For Women

Changing the Narrative: More Women on Bikes

May 5, 2019

Three women mountain biking over a boulder

Words by Char­lotte Bat­ty, IMBA Cana­da Board of Direc­tors  and Owner/Mountain Bike Instruc­tor at Minii Adven­tures.

The air is humid, the ground is mucky, and it’s a rel­a­tive­ly bland time of year before things start to sprout and the colour returns. How­ev­er, there has been a shift in the air. Spring has arrived. And, with that, soon moun­tain bike sea­son will be here.

But, there has also been a shift hap­pen­ing behind the scenes. One that seems to be bring­ing more women onto the trails. You’ll find us in adver­tise­ments, win­ning titles, at the trail­head, shred­ding rock gar­dens, ask­ing ques­tions in the bike shop, and catch us at the local brew­ery or gro­cery store in our rid­ing clothes. Moun­tain bik­ing is more accept­ing and accom­mo­dat­ing now than it has ever been. So what is the dri­ving momen­tum behind the increase of women on moun­tain bikes?

With the Women’s Inter­na­tion­al Moun­tain Bike day approach­ing [the first Sat­ur­day in May – this year it’s May 4, 2019], I want­ed to take a moment to cel­e­brate how far women have come in the sport. A recent arti­cle I read on Pinkbike; Snap­shot: A View of Women’s Moun­tain Bik­ing From Female Rac­ers & the Indus­try (Sarah Moore) real­ly hit the nail on the head. The arti­cle fea­tures input from female rac­ers and the indus­try. Regard­less of their pro­fes­sion, back­ground, or geo­graph­i­cal loca­tion, they all shared a sim­i­lar narrative.

As an indi­vid­ual who has ded­i­cat­ed their career to grow­ing the sport of moun­tain bik­ing, I want­ed to take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to high­light and elab­o­rate some of my ideas on some of these top­ics and how they can be applic­a­ble with­in your local cycling community.

Invite & Include

Moun­tain bik­ing is a com­mu­ni­ty. Even if solo rid­ing is your thing, you’re still a part of the com­mu­ni­ty by vis­it­ing the local bike shop, chim­ing in on the online forum, or show­ing up to the local race. The com­mu­ni­ty that the sport pro­vides us access to is what dri­ves us to come back. As women, we want to be apart of the tribe and don’t want to be put in the spot­light sim­ply just for show­ing up. We just want to be includ­ed. Anoth­er obser­va­tion I have made is that moun­tain bike groups can appear ‘cliquey’. I’m not say­ing that you need to invite the whole neigh­bour­hood to join your group ride, but it can be sur­pris­ing how a sim­ple invite to join can make all the dif­fer­ence for some­one just get­ting into the sport. If peo­ple feel like they belong, they are more like­ly to be involved.

Remove the Intimidation

There are so many oppor­tu­ni­ties for women to be involved in the sport thanks to a big focus shift on women’s ambas­sador pro­grams, women’s only skills clin­ics, camps and group rides – but it is a male-dom­i­nat­ed com­mu­ni­ty-dri­ven sport and we all need to be able to min­gle. By intro­duc­ing women to the sport through women’s‑only activ­i­ties, this lets them find their feet and build con­fi­dence in a safe and no-pres­sure envi­ron­ment. How­ev­er, we should then encour­age co-ed activ­i­ties so we can begin to elim­i­nate the intim­i­da­tion of being involved in the sport with men. Every­one has to start some­where. Offer­ing co-ed clin­ics, camps, group rides, and hav­ing a vari­ety of male and female instruc­tors can help break down this barrier.

Celebrate All Disciplines & Styles of Riding

No mat­ter what your back­ground is and/or where you’re head­ed, it doesn’t mat­ter. Whether you only go for group rides, cel­e­brate with a beer post ride, chase the KOM/QOM, despise span­dex, are anti-flat ped­als, ride solo, cross-coun­try or down­hill – we need to be accept­ing of all rid­ers and their style and cel­e­brate the fact that some­one is out rid­ing their bike. End of story.

