Skirts on Trail

so i once thought  writing about bicycles as a career but it never materialize – which in a way i am grateful because my current job gives me 99.9 % fulfillment. so i submitted the article below in 2012 after the interview but they never got back. the matter still concern me mainly for two reasons:

1. i hardly have friends my age (let alone female) riding with me and some days i really dread riding with experienced riders. i do not believe that i have to clear all the features (although it does make me really happy) but sometimes i just want to roll around and be stupid. besides the sport is so awesome i just want to share!

2. i still feel that men like to be the ‘father’ of the sport. i really appreciate the stuff i learnt from them but some can be forceful to impose their ideas on new (or female) riders. my boyfriend made similar mistakes too – he enjoyed helping me on bike related matter but neglecting that i could learn and do it myself eventually.

bike

Photo Credit – SingaporeMTB.com

When mountain biking gained traction two decades back, the number of female riders was only a handful. Fast forward to the 21st century, female mountain bikers are still uncommon. On the other hand, road biking and even the commuter community are seeing so many more females such that skirts on bikes is no longer a rare sight. Research done by the Outdoor Industry Association shows that while road biking is mostly gender balanced; mountain biking remains largely participated by males. So, where are the ladies in the trails?

Female mountain bikers may be a small community but not without their prominence. As the mountain biking scene awed at the World 24 hour solo mountain bike champion Jason English’s endurance and speed, there are female equivalents – Jessica Douglas and Rebecca Rusch who clinched the same title just as effortlessly. These women riders act as an inspiration for fellow ladies to overcome the common fear and resistance towards this sport. Asia, being often impeded by its traditions and culture, is definitely still a long way behind Australia, Europe and the States in attracting female mountain bikers. However, we have from our own backyard Risa Suseanty – gold medalist in South-East Asian downhill categories who finished top twenty in Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) World Cup 2009. Risa has displayed resilience and strength and proven that mountain biking can simply be done.

In September 2010, International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) and Sacred Rides Mountain Bike Adventures sponsored a survey on women and mountain biking. When asked what is the main factor that holds them back from going on a mountain bike, more than sixty percent of women responded that mountain biking is viewed as being too hard core. This is a major misconception as mountain biking, like any other sport, requires techniques. Once having understood and acquired the appropriate skills, anybody is able to maneuver their bikes freely. Being well-prepared also helps keep injuries to a minimum.

There is also an inherent perception that mountain biking is masculine. Mountain biking is indeed male dominated but has no basis why women should not get muddy in the trails.  The same survey also concluded that nearly fifty percent of female mountain bikers were introduced or encouraged to this sport by their partners. Therefore, male mountain bikers have kept an open-mind and been receptive to female riders. “In most places around the world where we ride, we’re used to seeing a lot of guys on the trail,” states Mike Brcic, founder and president of Sacred Rides, “and we’d like to see more women”. The initiative to get more women riding is commendable but should not be another avenue for men to condescend women.  New female riders should not be embarrassed about falling behind the group or voicing their opinions. For besides speed and adrenaline, mountain biking is also an avenue of friendship and bonding. 

While it remains true that women need to step up to overcome the hurdle, manufacturers and the media could also help in softening the image of mountain biking. Hitting the trails does not necessarily mean you have to become the next big star such as Jess or Risa. If there is an average Joe riding, there can be the average Josephine riding for leisure as well. Going forward, there should be more products targeting the non-competitive and female recreational riders. That being said, going pink to say ‘we understand you’ is outdated. Color choices can be alluring but the key focus should be creating comfortable products to entice the ladies. Women are calling for increased customization, better fit, and lower prices—and of the media, they are asking for ordinary women to be featured as sports leaders and role models.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ‘a woman is like a tea bag that you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water’. It is about time for women to get on mountain bikes and to ride on to amazing places they’d never once imagined they’d be.

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