The industry has gone through rapid changes in the past few years as far as women's mountain biking is concerned. As one of the fastest-growing groups in the sport, more and more women are picking up a bike for the first time and getting out on the trails. The number of women working in the industry is increasing too, be it as a mountain guide, an athlete, coach, mechanic, or another role. Despite having more events, clothing, coverage and greater numbers, things are moving slowly, but they are changing. Here, a number of women working in the mountain bike industry, brought together for International Women's Mountain Bike Week in St.Moritz, discuss the changes they've seen, and what they'd like to see in the future.
Sara Jarrell, Colorado USA - Engineer at SRAM
Tell me a little about yourself.
I work as an engineering technician for SRAM in the Colorado Springs, Colorado, office. I have been in the industry working as a mechanic for 14 years. I started as a shop mechanic and worked my way up to service manager while simultaneously taking on contract work with race teams and with Giant Bicycle. Eventually, that led to being the head mechanic for the US Paracycling team through the Games in 2012 and now to my job at SRAM.
I have been riding a bike in one way or another for the majority of my life and more seriously for 20 or so years. When I really got interested in cycling and racing the role model I looked up to was Missy Giove. Anything I could do to fly down the mountain like her I was willing to try, which as you can imagine resulted in some bad crashes. One thing for sure is that young girls today certainly have way more role models in the industry across varied disciplines. I did not have a role model as far as a female mechanic in the industry to look up to, and presently female mechanics are few and far between. Hopefully that will change as the industry becomes more inclusive. From your perspective how have things changed for women in mountain biking since you started riding?
Support from industry companies in the form of sponsorships has definitely become more plentiful and in some cases as good as what is offered to the men (although that is still rare). Prize money for races has become better, however not equal with that of the men's side. Really what I am saying is it is getting better but we still have a ways to go. What’s the women’s mountain bike scene like where you live?
In Colorado the women's mountain biking scene is fairly healthy. We have a women's mountain biking club locally that encourages all levels of cyclists to get out on a bike and also helps get women into racing if they are interested. In the States, there is also a freeride/dirt jump scene for women that is known as the Sisterhood of Shred. I have definitely grown as a cyclist as a result of having programs like these at my disposal. There are also several women's-specific mountain biking programs that I coach for: Liv Ladies AllRide Tour, I Choose Bikes with Leigh Donovan, and The SRAM Gold Rusch Tour with Rebecca Rusch. All of the listed programs do an immense amount for women in the US looking to learn to ride a mountain bike or brush up on their skills. What do you think we could be doing to further encourage more women to ride and to work in the industry?
I think to get more women working in the cycling industry there are still some challenges to face. I think that seeing a push coming from the industry leaders to seek out qualified women to work in the industry would be a good place to start. These same companies also need to take a look at their structures, environments, and benefits to make sure they are able to attract not just women but the best-qualified applicants, period. Things like this take time; for instance, Burton Snowboard company, a women-friendly business, made a concerted effort over the past 10 years to make that achievement. SRAM has initiated a Women's Leadership Committee this year that is focused on recruiting, retaining, and developing more women at SRAM. I am the vice chair of that committee and am super excited at the possibilities it brings to SRAM. What changes would you like to see in the next few years?
I definitely think that things are moving in a positive direction for sure, we just have to keep the wheels turning that way. Because media is always a powerful tool in helping progress initiatives like this I think it is important that we keep spotlighting efforts to improve the industry for women as pointedly and effectively as possible. We as an industry, including the media, also need to pay special attention to the way that we portray women in the industry: strong and not objectified preferably.
Emily Horridge, Mountain Bike Guide from UK/France.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I'm an ex-downhill racer, I got into mountain bikes around 14 (but remember trying to do wheelies on my shopper bike at age eight), so I've been riding for 22 years now. I raced downhill at national and world level, and definitely did not like pedalling uphill. Fell into guiding in Morzine in 2007, and that's kinda where life took me. I've been a British qualified guide since 2007, and updated my qualifications in May this year so now I'm a British Cycling Level 3 leader as well, plus French qualified as of June this year. Based in Bourg Saint Maurice/Les Arcs, I have guided here for a few years, and guided Trans Provence in 2013. In winter I am an airport transfer driver, summer is now just guiding on a freelance basis. I also like riding uphill nowadays! From your perspective how have things changed for women in mountain biking since you started riding?
