Some interesting results and insights to a survey that was done in the UK recently. This is by no means a scientific study, but it does draw some good thought provoking information from the women's camp. – Ed
It is a fact that there are a lot fewer women who ride mountain bikes than men, it is also a fact however that a number of women who are riding is on the increase. Women’s specific mountain bike brands like the Santa Cruz affiliated Juliana and Giant affiliated Liv are growing and some of our countries most decorated and recognised mountain bike superstars are women, Rachael Atherton and Tracy Moseley being the two that spring to my mind. Yet at the majority of competitive races, the turnout in the women’s category is still relatively poor. Why? Hopefully, this article can help a bit towards answering that.
This survey came about thanks to a thread started on Facebook by UKGE organiser, Steve Parr, who was looking for a steer as to how best to approach dividing the age categories for women when UKGE returns next year. Plenty of girls commented with suggestions and several other race organisers were obviously keen to get similar help. I offered to do a small survey to help out because it’s a subject that I have taken a strong interest in after a blog post or two about it. I won’t bore you with the story of why it’s close to my heart now but there's a small ‘about me’ bit at the bottom of the article if you want to get a feel for who I am and whether you should take any notice of my opinion or not.
My original intention was to share the survey around the women’s MTB Facebook groups I’m part of and see what sort of a response it got. Although thanks to Kev Duckworth (Mr. PMBA) it has been passed about members of the British Enduro Mountain Bike Association (BEMBA), in particular, rider rep Tracey Mosely, whose share on her Facebook page I suspect was the main reason for the 600+ responses I have to share with you. So thank you very much to them.
I was a little unsure how to write up the results; I could just give everyone access to the data, however, believe me, it takes a while to look at all the responses, I also didn’t want to colour it with it my own opinions too much. So what I’ve done is present the facts from the survey alongside some of the most common comments on a question by question basis. At points, I have added in some of my own thoughts, but it’s clear where I’ve done this and in places, I’ve done a bit of extra thinking beyond the survey prompted by the comments. I hope this suits everyone!
Also, a point to note, on some questions, I allowed multiple answers because there is often more than one clear reason for something, so the percentages might not always add up, they just reflect a number of people who had that reason as one of several.
Question 1: Have you ever taken part in any racing?
• XC – 40.06%
• Enduro – 49.68%
• Downhill – 27.76%
• Cross – 11.83%
• Road – 17.19%
• None – 23.97%
Question 2: Would you ever consider taking part in Enduro racing?
• Yes I have done and will continue to do so – 40.41%
• I don't know what Enduro is – 3.96%
• No, I'm just not into racing, never will be – 4.75%
• I'd like to but… see next question – 53.25%
An almost even split between people who have and people who would like to. Only a very small proportion, under 5%, stated they just weren’t interested in racing.
This did surprise me a little as I expected that figure to be a bit higher, maybe even me, a woman, has fallen for the misconception that women are less interested in racing in general? Getting a bit deeper on an analysis front, I guess it's probable that those answering this survey were likely to be interested in racing given the channels the survey went out via, racers and race organisers social media feeds. However, I shared the survey into some of the non-race specific MTB groups and the first hundred or so answers came from there, and although the numbers answering increased the actual percentages for each answer held steady from about 100 up. Either way, from the point of view of enduro racing, it's clear there are plenty of women out there who would be willing to give it a go.
Question 3: I’d like to take part in Enduro racing but…
• I don't have a good enough bike – 10.33%
• I think the tracks are too difficult – 43.21%
• I'm not fit enough – 49.73%
• I find racing with men intimidating/difficult – 35.60%
• I don't want to race on my own – 20.38%
The comments for this question were wide-ranging, with reasons that affect us all, women and men alike, time, money, and travel for example. Now, these things are all rubbish but I’m afraid there is nothing we can reasonably expect race organisers to help us with here! This is a comment that came up multiple times in different words:
There was also more than one comment that, although they had tried Enduro, they had been put off by being caught by male riders which had spoilt race runs and enjoyment of the event.
I’m not going to go deep into the getting caught issue because it’s covered by a later question but it’s certainly one of the things that have spoilt my enjoyment and hindered my race times at Enduros before. The only other thing that the results of this question have brought to my mind is that perhaps slightly better information about the races available before you enter might just help people (not just women) make an informed judgment about things like fitness and technical ability. By no means do we want races to be made easier or expect organisers to reveal the course beforehand but just a heads up about the likely length of the loop, probable climbing stats and a ‘max’ technical feature grading would give us women, who, let's face it are generally less willing to throw ourselves blindly at things, the confidence to enter knowing we can actually complete the course.
Question 4: Where it's not possible to run the same age categories as the men's race, how do you feel they should be split.
• A direct reflection of the men's is the only option – 14.46%
• Elite, Senior (18–39), Vets (40+) – 17.90%
• Elite, U21, Senior (18–39), Vets (40+) – 25.99%
• Senior (18–39), Vets (40+) – 3.27%
• Elite, Senior (18–35), Masters/Vets (35+) – 10.50%
• Elite, U21, Senior (22–35), Masters/Vets (35+) – 24.78%
• Senior (18–35), Masters/Vets (35+) – 3.10%
The large bulk of the comments reflected the call for age separation with multiple comments from the over 35’s in particular that they felt it unfair to be racing against people more than 10 years their junior. More than one comment also calling for an over 50’s category as well, there are grand vet ladies are out there that's for sure!
