I was recently in the pub with a few friends and one of my female mountain biker friends asked me what were the barriers to getting more women into mountain biking and what the industry was doing to encourage more women into the sport of MTB?
She shared with me her views as to what wasn't right today. Top of her list was limited choice of kit, especially clothes sizes. Then there were the stores that were male dominated in terms of staff. She also said when she was living in Whistler, Canada she saw many more female riders than here in the UK and the scene felt more social, less intimidating and macho. She is a proponent of there being more female rides for the UK here also as she felt that often a women's first introduction was going out with a bunch of competitive men with a lot of rhetoric about how gnarly, fast and dangerous the sport was, leaving you slightly disillusioned.
I personally didn't think I was quite clued up to answer so I thought I'd do a bit of research. Firstly, I wanted to find out how many women actually mountain bike compared to men. I tried to find some UK statistics but I couldn’t find any hard numbers that weren't quite old.
I did learn during my search that the Giant retail store in Sheffield have publicised that nearly a third of all their bike customers in 2014 were female riders (across all disciplines). Similarly, female participation in cycling events throughout Scotland has jumped 35 per cent year on year (according to Scottish Cycling). This figure though includes road cycling and it is often hard to break out the separate disciplines.
So I looked at iBikeRide's statistics. In the last month (April 2015) 82% of our site visitors were male and 18% women. There is clearly enormous potential to increase participation.
The good news is regardless of not knowing the numbers there are loads of changes happening in the industry focussed on getting more women into mountain biking. This is what we learned on what's happening and what's out there for and supporting women's mountain biking. We've put it into categories so the article can also hopefully be used as a guide.
From posting out on social media we have discovered some great women's only groups we can share. Check out MTBChix&Trails, Downhill Diva's, Dame Cycling, Trail Take Over and Birds on Bikes who all organise women's only rides.
One of the most fundamental initiatives to get more women cycling is from British Cycling. They have committed to getting 1 million more women into cycling by 2020 and their Breeze initiative is core to this as it organises women's only rides with Breeze champions from the local community. Worth checking it out.
Whilst we are looking at women's only rides there are other choices too like the popular social networking MeetUp site that runs informal women's rides in local areas all across the country and you can try the forum over at Total Women's Cycling a community dedicated to women riders of all disciplines.
There are also many mountain bike clubs that offer women's only rides and there are even specific women's only clubs. Also, most clubs offer mixed rides. Here is a map of British Cycling affiliated clubs.
If you are looking for some more specific training and skills there are a number of organisations that offer women's only MTB guided rides, skills courses and events around the country like Daisy Chain Bike Events and the Dirt Divas. If getting your skills pushed in Downhill or Enduro is your thing then check out Diva Descent.
No longer are the options of where to ride a choice of kicking off on a remote red (intermediate) technically graded trail with just a portaloo or having to get a map and compass out. There has a been an explosion and investment in green (beginner and family) and blue (novice) waymarked trails across the country with an additional significant investment in facilities too like bike cafes, decent toilets, bike washes and hire shops, in the last few years. At the last count, there were 100 blue trails and 56 green trails to choose from. There is a handy trail map here on the site to help you navigate trails local to you.
So let's move to the brands. Fuelling this general growth of women into cycling is the rise in the number of women specific bike brands in the last couple of years, like the Juliana Bicycles (sister brand of Santa Cruz), the Cube Women Like range, the Scott Contessa range of women's specific bikes and the recent Liv range from Giant cycles.
Female mountain biking fashion is also getting better with brands like Minx who are there for those who "Want to express their inner girl while kicking mountain bike ass?" Brands are being driven by the commercial upside clearly but this is a significant factor in making the sport more attractive.
The retail market still probably has a way to to go with a mainly male staff and lack of female range and sizes. It is though starting to wise up to the growth of female mountain biking and adapting their customer service accordingly and there are some pockets of retailers getting it right. Stores though like Giant Bike shop we mentioned earlier in Sheffield are leading the way by employing female cyclists and ensuring they have a decent women's range. In 2014 Bella Velo, a store pitched as the UK's first women's only bike shop, opened in Surbiton in Surrey. Maybe we will see more of these.
A good general guide to choosing a bike (not purely MTB specific) is here at Jens Reviews.
If you are looking to join an Online female mountain biking community then check out Total Women's Cycling. They had just shy of 19,000 likes on its Facebook page. We have also heard it rumoured that BikeRadar for women is to launch later this year. iBikeRide has its own Women's MTB Group also.
So the industry is changing for the better. Places like California in the US though have pretty much a 50/50 split of men to women on the trails, the stores have equal numbers of female staff, as well as a great well, stocked range of women's clothes. So I feel that despite the growth much more should still be being done. So what else is needed? Please share your thoughts but for me it is much more of the above we have covered here i.e. more women's only rides, female communities, bike choices, broader media coverage, female focused events, more women in the industry and specifically more female shop staff and a far wider women's bike, kit and clothing selection covering all disciplines and ability levels.
International Women's celebrating women's achievements was just last month in March. Maybe for the next one, we could hold a day dedicated to women's achievements in mountain biking. The top trail centres around the country could host a festival for women's mountain biking with coaching, bike hire, guided rides and kit from the top bike brands. Female mountain bike champions could come and share their experiences. The profits could go to a fund to develop activities to get more women from a young age into mountain biking in the UK. Interested?
Please share your own experiences and thoughts and if you know of or are running any women's projects or activities focusing on women's mountain biking then please share these too and we will add them to the article so it becomes a useful knowledge base for others.