Gender Diversity in Cycling: Time For A Shift? (Guest Post)

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:

 Erin, a dark haired woman with her hair pulled back, looks onto another spectator while wearing her cycling kit after one of her first cyclocross races. She is leaning forward on her bike. Her sunglasses are resting on top of her head, her jersey is zipped down, and her hair is wet from sweat. Photo Credit: Carlos Sabillon
Erin, a dark haired woman with her hair pulled back, looks onto another spectator while wearing her cycling kit after one of her first cyclocross races. She is leaning forward on her bike. Her sunglasses are resting on top of her head, her jersey is zipped down, and her hair is wet from sweat. Photo Credit: Carlos Sabillon

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.



10 thoughts on “Gender Diversity in Cycling: Time For A Shift? (Guest Post)

  1. <3 you lady! So proud of the work you've put in and can't wait to see the results of your study. I think the work you put in will return some serious ways for us to improve our community. You are absolutely amazing.

    1. Thank you Kiki! Much love <3 Here's to an awesome road (and gravel) season for both of us!

  2. How do you define having raced? I used to do triathlons, but more than five years ago. I now do road riding and charity bike rides like this one––but I do one of the shorter courses and don’t treat it as a race.

    I am too slow for most of the organized rides in my area and generally prefer riding alone anyway. I do feel that my local bike shops don’t take me very seriously because I am a grey haired woman. I rode 1575 miles last year, so I’m serious but not that serious.

    My area (in the south!) does have mountain biking groups for both girls and women, but I certainly see a lot more men than women out on the road.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I want to be inclusive, so I defined competitive cycling as participation in any timed mass start cycling event in the past 5 years. I’m certainly open to hearing the experiences of folks who want to share their thoughts. We’ve had a great response so far–everyone from pros to those who participate in road and charity. Even hard court bike polo!

  3. Definitely changing and there are way more women out on the road these days, at least around here. My regular Saturday group ride is usually a 50/50 split!

  4. Curious where you moved from/to as I’ve heard community in some places (Denver) is amazing and others (Reno) non-existent or at least hard to find.

    1. Sara, I moved from New York to Minnesota. It could certainly be different based on area. That’s one of the pieces of information I’d like to figure out!

  5. Road cycling seems different to running in that the big mass start events, here in South Australia at least are not timed. So I have raced over 100 times running various fun runs and club runs (not counting park run), but I have never had an official time for a cycling event. The equivalent rides (40, 50, 60, 80, 100 kilometre mass start events) do not have an official time associated with them.
    Similarly I have times for duathlons run by the local tri club in the off season.
    The mountain bike and CX events all seem to have timing but I’m not into off road.

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