“WHAT COULD THE MTB COMMUNITY & INDUSTRY DO TO HELP ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SPORT?”
Pinkbike posed this question in a feature posted on International Women’s Day (read it here). These are my thoughts, based on my own experience during ten years of mountain biking (because they didn’t ask me to participate: something of an oversight, obv!).
- Women don’t all want the same thing out of mountain biking. Some want a straightforward, reasonably safe, social ride in the lovely countryside. Others want to ride nothing but downhill, others want to win races. Some ride once a week, others almost every day. As fashion brands know only too well, ‘one size’ marketing will not fit all and the industry needs to target us according to our riding habits as well as our gender.
- Just a thought: when I started riding I borrowed all my kit off my partner, including his bike (too big, too pacey, fell off a lot). Many of my friends started by riding their partner’s bike. Last weekend I met a group of women who were out for one of their first rides – all using their partners’ kit. I know it’s not every woman’s way into the sport but, in my experience, it’s a significant entry point. Eventually there comes a tipping point of confidence and commitment where we step out of our partner’s shadow and decide to invest in our own kit: surely the perfect opportunity for brands to empower women (and win our custom).
- I learnt to ride with a group of women. We still ride together, every week. Most weeks we tear up and down the trails, other times we spend more time drinking coffee and chatting than we do riding. We like it like that. I have made the very best friends in the process, and that is as important to me as my riding skills (and believe me, I am very precious about my riding skills). For this reason, mountain biking does not feel like a ‘man’s sport’ when I am on the trails – however it’s a different story in the media. So….
- Women need to be as visible and at home within the industry as they are on the trails. My teenage daughter has recently started riding and I’d like her to be inspired by sporting role models doing fabulous things on their bikes, friendly faces in our local bike shops, and an the industry that is vocal about encouraging women’s cycling. And please, no more riders in bikinis promoting dodgy calendars: it is every shade of wrong.
- Many of the mountain bikers I know are male, and this is what I have observed: as a rule, the better and more confident a man is as a rider, the more generous they are with their encouragement and advice, and the more interested they are in hearing about my experience. For this, I thank them. Sadly I’ve also learnt that those men who regard me as competition (or just think I’m better than them) tend to be dismissive, talk over me or give advice I haven’t asked for. It took me a while to realise what was going on, so I just want to put it out there: gentlemanly conduct at all times, please.
- Now this is really important and I’ve learnt it the hard way: mountain biking frequently demands more technical skill from women than it does from men. This is because we tend to have less physical power available to charge up and over things, and are therefore more reliant on finely honed skills, position and accurate trail reading. I am forever pointing this out, both to women who want to improve and to men who think they know how we should ride (but actually don’t).
- In my experience, women tend to like to know how to do technical challenges on the trails correctly and safely before they will attempt them, where men are a bit more ‘ride first, think later’. Logically, this should mean that women riders will sign up for skills training at the drop of a hat: yet the women I know don’t. The reasons I hear? Too expensive /I don’t want to risk looking stupid or hurt myself in front of the group or instructor/my partner tells me how to ride (sometimes a good thing, sometimes not – see point 6). Food for thought if planning skills sessions.
- I came to mountain biking with zero mechanical knowledge: I couldn’t even change an inner tube (calm down, I can now). I’m fully aware that my safety and enjoyment depends upon riding a mechanically reliable bike and I keep on top of that, but I am never going to get excited about fettling in a cold shed. Unless you can ‘sex it up’ by convincing me that it’s what Kate Moss does on a wet Saturday afternoon, of course. Good luck.
- Bit of a sore point coming up: please don’t try to fob us off with a high-end women specific bike that has lower spec than the equivalent men’s version. We’ll do our research before spending all that cash and it’s one of the reasons why a friend of mine is currently having such a hard time choosing a new bike. Rant over (almost).
- I love mountain biking, I’ve made great friends, I challenge myself, enjoy riding in the most beautiful landscapes and have become really fit in the process. I enjoy being part of my mountain bike community and I have the greatest respect for my wonderful bike. None of this is gender specific and mountain biking needs to make it abundantly clear that the sport is accessible for everyone, male or female, if it wants to go forward.
So, over to you.