James Brown may have said it best – it’s a man’s (man’s man’s) world, but it ain’t nothing without a woman or a girl. Okay. Coming from a woman that may sound a little less than modest, but who am I to argue with the godfather of soul? When it comes to mountain biking you’ll find few people who will argue that it ISN’T a man’s world, but there are plenty of people of all genders who’d like to do something about that.
DISCLOSURE: I hate talking about gender as though there is some monolithic ‘woman’ that all women identify with, and some very different monolithic ‘man’ that all men identify with. And yet, that’s pretty much what I’m going to do.
At the recent MTB Tourism Symposium held in Sooke, BC, the women’s panel discussion highlighted the important role women have to play in the future of mountain biking, and what’s being done to even out the divide. Panel participants included professional mountain bike athlete Lorraine Blancher, BC Bike Race organizer Danielle Baker, mountain bike guide Kelli Sherbinin, IMBA Canada trail builder (and local Dirty Girl extraordinaire) Deanne Lazaruk, and Amanda Ridgway of Drift Mountain Biking.
MORE DISCLOSURE: When I heard about this amazing women’s panel, I assumed it would be a token conversation in the broader symposium. As it turns out, there were 11 female speakers to 25 male speakers, which is much more of a gender balance than I expected, especially considering that only 2 of the 12 organizers were women.
Danielle Baker, who writes regularly over at Bike Mag, wrote much more intelligently than I can about the symposium panel, and about her take on getting more women riding. If you’re interested, go read her article – she’s as great a writer as she is a rider. One thing I will disagree with is that make riders shouldn’t take their girlfriends riding. While I can see that that might be an endeavour fraught with dangers of all types, my own experience was that I could be more honest with Rivers about my comfort levels, and what was and wasn’t working than I can be with other people, even at the all-women beginning riding clinic I attended. I wrote about my first ride and having Rivers be my coach back in the day – just in case anyone’s interested.
Clearly the women at this level of commitment to the sport want to share their knowledge and love with anyone who shows an interest, particularly other women. And at this level, people are willing to listen. But what about the average or beginning woman rider? Where’s the space for us experience to learn and explore this sport? Yes, I love the Dirty Girlz, but none of them get so much time riding that I feel good about having them babysit my slow, wobbly, unsure self instead of getting a good ride in.
For me as a beginning rider wanting to see if this is a sport that fits me, being mainly exposed to male riders whose every conversation seemed to be who went harder, higher, faster, further and had ‘bigger balls’ (and the most broken bones) was a total turn off. My limited experience of riding was that it was a great balance of peaceful exploration of nature and adrenaline-pumping excitement. It was that balance that I enjoyed, and yet that seemed to not be an okay approach when I talk to other riders. I felt – and still feel – like an outsider. I am Ferdinand in a field full of rutting bulls.
My best friend has participated in a truly beginner, truly women-centric learn-to-ride program offered by Betty Go Hard in the Kootenays – a program that made me wish they had a Victoria outlet. Betty Go Hard is committed to “Taking the Intimidation out of Action Sports by providing the tools & information to build confidence, skills & friendship to help women of all ages, levels and lifestyles Get Out and Be Active!” Every lesson ends with conversation and chocolate. The sport is a shared experience, but it is not the limit of the shared experiences – that extra post-ride piece is a really crucial aspect, in my mind. Man, what I wouldn’t do for a clinic that included chocolate. And maybe wine.
I’m not interested in taking anything away from the people who love to go harder, higher, faster, further and who have a collection of cut-off casts and scars they think are sexy. I just want to find a community to share my less competitive approach. Maybe that’s not a gender issue at all. Maybe that’s just me.