It was also clear that where numbers allow, an Elite category would be welcomed. I personally feel that any series which run male elite categories, granted not all do, really should also give the women the same level of exposure. By not running one it sends the message that the top percentage of women are not as skilled or as deserving as the men. Rest assured that the women racing in the top percentages of Enduro in the UK are training just as hard, are just as skilled and just as deserving of being called elite as the men.
Question 5: There are a few options in the event of low entries, which do you prefer?
• A split down the middle in terms of age – 1.80%
• The less subscribed categories get moved into the next down. i.e. low Vet entry would be moved into Masters – 6.89%
• Race organisers run as many podiums as possible but provide results to view for each age group regardless – 21.31%
• Podiums are reduced to just the winner if low numbers in category – 5.74%
• If categories are advertised and entered they must be run, it's not fair to move people – 22.46%
• Race organisers should be trusted to do the best they can with the entries they have, we will just go with it – 41.80%
It seems when it comes to what to do if numbers are low, we women are for the most part happy to trust the race organisers to do the best they can with 42% of those voting opting for that option. That said there was also a significant group of 22% of the respondents feeling that if categories are advertised they should be run. This is going to be a difficult one for race organisers to work with as they are clearly not going to be able to please everyone.
Within the comments were further calls for an elite category to be present. Most also felt that so long as the low entry numbers policy was up front then that would be fine. I tend to agree with this as an approach, I see no reason why all the age categories can’t be offered on entry. That way no one is put off when they come to enter and don’t see an appropriate age group. If numbers then don’t allow them all to be run so long as the policy for what will happen in this instance is clear from the outset I don’t think many women would have any issues with this. Whatever physical podiums are run it would still be great to see the final published results split by age, so when you get home and look over your performance you can have a fair idea where you sit.
If race organisers are struggling to get sponsorship to provide prizes for more podiums, multiple comments suggest that us ladies are not that fussed about receiving an actual prize, I wonder how long it would take sponsors to start sending prizes out though if podiums were regularly being run with deserving winners stood on them?
Claire Glasgow-Aitchison at her first Enduro the Tweedlove Enjoyro which brought in a big women's field. Despite nerves, she had a great time and is entered for the Maidenduro coming up soon!
Question 6: How many people should there be as a minimum for each category?
• Each age category should run regardless – 34.80%
• At least three – 45.42%
• More than six – 17.16%
• More than ten – 2.61%
Question 7: If you already race Enduro which format do you prefer?
• Seeded start times at each stage – 13.85%
• No specific start times, ride around with whoever – 43.43%
• Happy with either format – 42.72%
I think most people who race are happy to do so in either format or so the results here show but given the option it seems most would prefer to ride around with their mates. The fact is, with such small numbers of women racing even when seeded you sort of are riding with your mates anyway. I made some good friends at seeded races, perhaps that's why I like that format more?
Question 8: Would any of the following either improve or encourage you into racing?
• Larger gaps left behind women after they have started to avoid them being caught by male riders – 52.30%
• A section of start times set aside just for women – 33.05%
• It's perfect just the way it is – 5.11%
• I would like to have the option to ride with my male friends but think women's only start section is a good idea for those that want them – 51.96%
I slightly regret the way I worded the final option here, so, sorry! It probably should just say I want the option to ride around with my male friends but hopefully, that intention was conveyed and the results show that. Larger gaps were the most popular option for a way to help solve the getting caught issue. There was a wide range of comments again.
Julie, Liz, and Caroline getting fully into the spirit of Enduro at the Muckmedden Fair City Enduro. It's just about riding around with your mates and having a laugh!
It's a fact of physiology that whatever sport you take part in, the women will be slower than the men. It doesn’t mean they are less skilled by any means but the gap exists right from novice to elite level. At the Ireland EWS, the winning women’s time was around four minutes slower than the winning men's. So should the gaps between the male and female riders be different at the ‘ride with your mates’ style of race that is most common in the UK? There are definitely arguments either way, as the first comment I shared here states, do we want women to be seen to have special requirements? I personally don’t think we should view changes like these as ‘special requirements for women’—do you watch the London Marathon and see the separate male and females races and think, look at those women getting a special start time all to themselves? I hope not.
The same applies to our sport of Enduro in my eyes. If you’ve come to race and put down the fastest times you can on the trails then you should have a fair chance of doing so. This goes for the guys too. We are, after all, holding up their race runs. I know the guys also face this problem, they catch and get caught but just not as frequently, it's part of Enduro racing to a certain extent but it does seem to be that bit worse due to the almost inevitable difference in speed with female riders.
