By Danielle Baker
I recently had the opportunity to sit on a panel about the future of women in mountain biking at the MTB Tourism Symposium in Sooke, British Columbia. The answer to many of the questions posed was simply that we need more women to ride. So how to do get more women involved? Some of us are fortunate to live in areas where women's riding clubs, groups and lessons are readily available, where it feels like you see just as many women out for a ride as men, but to affect change we need to close the gap on the percentage split between male and female riders. To do this we need to encourage grassroots action, each of us needs to participate. While more women are joining the sport, the number of people mountain biking is also growing in general, and so we are only maintaining our percentages.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." Ghandi may not have been talking about women in mountain biking specifically, but this is exactly what we need to do. We could debate endlessly about how to get more women into riding but there is one simple technique that is so obvious it is often overlooked or dismissed: Introduce a woman to the sport.
We, each one of us, need take someone new riding: your daughter, your mom, a friend or coworker, your ex-girlfriend(s), a neighbor, a landlady, or your best friend from high school who you haven't seen in 20 years. Just don't take your girlfriend! That's what mountain bike lessons are for, North Shore-based Endless Biking uses the tag line 'Building riders, saving relationships.’ Round up your favorite ladies and show them why you love bikes. Break down the barriers that are preventing them from trying it.
Mountain biking is not a spectator sport, it isn't roller derby or hockey, and you can't just take a friend down to the local arena to see what it looks like. Sitting friends down to watch a bike movie will only widen the gap between what they think their capabilities are and what they think we do. Not all of us ride like Geoff Gulevich.
My first impressions were watching people suit up in the parking lot with full face helmets, full jacket armor, knee pads and gloves, I really thought that it was some form of LARP'ing (live action role playing) where they were slaying an imaginary dragon by rolling dice in the forest. Demystify the unknown. Take a friend for a hike, take them out to a trail day or show them photos where you are smiling, have good form and don't took terrified.
If you want to discourage someone from riding tell her how much it will cost to get started. One of the biggest barriers is equipment. Our sport is expensive and it is a commitment. When you put a price tag on it people will look at you like you're crazy. "I want you to spend at least $2,000 to try this thing that I'm really excited about." The ever evolving fashion, protection and bike technology in our industry means that with a combined effort we can outfit someone to go riding with our seconds, we can get them out there for a taste on a borrowed bike. Our gear closets and garages hold the tools to make our sport accessible. Like smart drug dealers, the first hit is free.
'It's great to learn because knowledge is power!' Teach your friends about trail etiquette. Educate them about why we don't block trails or stop on jumps. Tell them not to panic if someone comes up behind them on the trail; they don't have to pull over right away but should do so when they feel it is safe. Ensure they know that "STRAVA!" is not a reason to risk injury. But "on your left" is an acceptable form of communication. Give them the tools and knowledge to be safe and confident on trail. New riders should be able to identify when they are in the right and when it's okay to say to a self-entitled rider who is being intimidating or creating a dangerous situation, "Hey, stop being a dick, this is my ride too!"
Respect their fear. Remember what it was like to learn to ride? It is important that we remember that first time we learned the meaning of the word endo and that we relate that to how new riders are feeling. Tap into what scared you, what was intimidating about mountain biking, and what you struggled with before you really loved it. (If you are reading this and thinking 'What is she talking about, mountain biking is easy, the first time I went riding I hucked myself off a 10-foot drop,’ stay away from beginners).
Tapping into and holding onto the fear that comes with learning to mountain bike will help you to successfully bring others into the sport. Remember what was intimidating about it and break it down for beginner riders. Understand their egos and make it okay for them to suck the first time they go riding. I did. Inspire new riders with why you love it, what was it that helped you overcome the fear? Share your passion for mountain biking, friends and the outdoors. Just talk about it and they will see your eyes light up and your smile grow. They'll want some of what you're having.
Most importantly, have fun. It is only mountain biking. Start with the easiest of easy trails. Having a new rider tell you at the end of a ride that they want to ride something harder is much better than tears. Just ask my ex-boyfriend. Show them the flow, show them what it is about riding that inspires you to keep doing it. Introduce them in your community, to all the great people that make up your riding world. Once you get them involved they will never leave! And if nothing else works, remind your single girlfriends how many guys ride bikes. Works every time.
Big changes start small. Grassroots initiatives that spread the seed will allow us the global change that we are looking for. Who knows where the passion that you ignite in someone will end up. Maybe you will introduce the next top female racer to the sport, or maybe you will leave a legacy of accessibility and inspiration for your daughters.