A Female Perspective on Racing Bikes and Other Seemingly Dude Things
By Cindy Abbott, ZOIC Ambassador
“Are YOU really gonna operate that thing?!” says a dumbfounded man who sees me driving a monstrous brush truck for work. The same man then pulls out his camera phone to capture the “pure insanity” that is a female driving a commercial motor vehicle. I have no choice but to roll my eyes and explain that “Yes, I am going to drive this thing, and yes I’m about to pick up every damn piece of brush down to the toothpick of a twig with the huge claw that accompanies this behemoth of “manly” metal.”
Wielding the tools of my trade – a chainsaw and bucket truck
Taking It Personally
This dialogue happens all too frequently between me, a short-statured female tree-climbing arborist, and men who have an outdated perception of what women are able to contribute to society. Now, I’m not trying to knock the dudes here. It’s just time to bring awareness and honest dialogue to the 21st century female participating in historically male-dominated activities.
Making the cut
So, what’s my point in telling you this on the ZOIC blog? Unfortunately this is a common occurrence not only in my work life, but in my mountain bike life as well. I am also a female
professional mountain biker. This fact has been a challenging adventure and social experiment in my life for over a decade. One that has pushed the boundaries of my patience and my pocketbook.
Drop it like it’s hot!
During the last ten years I have been racing bikes and trying to break the box that I’ve been (unfairly) assigned to and caged in as a female in adventure sports. I don’t race for the money, I race for me. However, it would be nice to have equal pay and opportunity as the men in the same sport. I perform the same activities that men do in the sport: travel for races, build my bike up in the parking lots of race venues, sleep in my car to save money, work hard, race hard, train, win, and lose. Yet I must seemingly beg for validation from the bike industry and many of my male counterparts. Not cool. I want more for women.
Don’t worry, I’m not blind to the fact that there are simply not as many women willing to participate in the sport of mountain biking. Yet. Perhaps due to a myriad of barriers: fear, exclusion, lack of self-confidence, tight finances….the list goes on and on.
However, there’s hope! Now more than ever, there are hundreds of female-focused mountain bike efforts across the country dedicated to introducing women to mountain biking and building female centric mountain bike communities. Girlz Gone Riding
, a Southern California based women's group, organizes rides, clinics, trips and holds their own festival each fall. In 2018 the National Interscholastic Cycling Association launched its Girls Riding Together (GriT)
program to grow the particpation of girls in high school mountain bike racing from 20% to 33% by 2023. While for younger girls Little Bellas
, founded by sisters and former pro mountain bike racers Lea and Sabra Davison, runs programs in 16 states offering "mentoring on mountain bikes" for girls ages 7-16. Groups and programs like these are invaluable for engaging women and girls in the sport of mountain biking, many who may not have found it otherwise.
Leading a Juliana ride in Sedona with great friends and superstar riders!
Making A Difference
Therefore it is my goal as a female athlete to bring awareness through action: by doing everything in my power to get more ladies involved in the sport I hold so dearly. Fortunately I found an avenue, a personal way to contribute to inclusion. For the last five years, I have had the honor of running an Austin Texas based non-profit Ride Like A Girl
, a women's only subgroup of Austin Ridge Riders dedicated to teaching women how to ride and providing a welcoming community for all ages. I simultaneously got certified as a professional mountain bike instructor and high school mountain bike coach. My focus in achieving these things is to introduce more girls and women to mountain biking in positive and encouraging ways. Through my involvement in groups like these, I have found that building confidence and breaking down fear based barriers in ladies-only settings further emphasizes the extremely valuable aspects of mountain biking. This benefits not only female centric cycling communities, but society as a whole by cultivating more fearless, strong, and confident women.
Trail time = smile time
Mountain biking has taken me to many amazing places, and introduced me to the most incredible humans, male and female. I believe equality in sport is possible. My hope for the future is to see an equal number of men and women participating in the sport of mountain biking. Even if the aforementioned doesn’t become a reality, we females won’t stop pushing boundaries and breaking down the barriers that have kept us from pursuing our dreams in the past. In the words of Beyoncé, “Who run the world? GIRLS!”
Photo credit @nickberardphoto