Image: Earlier this year, female leaders in the bike industry got together for discussions and a group ride organized by SRAM. More info here.
—by Marty Caivano, IMBA Field Programs Specialist
When I started mountain biking 15 years ago, I didn’t know very many other women who were into riding. It was understood that if you wanted to find a group of people to ride with, you had to hang out with male friends and learn from them in any way that you could.
There was a lot of listening to them say, “Watch this,” while demonstrating something—even though they couldn’t really explain what they were doing, or how to do it. They were just figuring it out as they went, which is what we all did in those days before skills clinics were common.
I loved mountain biking so much that this situation didn’t deter me, and with my juvenile sense of humor I got along with these men easily. I became so accustomed to their way of riding, their style of throwing themselves at technical sections and smack-talking each other, that it became invisible to me.
Over time, as I proved I wasn’t deterred by their ways or by the trails they dragged me on, I became integrated into their regular rides. I had found my crew, and that group relationship shaped my growth as a mountain biker. Even today I can’t ride a bike without blurting out, “That’s what she said,” or trying to ride something I probably shouldn’t.
Eventually, it dawned on me that this kind of indoctrination was not enjoyable for everyone.
Many women who didn’t want to spend time in that atmosphere didn’t have a lot of options besides ride alone or with their husbands/boyfriends. Some of them got stuck in a sort of purgatory, where they couldn’t take any more “Watch this!” teaching moments from their significant other—but then no one was inspiring them to push their limits. Some of them ended up riding at about the same ability level for years.
For women getting into mountain biking today, it’s no longer mandatory to spend a lot time hanging around (or in my case, off the back of) a group of guys. There are women’s-only clinics and ladies’ rides in almost every community. Women are forming riding groups with their female friends, who invite more friends, and so on. They’ve found their crews, with their own style and approach to the sport.
And they show each other how to excel. There’s a certain magic in watching other ladies shred. When I was a new rider, I assumed that men lived in some magical stew of balls, testosterone and misguided courage that allowed them to do anything they wanted. But as soon as I saw another woman clean a tough technical section, I knew that assumption was wrong—it had nothing to do with what kind of equipment you ran in your chamois.
Today, there are great female riders everywhere, and as they inspire each other, the bar set for ability rises ever higher. Meanwhile, the skills trickle down faster, too.
Although I’m not any sort of hotshot, I’ve done my best to mentor a couple of female riders this year. It’s awe-inspiring to see how quickly they are mastering skills and moving forward in the sport. While we can attribute this trend to lots of things, like improvements in bike technology, access to clinics and more beginner-friendly trails, I personally like to think that finding your crew is the invisible “X-factor.” We all like to be welcomed into the sport and inspired by those who suit us best.
— by Marty Caivano, IMBA Field Programs Specialist