From a competition point of view, I think women now command a pretty strong position. When I started racing there was no denying we were all a bit slow and uninteresting to watch. Nowadays there aren't actually that many men in the mountain bike general public who are as fast as the top girls, but I'm not sure that was true in the early 2000s. Probably this is from women pushing themselves more and more and realizing that being a girl shouldn't hold you back. There are definitely more girls coming out to the Alps on holidays, and they're not just wobbling around after their boyfriends, they can actually ride and love it - it's their sport/hobby, not something they do because their partner does it.
15 years ago, I kinda scorned any 'women's specific' stuff you could get; I couldn't really see what the difference was. Nowadays, I am much more actively seeking out women's riding clothing - because it's actually nice to wear and be seen in, and there's a decent choice. That's been a big change. The availability of women's saddles from lots of different manufacturers is good too - but that may have always been the case. I didn't need a girl's seat for DH, so I've only been looking at that kind of thing in the last few years. The existence of women's specific bike brands like Liv or Juliana is a pretty strong testament to the growing women's market as well. In the old days, I think maybe Trek did a women's specific design, but I can't think of any others. The best thing right now, in my opinion, is all the women's rides, and the fact that so many people attend them. They're such a great way to gain inspiration from other female riders and make new friends to shred with. What’s the women’s mountain bike scene like where you live?
Bearing in mind our relatively small population, we have a really good women's scene. I can quickly think of ten girls who ride during the summer. Some are only here in summer, some don't get out as much as they used to, but still the fact there are ten of us in a relatively small area is pretty cool. I bet there are more up in Tignes/Val d'Isere too, who I don't know yet. We had an impromptu women's riding morning a few weeks ago which was brilliant. I want to try and turn that into a regular thing next summer as it really was good fun getting everyone out together. There's also a women's day in Tignes that has taken place for the last two years running. What do you think we could be doing to further encourage more women to ride and to work in the industry?
In the past few years, I think this has really come on in leaps and bounds. I imagine as a person thinking they'd like to try mountain biking for the first time that the existence of women's rides/days is hugely encouraging and maybe even reassuring as women so often worry about being at the back/holding people up/getting in the way etc... I think it's important to publicize and then cover these events as best as possible too, so that anyone with their head under a rock (that's me, quite a lot of the time) will notice and hopefully decide to go and get involved too.
With regards to industry work, again if it could be brought to the attention of the general mountain biking public that there ARE women in the industry, and that they can help to shape the future of women's mountain biking, I think that's the way to go. When we met Mallory (Burda) the other day, I was really impressed that Smith had a female brand manager - but should I be impressed? I mean, shouldn't it just be totally normal that a woman can hold a key role in any extreme sports brand? I'd really like to see a series of interviews with female industry folk (e.g, brand managers, mechanics, team managers, designers, those kind of people), how they ended up where they are now, and what they'd say to anyone dreaming about working in the industry. I think that'd be really good in showing women that they can do bike-related jobs too. What changes would you like to see in the next few years?
This I feel ill-equipped to answer (remember the head under a rock comment above!). Personally, I do feel like things are moving in the right direction. I'm not sure whether sponsorship will ever match that of the boys, but on a percentage basis if there are 40 girls and 200 boys, and the top 25% are (reasonably) well looked after, then it's probably not disproportionate. The only trouble is that it's probably only the top 12.5% of female downhill racers who are looked after, so it does need addressing. I also suppose sponsorship is changing - people get sponsored for being personalities, not just for race results, and some girls (in any extreme sport) seem to get sponsored for having pretty faces (This really pisses me off!) or posting bikini pictures all the time - literally in no way related to their sport or their sponsors' products. What would be really cool would be if there were sponsors prepared to back individuals for example one-off trips, so you could have an amazing idea and actually obtain the funding to do it, and have the media coverage support - so the sponsor sends people to record the trip as well. Maybe that does already exist, but it is kind of limited to people that the sponsor has already decided to sponsor because they're a personality already or have a pretty face.
Again, I feel like kit options and media representation are gradually moving in the right direction too, so we just need to keep on trying to fuel the demand, so that publishers and editors are keen to increase the amount of female participation in their features or videos for example.
Caro Gehrig, EWS racer for Ibis Cycles.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I'm Carolin Gehrig, 29-years-old and I live in the mountain town, Flims, in the heart of the Swiss Alps. I started riding mountain bikes with my twin sister about 10 years ago. Since the beginning of the Enduro World Series four years ago we've ridden professionally on a global stage. In addition to racing we try to give something back to all the girls riding bikes and sharing our passion through our Twins Women's Bike Camps we offer in Flims. From your perspective how have things changed for women in mountain biking since you started riding?
When I started riding bikes there were barely any 'women's specific' things in mountain biking, except maybe a pink version of a men's bike jersey. This changed drastically over the years. The number of girls riding bikes is growing and growing and it's great to see that there are more and more women's events popping up. Girls just have a different approach to learning something new and this is the only way to strengthen that. What’s the women’s mountain bike scene like where you live?
