I am really happy to report that, as well as writing here, I have been invited to contribute to the Velovixen blog each month. Velovixen is a UK-based women’s cycling site. Founded by Liz and Phil Bingham a couple of years ago, the site champions women’s cycling as well as selling some great kit. I am really looking forward to working with them.
Here is a link to the first post I have written for Velovixen, on a subject which is very dear to my heart – outdoor exercise! Enjoy, and don’t forget to add your own reasons for working out outdoors (I am sure there are more than six!).
The wonders of working out in the woods (and some awesome mountain bike skills).
I’m a huge fan of exercising outdoors. A gym full of mirrors is every shade of wrong when you could be gulping fresh air into your needy lungs and plugging into the delicious power supplied by the sun on your back. When you’re so fixed on nailing the next berm on the trail that you forget what your thighs look like or how many calories were in your breakfast: that’s a good place to be. The trails that I ride with my girlfriends may be less than forty miles from London, but you can forget about mirrors. Come to think about it, you can also forget about mobile phone signal and sign posts. So every ride is a little adventure, as well as a workout.
We found this jumps section recently. Despite being a few metres away from a trail we know well, we’d never spotted it before. We dismounted our bikes to have a closer look (you don’t get to do that in a spin class!) and discovered a series of ‘tiger trap’ pits built beneath it. It looked truly terrifying.
Before long, two riders approached through the woods and, without even slowing down to look, soared over it. They pulled up ahead, and walked back past us to have another go. Now, we’re not really in the habit of talking to strangers in the woods, but this is outdoor exercise so you can talk to anyone, so long as they’re doing of a version of what you’re doing. We asked about their bikes (Specialized Enduro, quite heavy – no wonder they were pushing up hill.) We asked them if they found jumps scary (‘to be honest, yes’). They jumped again, I took some pictures on my phone (above and below), said thanks and we went our separate ways.
I will never ride this jumps section for a trillion different reasons that mostly revolve around being a complete coward. That doesn’t matter. What counts is being outside on my bike, and being open to whatever experience the trails choose to throw at us. Which, in this case, is happily acknowledging that some riders are far more awesomely skilled than I will ever be, and that’s fine.
“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.