Let’s begin by stating the obvious: Male cyclists vastly outnumber women.
Depending on how the subgroups are counted (commuters, recreational riders), roughly 75% of US cyclists are men. In contrast, in most European countries the ratio is closer to 50/50, and in some countries women cyclists slightly outnumber men. We’ve come a long way, baby, but it’s all been backwards: During the cycling boom of the late 1800s cycling was a key element of the early women’s rights movement:
“…the bicycle ‘has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.'”
–Susan B. Anthony, 1896
The US cycling industry seems flummoxed about the various reasons it has flatlined. Yet, misogyny was alive and well at this year’s Interbike.
Here in Seattle, the number of women cyclists is above average, but still a long way from 50/50. In a UW master’s thesis in urban planning, Anne Broache found among other things that 28 percent of Seattle’s bike commuters are women.
In the racing world there is an even bigger gap. For 2015, WSBA‘s total membership is approximately 1340, 235 of whom are women, or 17% of the total. Approximately 30% of these did NOT race on the road this year. The caveat is that the WSBA membership pool is a very small subset of the actual competitive cycling scene in the region, and doesn’t include popular disciplines like the NW Epic Series, gravel grinder rides, mountain biking, and cyclocross. USA Cycling‘s membership is 12% women. In Washington state there are 223 women registered with USA Cycling, and most are category 4 (beginner level).
One big appeal of cyclocross in particular is that the venues are family-friendly, fun to watch, and the overall vibe is friendlier than road racing.
Against this tide, Seattle cycling matriarchs Gina Kavesh and Martha Walsh have labored for years to get more women on bikes in general, and ideally racing their bikes. WSBA’s annual Fall “Meet the Teams” series also includes a women’s-only “Intro to Women’s Cycling and Racing Teams” series, complete with a low-key paceline and group riding skills clinic.
On Tuesday September 22, they held a discussion forum at Peddler Brewing in Ballard to try to identify issues of concern in the women’s peloton, and begin to develop potential solutions with the ultimate goal of increasing the numbers of women in competitive cycling. It was a full house, and the group included established veterans as well as a few newer riders. Four men were present.
Some of the difficulties and frustrations that got expressed:
**”I don’t know anyone”
**”I’m going to be last”
**Some women said they weren’t necessarily comfortable transitioning from one type of competitive discipline to another
**Team kits can create boundaries that make it difficult for newcomers to connect with others on teams
Action items that came out of the meeting:
1. Gina and a few women with web development skills plan to build a resource on the WSBA web site that can facilitate mentor relationships for new riders, and maybe develop a new racer forum.
2. Team Group Health and SCCA/Starbucks intend to step up and host race simulation clinics.
3. Gina is working through the details of hosting regular off-the-bike social events like a “beer klatch.”
4. Woodinville/Westside Bicycles is sponsoring some women’s-only neutral tents at this season’s cyclocross events. These are intended to help support women who are new to the sport, aren’t as familiar with race-day rituals, don’t belong to a team, or are just looking for more camaraderie.
The neutral tents are already a hit. Mindy St. Onge commented on Facebook: Thanks Woodinville Bicycle for the tent space and awesome hospitality at the Arlington Cross Revolution race yesterday. For those of us without our own team tent, it’s soooo nice it is to have a welcoming place to hang our hat… er bike.
Download a poster about the Ws Intro to Racing series. There are 4 ‘flavors’ of posters. You are invited to print and post in prominent locations.