cycling · equality · fitness · inclusiveness · research

Gender Diversity in Cycling: Microaggressions and Continued Work

As a woman who is new to the competitive cycling scene, I want to share a glimpse of my journey into this sport. I’ve had some incredible experiences in the cycling community and I love it more than any other hobby I’ve picked up over my lifetime. For me, there is something truly empowering (yet terrifying!) about racing bicycles at 23mph around street corners in a field of 20+ women, all while trusting and admiring each and every one of them. A year later, there is no better feeling than reflecting back on my journey and calling many of those women my new teammates and friends.

Despite how much I love racing bikes, I have experienced a number of day-to-day remarks, actions, and behaviors that reveal underlying biases and assumptions about men being the default and women being placed on the back burner in cycling. Commonly referred to as microaggressions, these experiences reflect subtle inequities, stereotypical remarks, or forms of harassment related to one or more cultural identities–including but not limited to gender. I’ve decided to share some of my experiences here and in a previous post because I want to continue the conversation that other cyclists have started for us, and I want continued progress on this important issue.

Before sharing, I want to recognize that many (but not all) of the actions I describe were likely unintentional. My goal is not to point fingers. Instead, I want to reflect on the broader culture and context. When these experiences happen time and time again by different people, I can’t help but recognize that the common denominator is the fact that I’m a woman on a bike trying to participate in a sport dominated by white cisgender men. Even if done unintentionally, such actions and subtle snubs provide preferential treatment toward men, exclude those of us who are not men, and/or focus on our physical attributes rather than our strengths as athletes. Here is some of what I’ve experienced:

  • During my second ride with a new group of men, I got a flat and fell off the back. One guy stayed back while I changed my flat, joking that he waited for me because he wanted my number. The others in the group went on without me.
  • During a cold February ride, I was in a pace line with several men working into a gnarly headwind. One of the guys shouted “Keep up the good work, fellas!” to boost morale.
  • Last fall, an acquaintance joked that I shouldn’t race in the Athena* category because no one wants to be “King of the fatties.”
  • In a recent fat bike race, two men passed me on the single track stating, “thanks, man” and “thanks, sir.”
  • At my first cyclocross race, I showed up early to get a feel for the race scene and watch the race before mine. The announcer did not announce the first place woman at the finish line, yet provided commentary on all podium spots for the men’s race occurring at the same time.
  • When commuting into work one morning for my new job, a security guard approached me to introduce himself. He proceeded to comment on my physical attractiveness.
  • During the cyclocross season, the women’s 4/5 field raced at the same time as the juniors. When course features were too challenging for 8 yr olds, the features were removed for their race. This meant that we often raced on the modified course with the juniors, rather than the course raced by all other adults.
  • After stopping at an intersection on my way home from a training ride, a car with three men pulled up alongside me. One of them stuck his head out the window and shouted, “Hey you wanna suck my dick?!”. They drove off with a car full of laughter. My morale, performance, and sense of safety immediately plummeted. I spent the rest of the ride feeling completely violated, tense, and worried they’d come back.

*Note: Athena is a cycling category for women over 160 lbs. Clydesdale is a category for men over 200 lbs.

Although the clear harassment is far and few between, and most of these acts are completely unintentional, they add up. I carry them with me on a daily basis and to each race. I use them to fuel my desire to dig deeper, to try harder, and to show women and gender diverse cyclists we belong. If we want to decrease gender gaps in this sport, we need more conversations about how to do better, as well as more feminists advocating for gender equity. Just in the past year, I have taken risks in a new community by speaking up about what I’ve seen and how I’ve felt. I will speak more about the progress in the next post, but I have only great things to say about the cycling federation, racing directors, and officials–particularly how open and receptive they’ve been. We’re seeing some really exciting changes. I think many people understand that it’s time for a culture shift, in which all cyclists are clearly valued and welcome. That being said, I can only speak to my own experience. I want to hear more voices and shine a light on the experiences of others so that we can make this conversation continue in and outside of the cycling world.

This month, I launched an international research project for women (cis and trans) and gender diverse cyclists (including but not limited to non-binary, gender queer, & two spirit folks) 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 and included in their respective communities. After recruiting 250 participants, I’ll donate $500 to a non-profit organization (Cycles for Change) that works toward gender equity and accessibility in cycling. Findings will be presented in the community and submitted as empirical journal articles. Ultimately, my goal is to better understand the 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 bikes in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story. The link to the 20 minute survey is as follows:

Erin is a professor, psychologist, researcher, feminist, spouse, and cyclist. When she is not working, she trains for new cycling adventures, eats, laughs, and spends time with loved ones.