How to get more women on mountain bikes
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
Remarkable Women Who Ride
I’ve been working on an ongoing project for Evans Cycles Coffee Stop blog recently, for which I am interviewing a series of women who inspire us to ride. I’m thrilled to be part of it because I believe that highlighting the positive energy in women’s cycling is as important as discussing the not-so-good stuff that occasionally knocks us back. Every single one of these cycling athletes is awesome – and each in different ways. These are my favourite quotes from each interview (although to be honest it was very hard to choose!).
My first interview in the series was with former The Hour world record holder Bride O’ Donnell who told me:
“I wish we were braver in our 30s and 40s, and worried less about ‘what if?’ – our children need to learn that women’s bodies are strong, capable, resilient and fast; that being a mother or a wife doesn’t mean your physical and mental health and wellbeing needs to be discounted.”
You can read the full interview with Bridie here.
Next in line is British and European CX champion Helen Wyman:
“I have basically given up my career as a physio and possibly the whole family thing, possibly the expensive Bahamas holidays, newest car etc. But I don’t really see this as much of a sacrifice. Sure I have had moments when I have had to sell stuff to pay my rent or when I didn’t know how much money I have to spend on food that week, but I have also had the most amazing experiences a person could ever have.
Right now I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I get to ride my bike every day, travel the world, meet incredible and inspiring people – and do all of this alongside my husband – while calling it my job. Seriously who wouldn’t want that? My life is hugely rich in experiences and for that alone I would say I haven’t really sacrificed anything just switched philosophies!”
You can read the full interview with Helen here.
I spoke to British Downhill Series champion Manon Carpenter who gave this excellent piece of advice on braking (and yes, I am certainly guilty of this when I ride!!):
“Have fun and, once you are confident in your skills, trust yourself and let go of the brakes: comfort braking will slow you down, tire you out and make the ride rougher, so only brake when you need to.”
Read the full interview with Manon here.
Paralympian Lora Turnham gave a fascinating insight into her life as a professional athlete, as well as her relationship with her tandem pilot Corrine Hall:
“As soon as Corinne and I got on a bike we just clicked. We’re similar I guess but we also have slightly different strengths which compliment each other. She is an extremely good bike handler and also very good in a race environment as she has done it all her life. I sense her confidence and this reassures me.
Although we are good friends it is important to confront any problems we have straight away so that it doesn’t become an issue. We spend so much time together that we are like a married couple at times: we can finish each others sentences and also at times will say exactly the same thing. It’s also good to respect each other and recognise when we just need a little space or sometimes a good talking too and I think we’re both good at this.”
Read the full interview with Lora here.
Queen of the Mountains launch
The confident face of women’s road cycling: first glimpse of the new Queen of the Mountains road cycling range for women.
The launch party for the Queen of the Mountains range reminded me of the beauty and fashion press launches I used to attend when I worked on women’s magazines.
West End location, suitably glamourous? Check (in this case, an art gallery)
Champagne and exquisitely tasty nibbles? Check (lots of this, by the way).
A nice selection of kit to inspect and brand ambassadors to promote it? Absolutely.
The chance to bump into fellow journalists and industry type and have a not-for-publication gossip ? All that too.
And a moving speech – complete with tears – by the (female) founder? Got it.
As I’ve said before, female cylists are not all the same – and this launch was all about what it means to be a stylish, confident and capable female road cyclist. Every brand is a reflection of its founder, and Alicia Bamford (BA Commerce, BA Finance, Chartered Accountant – ICCA, and almost a decade in the corporate world, according to her Kickstarter page) is a fresh faced superwoman who loves cycling big mountains (we have that in common, if not the accountancy qualification) and Iron man competitions (five, in total).
Although Bamford emphasises that she is keen to get more women into cycling, at this point the brand seems to be all about riding hard and riding in style. She had the idea for it when she was cycling from Geneva to Cannes over the French Alps and it is aimed at the sort of woman who will pay £120 for a race jersey, and maybe even stump up almost £2000 for an 8-day ride and yoga retreat break with the brand at Lake Annecy this summer, or maybe sign up to the Kickstarter campaign which has already reached its initial target (“I expected the backers to be people I knew” Bamford told me, “But they are mostly people I have never met”).
The collection is, as you might expect, is driven by exceptionally high standards. Its designed by Bamford and her creative Designer Katy Hopkins in London, and produced in Italy at a factory with over 50 years experience in making performance cycling clothing, using performance technical wicking fabrics. In keeping with the mountain theme, it is inspired by the colours of Mount Ventoux: you don’t get more ‘chic road cycling’ than that. Crucially, the kit is also designed for the female form and all its curves, and the riding position.
The race jersey is made in lightweight 4-way stretch fabric, with UV 50+ protection that is quick drying and anti-abrasive (though it obviously has its limits should you be planning to fall off). The shoulder fabric has increased elasticity for extra movement as you ride, and the rear pockets are designed with easy access in mind. There’s also a waterproof zip pocket for your phone. It’s quite short which could be a problem if you’re 5’ 9” (like me) and although the range is available in sizes XS to L (size 16) I think this top is proably best suited to the more athletic figure.
The classic jersey is longer with a (slightly) more relaxed fit and there’s a super lightweight and white gilet (unlike me, women this stylish never accidentally spill their energy drink down their top, of course). The shorts are made of something called Lycra Power (so Jane Fonda!!) to reduce muscle vibrations and fatigue, with a Cytech pad suitable for 4+ hours riding. There’s also a wide waistband so no digging in and soft leg grippers to avoid the unflattering sausage legs look (my description, not their’s!). You can accessorise with matching arm warmers (£30) cap (£25) socks (£15) and a tan if you want to look like you just rode off the sports page of Vogue.