In Switzerland I'd say we have quite a big riding community and the girls try to connect with each other a lot to organize fun weekend trips together or just their weekday evening ride. Bike clothes for girls are extremely popular; for example, our clothing sponsor Zimtstern sells a lot more girls bike stuff than men's stuff. Girls just like to ride in stylish gear and that's awesome! What do you think we could be doing to further encourage more women to ride and to work in the industry?
More women's specific events, races and maybe create a wider platform that is built for girls needs and interests. I doubt there are a lot of girls reading the tech articles on Pinkbike but they would probably be more interested in having their own community within Pinkbike where it's all about girls' stuff. What changes would you like to see in the next few years?
I feel like the support for girls is pretty big, it's maybe easier to get sponsored in the beginning on a low key level, but when it comes to professional cycling and making a career of riding bikes it's not as easy as a lot of people think. In the end there are actually only very few girls out there that can really make a living of riding bikes and I'd love to see that change. This would allow a lot of girls step their riding up and progress women's cycling into the right direction. The media is giving girls a lot more attention these days and I think that it's important for young girls to see role models they can look up to and inspire them in riding and in life generally.
Laura Breitenmoser, Mountain Bike Guide - Switzerland.
Tell me a little about yourself.
My name is Laura Breitenmoser. I'm a 32-year-old Swiss and I live in the Engadin Valley in Pontresina. I grew up in the mountains of Graubünden and used to do mountain biking since I was a child with my parents. Earlier I was a cross-country biker but that has changed in the last few years quite rapidly. I studied Business Administration with a Master in Sports Management. Before that I started to work for Pontresina Sports for six years. We are leading the Swiss Ski school in Pontresina as well as a sports shop, the Cross-Country and Bike Center in Pontresina. The first three years I worked in the administration and just helped out in the shop. During this time we managed the bike school 'Engadin Bike Tours; and offered bike guiding. First I just organized the bike guides and then I started to guide tours by myself. Because I liked the job as a bike guide I decided to start my education from Swiss Cycling to become a certificated Swiss Cycling Bike Guide in 2013. These years were also the time when my riding style changed to a trail/enduro biker. In the summer of 2014 we reorganised our sport shop and I took over the shop management. We are one of the biggest bike rental stations in the Engadin. Around the same time our bike school got closed and the new bike school 'Engadin Bike School' was launched. Since then I've been working as a part-time guide for that bike school. In the winter I work for Pontresina Sports as head of administration and shop management and as well as cross-country instructor. From your perspective how have things changed for women in mountain biking since you started riding?
In the last five years the bikes and the bike industry changed a lot. I started to do trail biking with a 120mm full suspension then switched to a 26''/150mm trail bike and now I'm riding a 27.5''/160mm enduro bike. Like my bike I improved my riding with the bike. I went through the experience myself of seeing how the bike impacts your riding skills. Women often have older bikes while the men have the newest bikes. This has changed as women have become more confident about their ability, riding skills and the equipment they are using. What’s the women’s mountain bike scene like where you live?
I was one of the only women riding together with the men and learned a lot while riding with them. But not all women feel comfortable riding with good riders. Because I did not have a lot of good female riders around me I went riding with the men or alone. That changed a lot in the last few years. A lot of my female friends started to ride and improved a lot. I think women became more confident in the last few years about their ability as well as planning trips and trying something new. I think the industry is moving to the right direction, but they have to take care that they not doing too much 'female marketing.' Sometimes there is for me a bit too much focus on the females, we are just riders like the men! What do you think we could be doing to further encourage more women to ride and to work in the industry?
I organized the International Women's Mountain Bike Week together with the Engadin St. Moritz Tourist Destination and was responsible for the program. It was a big challenge for me to bring everything together in five days! I wanted to show the group the variety of trails we have as well as involve the participants into the program and share experiences and knowledge. It was a great week for me and the feedback I got was just amazing. I will thank anybody attending and organizing that week and I am really looking forward to the next event. That week showed me how many female riders all over the world are involved in the bike industry, and to bring them together and share experiences and skills was what we intended to achieve with the event. It was a success, in my opinion, and I think we should do it again next year on a larger scale.
