Guys shouldn’t write stories about girls. Well, actually they (we) (I) can’t. Why? Quite obviously, guys don’t know anything about girls. Other than they’re different. Really different. We live on separate planets, men and women. It’s proven. Many long and detailed leather bound books have been written on the subject. And while a guy like me shouldn’t write about women, I’m still going to try. Even at the risk of being ridiculed and sandblasted. I feel compelled, and even if this is a story that doesn’t venture into the mysterious vortex of “how girls think and why,” it does discuss their effect on something we’re all incredibly passionate about.
Yes, this is a story about girls in mountain biking. And it’s written by a guy (me).
Wish me luck.
When it comes to mountain biking, there aren’t too many women around. Sure, go to a cross-country race, or certain special nodes in the world, like Whistler, and they’re there. And many of them rip, make no mistake. But throughout the evolution of our sport, and even in the context of per capita participants today, women in mountain biking represent a small percentage. The big official stats from the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) claim a 2:1 men to women ratio across all mountain bike disciplines in the U.S. Dive behind the scenes into Facebook Insight stats from some of the sport’s larger companies (I had access to one) and it suggests a much smaller percentage, perhaps as low as 10%. So, to be fair, somewhere between 10% to 30% of all mountain bikers are female. Which sucks, and, in my opinion reflects negatively on our sport. In many different ways.
Firstly, as someone who grew up mountain biking, I had to endure (along with many of my friends) the pains of a girl vacuum. In the 80s and 90s there were NO girls mountain biking. Some would suggest the reasons are obvious. But I prefer to not believe that scars and mud and eating shit on a regular basis pushed women away. Maybe so. But really, think about it, humans are some 4 million years into this thing called evolution. Girls have endured a lot more than pedal bites and broken wrists throughout their history. You could even argue that they're tougher than men when it comes to pain and suffering. I would put childbirth in brackets but that might get me flogged.
Not having girls around at the outset of the sport has dramatically influenced its development. This is a dude sport. Companies are run by dudes. The big pro athlete contracts are signed by dudes. Bikes are primarily designed and built for dudes. Pretty much all of mountain biking’s imagery and marketing is dude-centric. It’s basically a dude-o-sphere populated by massive dudeness that can only, by virtue of its almighty dude, continue down the one-way road to dude-town.
Which sucks. Look at surfing. God, I wish I were a surfer. Girls all over the place. And I’m not saying this because I like bikinis and wet bodies and all that wonderful stuff (which I do of course, I’m a dude for crissakes!), but in the want to be somewhat cultured and intelligent (which can be hard for dudes), I know that girls add a certain element of balance to any endeavor. They are smarter, cooler and much more grounded than dudes, especially the athletic ones. Not to mention, quite simply, they represent the other half of our species. We need them, in more ways than we know or are willing to acknowledge.
Secondly, not having girls involved in mountain biking in a significant way has greatly diminished the potential of our sport. Because of the dude brigade, and the fact that only 10% to 30% of mountain bikers are women means that our sport is that much smaller. Imagine if it were 60-40, or even better, 50-50? If there are 7 million mountain bikers in the United States right now (2012 OIA stat), we could increase that number by a few million participants. Which is a huge deal. More jobs, more mountain bike economic muscle, more critical mass, more people working with, riding on, and loving bicycles. And the Good Lord only knows, if there is one thing this planet needs right now it's more people riding bicycles (especially girls).
Thirdly, because girls don’t play an equal role in our sport, it’s my belief that we’ve created a girl backlash of sorts. And I get it. Dudes like to ride with dudes. And we give’r. And sure, while we like to ride with girls, it doesn’t seem to happen much. At least in the circles I ride with. Today, girls (for the most part) seem to prefer riding with girls. And sure, this happens in many facets of society—go to a dinner party and it’s girls on the couch and dudes on the porch. But as women start to gain a larger profile in our sport (which is happening), they’ve been forced to band together. They’re women specific camps, riding groups, clubs. And I think that’s awesome. It’s a natural reaction to the situation. But is that lack of integration an ideal scenario? And maybe I’m just old school, and it’s too late for me. And I do see the younger generation and the inklings of inclusion are there. Maybe I’m jealous that I missed out on that. But you have to agree, a more harmonious blend of women and men riding together is the way it should be…like surfing.
Finally, while we might be from different planets, the circles that go round and round on our bikes don’t care what kind of engine makes them turn. And really, nor should we. Outdoor sports that are killing it right now have an equal balance of men and women: climbing, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking. Yes, rad dudes are cool. Truth is though, rad dudes shredding with rad chicks is way cooler. So, to all the girls, sorry a guy had to write this. The dude inside dictated that I abide.