I started my Enduro racing journey in the UKGE series which was seeded and hadn’t raced a mixed start event until a Tweedlove race. I actually thought, "how ace is this" to start with! I don’t have to get up super early and I can ride with my husband—brilliant. That was until I spent at least half of every stage pulling over for fast male riders as we had gone for a nice relaxed late morning start time. On one stage I was actually pushed off the final dibber by a guy who had caught me by the bottom of the run and had to spend ages at the end of the race trying to figure out a time for that stage. I dropped well down the rankings by my usual standards and was pretty frustrated by the end of the day. I’m not the fastest girl on the track by any means but neither am I that slow or lacking in confidence around men, but since then I have always gone for the earliest possible start times to get out in front of the main pack at these style of races.
I personally would love to see a section of start times set aside just for the women, I think it brings a more supportive, less macho and more enjoyable race experience all around, although it wasn’t the most popular choice here so I will have to accept it’s not what the majority want.
I firmly agree with the last one here, if it's not an (equal) bike related prize then try and at least make it something us girls can wear. My husbands' t-shirt collection has benefited several times from my racing efforts. It’s like the final kick in the teeth, well done for making the podium in your uneven race categories, here, have a prize for a bloke!
Question 9: Does the current lack of age categories put you off racing Enduro?
• Yes, I would race if they were the same as the men's – 19.22%
• No, I race regardless – 65.08%
• No, I wouldn't race anyway – 15.70%
Question 10: Women’s specific Enduro is much better attended than normal mixed races, why do you think this is?
• Atmosphere is better – 33.33%
• Less pressure in women only environment – 66.32%
• The courses are easier – 14.41%
• Supportive environment – 58.16%
• Women aren't worried about holding up men/getting in the way/being judged etc. – 75.87%
There were a lot of comments and opinions surrounding this question. I’ve tried to pick out some examples that were repeated a few times.
More than one person felt that women’s only events can have a negative impact, making women feel they need to attend these as they are not good enough for the mixed races. I can see why you would feel this and for some, I have no doubt this is true, but I think they provide a great stepping stone to convince women who may be nervous about racing to give it a go for the reasons laid out in the question. A more supportive and less intimidating environment.
I agree with this, some men do get grumpy or aggressive if they catch you but the majority are great about it. It doesn’t change the fact you have to get out of the way but they certainly don’t mind you being there. I’ve even had guys catch me and yell at me to keep going, so fair play to them! I do also agree we women often make things harder for ourselves sometimes by imagining things will be more intimidating than they actually are.
This also came up quite a bit. Media coverage of the women’s races is less so than the men's, I guess this stems partly from the fact that there are fewer women to film in the first place but still. However, I have been impressed with the coverage of women in the films from the Scottish Enduro Series this year in particular, with loads of chat with the women racers. On a grander scale, the coverage from the EWS has also been totally 50/50 and it's very refreshing to see!
This is certainly the case with the Foxhunt, it’s backed by Redbull and they know how to market things to their chosen audience. I actually got a ticket this year, more by chance as I happened to be on social media when the tickets were released so I went for one and got in. I then also discovered what good value for money it is, it must be heavily subsidised by Redbull because a full weekends racing, camping, and grub for £65 is likely to draw a crowd, whoever it's for. I look forward to seeing if it lives up to the hype.This also came up…
A comment that was repeated lots of times over several of the questions were requests for more entry-level races and novice categories at current races. Something a bit like the recent Tweedlove Enjoyro, which brought in a big women’s field. This survey at least would seem to show there’s a market out there for this type of race. I know race organisers have a busy time as it is so asking them to broaden the net even more is a tough ask and I think we need to be very careful adding in novice categories to current races, controlling who actually is a novice would be tricky and I don’t think race courses should be made easier. It's a tough one and I don’t have the answers but it was mentioned enough times in comments so I wanted to report it.In Summary
I really think some minor changes to the way Enduro currently runs could make a big difference to women's entries. I think the key though is to make sure that women know about those changes, hopefully, some channels between the women's MTB community, which is growing and thriving in the UK and the world of racing, are now opening up and we can get the message out. Women that already race, please tell your friends, encourage them and let them know what a fantastic social event Enduro can be, I see no reason why the same atmosphere that draws people into events like the Foxhunt can't be replicated across all racing if we get together and create it.
So I'd like to thank BEMBA and the race organisers for asking the question in the first place and for reading and reacting to this survey. Thank you to everyone from all over the world who took time to answer the survey and provide so much valuable thought and comment.
My last word is an appeal to all those who really want to race but haven't yet taken the plunge. Women of MTB, if we are going to get any changes to stick and level the playing field for ourselves we have to get out there and do it. Please, please, if you can, get a race entry in, you might just enjoy it!
About me Cat Topham: riding bikes for 10 years-ish and racing Enduro since 2013 after I got an unexpected entry into the Trans Provence and thought I better do some before I went! I've been hooked since. I've raced most race formats and have ridden and raced in the UK and Europe including Trans-Provence and Megavalance. I'm not by any means the most experienced racer out there but I feel I have enough under my belt to understand how it all works.
I had a break from racing to have a family and coming back from that, gaining fitness and confidence have been a bit of a journey for me. A background as an intelligence analyst and being bugged by the lack of fairness in Enduro for women gave me the nudge to do this survey and I genuinely hope it helps, not least because I'm staring down my late 30's really hoping for a masters category to pop up soon!