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I couldn't not include this photo of Superwoman Rachel Lloyd in an article about being a chick on a bike. Though, to be clear, I'm pretty sure Rachel doesn't fret about being dropped...Photo by Pamela Palma Photography.

I couldn’t not include this photo of Superwoman Rachel Lloyd in an article about being a chick on a bike. Though, to be clear, I’m pretty sure Rachel doesn’t fret about being dropped… Photo by Pamela Palma Photography.

Let’s face it. More guys ride than gals. For ladies who love mountain biking, this means you’re gonna ride with guys unless you contort yourself into some kind of masochistic pretzel to avoid it. And why would you? Guys are fun, and they make up almost half of the planet’s population. But for some women, newbies in particular, riding with dudes or anyone faster than them can be intimidating.

First, a note about “general rules.” As a general rule, men are stronger than women. This of course is not always true. Of course some women are stronger than some men. Heck, there’ve been times when my 47-year-old carcass has endured a long, hard day better than a spry 30-something male, but those occurrences are certainly the exception rather than the rule. Suffice it to say that the observations herein are simply that—observations.

“I don’t want to make everyone wait.” 

I’ve been leading a weekly night ride for nearly twelve years, and if you think that the ratio of men to women is lopsided on a sunny weekend in the daytime, the numbers really tank when it’s dark and cold out. There are good reasons for this—many of my lady dirt friends are engaged in single or double parenting duties, or are simply as busy as anyone, regardless of gender. Sometimes the ride’s not strictly legal. Or it just never occurred to them to ride their bike at night with lights in the forest with a bunch of dudes. Whatever the reason, I often find myself vastly outnumbered by strong, capable men (not the worst thing in the world, mind you…).

And a note about “leading” this ride. I “lead” us out of the parking lot and am dropped like a bumbling flightless bird within a hot minute. Fortunately, we’ve come to an agreement that the Wednesday Night Ride is not a democracy, and that whoever is leading leads, and there will be no discussion regarding route. This (usually) means they have to wait for me at the intersections since I also don’t necessarily say where we’re going. (Wow—when it’s in writing I sound like a real jerk. Note to self: check to see if you are a jerk.)

Anyway, my point is that I am always, ALWAYS the last to the top, riding by myself, in the dark—slow-moving mountain lion bait. Ridiculous repartee’s between my multiple personalities take place on these solo ascents.

Me: “How did I get this pathetic?”

Me: “Um, by not riding your bike and eating too much ice cream?  Maybe?”

Me: “Shut up cow face.”

Me: “Nice. That’s nice. You know your friends are all at the top waiting for you, talking about how slow you are. Saying maybe knitting would be a better hobby for you.”

Me: “Nah, they like me!          (Do you really think so? Knitting? Oh man.)”

And when I do reach the top, 99.9% of the time they are engrossed in conversation about wheel size, the upcoming race, dropper post comparison, or they’re regaling each other with “best endo” stories. Contrary to my fear they’d be tapping their feet in a collective fit of rage at having to wait for me, I often have to urge these Chatty Cathys along.

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Yours truly and an adopted dude at the Trans Alp race, 2016. My dude was long gone. Did this make me mad? Heck no! I see him enough. ;)

One of the more grounded conversations I have with me at such times goes like this:

Me: “Oh gosh, they’re gonna be so mad…”

Me: “Okay let’s think about this. The last time you rode with people slower than you, were YOU mad when you had to wait at the top?”

Me: “Oh. Of course not. I got to catch my breath, pump up that saggy rear tire, get a snack, or take in the view.”

Me: “OK then.”

Really, if you are someone who gets wrapped around the mental axle worrying about holding up the rest of your crew, stop and think about the last time you waited for someone at the top. Did it make you mad? Anxious? Did it make you think your friend was a fat, pathetic loser? I’m pretty sure it didn’t (and if it did, you might be a jerk…).

