I transitioned from triathlon to cycling about 18 months ago. I made the switch after completing an Ironman, wanting a change, and enjoying my time in the saddle more than the time spent running or swimming. Over the past few years, I’ve seen the field of triathlon working to recruit and retain more women in the sport (as evidenced by the hugely popular Facebook group, Women for Tri). I hoped for a similar dynamic with cycling, but had just moved across the country for a new job and was not sure where to find a community of rad cyclists. I started by searching for groups online, found one with similar speed and distance to fit my training, and was launched into what became a new norm for my next year: being one of the only women on a group ride surrounded by several men. I’ve generally been treated really well and I can’t thank many of them enough for making me who I am today. I’m a much stronger cyclist thanks to their challenging group rides and much of their ongoing support. But we’ve got work to do.
Reflecting back on my transition to cycling, I think I expected to find similar dynamics to triathlon—plenty of women at races, large Facebook groups for women to share advice and experiences, and plenty of group rides and teams to train with or race for without the fear of getting dropped. Unfortunately, I think I was naive and mistaken in a few ways. Field sizes for women in many of the events I’ve done are only about 15%—especially gravel, cyclocross, and fat biking. Women and gender diverse athletes are sorely underrepresented in this sport. I’ve scoured the literature to identify potential reasons for the gap. Some say it’s a lack of confidence or skill with mechanical abilities. Others say lack of time to train due to childcare and domestic responsibilities. Some note a lack of navigation skills needed for gravel or discomfort being in the middle of nowhere. Others reflect on a lack of safety, whether due to car traffic, crashing, or sexual harassment.
Many of those factors, however, are specific to one discipline or one community, have small sample sizes, are published by men, and/or completely exclude cyclists who do not identify as cisgender men or women. And while I appreciate the important work on these issues, I think the gender gaps go a lot deeper than what the literature has said thus far. I believe we need a more comprehensive understanding of the experiences of women and gender diverse cyclists in order to decrease disparities in the field. I believe it’s time to share our stories.
My experiences as a white cisgender woman in cycling over the past year have been exciting, nerve wracking, challenging, and empowering. They have also been colored by microaggressions, sexist comments, harassment, and exclusion. I love this sport and so many aspects of this community. I want to stay engaged. But I also know we can do better by stepping up our game and working hard to understand the experiences of that 15%. After identifying what has helped and hurt us over the years, we can work to shift our culture to one with more diversity and representation.
Aside from my identity as a cyclist, I am a feminist, a sport psychologist, a professor, and a researcher. As a feminist, it’s important for me to 1) own my biases that stem from my own experiences; and 2) recognize that the personal is political. I’m doing this project because of my own experiences and because I want our community to do better. The disheartening moments I’ve had over the past year have lit a fire inside of me and have motivated me to take on a piece of this puzzle.
This past week, I launched an international research project for women, trans*, femme, non-binary, genderqueer, and two spirit cyclists who have raced over the past 5 years. The survey asks about factors that have increased and decreased participation in competitive cycling, as well as motivations and experiences in daily living. I ask for stories of exclusion, harassment, and sexism—in addition to times cyclists have felt valued.
As an incentive, I’ve secured money to donate $2/person to charity for the first 250 participants. (It’s not much, but it’s something.) I’ll present the findings in my community, at conferences, and to anyone who wants to listen. I’ll also write up the findings for publication to help us shed some light on gender gaps and increase retention of women and gender diverse cyclists throughout the world.
If you are a woman and/or a gender diverse cyclist who has raced in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story. What has pushed you away? What helps you to keep going strong? I’ll share mine in a post to come.
Link to survey is as follows: https://goo.gl/BV72e7
Erin is a professor, psychologist, researcher, feminist, spouse, and cyclist. When she is not working, she spends her time training for new cycling adventures, eating, laughing, and spending time with loved ones.