This is my fourth full season working as a mountain bike guide now, and it’s safe to say I can probably count the number of women I’ve guided on trips on both hands! Most of those have come along with their partner 0r husband, and I can only think of one girl who came completely on her own.
MTB, a sport loved by all
Every single one of the girls I’ve guided have been strong, competent riders who’re amongst the strongest technically and fitness wise in the group of guys they are on holiday with. But why aren’t there more girls on these trips?
The number of women in mountain biking is growing at a rapid rate, and everywhere I go I see talented female bikers who would love the kind of adventurous trips I’m lucky enough to work on. I do know from talking to some of these girls though, that knowing they are likely to be the only woman in a group of men can feel quite intimidating when considering booking a trip. I think most women underestimate their ability, as opposed to (some) men (being careful not to make a sweeping generalisation here!) where the opposite is the problem.
Building up confidence on the MTB
Often, females perceive themselves to not be up to it on the harder level trips, or worried they’ll be the weakest in the group and holding people up. In my experience that is rarely the case, but it’s an anxiety that I think is common in many women. I know because I spent many years harbouring those same anxieties.
It’s been an issue many of us who work in the bike guiding industry have been thinking about for a while; how to encourage more women to make that step into the world of adventures that mountain biking can offer, and persuade them that they are capable of doing so?
One of the boys, one of the girls – who cares?
Like most girls who ride mountain bikes, I’ve spent most of the years I’ve been riding, with guys. That’s great, I’ve been welcomed into the groups I’ve ridden in, never made to feel like I wasn’t good enough or shouldn’t be there, and treated like “one of the boys”.
I’ve been given tips, shown things, and occasionally encouraged, in the way that boys do, but it was only really when I first went on a trip to Whistler and started going to the women’s nights, that my riding started to progress from “sketching my way down most trails slowly, accepting that I’d never be as good or as fast as my male counterparts”, to seeing that other girls were shredding trails just as fast and looking just as rad as the guys on their bikes.
MTB like a pro
I learnt more in those few evening sessions than I’d learnt in 8 years of riding. I felt inspired to try harder stuff, jumps, drops, log skinnies, learn more skills. If other girls were doing it so could I! I felt encouraged, and like we were all supporting each other, sharing celebrations when someone in the group conquered a steep technical section for the first time, railed a berm perfectly, or sent a huge drop like a pro.
I felt like if I crashed and hurt myself, I wouldn’t need to “man up”, and feel like a girl if I felt like having a bit of a cry! I felt like we all understood what it was like to be a minority in a man’s world, and respected each other that we were all there and doing it because we loved it.
A mutual love for MTB
I had never felt like I could push myself on my bike in that way before, maybe because I was so used to being the one that people were waiting for at the bottom of the hill and didn’t want to try stuff on my own at the back. Sometimes because I’d rarely actually seen the lines the guys chose on steep ground, because they’d already ridden it by the time I got there!
So I’d just get off and walk when it got too tough, or slowly pick my way down if I thought I could get down in one piece! I love riding with the guys, and that’s what most of my riding, and guiding still is, but I’ve had a few trips with just girls now, and whilst it’s hard to put a finger on what makes them so different….they just are!
They are equally fun, not better, not worse, just fun in a completely different way. The banter is different, there’s more laughing at myself and at others, my riding feels good, relaxed and smooth, less pressure to “be one of the boys” I guess.
It’s a journey, not a race
Mountain biking, and certainly on the kind of trips and trails that I like to ride, is still a very male dominated sport, so it’s awesome to see more girls wanting to get into this area of the sport, and anything that can encourage this is a positive thing…..for a lot of women, a trip with the ladies to shred trails together and boost confidence and skills will be just what they need to take those steps towards becoming more all-round experienced, competent and independent riders and adventurers.
Tally up the troops
For those women who are already all of those things, if you have the opportunity to take a trip with some fellow female shredders, I can’t recommend it highly enough…I promise you it’ll do wonders for your riding, your confidence, and finding that relaxed feeling of flow on your bike we all strive for!
These were just some of the reasons for Go-Where Scotland deciding to run their first Mountain Lassies trip in the Tweed Valley earlier this summer, and I was lucky to be asked by Andy & Aneela McKenna to help guide on this exciting new venture. The idea was to provide an opportunity for those already competent female riders to get together and push themselves further on adventurous trails in a less intimidating environment.
The weekend was fantastic….Aneela and I were joined by Liz and Nicola for the 3 days, as well as Jenni and Anna on a couple of days. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much on a guided trip, or seen people’s riding progress so massively too! Three huge days out on the hill discovering the best off- piste trails in the area, in a relaxed group with the aim on fun and learning from each other.
There was beer, chocolate, ridiculous numbers of jelly babies. A cultural and at times language exchange as Glaswegian met South Yorkshire, and apart from some “Heavy dew” (my optimism wouldn’t allow anyone to say it had rained, despite the puddles) one night, the weather was great for biking. Dusty dry, fast trails.
There were some giveaways that it was a trip full of girls…the bathroom smelt nice, and I don’t think I can imagine a group of boys being organised enough to set the breakfast table the night before with everything laid out neatly! The whooping, and giggling on the trails added to the relaxed atmosphere of the weekend, with no pressure but mutual support and encouragement to push boundaries, ride harder trails than any of the girls had previously attempted, and to get away from trail centre type riding into more natural terrain, and develop the skills that go with that. It was an incredibly rewarding trip as a guide to see people having so much fun, and their riding developing all the time.
Women + mtb = awesome!
There were discussions on best women’s mtb clothing brands, no shame in admiring a bike because of the colour, and I even ended up getting my nails done in colours to match my bike as a result of an agreement made on the trip! I don’t think I’ve ever had a discussion with any of the guys I’ve guided on trips about the problems of helmet hair, or trying to be feminine without being “girly” in a world where you are surrounded by men and covered in mud, sweat, blood, and with scars on your elbows and legs!
Nicola started to realise what her new Nomad was capable of and was shredding down the trails at Innerleithen like she was a local by the end, and Liz, after developing her skills on an old school hardtail with steep geometry, rented a full suss and was positively flying down steep, rooty technical terrain like it was easy!
Appreciating the difference
We can’t get away from the fact that as women, we are very different from men. This doesn’t mean we can’t be just as talented on a mountain bike and just as fast (just look at Tracey Moseley, Rachael Atherton and the many other rad ladies at elite level), but we ride differently. We’re often smoother because we don’t have the raw strength to power and force our bikes over and through technical terrain like guys, but a lot of women develop good technique early on in their riding careers to counter for this.
We have good balance and often, good body awareness which can be used to our advantage in understanding how to weight and unweight the bike to get the most out of it. Some of the best male riders in the world are actually not the biggest and strongest either….watch Jerome Clementz or Nico Lau ride and you will see they are smooth, light and flowing on the trails…they ride like girls…yeahhhh!!! We also learn differently, and often need different explanations or ways of approaching a new challenge .
I am by no means saying that girls should only ride with other girls, and guys with guys at all, but I think any girls who ride should try a trip with the gals once in a while! It’s a ridiculous amount of fun, you will almost certainly come away feeling motivated and having learnt something new, and riding in different groups is good for your confidence and overall riding experience.
Take the first step
I really really enjoyed being a part of the Mountain Lassies trip, and can’t wait to guide on more of these trips, and introduce more girls and women to the kind of adventures I love. There are a whole load of capable women out there who want to ride these kind of trails but think they aren’t good enough…..you are! Come and see!!!
(Go-Where Scotland will be running further Mountain Lassies trips in several parts of Scotland in the near future….get in touch via the website for more details! )