By Molly Hurford
More girls than ever are getting out and riding bikes, for fun and with clubs and race teams. But we still have a long way to go when it comes to getting more girls on bikes. In Saskatchewan, there are plenty of clubs now offering women-only rides, and kids programs are welcoming girls with open arms. More girls are showing up at the start lines at races. But many of those girls eventually leave the sport because they get tired of being one of two or three girls in a race. What will it take to get (and keep) more girls on bikes? For the parents and coaches out there hoping to see more girls on bikes, whether that means riding in neighborhoods and on trails for fun or getting out to the races, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Take the pressure out of it
Unfortunately, most girls learn to ride bikes as young children, but drop out of cycling around the ages of 8 to 12. There are many reasons, from school sports taking precedence to them simply not seeing other girls riding bikes to societal norms and expectations. But we won’t magically get hundreds of girls into racing or the more serious cycling scene without reintroducing the element of fun to bike riding. Try to take the pressure off by going on fun rides, inviting their friends along. Make a mountain bike ride into an exploration that ends with jumping in a pond or getting ice cream. Find a local kids program that focuses on fun and skills. Rekindle the love of riding, and if a girl is interested enough, racing will follow. But often, parents push too hard for the jump into racing and end up taking the enjoyment out of it.
Help them reach out
If you’re not a cyclist, or even if you love to ride but don’t know much about youth sports, it’s easy to get help! Most young girls don’t know where to go to get started in cycling, but in Saskatchewan, there are so many coaches (women and men!) who are thrilled to talk bikes with beginners, especially if it means bringing more girls into the sport. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to people,” says Zoey Bourgeois, who went from high level canoe racer to a serious bike racer in her late teens. “If you feel comfortable reaching out to a female, try to find a woman who you can talk to. When I first met a couple women in the mountain biking and cyclocross community, they just roped me in and suddenly, I was part of the group.”
Remember what being a beginner felt like
“I remember going to my first bike race, a criterium,” Bourgeois adds. “I had no idea what I was doing, and had to ask a ton of questions just to figure out how to race.” It might be a helpful exercise to look back at your own cycling experience: Remember the first time you were handed a pair of bike shorts? What about the first time you showed up for a group ride? Or even earlier than that, what do you remember about rides as a kid with your friends or parents? As ‘grown ups’ and as mature cyclists, we tend to forget what being a beginner feels like, what we used to hate, what we found just plain confusing. Try to bring that beginner mindset back when helping girls get started riding—often, we lose kids because they feel overwhelmed or like they’ll never catch up.
Don’t worry about speed (especially in the beginning)
On the note of catching up… Whether you’re the parent or the girl hoping to get into cycling, don’t get stressed on the speed of any group. It’s okay to not be the fastest kid in the club. “I can’t stress this enough, so many women and girls—myself included—feel so down when we lose a race, or feel like we aren’t doing enough, or aren’t getting faster quick enough,” says mountain bike racer Shea Stevenson. “But you being out there is already making you better than you were before!”
Help them navigate past the beginner stage
It’s not just about getting girls onto bikes, it’s about keeping them in the sport. And that means helping guide them through not just the early stages, but showing them the next steps and creating a supportive environment for them to grow, whether that’s on your team, in your family, or with their friend group. “People tend be super helpful to a beginner, but once that beginner gets a little bit of experience, then they often feel like they are left in this no man’s land, where people just ignore them,” says Sarah Honeysett, the executive director of the Saskatchewan Cycling Association. “There hasn’t been much support once girls or women get past that beginner stage, and that needs to change.” This is where clubs and groups can help, by adding rides that go beyond beginner options, and helping girls connect with other riders at their level. With online options like RGT and Zwift for virtual racing, it’s easier than ever to connect athletes province-wide!
Try different types of riding
You might love riding on the road, but there’s a chance that your daughter will actually love the BMX pump track or dirt jump park more than she loves crushing it in crits. Maci Rosman, 14-year-old BMXing phenom, is hoping more girls head to the pump track to race. “I don’t mind racing against the boys,” she says. “But it would be fun to have more girls to compete with at local races.” (As parents, of course it’s tempting to want your daughter to do your exact style of riding so that you can train together, but remember, the thing that keeps most girls in sport is when they find a group of friends who are also doing that sport! Don’t worry—they’ll still ride with you some of the time.)
Be the example
One of the best ways adults—especially women—can help get more girls on bikes is by showing how fun riding can be! Seeing your excitement and enthusiasm for the sport helps young girls see what is possible, and how rewarding cycling can be. “The cycling world is ever-changing but what I am most excited about is women in this sport. When I can go to a race and we have way more women and beginner riders than elites, that’s awesome,” NBR woman’s ride program coordinator Dana Amos says. “It just proves that our program is being successful at growing the love for this sport. My daughter is just getting into more mountain biking on trails and my goal is to foster the love with her and her friends. Many boys remain in sport, be it biking or not, but females tend to drop out. So my goal is to grow the love with their moms so they see a female example and know they too have no limits in biking.”
About the writer:
Molly Hurford is a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside and healthy habits of athletes and interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete podcast and website, and most recently launched the book ‘Becoming A Consummate Athlete.‘ She’s the author of multiple books including the Shred Girls, a young adult fiction series and online community focused on getting girls excited about bikes. Molly is a little obsessed with getting people psyched on adventure and being outside, and she regularly hosts talks and runs clinics for cyclists and teaches yoga online and IRL… And in her spare time, the former Ironman triathlete now spends time tackling long runs and rides on trails or can be found out hiking with her mini-dachshund DW and husband, cycling coach and kinesiologist Peter Glassford.