Barriers…I want to cycle BUT!
Every cyclists has fears starting out….they are not unique to men or women. And I think that the fears for the most part are the same for everyone. That said, I have been specifically asked what the barriers are that prevent women from Mountain Biking and Riding Gravel.
Four years ago I walked in a bike shop in New York. My husband was buying a bike and I wanted to “ride” with him. I had no idea what that meant or how to answer the simplest question. At the end of the day I was overwhelmed but we had a bike for me. The questions were simple enough, I just had no idea how to answer them….”Where do you want to ride, what kind of surface will you be riding on, do you know your size, do you have a preference about style of bike, how long do you think you will be riding?” I JUST WANT TO RIDE A BIKE was all I could think in my head!
We took my new bike out and tried riding….it was great on pavement BUT quickly I learned that was not my style. I grew up trail riding horses through the mountains and I love trails. When I tried my new bike on a trail, and let’s be honest that’s not where my bike liked to be, I was scared to death of crashing and even more frightened of hills on it. SOOOO we saw a fat tire bike in a shop. “Tell me about that fat tire bike” were the most expensive words ever spoke in our family. My new Salsa Mukluk took me places that I didn’t dream I could go on two wheels. We rode through roots, rocks and water. I took it everywhere!
My barriers didn’t prevent me from riding but they did prevent me from wanting to ride with people I didn’t know. I am frequently asked about the barriers I see and they are as follows:
1) I know I’m going to be slower than the rest. On group rides I would joke that the posse was waiting for me at the top of each hill. Every hill, every time BUT they encouraged me and I got some quicker.
2) I don’t know where we are going or what the terrain will be like…..can I keep up with you or will I slow everyone down? If I have learned nothing else, it is that when a cyclists (regardless of skill level), says they want to ride with you….they want to ride with you. It’s not about speed that day, it’s about friendship. Go ride…you will improve and it will improve your circle of friends!
3) Do I have to wear cycling clothes? Almost every woman is self anxious about her body….Lycra doesn’t look good on everyone and we know that. I also knew that I was not a size five and that finding lycra that fit at 200 plus pounds was not easy. I wanted the quality required for long rides and that was not an easy combination to find. I was very keenly aware when I began cycling that I was a plus sized lady….add that to cycling clothing sizes and the intimidation factor was high!
4) Time away from my family….I, as a mom, had a hard time understanding that time for me was important. It was hard to say, I am going out to ride my bike for six hours today while my kids and husband were excluded. BUT for me, the secret to being a happy mom and wife was finding that time for me. It’s my time…..truly my time. I don’t worry about everything else that is going on in the world during that time. Yes, it took mental training to get to that point and some days is better than others but I know that my focus for that block of time is on me and my bike. Once I learned to embrace our time as a family together at events and also embrace my time alone training we had a routine that worked for all of us!
5) Money…..as much as I want to say cycling is cheap, it is not. As a wife and mother I know that cycling takes money. We have four of us in the family who all participate in ultra events. It’s not a cheap hobby and it’s not easy to budget for sometimes. If I did this, and I was the only one in my family doing so, it would be even harder I think. I applaud those ladies who come to events alone and are that strong. I also applaud those who come as a family and have found ways to make that work.
6)Physical Risk…..I didn’t want to become injured and not be able to work or take care of my family. Yes, I know that my husband would gladly pick up the slack if I was hurt. That said, I was afraid of injury and that prevented me from trying things. As I gained skills and friends this has gone away. There are still times flying down a hill I think to myself “If I wreck this is going to hurt for a really long time.” You are going to wreck at some point….it’s going to happen but we fall down learning to walk and we get right back up.
7)Being at home on my bike…..One big barrier for me was learning to be at home on my bike in most respects. This meant being comfortable enough with my mechanical abilities to be self relient and also knowing skills well enough to not feel uncomfortable.
8) Saddle and bike fit….this was not a barrier in the beginning but as I rode more I found out that my saddle caused me discomfort. How do I walk into a shop with men and have a comfortable conversation about soft tissue pain? Who can I talk to about it?
I just don’t want too….I just don’t want to be laughed at!
9) Competitive Cycling….what is fun for the seasoned athletes to compete in might be intimidating for new people. I have photographs of me standing at the start line of my first few races with a scared to death look on my face. I’m pretty sure I was less intimidated looking getting on the school bus for the first time! What had I done?! I quickly learned that cycling is the most inclusive group that I had ever been exposed to. It’s a journey and an adventure with yourself. No one makes fun of you for your time or effort…if you are broke down almost everyone will shout out “do you need anything, can I help you”.
I hope I am always wide eyed at the start of the event, wondering what is next and who will I get to see today…..I also hope that I never lose the love of flying down a hill or discovering a new place on my bike. Watching my kids cross the finish line after 100 grueling miles is a pride that I can’t buy or replace any other way. I also hope I never lose the want to call home to my Mom or my husband and say “I DID IT!”, as that is pride in myself!
Breaking down the barriers one by one has allowed me to be the cyclist I am today. Is my journey finished….I hope not! But am I to a place where I can say come ride with me and I’ll help you break down your barriers….I truly believe I am.
When Salsa asked me to become a sponsored athlete in 2018 one of my goals was to help other cyclists find themselves. We introduced the Great Gravel Get Togethers. These events are true no drop rides at gravel events. We hosted five and every time I walked away with truly inspiring stories. Each event had a rider who entered scared of gravel and left feeling that they could accomplish the next days ride. THAT’S WHAT IS ALL ABOUT!
I recently attended Dirty Kanza Women’s Camp. I presented on comfort on the bike with Lyn. We learned that every issue we have with bike fit…..yep, everyone else has found it also. We are not as unique as we believe we are. What we also found was that talking about it made it easier to fix problems. Fears that I had about climbing…yep, others had those also. My fears matched other riders of all levels.
The barriers are there, and they are the same for most new riders…..it’s ok to ask questions and find answers on your own. As you talk to other women you will find that the challenges you are having are not unique to just you. But most of all, if you can push those barriers aside and embrace the challenge, you will find a community that is willing to take you places you never dreamed of going!