Brittany Jones spent the past few months promoting the future of cycling as a coach for a HS mountain bike team. In this read she challenges all of us to help in the movement of recruiting women to the field.
As a woman, as an athlete, and as someone who is invested in the cycling community, I am concerned about the future of our sport. It seems like women are “having a moment” in the cycling world, but what that really means is that we’re playing some serious catch-up to the men with regards to exposure and access, and we aren’t anywhere close to closing that gap. This moment is exciting—I am stoked to see local, national, and international organizing bodies beginning to acknowledge that perhaps women deserve the same treatment as men, and I look forward to finding out how far we can push that. But while we push for our own race categories and prize money and inclusion, are we looking behind to make sure there are women and girls to join us?
Teenage girls’ participation in sports has long been a problem. Girls drop out of sports at two times the rate of boys by age 14. I can’t tell you how many girls mountain biking may have already lost, but I can tell you that the turn out for boys and girls at the Colorado High School Mountain Bike racing series is strikingly out of balance, and seems even more disproportionate than the research referenced above.
There are four regular season races for each division. Divisions are North and South. They race the same courses on the same weekends, but on alternating days. There was an average of 720 students racing each weekend when you combine the numbers from each division. That number alone is incredibly impressive and exciting with regards to the future of mountain biking. At every race, I was blown away by the number of students, by their positive attitudes, and the fantastic environment. I think high school mountain bike is amazing. It’s an organization that I’m very proud to be involved with. However, of that 720 weekend average, only 145 were girls.
That’s the future. It looks a lot like the present, but it is actually growth. Not all of those 145 girls will continue to race, but those that do will be joined by others when they reach their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. The vast majority of female cyclists come to the sport later in life. The lowest participation numbers for women in cycling events are ages 19 and under. This is growth, but it certainly feels like very slow-moving growth.
My concern is that too many of these girls will burn out, they’ll give up, they’ll move on to something else where they have a larger peer group. I’m concerned these 145 Colorado girls don’t currently have a supportive community. They shouldn’t have to wait until they’re 30 years old to find that.
I know every year we all get excited about the Beti Bike Bash. We love it because it’s a fantastic opportunity for women to come together, race, and support each other. I know many women work with Little Bellas throughout the year, but Little Bellas focuses primarily (though not exclusively) on girls aged 8 – 12. We have a handful of junior women in our local racing community, and we’re generally more proud of them for beating us than we are frustrated that we lost. These are all things that I absolutely love about the women in Colorado. But I don’t know that we’re actively reaching out to encourage teenage girls to participate. We’re excited when they show up, but we aren’t inviting them to the party. There are at least 145 high school girls that are racing mountain bikes in Colorado. How many of those girls see us, know us, or ride with us? How are we actively encouraging them? Are they getting invited to group rides or to join a local team that isn’t their school team of mostly boys? Do they have a ride to the trailhead?
I’d really like to encourage you to get involved with the Colorado League. They need coaches, but they also always need race-day volunteers. Meet and encourage these girls, ride with them.
 Sabo, D. and Veliz, P. (2008). Go Out and Play: Youth Sports in America. East Meadow, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation. file:///C:/Users/Pagoda/Downloads/Go_Out_and_Play_Exec.pdf
 Larson, Daniel J., PhD. (2013). 2013 USAC Female Cyclist Report. https://s3.amazonaws.com/USACWeb/forms/membership/2013-USAC-Female-Cyclist-Report.pdf