Annie Soderberg, Sports Psychologist.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I live in Örebro, Sweden, and work in sports psychology. I coach and instruct riding skills at mountain bike camps and clinics, where I'm also involved in the event planning. In the race season I sometimes travel with the Swedish National Team in XC (as a leader) and I write for the Swedish magazine 'Bicycling'. When it comes to my own biking I've been riding since I was nine years old. That is when I started doing XC in my local club, following in my older brothers' footsteps. At that point (199
we were four girls that came to the training on a Monday and Thursday. Today the club has one group of women that are around thirty people and a group of twelve or more younger girls. Today I compete in enduro and downhill, where the group of women is still small, but growing every year. From your perspective how have things changed for women in mountain biking since you started riding?
When I started riding I don't think there was any women's specific gear (or at least barely any). Since I started riding as a child my first year in the woods was on my school bike with a tank top and a pair of chamois that were too big, oblivious to the fact there might be rules on how to dress and what to ride. I did learn quite quickly that the frame of the bike was supposed to be a 'boy's frame' and so I got my first real mountain bike. I used to inherit my brother's clothes when he outgrew them, sometimes I got my own new things such as gloves and footwear. Nothing was women's specific. But I do remember my first women's specific bike shorts (chamois). I was happy that they were made for me, a girl. What I wasn't very happy about was the 'hot pants' length that made me look nude under the jersey. I wore them, but I didn't like them. The chamois was small like a panty liner and not very helpful at all.
Today kits, events, the number of athletes, media exposure... well just about everything, is different. In Sweden, mountain biking is at a point where running was in the 90's. It's exploding. Much thanks to CykelVasan and other events for amateurs. Women are biking in women's specific groups. Big groups. Thirty percent (by the look of it) are women in the training with the local club. There are clothes for women that somehow has survived the otherwise fine development in women's cycling still fluctuating among us. I'm talking about flowers and pink on poorly fitted garments. Still short in the sleeves, still short in the legs, still slim fit even when they are supposed to be baggy and casual. Some brands have taken leaps forward and do think about how a mountain biker wants to feel and look. Thank you for that! Women are shredders too.
When women's specific bikes first came it felt a bit like a mockery. The geometry was about the same. Components were less good. You got less of a bike for approximately the same amount of money. It took me many years to consider trying a women's specific bike. Last year I had two. One for the road and one for mountain biking. There are now some actual changes is geometry and yes, the bikes are different. The question is now more what type of rider you are. If you do have longer legs or a longer upper body. The bikes might as well be used by men with similar riding styles or body types. The rider's personal choice of bike will come down to many different factors such as looks and experience. What’s the women’s mountain bike scene like where you live?
Since mountain biking has become a more popular and accepted sport, people have a better understanding of what it actually is. In Sweden elite and master women have their own start group in marathons and get to start ahead of the men. That means that the women will have an audience just like the men and that they can fight for victory in a fairer way. No wheel sucking on the men and no interfering in an eventual sprint. The first year of having Swedish Enduro National Championships (this year) the setup was the same. Ladies first. What do you think we could be doing to further encourage more women to ride and to work in the industry?
Continue to showcase women that work in the industry today, encourage female coaches in bike clubs and let the media coverage display women's mountain biking. Show when girls are racing, doing well or trying to reach their goals. Show women that are not racing at all but enjoying good times on the bike. Don't 'help' women by always fixing their flats, help them by teaching them to do it themselves. What changes would you like to see in the next few years?
The industry is moving in the right direction. Early on there weren't a lot of voices speaking up (or they weren't heard) about what women actually want when it comes to clothes, bikes and such. Now there are loads of opinions and voices coming through, and I believe that the more 'clever' brands have taken a lot of that into consideration when they now develop things for women. Definitely thumbs up for that! The more we ask about women in mountain biking the more the media will show us. If we continue to show interest the media representation will continue to rise. Women in mountain biking want nice things too. Sponsoring athletes and good ambassadors for the sport that can showcase good products is important. It shows that the industry believes in the women and their interests.
Tammy Donahugh, Instructor Certification Program Manager at IMBA.
Tell me a little about yourself.
Based in Colorado USA, worked in the MTB industry about 15 years, riding 23 years, coaching for nine years. Currently working at IMBA as the Instructor Certification Program Manager. I love riding all types of bikes – trail, DH, DJ, BMX, etc... I also have experience designing and building bike parks and have created my own backyard jump lines at two different homes. From your perspective how have things changed for women in mountain biking since you started riding?
Well, I started racing in the late 90’s which I would call the mountain bike racing 'heyday'. There was quite a bit of money getting paid out to the athletes, but of course never equal pay. Lately equal pay has been adopted at more and more local and national series’, which is good to see. On the non-competitor perspective I definitely see more women on better bikes with proper gear at the lift-served bike parks. Women’s clinics and camps are also on the rise in the US with options in most every region for ladies-only instruction. I did expect the level of female riders to be much higher by now in the area of dirt jump and slopestyle. Those genres seem to still be very male dominated without much opportunity for girls to learn, progress or compete. Currently I know of only one female slopestyle event in the USA. What’s the women’s mountain bike scene like where you live?
