Recently there has been a bunch of ‘perspective’ articles from mountain bikers to roadies, from roadies to mountain bikers and from bike shops to customers. Here’s one from women cyclists.
- Best women's road bikes under £1000
- How to choose the right mountain bike for you
- Top 6 workouts for cyclists
I don’t pretend to represent every female on two wheels, but I ride road bikes, mountain bikes and cyclocross. I commute by bike and I race. I ride with my kids, I pull a bike trailer, I shop for bike kit online and offline. I read the magazines and websites and I skulk on forums. In my meanderings, with a heightened awareness from my life as an academic researcher of culture and language, I regularly reel from the throwaway comments and instinctual reactions which make me feel like a woman on a bike, not just a cyclist.
I’m not having a pop at men, nor doing any blaming on an individual level. I’m pointing out a few of the ways that huge gendered forces like ‘culture’ and ‘discourse’ manifest in the way we can all sometimes talk and think. So this is how to annoy women cyclists:
1. Give different prize money for men and women
Riding for 24 hours straight is not harder if you have a penis, so prizes should be the same across the gender categories.
2. Say that female riders “put the men to shame”
It sounds supportive but it suggests it’s shameful to be overtaken by a female cyclist. It’s not. The same applies to phrases like being ‘chicked’ — which also means being overtaken or beaten by a woman. It’s not a big deal so get over it.
3. Tell women to “be careful” on a particular section without assessing her ability first
What am I thinking when this happens? “It’s a tricky bit of the trail, I can see that, and I will ride it if I have the skills. There is no need to point out the potential dangers just because I happen to have breasts”.
Men can feel the urge to be ‘protective’ over women, but that is inappropriate unless the cyclist happens to be in labour.
4. Presume women are mechanically incompetent
In truth, women tend to be less confident at fixing bikes than men, but as long as men presume our incompetence, that lack of confidence will prevail. Stopping to help me fix a puncture is friendly, but don’t think you’re being chivalrous. I’d do the same for you.
5. Talk to women shop customers like the only thing they’re interested in is the colour
When I’m a customer, I’m after a new wheelset or brake pads or pannier rack. I want to know the options and in as much detail as is appropriate to the sale. If colour is in my checklist of requirements then fine, but don’t presume.
6. Report races with the women’s event as a sideshow
If you write that “the winners were…” and then add a line or two about what happened “in the ladies race…” you are propagating the pervasive sense that racing is for men and women are permitted but not central. And we wonder why the numbers of women at races are low…
7. Promote amateur races with fewer laps or short race lengths for women
I’m not talking about Le Tour, but at a local level for short races (like CX and XC), there is no need to reduce the number of laps for women. It just grates.
8. Presume all our heroes are men
Despite the successes of Sally Bigham, Tracy Moseley and Rachel Atherton, among many other awesome women cyclists, there are rarely women on the front of magazines (and not often enough inside them either). Women can have male heroes and men can have female heroes too. As long as magazines refuse to place women on the front cover, it will devalue the achievements of women at the elite end of our sport.
9. Put pink on everything
‘Pink and shrink’ in the bike design world has been called out so much it seems to be on the wane, but in many cases the pinkness and cuteness of bike gear still prevails. Women like beautiful things just like men do and we value well designed gear with a stylish appearance, but we don’t need to perpetually label ourselves with socially-gendered colours.
10. Use sex to market bike stuff
It’s not appropriate to use sexy fashion models to market bike gear. Women’s appearance is not what defines them, we want to cycle for fitness, freedom and fun not to be sexy in bib shorts.
Present women as unrealistically beautiful and appearance-driven in bike industry marketing and you are confirming that the most valued thing about women is their appearance, not the size of their trophy cupboard or any other achievement. And while we’re on the subject, ‘podium girls’ are positively primitive; you’re just saying that there’s ‘them and us’; there is a world of cycling and then there are women.
I know, I know, I’m just a ranty feminist and this is all ‘political correctness gone mad’, but as one of the few female freelance journalists writing about cycling, how many times do I need to write the same article: Why aren’t there more women on bikes? Why is racing still male dominated? And why is there a gender divide at all levels in our sport?
This is the fault of no one, it’s a cultural phenomenon, but we can each take small steps to shift the collective conventions in the right direction. And please don’t call me a ‘lady’. I’m just a cyclist, OK?