Change the Narrative

I’m sor­ry, but as women we so often are quick to say ‘sor­ry for mak­ing you wait’ or ‘sor­ry for being slow’. Instead, we need to change the ‘sor­ry’ to ‘thank you’. It’s amaz­ing the atti­tude change and the sud­den aware­ness of your well-being when some­one is being thanked verse being apol­o­gized to…give it a try on your next group ride! Women are also more like­ly to turn down a group ride if we feel like we are going to slow peo­ple down or be too much of a has­sle. We don’t need a cheer­lead­ing squad or high fives all the time, but some words of encour­age­ment here and there are nice. (Side­note, please always ask to offer advice first before dump­ing it on us). We also need to start cel­e­brat­ing the pos­i­tives of the sport; such as ‘holy jel­ly beans that was such a rush, I can’t wait to do it again’, instead of ‘oh, I couldn’t do that, it’s too scary/intense/difficult…’ We all start­ed some­where no mat­ter how ‘good’ we are. Please don’t for­get that, and focus on the positives!

Bring More Young Girls into the Sport

Youth pro­grams are begin­ning to pop up all over the map intro­duc­ing young rid­ers, espe­cial­ly girls, to the sport. Being brought into a gen­der-equal sport at an ear­ly age, the kids will nev­er see the ‘gen­der divide’. It will just be peo­ple rid­ing bikes. Period.

Promote & Advertise Male & Female Riders Equally

We do pay atten­tion to what’s hap­pen­ing in the cycling world. If we are sub­con­scious­ly being fed male-only adver­tise­ments and cam­paigns then it can be hard to pic­ture our­selves as being ‘apart’ of the sport. We need to see an equal ratio of men : women in pro­mo­tion and media around the sport. I have so much respect for any cyclist out set­ting records and break­ing bar­ri­ers, but there will be a stronger con­nec­tion to women if it is a woman doing it. There is so much female-dri­ven social media mate­r­i­al out there that some­times shar­ing some­thing oth­er than anoth­er dude ‘send­ing it’ can go a long way.

Stop Polarizing & Isolating:
Show Women in Sport with Men

Sim­i­lar to ‘Pro­mote & Adver­tise Male & Female Rid­ers Equal­ly’ except we don’t want to be cel­e­brat­ed for being women on bikes. We ride the same bikes, ride the same trails, fight the same obsta­cles, share the same highs and lows, etc. We just want to be accept­ed and includ­ed. It’s as sim­ple as that. ‘HIRE & SUPPORT DIVERSITY’ Bring women into the indus­try who have a pas­sion for help­ing oth­ers in gen­er­al. Also, what bet­ter way to cre­ate prod­ucts and excite­ment around the sport than some­thing by women for women. To shop own­ers, I can guar­an­tee hav­ing a woman employ­ee in-store will change your busi­ness. It’s amaz­ing how many women I work with who need work or ser­vice done to their bike and are actu­al­ly too scared to go into a bike shop [because it’s all guys].

Be Relatable

The indus­try needs to start involv­ing relat­able and real­is­tic top­ics and fea­tures. I’m think­ing beyond gen­der here. It’s great to show­case pro­fes­sion­al ath­letes and their hard work and ded­i­ca­tion, but some­times throw­ing in some local heroes that are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence at a com­mu­ni­ty lev­el may help a new rid­er find their out­let in the sport. If you’re some­one that is a long-time rid­er, don’t for­get what is was like to be a new rid­er; put your­self in their shoes.

As a female rid­er who has been involved in the indus­try for quite some time it is very excit­ing to see more women on bikes. I’m notic­ing that there are now groups of mul­ti­ple women at the local trail head head­ing out for a ride, instead of being the only woman at the trail­head alto­geth­er. Let’s keep this momen­tum going.

Again, I just want to high­light that these are sim­ply my opin­ion on these top­ics. I hope this can be a great con­ver­sa­tion starter and I would love to hear your feed­back or thoughts on how you help grow your local cycling com­mu­ni­ty. Here’s to more peo­ple on bikes.

Hap­py Trails.

About the Author
Char­lotte Bat­ty has over 17 years of moun­tain bike expe­ri­ence. The first half of Char­lot­te’s career saw her com­pet­ing at a nation­al and inter­na­tion­al lev­el, dur­ing which Char­lotte claimed many titles. Mid­way through her career, Char­lotte took a step back from com­pet­ing and refu­elled her pas­sion for the sport through a new­ly land­ed instruc­tion posi­tion with a local wom­en’s club. Ped­al for­ward a few years, and Char­lotte is now a cer­ti­fied pro­fes­sion­al moun­tain bike instruc­tor, as well as a suc­cess­ful busi­ness own­er of Minii Adven­tures. Teach­ing full time and rec­og­nized through­out North Amer­i­ca for her instruc­tion, Char­lot­te’s teach­ing meth­ods incor­po­rate a relaxed and dynam­ic approach while encour­ag­ing you to smile, curse, and make all your own sounds effects as you shred down the trail.