It’s lovely kit, created by a woman who is good at business and an experienced cyclist. She knows her niche in the women’s cycling market and she’s done her homework. I wish her the very best of luck, and I cant wait to see what comes next from this exciting brand.
To find out more visit the Queen of the Mountains Kickstarter site.
Who really inspires me to ride my bike?
A plea for diversity in marketing to women who love sport.
It may come as a surprise, but the women who inspire me to ride are not the ones that many sports brands are choosing to collaborate with. I don’t deny young, smiley, pretty girls with no commitments other than an insatiable Instagram account and a yoga mat the opportunity to make some money (and I am hoping they are actually paid, and not just given free kit). But I’d really love to see a more diverse bunch of women represented too.
Of course as I’m over 45, and apparently therefore no sports brand’s target audience, then most will not consider my point of view of any importance. Then again – and bearing in mind the sums of money some of my aged 50 plus friends are currently spending on their Alpine cycling adventures – it might be worth sitting up and taking notice.
So here goes: the women who inspire me to ride my bike are the provocateurs, the trail blazers, the mavericks, those who ‘don’t quite fit in’ but who ride their bike anyway – and have a great story to boot. I also value the way they communicate that story: great writing will never go out of fashion (enough of the feel good lifestyle quotes, please).
As an example of women who make me go ‘wow, I’ll cite Rebecca Rusch: 47 year old, multi-title winning U.S endurance mountain biker, self-titled ‘queen of pain’ and firefighter (how’s that for a job description?). She also wrote this – a letter to her former self – which is just about the pinnacle of authenticity that really only comes with age, and the last word on finding your own way forward. Interestingly Rebecca is clearly pretty heavily sponsored – perhaps there is nothing to be feared in collaborating with older athletes after all.
And then of course there is the lovely Jools Walker – cycle style blogger and The Cycle Show presenter. She’s a great communicator, 30 something, charmingly quirky, and totally authentic: you just want to be best friends with her. She’s also black – there I said it – how wonderful it would be to see the diversity that exists in cycling – be it age, gender or ethnicity – more widely represented.
I’ll also flag up Sian Roberts, mountain biker and co-owner of the fabulous Oldskool Mtb Accommodation near the Coed y Brenin trail centre (I’m share the link on the condition that you don’t book yourself in when I want to be there) who let slip, over a cup of coffee, that she had been a Welsh and UK MTB elite racer – and had persuaded key sponsors to come on board when Coed y Brenin (the first and largest trail centre in the UK) was set up. You really don’t get much more trail blazing than that.
There are loads more inspiring women riders of course. Who would you add? Let me know below – and the more diverse the better, please.
I’m nominated in the Singletrack 2015 reader awards!
I am stunned and excited to have been nominated in the Singletrack 2015 Reader Awards, in the Best Written Article category. I’ve been shortlisted for my post ‘The trouble with womens’ mountain bikes’, which was originally published on the Singletrackworld.com site earlier this summer.
Singletrack had approached me about writing for them after I published a story on this site celebrating their choice of a female rider for the magazine cover – a hugely popular story that even Rachel Atherton retweeted!
For the nominated post on women’s mountain bikes I went back to the drawing board and spent a lot of time checking facts and researching details from brands such as Santa Cruz, Trek, Specialized and Orange, as well as talking to female cyclists and local bike stores. The result – I hope – peels back the layers of marketing and gets to the bottom of why it can be so difficult for women to find the right bike. It also addresses the fact that there is actually no such thing as a ‘men’s’ bike: perhaps it is time to start using the term standard bike instead, make more sizes and fit options, and also show women riding them alongside men in advertising.
There are several categories to vote for, but I believe Manon Carpenter (nominated for personality of the year) and I are the only women up for a prize. So lets hope at least one of us gets to make a victory speech and fly the flag for women’s mountain biking at the awards ceremony on the 25th September!!
Voting closes at midnight on Sunday 20th September and (hint, hint) you can vote here or on the link to the post above.
Hurrah! Singletrack magazine have put a woman on the cover!!
Mountain bike magazine Singletrack put a woman on its May 2015 cover, and it’s caused a bit of a stir.
Singletrack magazine is always a good read but I am really pleased to see a woman on the cover of their May 2015 issue (German Enduro rider Laura Brethauer, about to go over the edge of something very steep). To be honest I am also a little surprised as women in mountain bike magazines tend to be noticeable for their absence. I tweeted about the cover on Saturday and got a huge response – all positive – including a RT from Rachel Atherton (19 mountain bike world cup wins to her name, and a major player in promoting women’s mountain biking) who added ‘Was buzzing when I saw this!! Respect!!’.
I love the image (by Christoph Laue), because its not posed: Brethauer is clearly totally engaged in her ride. It’s the moment we all ride bikes for and it isn’t about being male or female. Singletrack tell me that they chose it simply because it deserved to be a cover, and not because it’s a picture of a woman. This is, of course, as it should be. However it is also really heartening to see a woman represented on the front of this esteemed (and little bit maverick) mountain bike title.
As a print journalist it is also good to see that magazine covers continue to command respect: everyone who saw this and commented on it understands that putting a woman on the front is way more significant than slotting one in somewhere in the vicinity of page 36.
I’m aware that most mountain bikers are male (80%, I think) and that magazine making is a business, and that it is dependent upon entertaining its target readership. I also know that the vast majority of mountain bike photography features men. And of course, I don’t want to see a quota of ‘women covers’ to win a few PC points. But let’s hope that the reaction that this cover has generated may just inspire photographers to work with women riders, and editors to continue to take the occasional risk with their choice of cover star.