Before I start, I would recommend reading a related post I wrote a few weeks ago: “I don’t really like women’s-only rides” and the Rapha Women’s 100
The gender gap in cycling is a complex issue. There are many reasons why men currently outweigh women in cycling, from lack of infrastructure to lack of products created specifically for women. In most instances cycling feels like a man’s world and women are just living in it. I would say that the reason why you’ll find less women than men on the road or trail is because cycling is utterly unwelcoming for us. On most rides I’ve been on that have had more men present than women, the mentality is ‘If you can’t keep up, too bad’.
So, of course, women are intimidated by the industry. Not only are we told from birth to be quiet and to not take up too much space, we are told in addition that athletic women are unattractive and that sweating is for men. I know this because when I first got into cycling I was afraid that I would build too much muscle mass. That, to me, is absurd and extremely upsetting. I was afraid of being and looking strong. All of these ideas are translated to women and internalized. If any interest in cycling arises among us, it is quickly stifled by these factors and we lose courage…and never end up on a bicycle. (Related post by graceQOM: You’ll be faster without me).
That’s what rides like the Women’s 100 are meant to combat. I realize that this post sounds like a bad inspirational speech/campaign at the moment, but I truly believe that events like this are not only positive for the community overall but also help inspire women specifically to get on a bike. Woman-based rides are extremely important for getting more women on bikes, and they should be open to anyone that identifies as a woman or supports bringing more women to the sport.
The “Women’s 100” refers to 100km, which is roughly 65 miles. This year’s ride in Portland headed out to the Women’s Forum (near Vista House) in the Columbia Gorge. It’s called the Women’s Forum because there used to be a group of women that oversaw matters of preserving the Columbia Gorge, and now it’s become a popular scenic viewpoint. Vista House nearby is where women used to stop to disrobe so that they could use the restroom… how inconvenient were those giant dresses they had to wear? Not only are these interesting historical spots, they also give beautiful views of the surrounding area. This, in my opinion, made it the perfect place for the Women’s 100 to stop.
My ride on Strava ended up being about 80 miles with approximately 4,000 feet of climbing, but that included my commute to Stumptown Coffee on Division, which is where we met for the ride. There were roughly 30-35 women there this year including the ride leaders, which was about half of last year’s attendance. The route was essentially the same as last year’s, but we did it in reverse this time and brought in the addition of Larch Mountain. I really pushed myself on the climbs up to the Gorge and also up Larch, and I’m paying for it today…
What was interesting about this ride was that it was very clear from the beginning that it was meant to be no-drop, to the point that the ride leaders took our names and phone numbers at the beginning. I’ve never seen that on a group ride before. I appreciated this notion very much. I’m at the point now where I’m strong enough to not be dropped; however, when I first started riding I was always concerned about being left behind. On a long ride like this one, I think this was necessary. For some women, this was the longest ride they had participated in thus far. In my opinion, all group-rides should be the no-drop style, with various meet-up points where everyone can regroup (i.e., after a big climb); but, I especially think this is necessary for women’s rides. I am not saying that women need to be babied, what I am saying is that the extra encouragement is very helpful for some people. In fact, it might be the reason they keep getting on the saddle.
We initially rode as a group to Women’s Forum and then split from there into 3 groups of varying abilities and speed. I ended up being in a group of 8, 2 of which were ride leaders. The women were strong, encouraging, and so friendly. We chatted the whole way back from Women’s Forum, and even dabbled in a pace line-esque formation. Once we got closer to Portland, we stopped to pick blackberries. We ended at Stumptown again to drink coffee and chat some more.
The one thing I didn’t appreciate about the ride was that it felt very closed to men in the community, which both makes sense and also irritates me. I believe that anyone that is supportive of women should be welcome on the ride. I view men that join the ride as supporters, not competitors. I get that some cyclists are not very comfortable around male riders; however, if everyone is encouraging on the ride I honestly think that it wouldn’t bother anyone. All should be welcome and that it should be “awareness” themed. It also seems like a very narrow view of gender to me. It’s best to fight one battle at a time, though. For now, the fight is to get more women on bikes!
The best part of rides like these is being surrounded by strong, encouraging people and coming to the realization that there is a supportive community just waiting for more to join it. Group rides are the best way to get stronger, to not give up, and to pass the long hours on a bike with even more enjoyment. So, go join a ride in your area and get some company!
Photos courtesy of Eddie Barksdale