“I don’t really like women’s-only rides” and The Rapha Women’s 100

Last week, as I was chipping away at some work I was getting done at the shop, one of my colleagues asked me what I would be up to this weekend. I told her that I was planning on joining a women’s training ride in the west hills, an event being held for the Women’s 100. We got to talking and she eventually said “I don’t really like women’s-only rides”.

Though I can see where she’s coming from, I think this mindset is a bit misplaced. We’ve worked together here for a small amount of time, but I’ve begun to understand what her stance is on women’s cycling. She thinks that if we make women’s cycling separate from men’s cycling that it will back fire and prevent us from gaining an equal stance in the sport and in the industry as a whole.

Though I disagree with the idea that women’s rides will inhibit an egalitarian industry, she and I are on the same page. Women’s cycling is seen as a subcategory. In the realm of sports, there is the overarching umbrella that is cycling, and then the subcategory of women’s cycling. Men’s cycling is not a subcategory, it is just cycling. That’s how outsiders and insiders view the industry at present day. We are a subcategory, and we are tired of it.

For example, there have been so many times that I have checked out cycling-centric brands that make helmets, clothing, or other goods, and they have their categories linked at the top of their websites as “apparel”, “helmets”, and “accessories”… and then there’s “women’s”. This is so reminiscent of the industry and so normalized that it’s almost hard to understand. The point I am making here is that there is “apparel” and then there’s “women’s apparel”. The presence of men in the industry is seen as normal, while the presence of women seems anecdotal or rare.

The presence of women in the industry is not rare and that is the point we are trying to make with events that focus on women. A women’s ride is not exclusive to females. These rides have never been exclusive. The point of the Women’s 100 or a weekly women’s ride is to simply divert focus for a moment in an industry that is dominated and controlled by men. We are simply saying, “Hey! We exist!” while also providing support and a safe-space for women that are interested but might be intimidated by a male-dominated activity. The Women’s 100, for example, is open to anyone that identifies as a woman and anyone that is supportive of feminism and women’s cycling. Are straight allies banned from attending Pride Parades? No, and the same goes for any women’s event in the cycling industry. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I would personally love to see more people that identify as men attending these events for women. We need and appreciate the support.

Women’s rides and women’s events will be pivotal in changing the industry. Not only do these events raise awareness, they also help attract women to the sport. If we all were to just blend in with the men’s side of cycling, the women that are in the industry wouldn’t be able to recognize each other.  The point is to band together to raise awareness. Additionally, even if we do not want to admit it, women’s cycling is very different from men’s at the moment. Saying “We’re all the same, we’re equal!” is a lie. In order to change the industry we must recognize these faults and drawbacks and work to change them, not just cover them up with false equality. Strictly allowing women to partake in men’s cycling and not having strict support of women will not help the situation. What will help is if we are able to design and create our own side of the sport for our comfort.

Women's 100 ride out to the Columbia Gorge, 2014
Women’s 100 ride out to the Columbia Gorge, 2014

It’s not easy to live in a world where athletic women are viewed as mythological creatures. In order to transform the industry to one that is egalitarian, we must incorporate women’s events and races and show that women in the industry exist. This idea of “not liking women’s-only rides” reminds me of people that say they aren’t feminist because they don’t hate men. Feminism is not the hatred of men just as women’s cycling is not the exclusion of men. In order to change the industry we must incorporate feminism and support the other half of the road by simply shining the spotlight on women every once in a while.

EditI’d also like to point out that “women’s cycling” is a very broad, overarching term for me. I mean it as an inclusive phrase, anyone that identifies as a woman belongs in this category. It can also apply to anyone that has been forgotten by the sport and the industry as a whole; the fact is, the overwhelming majority in cycling belongs to white, thin, wealthy, somewhat aggro men. The rest of us fall ignored, which is why I believe that women’s rides are important. That being said, women’s rides are never exclusive and in my mind are open to everyone and anyone that believes that women belong in the industry.

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