Roam Fest Knoxville_Guided Ride On Trail (Photo by Patty Valencia, Courtesy of Roam Fest)
Did you hear about Roam Fest last year? Did you realize that Knoxville hosted a major women’s mountain bike event? I didn’t either until the dust had settled and everyone had ridden home. I recently had the opportunity to learn more about last year’s event and about plans for the event as it returns in early May. I spoke to Sienna Martin and Ash Zolton to learn more.
Roam Fest was founded by Ash and Andi Zolton who first crossed paths when Ash put on an event and Andi attended. Andi had been in the industry for years as a mechanic and professional racer, and has worked with the USA Olympic Development Program. Ash’s background was in travel and events, with a degree in event management and tourism. She said, “I planned my first event at age fifteen for several thousand.” The two soon became business partners and eventually married.
They recognized a gap in women’s events, realizing that while there were competitions, coaching, and clinics, there was no bike party. They wanted to throw massive bike parties helping women create a unique community through mountain biking. And they wanted it to be accessible to all women and to “celebrate and elevate representation in mountain biking.”
Their efforts eventually expanded into the Roam Collective, a non-profit arm of their efforts. They grew to the point of putting on 24 events annually, including races and high-end private events. The original company employs seven year-round staff and a team of twenty-five at festivals. The non-profit has six staff members of its own. The festivals, however, remained the heart of what they do and they decided to focus more energy there and make them the best they can be.
The original festival has held in Sedona, Arizona in 2017 and that is one of the three that have continued. The second to be added was in Fruita, Colorado, where Andi and Ash live and a third was added in Brevard, North Carolina. The two were considering other options to replace the Brevard location and that’s where Sienna entered the picture.
Sienna is a travel nurse by profession. She worked in Knoxville, living here for three months, and fell in love with the city while realizing how special local mountain biking culture was with “women working together in the bike community.” She went to the Brevard festival to mee others and met Ash. They quickly realized that both Ash (and Andi) and Sienna lived in Grand Junction, Colorado. They reconnected there and Sienna began to work with them.
She suggested they consider Knoxville as a site for a festival and show them around the city when they did a Roam Rally locally. They were convinced and planning began for the first Knoxville Roam Fest, which was held last year. Sienna and her husband eventually bought a home near the Baker Creek Preserve as a base for when they are here. Sienna now works year-round on curated group rides at each location, loading them on the Trail Forks app for easy use.
They noted that last year’s festival had lots of local help from people like Kat Bike, Missy Petty, Erin Donovan, and Matthew Kellogg. They’ve grown to admire the work put in by the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club. The first Knoxville Roam Fest drew about three hundred participants, though Ash emphasized it was “really about quality over quantity.” She said participation last year broke down roughly to about 40% local or regional, 40% from the east and southeast, and about 20% from everywhere else “from Canada, and England, to the northwest.” She said word has really gotten out and they’ve “made their mark on the women’s scene.”
They’ve made a decision to lower the cost to each participant, in order to increase participation. “We had 500 in Fruita last year and we hope to have about 500 this year in Knoxville.” The activities and opportunities at this year’s festival are almost two many to list. They offer “bike education, soft skills and hard skills” as we as workshops, a panel, guided and independent rides for all levels (e-bikes are welcome!), a dance party and catered dinners. Food trucks, Frog Juice and happy hour (with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options) and Sweet Peas BBQ are all on tap. Most of the events happen under the overpass at the end of James White Park.
Sienna is coordinating volunteers and if you’d like to join in to help (and get a free pass to the festival), email her here or email firstname.lastname@example.org. They need volunteers for all sorts of things, from selling raffle tickets, and merchandise, to guiding rides. The Knoxville dates are May 5 – 7 (Fruita is Sept. 22 – 24, Sedona is Nov. 3, 4, and 5) and you’ll find all the details here and tickets here (phase one pricing only has a few more days). For other inquiries, email email@example.com. The best place to follow the group is on Instagram.
“When started the fest were the first in the world and we have been happy to see others pop up. We are still the largest, non-competitive festival.” They have plans to finalize a new location for a fourth annual festival. “At the end of the day,” Ash said, “The purpose is to enjoy each other’s company, just to have fun.