That pesky business of women and bikes

Ages ago I went to a forum put on by WABA, a bicycling advocacy group in DC, about female cyclists and how to get more women onto bikes. Now, I’ve never really identified as a “female cyclist.” I consider myself to be a cyclist who just happens to be female. The only barriers I experienced when getting into cycling were ones I created myself and I’ve never felt discriminated against or dismissed on my bike because I’m a female. I’m not saying there aren’t barriers for women getting into cycling because I didn’t really face any or that women who cycle aren’t discriminated against or dismissed because I’ve never felt that way. But for me, at my level, I’ve never felt dissed or dismissed because of my gender. Buying a bike had always been on mind, it just took awhile to work up the nerve to go to the shop and I’m a comfortably moderate cyclist who’s impressed enough with my own achievements that I want others to marvel at my work on the bike too. But as a cyclist who’s female, I thought I should attend this forum, just to see what all the fuss was about.

Truth be told, I didn’t take too much away from the forum. Mostly the panel talked about why there aren’t more women cycling, with only a bit of talk about how to change that. To me, it felt just like a rehashing of known issues.

I felt very similar when I went to a round table discussion at cross nationals in Wisconsin about women in cycling. There was a lot of talk about why women weren’t in cycling, but not a lot of talk about how to increase participation. I did learn some interesting things about what it means to be a female pro cross rider.

  • They don’t care much about an increase in prize money. To get that money, you have to win and even if you do win, it will probably just be used to cover your travel expenses to get there.
  • What they do care about is sponsorship. If they have sponsorship, they don’t have to pay for travel, gear, support, or entry fees out of pocket. Then they don’t have to draw on family funds to support their racing.
  • They are only able to race if they’re in a relationship that respects and supports their racing habit. That support can come through being the primary bread winner, being handy with a bike wrench, watching kids while the mom races, etc.

Now, while I’m not interested in racing, nor am I much interested in getting women involved in racing, I was interested in the parallels I heard at the WABA forum. There was a lot of talk at both places about how time and intimidation were two big factors to overcome when it came to getting women involved in cycling. Time is not something I can help with. That’s a social problem, with the expectation that family and home is a woman’s responsibility. But I can help those women who want to find time, but aren’t sure were to start or are intimidated and overwhelmed with the choices and environment. I can do that by sharing my experiences.  I’m going to break it down into three posts, because I don’t like huge blog posts- the intimidation factor, the “too many choices!” problem, and my continuing struggle with saddle. I’m doing this mainly because I’m tired of just talking about it and want to try to do something, even if it’s something as small as writing a blog post. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help other women overcome barriers either put in place by themselves or society and get them on bikes!

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