Little Bellas was founded in 2007 to help young women realize their potential through cycling. Girls and boys share similar attitudes about exercise and bicycling until age 14, according to a study by the University of Portland, after which point girls fear injury and their own athletic competence. We believe mountain biking affords girls the autonomy to define success on their own terms, as well as learn from and celebrate the successes of their peers.
The goal of Little Bellas is simple: to create a nationwide girls’ cycling program that allows participation opportunities regardless of economic status. One of the organization’s founding principles has been to eliminate barriers to participation through financial aid and loaner equipment in our Gear Up program. Between 2007 and 2019, Little Bellas served more than 4,500 young female riders with a 100 percent renewal rate for each program chapter since day one.
Program growth is evident in all three areas of Little Bellas, which are participation, chapter expansion, and volunteer mentor engagement. The program’s underlying success often gets credited to its mentors, the talented and inspiring women who are the heart and soul of Little Bellas. All mentors volunteer their time and bring a powerfully positive attitude and an energetic will to pass that attitude along to a new generation of young women.
For a broader perspective about the program’s impact, Little Bellas engages females throughout the entire lifecycle of the sport of cycling, beginning with program participants. From there, a Little Bella can go on to participate in “B Project” for girls 16 years and older, or she can become a Junior Mentor before becoming a Mentor. Little Bellas participants tend to pay it forward by fostering the next wave of Little Bellas and/or by becoming recreational cyclists who are active in their communities. The overall program concept focuses on creating and building a community, and developing partnerships with likeminded organizations to grow the number of females of all ages who are comfortable and confident riding a bike.
2018 introduced pro ambassadors into Little Bellas. Each year a new group of internationally ranked professional women athletes from multiple sporting disciplines serve as role models to both participants and the worldwide Little Bellas community. These accomplished women visit programs, interact with participants, and spread the word about the program, all in addition to maintaining their demanding racing careers. During its first year, the Ambassador Program counted more than 25 pro athletes who were involved in 75 percent of Little Bellas programs.
Finally, the positive outcomes of Little Bellas extend beyond program hours to yield benefits that the girls own for life. 96 percent of Little Bellas continue to ride either on their own or with friends and family. This earned independence, self-confidence, camaraderie, and the will to aspire to something greater than personal gain are to be shared with everyone, which has an impact on all of us.