An interesting fact rolled in front of my eyes this past week. Of women registered to race in Gravel Worlds this August 19, there are more master women, those over 40 years of age, (25) than those under (18). It’s not the case for master men (over 50 years of age) where it’s 87 to 224. Registration is capped at 500 for the full 150 miles, and at 300 for the new half-distance race.
Dirty Kansa is a larger race (2376 registered this year), but the trend was similar. Only when it gets to the shorter noncompetitive community fun rides do the numbers start to even out. So what is going here? I think there are several reasons, beginning with time available for training. I am basing all this on my own observations, so if you have reached other conclusions, please let me know. First of all, I think that people are capable of far more than they think they are, and that women especially do not realize this. It’s a mind game.
Many younger women are busy with young families, which makes taking the time and having the energy to train challenging unless they have a lot of support. Many younger women like to run though, so that’s not the whole story. I think they don’t ride much, and compete less, because they don’t see other women doing it. Racing and long rides were completely off my radar when I was their age, though I did ride and often commuted by bike in my 20’s and 30’s, pulling the baby trailer when necessary. I knew of no other women who did it. A certain critical mass seems necessary to gain enough visibility so that others can imagine themselves riding too, unless one is a lone wolf with a need and/or passion for cycling.
So why do more women run than cycle? I have nothing against running. I enjoyed it in my college days, but it was too hard on my knees. My thoughts are that more run because it is more visible. More people know someone who does it than cycling. It also seems less complicated, requiring little more than a pair of shoes. I know women who find even airing a tire intimidating, as they’ve never done it, so other issues like flats, adjustments, or even knowing what questions to ask need assistance. As far as pain, I addressed that in last week’s post. Bicycle shops tend to be dude-centric, so it can take someone out of their comfort zone just to go there. There is a new Facebook group, Nebraska Ladies Bike Forum, that looks like it will be a good resource for answering questions, organizing rides and teaching skills.
So what about group rides? They are a good way to meet other people to ride with if that’s key to getting out and riding. Some bike shops also organize rides. I don’t often get to ride with others but I like to when I can. I learned by participating in the National Bike Challenge that there were teams and clubs in Lincoln. I remember having to summon up some courage the first group ride I joined, as I’m not an extrovert. I thought I would be a lot older than everyone else (I was) and slower (I wasn’t). Everyone was welcoming though, and soon I was riding a lot more distance than I had been. When the next summer rolled around and I learned that there was racing, I did the previously unthinkable (I had never liked organized sports) and signed up. It seemed I couldn’t not do it, even though I was far outside my comfort zone, which seems to keep moving even today.
So back to the question of why are there more master women racing than younger ones? Maybe we’re old enough and have seen enough to not let these excuses get in our way anymore. What have we got to lose but inexperience?