Making a commitment to equality in women’s cycling

This week I started to think about spring and summer. I know, I know. It’s ridiculously cold. But St Henrik’s Day is behind us. Also, I’m going away to Arizona again, sunshine and road bikes in February. Yay! And when I come back it’s just a few short weeks till club rides start. My optimist’s heart leaps pretty quickly to warm weather bike rides.

And then, with thoughts of spring and road bikes firmly in mind, my next thoughts are about cycling events, big rides and races. Great minds think alike and friends started to ask about this race and that ride. Was I interested?

That’s how I landed on the Centurion ride series web page. The dates for the June century didn’t work. Looks like I’ll be in Madrid for the International Association for Women in Philosophy conference. Hard to be too upset about that. I’ve never been to Madrid. (Touristy type advice welcome! )

But I saw that Centurion had a new women’s series. Intrigued, I clicked to find out more.

The women’s ride turns out to be a disappointing 25 miles. I do that lots of week days in the summer. I wrote a blog post in which I asked why the women’s ride was just 25. See here. The Centurion series is about centuries and 25 isn’t a century no matter which measurement system you use.

I posted the blog post to the Centurion Facebook page, hoping for a response.

I said, “And to be clear, I’m all fine and good with a shorter ride. Some people might want a 25 mile, rather than a 100 mile, event. But note my word choice, “people.” Why make the short ride a women’s ride? What about men who want a short distance? And where do the women who want to ride 100 belong? Triathlon doesn’t do this. Running events don’t do this. Just stop it cycling community. Just stop. Please.”

They wrote back, “This years events will be 25 miles and both men’s and women’s. Last year we were trying to encourage more women to try riding. It’s is different than running and tris and it takes a while to get use to the group riding and safety component ”

I continued, “I see that. My worry is that for those of us who like longer distances and have lots of group riding/racing experience there’ll be even fewer women in the mixed event. But maybe the hope is that women will do the 25 miles and see it’s not so bad and do the longer event next year?”

Centurion Cycling replied, “Women can do any of the events . We just wanted one less Intimidating option If they wished. You can do the 50 or 100 ,or beginners can try shorter.”

All very nice and respectful and we all want to the same thing, more women riding.

But my suggestion remains the same either a mixed series of a range of distances where you expect more women, novices, will do the shorter distances. Or separate women’s rides the same length as the men.

Otherwise, what about beginner men? Where do they belong?

I know that the longer women’s event won’t be as popular as the men’s, first time out, but if they go that route, in a few years ít might.

If you go the route of opening the short distance to beginner men, maybe they will be outnumbered, but so what?

You can avoid sending the message that women ride radically shorter distances because why exactly? Our uteruses might fall out? Our precious virtue might be corroded? Bicycle face?

Given cycling’s history, let’s be careful to get it right this time.

3 thoughts on “Making a commitment to equality in women’s cycling

  1. Maybe I’m not the best representative for women, but I’m always insulted by the idea that women need some watered-down version of something so that we’re not too intimidated to try it.

    Are women really this afraid to go for something big? To try something new? Are men immune to intimidation when taking on a challenging goal? Are women really content to achieve less because we are “only” women and shouldn’t expect more from ourselves?

    1. Shebolt: EXACTLY. I support women-only spaces and events, because it can be more comfortable to try a new skill or challenge alongside other women; I’m a proud 20-plus year member of Girl Guides of Canada. But for goodness’ sake, we don’t need a special watered-down version. Just some space of our own to get our balance and try some new skills, and women-only learning opportunities can work really well for that (sadly, there are not really very many men (yet) who really understand how to be supportive and encouraging without “mansplaining”).

      Women’s rides shouldn’t be coded as “beginner,” and vice versa. Either have men’s and women’s categories in every distance, or none of them.

  2. Here in England there are always three options at big sportives: short, standard, and epic. Usually that’s 40ish, 65ish, and 100 miles respectively. I’ve noticed no substantial gender difference amongst them, though of course there are fewer women overall. But this structure suits all riders: if the weather is poor on the day, or you aren’t feeling right, you can change your route up to the last minute or even on the ride. No judgement (except from you and your riding pals!). It feels surprisingly liberating. And it’s marvellous to rise to the race’s challenge when you can, regardless of your gender or experience level.

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