An open letter to the RedBull Foxhunt: why we should be encouraging all women to ride mountain bikes, not just the under 25s.
So the RedBull Foxhunt mountain bike event, in which 300 female riders are chased down the course by World Champion Rachel Atherton, is charging younger women (under 25) a lower entry fee (£65) than the older competitors (£75). According to the Cranky Betty site, Redbull have done this is to ‘encourage as many young people as possible into sport and help promote a healthy lifestyle.’
The event has, I think, sold out and its laudable that Redbull is supporting one of the most high profile mass participation events in women’s mountain biking. It’s great that they want more young women to take part too. But you only have to look around a trail centre car park to realise that mountain biking isn’t exactly awash with women of any age, and a ticketing strategy that favours some women over others is hardly fostering inclusivity in the sport. I’d also point out that turning 25 doesn’t mean you win the lottery. I’m sorry to break this to the youthful organisers at the Redbull Foxhunt office, but you can be skint at any age.
Like many others, I would love to see cycling become a viable and enjoyable option for all women. A few weeks ago I organised a talk at Look Mum No Hands called Letting Ourselves Go – the aim was to celebrate older women who ride. The idea came about because of my work as cycling journalist. Over and over again, I find that it is older women who have all the best stories to tell, from pro rider and Hour record breaker Bridie O Donnell (a record she smashed aged 41), to amateur riders including Roz Harper (aged 63) who rides Enduro having survived cancer and a double knee replacement, and Diana Montgomery (aged 64), a grandmother who represented GB in the UCI Gran Fondo Worlds and matched the time of her 25 year old team mate. Its jaw dropping stuff, and a lifetime away from stereotypical ageism about taking it easy, National Trust tea rooms and aerobics in the village hall. But while women are now enjoying a higher profile in cycling, older women who ride still largely remain invisible. To be fair, I don’t think many of us are secretly yearning to appear on the cover of Cycling Weekly – but it was great to be able to get together and acknowledge that, when it comes to cycling, older women are pretty bloody good at it – and that age is no barrier to participation.
It was a fantastically well supported event, and the room was packed with older women who love riding bikes. I was joined on the panel by Alex Feechan from FINDRA, Julie Rand from Cycling UK and Belinda Scott of SW London women’s cycling club Bellavelo CC so we had a well-informed debate, but the best part of public speaking is always the ‘any questions?’ session with the audience: no matter how much research I do ahead of the event, sharing in the audiences experience is always an opportunity to learn and this evening was no exception. The discussion ranged from the need for a wider range of age categories at races to why its important to encourage all women, whatever their age, to ride.
“I’m not the fastest rider and I quite often have to get off on hills…” began one woman, sitting with her husband and both of retirement age. Was she about to ask about building fitness? Bike handling tips? Self-confidence advice? None of those things. “However I have just cycled around the world…”. Having grabbed the attention of everyone in the room, she continued “and tomorrow I will be waving my daughter off as she sets off on her own adventure. And what I want to say is that we owe it to our daughters to set an example of what older woman can do.”
And there we have it. Women need many and varied role models in mountain biking – from Rachel Atherton to the riders who turn up at trail centres on a Sunday morning, we need to see women of all ages, levels of experience and ability on bikes.
It’s okay to be slow or fast, to be brave, to pootle around, to ride in groups, to ride alone, to favour cross-country or DH, to be old or young. We need to encourage everyone to take part, across the board. We need to let everyone know they are welcome and equally – and not hit some of us with a bigger bill because we happen to be over 25.
You can watch the full talk on the Wheel Suckers Podcast here