10 Simple Ways to Help Keep Women in Cycling
The majority of my cycling experiences have been positive, and for that I am thankful. However, there are still idiotic things that make me wonder if the UCI rulebook was written in the 1950s by the same group of old white dudes who suggested wives not bother their husbands after work with their trivial troubles and complaints. At the top end of things, there is horrendous inequality of pay, prizing and a general lack of support for pro women’s cycling. At the entry level, by the age of fourteen, girls are six times more likely to drop out of cycling (and sports in general) than boys.
Thankfully, there are strides being made to address these issues. On one side of the spectrum, we have the first ever female UCI Vice-President, who has created a Women’s Commission to address all matters relating to women’s cycling. On the other side, we have groups like Fast and Female, who’s goal is to support, motivate, inspire and empower young girls to stick with sport.
These are indeed great and important things. Of equal importance is the ever growing middle ground between young aspiring athletes and pros. While we may not be seen as a strategic priority by anyone other than the makers of brie-bakers, we – The Average Janes, Weekend Warrior Princesses, Masters (Mistress?) racers, and She-Mamils* deserve our place at the table too. And you can help.
*Mamil = Middle-Aged Men in Lycra
The following list has been compiled based on things I have either experienced myself or witnessed first hand. It is far from comprehensive, and it is not just for the men. There are things that are specific to men, to women, to race organizers – everyone.
1) If she makes a mistake, it’s not because she’s female. It’s because she’s human. None of us emerge from the womb with an innate understanding of the nuances of cycling skills or etiquette, so unless you have never made a mistake ever, or are named Eddy Merckx, give some constructive advice or shut the fuck up.
2) Give her time to get her confidence up. If she is tentative, it’s probably because she’s been told her whole life that sports are for boys and boys are stronger and faster than girls. Be patient. Then watch her kick some ass.
3) Match the results to the race. This one is for race organizers. In many communities there are not enough women to race separately from the men. If men and women are combined, have the decency to reflect that in the results. The almighty UCI may dictate that results be posted separately, but there is nothing stopping you from posting additional combined results. There is nothing that pisses me off more than busting my ass for position in a peloton, only to see results that make it look like I raced alone. By the way, if you do choose to only post separate results, you damn well better have a women’s prizing, even if only one woman shows up.
4) Make her feel like she belongs. I am often the only woman on a group ride or in a race, and feel conspicuous enough without it being pointed out. One of the best compliments I receive from my male ride buddies is “I kinda think of you as a dude”. Under most other circumstances (like in bed with your girlfriend or wife, for example), this sentiment should be avoided at all cost, but in a group of riders, this is a warm fuzzy blanket of acceptance. Verbal or not, we just want to feel like any other rider.
5) Dance with the one you brung. If you know a woman who is new and interested in riding, don’t invite her out to a hammerfest with your buddies, only to get caught up in the moment and drop her like a sack of hammers. Like the song (sort of) says, dance with the one you brung, and be prepared to stay with her if she drops back. This applies to everyone, by the way – male or female, on either side of the fence. I have found the male and female egos to be equally fragile.
6) NEVER suggest she ride with the slow group, whether you know her ability or not. This is very similar to the logic that dictates you NEVER comment on a woman’s pregnancy unless you actually see a baby drop from her body. Which group she rides with is her call. In spite of what might be good intentions, you will only prove to everyone what a dick you are when she keeps up in the fast group or drops your ass.
7) Don’t be That Guy. Unless you are sleeping with her, do not call her ‘sweetheart’ or tell her how nice her ass looks in her shorts.
8) Unless she asks for help, let her change her own damn flat. With the exception of those under 12, I believe anyone on a bike should be equipped and able to change their own flat. That said, not everyone is. Treat her like anyone else on your ride, ask if she needs help before pulling a Sir Galahad. If she needs your help, you will be a hero. But if she can do it herself, she will feel like a rockstar.
9) Watch your language. Contrary to what I said about being seen as one of the boys, there is a line in that particular sandbox that shan’t be crossed. If a woman happens to like to ride hard and fast, being called “butch”, “ball-buster”, or “hammerhead” is not what we in polite circles would consider appropriate descriptors. Just as no man wants to be emasculated, no woman wants to be shamed by being castrated of her woman-ness. Being defeminized (this is an actual word, unlike woman-ness, which I just made up because femininity sounds too posh) is rarely done in a flattering manner, and is typically done by ex-lunch money stealers and knuckleheads.
10) Support your sisters. Here’s one for the girls. From my experience, female racers have such a fierce competitive streak that I can only surmise comes from some primordial wildcat instinct to fuck with anything that tries to fuck with you. We women can be downright awful to each other. If another woman beats you fair and square, don’t be a dick and call her a cheater. Have some class and offer a handshake instead. Even if you hate her with the burning intensity of a thousand suns.
There. I feel better, don’t you? Some simple, grass-roots common sense to make the gals in your next ride or race feel right at home. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a flat to change and a pot roast to burn.
So spot on! Amen, sister. 😉
1. That goes for most of life as a woman.
3. Tried. Oh how I tried. Was ignored. Maybe because I am a woman? Maybe because people don’t read emails.
4. Never had a problem with that for the most part. If you are doing it right, they won’t change their behaviour because you’re female (even though I’ve had that suggested to me in the past, that it happens regardless. I don’t buy it).
5. I’m guilty of this. Only because in a big pace line you end up in different spots and I didn’t know it had happened. I still got scolded. See #1.
