Recently, I decided to spontaneously take up Cyclocross, it has been a blast and I plan to write more about it in a future post. I got involved in cross very quickly, I went from watching my first race, to buying a State single speed cross bike and competing in three races in a matter of two weeks. If that sounds crazy, it’s because it is. It should also be noted that my cycling experience has been limited to the road & long distance triathlons. So I’m pretty decent at riding in a straight line for a very, very long time, but riding for thirty minutes with my heart rate pegged on varying terrain, all while dodging obstacles and other riders is a tad bit outside of my comfort zone. Nevertheless, it looked fun and I dove in head first.
Preparing for my first race I was a bit nervous. I quickly realized there aren’t many females that participate in this sport and there are even fewer females racing on single speeds. I was excited at the opportunity to get on the podium as long as I was able to finish in one piece. I used this as motivation to stay the course and show up at my first race in early December. The race was fun, and even though I finished dead last and got lapped multiple times I was still the second female finisher for single speeders! After the race, I happily thought a call up to the podium awaited me. Well, it turns out there were no awards for women’s single speed, since single speed was a mixed category for the AZCross series. Due to this technicality I decided to sign up for the Women’s CAT 4 division for the following race, but I would be racing on my single speed so the odds were stacked against me. The race was fun and I managed not to finish last, but still didn’t make it to the podium.
On the last race of the season, only two short weeks after my first weekend of racing, I was happy that I had actually made some improvements. I worked on some of my skills, did a few crazy workouts and faced my fear of technical descents (I repeatedly attempted to ride down a loose steep hill until I got down the stupid thing without dismounting). All of this paid off and I placed 3rd in the Women’s CAT 4 State Championship race, and wasn’t last in the women’s single speed division (there were 3 females and I took 2nd). By this time I knew that there would not be awards for female single speeders, so before the race myself and the other single speed ladies agreed to take our own podium photos. All of this might make me sound a little podium obsessed, but there is something to be said about celebrating achievements amongst the other competitors, after all this is a race we signed up for!
Cross season ended as quickly as it came and I am excited to actually train and improve next year. However, my observation on the lack of female representation really got me curious on women’s participation in cycling. After doing triathlons for several years I am used to training and racing in a male dominated sport, but there is still a substantial female presence in the triathlon community. Why were there so few women at the cyclocross races? I wondered if it was just cyclocross or cycling in general. Cycling is the weakest link in my triathlon, but is this how all women felt? I started to do some research and I was more and more intrigued and fascinated with each article that I read.
I learned that my perception was true; very few women compete in cycling events in Arizona, especially when compared to running, swimming and triathlon. Additionally, the low participation rates are not unique to the Grand Canyon State, but similar to the United States as a whole. While females are biking more in places like Denmark and Germany, the fact is that women in the US are underrepresented in the cycling industry and less likely to ride bikes for recreation or cycle competitively than their male peers.
I’m not sure I believe that women need to represent 50% of the cycling community or that more girls should dream of becoming bike mechanics when they grow up, that’s certainly not something I ever aspired to, but I do think there is room for improvement. I’ve often heard men complaining about women specific runs or triathlons, but there’s a reason for those races and the numbers speak for themselves. Not to mention that the race organizers and governing bodies of sports will only profit from increasing female participation. It is nice to see companies (Giant) and athletes (Marianne Vos & Helen Wyman) taking action to promote women’s cycling. With brands such as Liv, social initiatives like Strongher and equal pay outs for pro women we are starting to see progress in women’s cycling and I hope it continues. Perhaps a few years from now the AZCross series will have a Women’s Single Speed division!