WRITTEN BY JESS DOUGLAS: 3X WORLD SOLO 24HR MOUNTAIN BIKE CHAMPION
I often get asked for my opinion on ‘how to get more women racing mountain bikes’ or just ‘how do we get more women riding bikes more often?’ As a woman when I search for my inner wisdom before responding, I relate best to my own personal experiences and the many stories I have as a coach at our MTB Skills clinics or as an athlete at mountain bike events in general.
Here are my thoughts are from those experiences.
Increase Bike Knowledge
Many women are very focused on knowing everything before they give something a go.
‘Can I see that demo again please?’
I am a keen learner, love to find out new ways of doing things, and if I can get shown the good, the bad and all the hows, whys and whens then I know I can follow a process that does not rely merely on luck! This inspires confidence. So no matter what trail feature pops up, how fast or slow or fit or unfit I feel, I can decide on the fly how to attack it – with full knowledge of what will happen and HOW to make it happen.
Eliminate Fears through Experience
When I teach, I talk about owning the single track and the bike, and not expecting a grizzly bear to jump out on every corner or trail feature you come across. Learning how to ride a mountain bike that delivers and inspires confidence takes a lot of time. A lot of repeated attempts and perhaps some crashes along the way.
Understand the Self Conscious Aspect
Perhaps if I may, share some of my own fears? When I first started racing my mountain bike, I deliberated over what to wear, how to wear it and how did my legs and bum look? Then I was worried if my saddlebag looked daggy, what tools should I carry, what food should I drink? What if a rider behind me trying to pass sees me stuff up that corner or that log? We all do it! In my first race, I soon learnt that everyone was supportive and that no one is really looking or caring about what’s going on with you, they are more concerned about themselves. I say to women often, just turn up to a race. Start at the back if you are worried and you will be amazed how quickly you can forget all those worries when you are having fun.
Keep it Social
The more social a ride is, the more women that will turn up. Call it a race or event or even mention that a fast female or male rider might be there as well, you can bet there will be less chicks turning up for that ride. Tell a woman you are making up a team for a 6hr or similar, and they are in far quickly than asking them to join you on the start line of a 100km marathon. More and more of the women I meet are seeing that racing is a really fun part of mountain biking and they are feeling less and less intimated by the thought of the start line. All we need is the old catch cry of “more women at races please” and this will pave the way for more women to turn up and say, “Hey I can do that too, that looks like fun!”
Understanding Skills Delivery
Add skills training and extending one’s self to the mix, and some women jump at it, others fear it. As a coach it’s my job to extend participants past “their” personal level and not have them feel inadequate or comparing themselves to other women on the ride. Our MTB Skills camps facilitate the fun factor of girl power riding. Each one of the instructors has their own skill set and
way of communicating and each woman attending has their own agenda of why
they are on the camp. Mostly though when asked, the girls just want to ride new trails with likeminded women, laugh, socialise, eat good food, drink good wine, and ride, ride, ride until they are exhausted. Understanding this as a coach helps in the delivery of skills development. My point? Add a social element and fun to the mix of skills riding, at all levels and the tone changes.
It’s an honour to be a female role model and to do it via the platform of riding my bike. So I always try and remind myself of this simple fact, especially when I am a little scared to learn a jump or am underprepared for a race; that if other women before me can do it and I gain strength from that, then I must pay this forward and give strength to those women who see me as a role model. With this in mind, you my mountain biking sister must do the same!