It seems the popularity of enduro racing has helped to increase the number of women who are racing on 'downhill' or bike park trails, therefore riding and racing on intermediate to advanced technical terrain. Colorado not only provides an opportunity for all types of riding, we also have a regional enduro series and a few local women’s clinics. Some of the local lifts served parks also offer discounts to women on specific days/evenings. What do you think we could be doing to further encourage more women to ride and to work in the industry?
I think the ladies clinics and camps are great for getting more women riding and should offer training/suggestions on how to set-up your own bike and maintain it. The women’s STU (SRAM Technical University) in 2015 was an awesome idea and event. It would be great to see more companies offer something similar where technical information is shared so that women who are in a position to make decisions are making informed decisions. What changes would you like to see in the next few years?
I think the industry is moving in the right direction but slowly. I do see more women in the magazines, in ads and in video edits these days. Having more women’s apparel lines; especially in the DH and freeride areas would be great, but I understand that the participation for women in those genres is the lowest out of them all.
Anita Gehrig, EWS racer for Ibis Cycles.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I am an Enduro World Series racer for the Ibis Cycles Enduro Team. Together with my twin sister I travel the world racing my bike. I am fortunate to live in Flims, Switzerland, where we have a very cool trail network and a great MTB community. A few years ago we started the 'Twins Women's Bike Camps' in Flims, with the main goal to give girl riders a place to connect to other mountain biking girls as well as increasing their confidence riding bikes. It's been a huge success so far and I am super stoked to give something back. What’s the women’s mountain bike scene like where you live?
When I started mountain biking nine years ago there were very few specific women's products; in the past few years, this has changed a lot. There is a wide range of specific products available now. I'm am glad the 'pink it and shrink it' approach to developing women's products did not last for too long. At home we have more and more girls picking up mountain biking, which is so great to see. When my sister and I started there were very few girls riding in our hometown, but that has changed. The girls have an insane skill level and they are just as obsessed with it as Caro and me. What do you think we could be doing to further encourage more women to ride and work in the industry?
I think there is a change already now. The more women that take key roles in the industry, the more will follow. The same goes with riding, more and more are getting started and encourage others to follow. What changes would you like to see in the next few years?
I wish the support from the industry for women's racing would be a bit more. So many absolute badass racers are struggling to get a factory deal, especially in DH. The top five get great support but then it decreases drastically. People say the level is low, but how can someone catch up to the likes of Rachel Atherton and Tracey Hannah juggling a full-time job and a World Cup racing career? It's in the industry's hands to step it up and give those dedicated and talented women a chance to shine.
Daniela Michel, Swiss Mountain Bike Guide.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I am Daniela Michel, I'm 35-years-old, based in Lenk, Bernese Alps. I am a Shoprider for Sputnik Bikeshop Zweisimmen-Lenk, a Swiss cycling MTB guide at Trailstar MTB guiding in Lenk (skills training, guided tours, women’s bike camp, women’s rides…) and a Specialized women's ambassador. As a physiotherapist and teacher, I find it a perfect combination for being a mountain bike instructor. I also participate in some enduro races all over Europe. I have been riding mountain bikes now for five years and love to explore the mountains with the bike and having good times with my friends. From your perspective how have things changed for women in mountain biking since you started riding?
In the past few years I've seen more women ride bikes, more special events for women, more and more women riding enduro and all mountain bikes. Five years ago I couldn't find any loose fit women shorts in the local bike stores. What’s the women’s mountain bike scene like where you live?
It’s more marathon and cross country around here. In my valley there are not many women riders, in my village (2,400 people) around 30 women ride, but mostly old-schoolers, there is no existing bike scene. There is only some support from the local bike shop, a regional development program does not exist. What do you think we could be doing to further encourage more women to ride and to work in the industry?
Currently the industry is very male dominated and the men's needs are much more weighted, but the more women that can influence or work in the industry the more women will start and enjoy mountain biking. Men should hire more women! It would be good to have equal equipment for men and women, especially the high-end products. I'd also like to see more acceptance in the industry for women. What changes would you like to see in the next few years?
Some brands do a lot of advertising with women, but on the other hand, the range of products is very small. This is something I do not understand and some change is needed. It sucks that men do not take women's bike skills seriously, but there are so many women who keep up with the boys. Women are not just good looking bike chicks, they have some serious skills.