6. If you want to see my blood boil…..
7. Happens regularly….. depending on who it is, sometimes I mind and sometimes not.
8. I’m slower at tire changes, even though I can do it, I hate stopping for long so I usually don’t mind when someone takes over.
9. Never happened to me. Being short helps.
10. uh huh.
Good points and even if you sleep with a fellow cyclist you have to be careful on what you do and say.
I see a fellow cyclist. Rest doesn’t matter.
Great list you ball-busting sweetheart! 😉
4) So long as the “…dude.” is following by “…who can ride a bike.” Am i right?
Doesn’t #9 invalidate #4? Who wants to feel like they belong by being thought of as a guy? Can’t a girl belong and still be a girl? Overall, good list though…
Thanks, and point taken – but really it’s just put forward as an example. I think it is their way of saying that I belong to the group, which is otherwise all guys. I don’t really take it in a literal sense.
Being told to watch your language by the Cycle Chick is like being accused of immoral activity by a black-market arms dealer. I can hear her now, shouting “Hey, watch your fucking language!”
Haha! “Watch your language” is just my feeble attempt at clever heading for that topic, which has nothing to do with swearing. Another, more literal option I considered was “Watch what words you use”, but it seemed less fucking funny.
“Keep it in your pants (and to yourself)”
Oh wait… that’s for #7
So true! i like that this is about road cycling, not the very bike industry popular trend of encouraging woman to ride by selling cute but useless cruiser bikes with matching bags and high heels! That is so annoying. I’d say cycling is still sexist in many ways. Older men try to get their wives or girlfriends riding, but go about it the wrong way so women will end up with useless cute bikes instead of road bikes and wonder why they cannot keep up with their husbands! And if cycling is that important to you, should you not be looking to date someone who also rides?
An ongoing issue for women is bikes that fit properly and bike components designed for women as well. Issues become more apparent with smaller women(and men too to be fair) but there are some physiological differences. I am very small, it is hard to find higher end bicycles, I have trouble with reach, so end up having to change stems, bars etc.. I cannot manage brifters, unless I can find something designed for children with weak hands. A major car accident left me with nerve damage in my hands, a messed up back, so I set things up the way I need. I also have a mental block about cleats, and I do not even use straps or those pretty hook things. I have been riding most of my life, I do not need or want to be told how I must set up my bike or what I must wear to be real cyclist by know it all men. So, don’t ever belittle someone’s less than professional set up.
You never know, did they have an accident, are they accident prone, or a bit absent minded enough to know cleats would be a disaster waiting to happen?
I live in a rural area with few cyclists, even fewer women riders and for some reason I attract so much attention! i’ve been here for ten years and the comments never stop. I work in a cafe and have no choice to smile and be polite when people order lattes and continue to comment on how difficult it must be for me to bike to work.
I never got bothered in Regina, Ottawa, Toronto, Miami, Vancouver, but here it never ends. The weird thing, is due to the geography of where I live, my commutes although rural and longish are much less than I regularly rode in cities. It’s winter and dark all the time so I have not been doing much riding beyond commuting of late, but people still think I ride ‘too far’.
Is it because I am a cute little woman, that people cannot fathom my ability to ride in all weather? Are ALL the mens watching me? Gosh, I get cornered at the farmer’s market, at work, at the grocery store etc by these handsome men I’ve never seen on bikes and commenting on my new road bike, when I never told anybody outside of family and friends I had a new road bike….
I am not sure if people are just honestly impressed, jealous, feel pity because they think I am too poor to have a car, or think I am a bit nuts. But it’s a lot of you are so courageous/brave, sporty/ athletic/ inspiring blah blah blah.
By the way, my husband never gets this attention.
Very nice list. I sure as heck would love to see my daughter (if I have one!) participate in cycling. Would be awesome to get her into cyclocross (as I doubt my wife would let me ride with her on open roads).
I’d love to see more female cyclists. They’re pretty rare, especially if we’re talking road cycling and not commuting.
Great list. Even though our membership counts out to 50% female, the ridership over each ride season does not reach anywhere near that level, maybe 20%. And as a group, our female members have the highest dropout rate i.e. not rejoining the Club after their first year. The sad thing is that most of it seems to arise out of perceptions [on both sides] and subtle and [I hope] unintentional behaviours.
The list is right on. You’re awesome. Thanks as always for making us laugh and learn (or at least think for a brief moment….).
This past summer I repeatedly got my ass handed to me by women. I hate that. I’m a man for fuck sakes. Nothing inspires me to go as hard as I can like a woman on a bike just up the road. Two of the best rides I had last year were because I was trying to catch the women. One evening I was on my way back from Lockport and I saw a woman just up the road. I put the hammer down and caught her after a couple of very challenging kilometers. I didn’t want to draft her so I stayed back a couple of bike lengths. She saw me and kicked it up a gear. It took me another couple of K to catch her again. There are a couple of small inclines on Henderson and whenever we hit an uphill, my superior torque would catch her up and as soon as we were on the flat her superior power would open the gap back up. We were just getting to Hoddinott road when I decided to catch her and thank her for a GREAT ride when she kicked it up another gear and rode away from me like Lance. The whole way I was slightly over the line into anaerobic and knew my time was limited. She OTOH was cool as can be, beautiful style, no pressure. Anyways, who ever you are, thanks for that. I could never have ridden that hard without your inspiration.
Comments are closed.