Hi there! This is my first fitisafeministissue post, so let me introduce myself. My name’s Rachel. I’m also a Canadian philosopher (who lives and works in the US), a feminist, and a life-long competitive athlete. My primary competitive sport used to be badminton, but since moving to Charleston, South Carolina, I’ve taken to bike racing. In my first season, I won the NC/SC combined state championship, along with a bunch of other regional races. I took to bike racing like a fish to water, one could say.
I have a few big goals. First, I’m aspiring to a professional cycling contract. Now, I won’t quit my day job! Hardly! Women’s professional cycling doesn’t pay well—if it pays at all! Second, I want to win the 2017 Canadian Road and Criterium Championships (I’ll happily substitute an ‘or’ for the ‘and’). Third, I want to represent Canada at the 2020 Olympics.
But here’s the rub: bike racing ain’t cheap. I don’t think that’s really a surprise to anyone, but the costs don’t stop at our bikes. There’s maintenance costs (tires, tubes, chains, brake pads—although, as someone who likes to go fast, I try not to brake much!), race entry fees, travel costs (food, gas, rental cars, hotels—if one is lucky, one can arrange a ‘homestay’ where a family graciously offers room and board, or at least a couch to surf), clothing, and replacement costs for broken equipment when (not if, when) we crash. And that’s just for racing: there are also training costs, such as monthly coaching fees, training camps, and so on. These costs add up, and that’s after the ‘start up’ costs of a race-quality bike, helmet, shoes, wheels, and so on. I added it up my annual costs for a full race schedule, it’s $6000-9000 (USD). Per year.
Like I said, it ain’t cheap. As an amateur cyclist, nearly all of those costs fall on my shoulders. Sure, I’m on a local racing team, but that involves only a partial reimbursement of clothing costs (up to $265, which doesn’t go very far) and race entry fees (up to $400, where a single week-long series costs that much). We receive free or reduced-cost maintenance, as well as equipment discounts, by the local bike shop that sponsors us. But there’s no cash. There’s no free gear (except four team water bottles—don’t get me wrong, I enjoy them!). So it’s hard to get by.
You might wonder: Rachel, you win lots of races, can’t you just pay for your trips from the race payouts? Well, women certainly can’t. Payouts for women’s fields are typically a tiny fraction of men’s races—quite often 10-20%. We are a long way from equality. There’s a great documentary by Kathryn Bertine on this: Half the Road. Also, since our fields are often much smaller, we may not make the ‘field minimum’ for a full payout, and they may cut our payouts in half. And we don’t know whether the field will meet the minimum generally until we toe the line for the start. In some cases, I’ve been in big races where we didn’t meet the field minimum, so they cut our payouts by 50%. OK, I think that sucks (because if you want to grow women’s cycling, then offering good payouts is a great way to attract more racers next time), but at least that was on the race flyer. But they went one step further: they also cut the number of places paid out by half, which effectively reduced the total race payouts for the women field by 75%. If a race costs ~$40 to enter, women’s payouts are often only 2-3x the race entry fee: $80-120. And that’s if you win. Payouts for second or worse often barely cover the race entry fee (usually payouts off the podium don’t cover the entry fee).
In the top fields, populated by the best pro teams, the winner might make $1000, but it’s extremely difficult to win those races as a solo amateur (I’m generally the only women from my team in any given race). The race I won last weekend, for example, was an exception in that for a $30 race entry, the women’s payout was $100. I don’t own a car, so I have to arrange rides (which is extremely difficult when I’m the only woman racing from my team, because that means arranging with guys who might race at radically different times from me), or rent a car. The average rental costs about $35 (by going through a discount site), plus $40-60 in gas (depending on how far the race is), and the race entry fee. My expenses for that race were $27 in gas, $33 in race entry, $35 for the rental car: $95. Winning the race brought in $100. So include post-race lunch, and it’s a wash.
That’s a GOOD race situation. It was a close race (3hr drive), with a relatively decent payout, and I won. Most races don’t even come close to covering expenses, especially the bigger races, farther away. For example, I’m trying to plan to do the Northstar Grand Prix stage race in Minnesota in June. Renting a car and driving the 20hrs, doing the week of races, and driving back (including gas, stopping somewhere to sleep once each way) is a minimum of $500. The entry fee is $145, and I either need to find a homestay, or a week worth of hotels. Expensive trip! The alternative is to fly, which requires purchasing a sturdy bike box (upwards of $350) and a return ticket (probably in the $500 range).
So why this post? Well. Being an amateur bike racer is AWESOME. But it’s also very expensive. I was bemoaning this fact on Facebook, and reached out for suggestions on how possibly to raise money to help with reaching my goals. Someone suggested some crowdsourcing platforms, but ultimately it seemed best just to make a paypal.me account and start asking people to consider contributing to it. I haven’t quite planned out how to make this most effective. I post race videos on YouTube, and I’m active on Instagram and Twitter, particularly with an eye towards service towards my sponsors. One thought is to start including ‘Special Thank Yous to…’ additions to my posts for anyone who contributes and helps me fund a racing trip. Sam graciously asked me to write this post, explain a bit what costs are involved in committing to being an elite bike racer, and possibly get some traffic to my paypal. So…here it is: www.paypal.me/rachelvmckinnon. I would certainly appreciate any help y’all would be willing to give.
I do want to give a little love to those who support women’s cycling. Often our events don’t get the prime time slot, we don’t get media coverage, and we often don’t even have professional photographers covering our races. And not having good photos makes it hard to make sponsors happy, or to show people just how cool women who race are! So first a special thank you to Valerie Leggett (and Bruce Fuller!), who took me into her (their) home for a homestay for some recent races in the Tampa area, but she also took some kick-ass photos of the women’s races. You can find her on instagram at www.instagram.com/valeriedleggett Special people like her make women’s racing possible. I also want to give a shout-out to Weldon Weaver (I’ve included a couple of his photos from this past weekend). He takes professional photos of the women’s field (and the men’s, of course). He also clearly cares about supporting women’s cycling.