the future. We started off with some introductions:

Rid like a girl project

Arianna

AH – My name is Arianna Hutmacher. I’m half Italian half Swiss. My father is from Switzerland and he came here to Tuscany with a very big dream – he wanted to open a hotel for cyclists. He arrived here as a cyclist. He was a road bike racer. He wanted to give accommodation to all his friends. I started riding when I was probably four years ago. I was riding because it was fun and because I am a country girl. I was riding probably until I was 13 and then I said, nah, that’s not for me. I don’t want to go riding anymore! So probably from the age of 13 until 23, I stopped. Then, I came back to Massa Marittima. I had been travelling a lot and then I came back here to Massa and I had the chance to go back riding. I was like, oh my God, why did I lose so much time? It’s the best thing that I can do in my life. I think it’s for me the freedom that makes me happier.  It’s also become my job. So yes, I’m one of those lucky people that can ride almost every day. 

Elena Martinello

Elena

EM – I’m Elana Martinello and I’m a freelance digital manager. I’ve been practising sports since when I was three years old. I did different sports. Initially, I started with swimming, gymnastics and snowboarding. I’d love to try everything! At some point, I had the chance to start riding. Thanks to some friends I started mountain biking and I fell in love with this sport. It has been almost 20 years now that I’m cycling. Like Arianna did, I spent a period of time travelling. I went to Australia and southeast of Asia. While I was travelling, I couldn’t cycle. But my passion for cycling was so strong that I decided I have to go back to cycling again because I cannot live without it! 

Both Arianna and Elena are passionate mountain bikers, but we wanted to find out how they saw the light and got into gravel riding.

L'eroica - another kind of gravel

EM – I think that getting into gravel cycling was very natural because, as I say I started as a mountain biker. Then I also did enduro and cyclocross. So, I think it was very natural to switch to gravel riding. And the very first time I think I did gravel was at L’Eroica. L’Eroica is held on the famous white roads of Tuscany. I rode it for the first time in 2016 with of course a vintage bike. I think that L’Eroica is one of the events that first started the gravel riding revolution here. It was very easy for me to switch as I also love to try any kind of bike. So, I went from cross country to enduros to road to track to cyclocross! So now I’m really in love with gravel riding because I can mix all kinds of bikes.

Arianna Hutmacher
Image courtesy of Ride Like a Girl Project

AH – I was in love with gravel riding from the beginning. We first heard about gravel riding many years ago – five/six years ago, maybe more. Scott told us they had a new bike coming out and asked if we would like to try it. I was like, yeah, for sure. I took their new gravel bike and I felt really good on it. I had the feeling that gravel riding was like being free – you can go wherever you want. You can go on gravel tracks. You can go on the normal paved road. You can improve your skills with the gravel bike because it’s harder with no suspension. I really, really enjoyed it.

Image courtesy of Ride Like a Girl Project

Elena and Arianna live around 300 km away from each other, with Elena living in the hills of Liguria and Ariana based in Massa Marittima in southwest Tuscany. We asked how they first met and started riding together:

EM – I used to spend the winters riding down in Follonica, close to where Arianna lives. The area near her is the perfect place for training in the winter because the weather is mild. There are so many trails and roads with no traffic, so it’s very good for training. I spent a few winters down there and I think we met at the end-of-season party. And then from there, we started this good friendship.

 AH – We had the same dream when we met. We went out riding and we were so happy. And I said I really would love to do something for women. And Elena said oh, I already have a project! And I was like, oh really? What’s the name? [Ride Like a Girl project]. And I said, can I be part of it? And she was like, of course. And then from there we started the friendship and also the project. 

Image courtesy of Ride Like a Girl Project

This led the conversation very neatly onto the Ride Like a Girl Project, so we next chatted about its origins, what the project involves and their plans for the future.

EM – The initial idea was from a friend that had the idea to make a video, talking about some girls and where they were showing how to “ride like a girl”. I was one of the girls. The name Ride Like a Girl came from an American advertisement. In the advert, it was a casting and they were asking some kids to act like a girl, to run like a girl. At the beginning, these kids, who were mainly boys, were doing stupid things. But then they asked a little girl to show how a girl runs. She starts to be very powerful and actually runs really strongly. So, it was about turning something that’s a little negative into something positive. We wanted to show Girl Power. 

From that video we decided we didn’t want to stop, but to keep going. But also, we wanted to do more than just a video, because people can forget about it. We thought that if we started a project, we could have a website, we could involve more women to join us, to find the passion for cycling, we could take them to places where we love to cycle. So, we decided in 2015 to create the Ride Like A Girl Project association. I’m now the president!

