Just how do you get more women riding Mountain bikes?

03 April 2014

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Women and mountain biking.

I often get asked for my opinion on “how do you get more women racing mountain bikes?”, or just how do we get more women “riding bikes more often?”

When I search for my inner wisdom before responding, being a woman and all I relate best to my own personal experiences and of course have a lot of stories to tell from the women I teach on our MTBSkills clinics or just at events in general.

Let me offer a few of my thoughts as to why less women take mountain biking to the next level. Of course not a comprehensive list but I am sure many of you can relate.

  1. Knowledge.
    Many women are very focused on knowing everything before they give something a go.
    Personally I want to know what will happen, when it will happen and what to do to either make it happen or to avoid it happening and can I see that demo again please? I am a keen learner, love to find out new ways of doing things, and if I can get shown the good the bad and all the hows and whys and whens then I know I can follow a process that does not rely on good luck or pot luck! This inspires confidence that no matter what trail feature pops up and how fast or slow or fit or unfit I feel, I can decide on the fly how to attack it – with full knowledge of what will happen and HOW to make it happen.

    Becoming knowledgable and confident eliminates fears.
    When I teach, I talk about owning the single track and the bike, and not expecting a grizzly bear to jump out on every corner or trail feature you come across.
    Learning how to ride a mountain bike that delivers and inspires confidence takes a lot of time, a lot of repeated attempts and perhaps some crashes along the way.
    So take this learning process to the next level and expect a woman to turn up to a race whilst not 100% confident of her own ability and then throw in the mix of passing, being passed and just the pressure of being on a race course with better riders...well that certainly scares the crap out of many women, so much so that many put off racing for a VERY long time.

  2. 1524722 661120860589753 777318977 nSelf Conscious.
    Along with knowledge and feeling confident comes the self awareness that others might be looking and making comment on her lycra, or attire in general, bike set up, wide bum saddle, heavy cumbersome bike, bike skills or lack of. Perhaps if I may, share some of my own fears. When I first started racing my mountain bike, I did deliberate over what to wear, how to wear it and how did my legs and bum look? Then I was worried if my saddle bag looked daggy, what tools should I carry, what food should I drink and oh my dear Lord, what if a rider behind me trying to pass sees me stuff up that corner or that log? I did do my first race, and did soon find out that everyone was totally supportive and that no one is really looking or caring whats going on with you, they are more concerned about themselves!
    I tell women as often as I see them in courses or at The Corner Store in Forrest or Mt Buller, seriously just turn up to a race, start at the back if you are that worried and you will be amazed at how fun it is.
    I had my epiphany when I was 19. Norm (My husband) and I went to a theme park in Sydney and it had big speed waterslides that I refused to go on. I was scared. Norm got me to stand at the bottom and watch everyone for 10 mins. He then asked, “so what do you notice?” I noticed that everyone was having fun, smiles on their faces and I so wanted that too. He then said, “is anyone crying, got broken bones, blood squirting out of their head? Whats the worst thing that can happen?” My answer was, “get to the bottom with a wedgie that I need to flick out of my bum before getting up?”
    And so I did the slide, fearful of the unknown, but confident that if all those others could do it and be normal people, then I could too and live to tell the tale. From that day on my mind started to change on what I could do and wanted to do!

  3. 1604879 10151867585261003 1184662493 nPartners.
    Many of us have well meaning partners, male or female. Yet whilst this may be a generalisation, many a male sooooo wants his female partner to love mountain biking like he does, and I am sure this happens for same sex relationships too!
    The problem is that whilst partner no.1 might LOVE mountain biking to bits and be all enthusiastic for partner no.2 to learn and ride like they do this takes time, yet P1 wants P2 to be riding like they do next week.
    I know even when I am out riding now with my husband he turns around to see if I hit that jump or railed that berm and if I did he is like a proud parent, and if I didn't he is disappointed and thinks I am selling myself short.
    Whether its a real feeling or just a percieved one, the parnter that is still learning and at a lower level than the other always feels that each ride is a lesson, and a watch what I can do, now you can do it!
    Well meaning and done with much love and pride yet I can tell you from personal experience that I have to be really in the mood to make the most of this kind of ride.
    So if you are a beginner riding with a fast skilled confident rider, no matter how much you love them, there is always some tension with what each individual thinks they want out of the ride. Let alone if they can even break down the teaching methodolgy so that you understand (see above about Knowledge!)

