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On average, the number of female and female-identifying riders attending major gravel races in the U.S. is between 10 and 30 percent.
This spring, a new race in Montana is bumping that percentage up to 100.
The Dusty Bandita, a new event in Seeley Lake on May 21, claims to be the first-ever all women’s gravel race. While women’s camps and events are cropping up adjacent to gravel races, the Dusty Bandita is a standalone women’s race.
It’s a concept that Bri Lui, the founder of the event, said she started thinking about a few years ago after she participated in events and noticed that the majority of the riders were men.
“When I see other women out there, I get excited,” she said. “There’s a certain recognition and pride there. I feel like as women when we’re feeling vulnerable or out of our comfort zone, we tend to seek out one another to feel safe, to find encouragement, to have that support to kinda push us to get through whatever challenge it is that we’re going through.”
Lui also felt that the notion of providing a nurturing space for female riders — from the newbies to the pros — paired nicely with the “soul riding spirit” of gravel.
“Gravel has opened the doors for a lot of people, especially women,” she said. “Gravel has that adventurous soul riding spirit, and so combining those two aspects where it’s a race of women who are coming together to support one another, provide encouragement, and push each other so we can push ourselves is where the idea took off.”
Lui works as an orthopedic physician’s assistant in Missoula, Montana, and started doing recon for the Dusty Bandita last summer and fall. During recovery from surgery this past winter, she dove deeper into the logistics of putting on the race and discovered how much work it entailed.
Nevertheless, registration for the May 21st event is now open, and 50 percent of the 100 spots are filled. Due to one of the land managers, Lui is working with, participation is limited in the event’s first year.
There are two course options for the Dusty Bandita, one with 45 miles and 2,500 feet of climbing, and another with 80 miles and 4,750 feet of climbing. The race begins and ends at Camp Paxson on Seeley Lake, about an hour’s drive northeast of Missoula.
The weather could be hot and dry or wet and cold.
Proceeds from the Dusty Bandita go to MT Alpha Cycling, a non-profit that, just like the new race itself, is dedicated to getting more women and girls on bikes.