We started a membership scheme just two years ago, so it’s a very new thing for us – before that it had been a bit more informal. We normally organise an annual event at Massa Vecchia. For us, that’s the really nice part – to organise this kind of event. This year we had around 20 women taking part. We normally restrict the numbers so that we can stay with them and so that we can take care of everyone. We organise our own events and we also like to take part in other women’s events. And we collaborate with good riding locations. We get involved sometimes too with the promotion also – promoting and talking about places where it’s nice to ride. 

Image courtesy of Ride Like a Girl Project

AH – The message that we want to give is let’s ride together, but without rushing. We are not racing. We are not training hard. We just want to enjoy cycling, stay together, spend time together, living the experiences in a nice place – this is our message. The good thing about gravel riding and the Ride Like a Girl Project is that a few times women have asked for some tips and suggestions about which kind of bike they should buy? I always said just buy a gravel bike, because I think it’s a hybrid bike which is good for beginners. It’s more comfortable than a road bike. But you can also ride gravel roads and stay away from the traffic. You can put some bags on it and go travelling. So, my tip is normally to just get the gravel bike. I think you can find a good one without spending too much money so it’s perfect. 

Image courtesy of Merida/Paolo Martelli

EM – We haven’t mentioned Giulia yet and she is also one of us! Giulia is a mum – she has two kids. And she’s really good. She’s very inspiring for other mums because she never stops riding. She just gets very well organised. Most of the time she goes gravel riding while towing a trailer behind her bike with the kids inside. Gravel riding is good also for families. This is another thing that we are pushing – the message that we want to give to women that just because they become mum, they don’t have to stop riding – you just have to get organised. In a different way, but we can keep riding. It was Giulia that got me involved with the project in the beginning – she bought some beanies that I had made and we started chatting via Facebook. She was invited to be involved in the video and she asked me if I’d like to join too and that’s where everything started.

Grinduro rider
Image courtesy of Mirror Media Agency

Next, our conversation moved on to talking about Grinduro Italia, which is going to take place this September at Massa Vecchia, Arianna’s family hotel. The event will use trails that both of them know really well. We asked them how they first got involved with Grinduro.

EM – I saw Grinduro for many years and I always said I would like to join one day in one of their events around the world. But I was also thinking that it probably it was too far to travel. But now I can say thank you to Luca [part of the Grinduro Italia organising team] for holding it here and for getting me involved to help promote the event. 

AH – I really love the way Grinduro communicates about the events. It’s a really fresh way of doing things in my opinion and that’s why I always wanted to go and do one of the events. Last year after the season finished here, I really wanted to go to Australia to visit some friends and also do the Grinduro event there, but it didn’t happen. I was so excited when it came to Italy in 2023 and it is a dream come true to host it at Massa Vecchia. I love the fact that it’s a mix of riding and socialising and having fun. I think this is the perfect place to hold it too (although I might be a little biased). You have everything – you have hills, you have seaside, you have good food, you have the best location, gelato of course and the hills are not so high. It’s also easy to access and not too far to the airport for international riders.

Image courtesy of Ride Like A Girl Project

Finally, we talked about what was next – where would Arianna and Elena like the RLAGP be in a few years’ time?

AH – We would love to grow the project outside of Italy but to do that we need to meet the right people. We can have very big goals, but without meeting the right people that want really to join the project it doesn’t make sense for us. We don’t want to become richer or more famous – we just want to make people have the same feeling we have! For sure, biking saves my days. When I have a bad day, I go out and I’m happier. 

EM – We have so many other project ideas and we love fundraising. We have a t-shirt project which is an idea of Arianna’s which has two faces on it (which was based on her tattoos). In Italy you don’t ever speak about mental health issues – it’s really like a taboo subject. So, when you have a bad time in your life, you go and find a doctor that will help you, but you must wait months and months. Unfortunately, the mental health services here are not very well organised. So, I made this to tattoo – on one side it’s written Va Bene and there is a happy girl and on the other side is a very sad girl and I also wrote Va Bene. It’s okay and it’s okay. So, we made those t-shirts with the same imagery and we’re going to give the money we make from their sales to a charitable association that helps people that cannot afford to pay psychologists so that they can have counselling. The Ride Like a Girl Project helped this foundation. 

AH – We’ve worked with other charitable foundations too – we did a ride where all the money we made, we gave to an association that helps alleviate food problems. 

And that’s where we left it. If you would like to find out more about the Ride Like a Girl Project, you can find their website here and their Insta profile here. If you would like to meet them in person this September, then don’t forget to sign up for Grinduro Italia.