The International Women's MTB Day is Saturday, May 1.
The air is humid, the ground is mucky, and it’s a relatively bland time of year before things start to sprout and the colour returns. However, there has been a shift in the air. Spring has arrived. And, with that, soon mountain bike season will be here.
But, there has also been a shift happening behind the scenes. One that seems to be bringing more women onto the trails. You’ll find us in advertisements, winning titles, at the trailhead, shredding rock gardens, asking questions in the bike shop, and catch us at the local brewery or grocery store in our riding clothes. Mountain biking is more accepting and accommodating now than it has ever been. So what is the driving momentum behind the increase of women on mountain bikes?
With the Women’s International Mountain Bike Day approaching [the first Saturday in May – this year it’s May 1, 2021], I wanted to take a moment to celebrate how far women have come in the sport. A recent article I read on Pinkbike; Snapshot: A View of Women’s Mountain Biking From Female Racers & the Industry (Sarah Moore) really hit the nail on the head. The article features input from female racers and the industry. Regardless of their profession, background, or geographical location, they all shared a similar narrative.
As an individual who has dedicated their career to growing the sport of mountain biking, I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight and elaborate some of my ideas on some of these topics and how they can be applicable within your local cycling community.
‘INVITE & INCLUDE’ Mountain biking is a community. Even if solo riding is your thing, you’re still a part of the community by visiting the local bike shop, chiming in on the online forum, or showing up to the local race. The community that the sport provides us access to is what drives us to come back. As women, we want to be apart of the tribe and don’t want to be put in the spotlight simply just for showing up. We just want to be included. Another observation I have made is that mountain bike groups can appear ‘cliquey’. I’m not saying that you need to invite the whole neighbourhood to join your group ride, but it can be surprising how a simple invite to join can make all the difference for someone just getting into the sport. If people feel like they belong, they are more likely to be involved.
‘REMOVE THE INTIMIDATION’ There are so many opportunities for women to be involved in the sport thanks to a big focus shift on women’s ambassador programs, women’s only skills clinics, camps and group rides – but it is a male-dominated community-driven sport and we all need to be able to mingle. By introducing women to the sport through women’s-only activities, this lets them find their feet and build confidence in a safe and no-pressure environment. However, we should then encourage co-ed activities so we can begin to eliminate the intimidation of being involved in the sport with men. Everyone has to start somewhere. Offering co-ed clinics, camps, group rides, and having a variety of male and female instructors can help break down this barrier.
‘CELEBRATE ALL DISCIPLINES & STYLES OF RIDING’ No matter what your background is and/or where you’re headed, it doesn’t matter. Whether you only go for group rides, celebrate with a beer post ride, chase the KOM/QOM, despise spandex, are anti-flat pedals, ride solo, cross-country or downhill – we need to be accepting of all riders and their style and celebrate the fact that someone is out riding their bike. End of story.
‘CHANGE THE NARRATIVE’ I’m sorry, but as women we so often are quick to say ‘sorry for making you wait’ or ‘sorry for being slow’. Instead, we need to change the ‘sorry’ to ‘thank you’. It’s amazing the attitude change and the sudden awareness of your well-being when someone is being thanked verse being apologized to…give it a try on your next group ride! Women are also more likely to turn down a group ride if we feel like we are going to slow people down or be too much of a hassle. We don’t need a cheerleading squad or high fives all the time, but some words of encouragement here and there are nice. (Side note, please always ask to offer advice first before dumping it on us). We also need to start celebrating the positives of the sport; such as ‘holy jelly beans that was such a rush, I can’t wait to do it again’, instead of ‘oh, I couldn’t do that, it’s too scary/intense/difficult…’ We all started somewhere no matter how ‘good’ we are. Please don’t forget that, and focus on the positives!
‘BRING MORE YOUNG GIRLS INTO THE SPORT’ Youth programs are beginning to pop up all over the map introducing young riders, especially girls, to the sport. Being brought into a gender-equal sport at an early age, the kids will never see the ‘gender divide’. It will just be people riding bikes. Period.
‘PROMOTE & ADVERTISE MALE & FEMALE RIDERS EQUALLY’ We do pay attention to what’s happening in the cycling world. If we are subconsciously being fed male-only advertisements and campaigns then it can be hard to picture ourselves as being ‘apart’ of the sport. We need to see an equal ratio of men : women in promotion and media around the sport. I have so much respect for any cyclist out setting records and breaking barriers, but there will be a stronger connection to women if it is a woman doing it. There is so much female-driven social media material out there that sometimes sharing something other than another dude ‘sending it’ can go a long way.
‘STOP POLARIZING & ISOLATING. SHOW WOMEN IN SPORT WITH MEN’ Similar to ‘Promote & Advertise Male & Female Riders Equally’ except we don’t want to be celebrated for being women on bikes. We ride the same bikes, ride the same trails, fight the same obstacles, share the same highs and lows, etc. We just want to be accepted and included. It’s as simple as that.
‘HIRE & SUPPORT DIVERSITY’ Bring women into the industry who have a passion for helping others in general. Also, what better way to create products and excitement around the sport than something by women for women. To shop owners, I can guarantee having a woman employee in-store will change your business. It’s amazing how many women I work with who need work or service done to their bike and are actually too scared to go into a bike shop [because it’s all guys].
‘BE RELATABLE’ The industry needs to start involving relatable and realistic topics and features. I’m thinking beyond gender here. It’s great to showcase professional athletes and their hard work and dedication, but sometimes throwing in some local heroes that are making a difference at a community level may help a new rider find their outlet in the sport. If you’re someone that is a long-time rider, don’t forget what is was like to be a new rider; put yourself in their shoes.
As a female rider who has been involved in the industry for quite some time it is very exciting to see more women on bikes. I’m noticing that there are now groups of multiple women at the local trail head heading out for a ride, instead of being the only woman at the trailhead altogether. Let’s keep this momentum going.
Again, I just want to highlight that these are simply my opinion on these topics. I hope this can be a great conversation starter and I would love to hear your feedback or thoughts on how you help grow your local cycling community.
Here’s to more people on bikes.