  4. 1425633 10151762511101003 1135331168 nFinding time for something new and different.
    This is not just a “female only” trait however I have found when teaching, meeting and riding with other women, especially mums, wives, partners and those that have responsibilities in the home &/or work that coming to “try” mountain biking often leads to many conflicts.
    Now that they made the time to come and ride, and loved it, how do they fit this in with other external self imposed expectations they have.
    I am going to go right for the stereo type here, its the one I do see and hear the most.
    That is, I would love to come again and ride, firstly I don't have a bike.
    My answer – I will loan you one!
    Oh but seriously I had to organise my husband to look after the kids and they play sport on Saturday mornings anyway.
    My answer – no worries, lets ride in the afternoon. Hubby can have some me time in the am, you take the kids to sport and then you have your ride afterwards.
    That won't work, I have to make dinner, or we have dinner at his parents house every second Sunday and I just have too much to do.
    My answer used to be, Come on! Please...you will so love it...but now I am sad to say, I just leave it at that, and say,”Ok then, let me know if you ever want to go for a ride then.”...and never hear from them again or its a long long time in between rides, so improvement seems to be so very slow too, resulting in frustration and fear.
    I know this is not everyone, not every females experience, however this is one fine example of a woman denying herself some ME time, some FUN time for fear of guilt or her self imposed responsibilities.
    What I have learnt now after many years of supporting and putting my 2 cents of effort into growing womens cycling is that you can't force it, however you can get the WHOLE family involved. This is the real winner for cycling and for family harmony.

  5. 1554406 649760628392443 358870938 nKeeping it Social
    The more social a ride is, the more women that will turn up. Call it a race or event or even mention that a fast female or male rider might be there as well, you can bet there are less chicks turning up for that ride. I get it all the time myself, “Hey lets go for a ride!” and my friend might say, “Thanks but I will hold you up, I dont want to hold you up.”
    HELLO! The whole reason I asked was because I was keen for a social ride, a banter, a bitch, a coffee afterwards and to ride at a “social pace”
    Tell a woman you are making up a Team for a 6hr or similar and they are in far quicker than asking them to join you on the start line of a 100km marathon.
    More and more women I meet are seeing that racing is a real fun part of mountain biking and feeling less and less intimated. All we need is the old catch cry of “more women at races please” and this will pave the way for more women to turn up and say, “Hey I can do that too, that looked like fun!”
    I suggested to Norm last year at the Forrest Festival to offer a FUN category which was sent of in the last wave of the start of every stage and also half the distance of the big 50km on the final day. This was perfect for the riders, and women, who did want to race but did not want to get caught up with any rider on the trail so they could focus on their own fun and skill level and if they chose to get off and walk a trail feature, they felt relaxed about it. I think it worked well.

1524943 10151977729431003 901389870 nOver the past 2 weeks I have been working alongside women on mountain bikes in real mountain bike terrain with no racing, just skills and riding, with loads of banter, heaps of good food and coffee and post riding wine and good times.

The MTBSkills camp was held Forrest, with myself, Su, Cathy and Kylie facilitating the fun factor and doing girl power proud.
Each one of the instructors had their own skill set and way of communicating and each woman attending had their own agenda of why they were on this camp.
Mostly though when asked, they just wanted to ride new trails with likeminded women, laugh, socialise, eat good food, drink good wine, and ride ride ride until they were exhausted.
The most repeated phrase however was still, “you go first, I don't want to hold you up,” as we would ride off, yet each woman that felt this, was saying it to their peer whom also felt this way. By the end of the weekend no one cared anymore, they all knew what wheel to follow suited their level and style and forgot about their own ego.

When we would regroup at a trail junction it sometimes took a few minutes to get going again as we had started a full blown coversation about men, kids, chamois time, what was being eaten or drank afterwards and when they were buying a new bike or upgrade and what it would be.

The very week after we ran a MTBSkills womens camp at Mt Buller, totally different terrain and a new bunch of girls. Myself, Cathy, Bec and Kylie worked hard at keeping these girls believing they had what it took to ride the trails at Mt Buller. There is a lot of descending and a lot more climbing to be done here. So long as the girls knew a few good skills, felt comfortable with whose wheel they were behind and who was behind them they kept going.

1969213 603528523061455 781186773 nStops along the way were filled with laughter, name calling, snack time and talking about the next coffee and when the bottle shop closed, did they have enough beer?

Add social to the mix of riding, and the tone changes. Add skills and extending self, some women jump at it, others fear it and hope they won't look bad. Its our job to extend them at “their” personal level and not have them feeling inadequate or comparing themselves to other women on the ride.

Thankfully as a female mountain biker I have loads of personal experience to draw upon at a moments notice, the good the bad and the very ugly to share. We just want to know that other women feel this way too, and thats ok.

As I write this I am off to Alice Springs for the Dirt Diva's Womens MTBSkills weekend of clinics and a group dinner to share our stories and increase the sisterhood of mountain biking.

Its an honour to be a female role model and to do it via the platform of riding my bike.

So I always try and remind myself of this simple fact, especially when I am a little scared to learn a jump or underprepared for a race, that if other women before me can do it and I gain strength from that, then I must pay this forward and give strength to those women who see me as a role model.

With this in mind, you my mountain biking sister must do the same!