Now of course there are exceptions to this general rule. If your friends are regularly waiting 15-20 minutes for you to catch up, it is possible you are riding with the wrong group, and maybe it’s a better idea for all involved to find a group better suited to your particular level or style of riding, and re-join them when you are a bit faster. Or not. Whatever. Just don’t not go.

Stop Apologizing

When you get to the top and folks have been waiting, try replacing your hangdog “Sorry I’m so slow…” with a chipper “Thanks for waiting guys!” I’ve been trying this lately, and it makes everyone feel better.  You’ve acknowledged their time and kindness, and you’ve changed the whole dynamic of this small moment—not to sound too Pollyanna-ish, but you’ve turned that frown upside down. You don’t need to provide excuses for why you are slow (see Roger Phillip’s excellent article “It’s OK That You’re Slow”).

See Also
By Roger Phillips
 

Don’t Be Helpless (Have Your Shit Together)

This goes for everyone, but when we gals only ride with our boyfriends, husbands, or guy friends, we can become accustomed to being taken care of. Most of the guys I ride with can fix a flat one heck of a lot faster than I can, and when out on a cold night ride, that’s pretty important, and I’ll take them up on it every time. But you need to have the tools and be competent. And don’t show up with your bike in disarray and ask Joey who happens to work at Bikes R Us to fix it for you before the ride.

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But, you know, if they WANT to fix it…

Don’t Session While They Wait

This also should go without saying, and is certainly true for both of the sexes: if you are at the back, do not stop to session that drop/switchback/hairy bit while folks are waiting for you. Do not stop and talk to your neighbor who you ran into on the trail about the laws of thermodynamics, and for god sakes, do NOT answer the phone/post that photo. That’s just bad manners.

The author Trans-Alping.

The author Trans-Alping. What does this photo have to do with riding with dudes or anyone faster than you? Well, all those people you can’t see, they are all faster than me. Every single one. Except the ones behind me.

Sometimes Ladies Aren’t Invited

And that’s okay. Sometimes the dudes just wanna hammer. Sometimes dudes aren’t invited, and that’s okay too. I love my ladies-only rides, and not because they are dumbed down waddles on the bike path where we discuss cupcake-making—some of my gal dirt pals have pushed me further than any dude. My point with this article is that if you are one of those gals who is tempted to sit it out because that Debbie Downer voice in your head says you’re too slow, too timid, too whatever, I’m pretty sure you’re not, and I’m pretty sure that unless you choose rides that are way over your head, the faster/more advanced people will just be happy to see a new smiling face that is ready to embrace their favorite hobby/passion.

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  • mongwolf

    It doesn’t take long into mountain biking to get dropped, passed or humbled in some manner. The first time I ever pedaled up Gold Camp Road from the La Veta trailhead in Colorado Springs, I thought I was going pretty well … and I was for me … I was getting close to my first ever 3000′ vert day. But then this gal went blowing by me like I was standing still. Humbling. At least at first. Fortunately, she looked like she was an Olympic athlete from the training center. Well, that’s what I told myself anyhoo. That was the first time and not the last some mtb gal passed me on the trail. If you’re a lady and you’re on the trail on a mtb, you have my respect. Ride on gals. And just so you know, all the guys I know want to see more gals out riding trails — slow or not.

  • Amanda Marie

    Mmmmmmm… I don’t agree with the whole gendered scope of this article. As a chick who regularly waits for dudes at the top and bottom of trails and who is remarkably the most prepared member of a group 99% of the time, I’d love to see less expectation that women are slow. I mean, if you’re a slow climber who happens to be female, great. But please don’t assume that extends to the rest of the gender or that we’re insecure about our riding, because what you’ve done here is reinforce the expectation of female riders that currently pervades the MTB industry — that the majority of women are slow, weak and insecure, and that any woman who isn’t is a bonafide anomaly (or unicorn).

    Carrying the weight of bullshit expectations and limits for my gender SUCKS. It sucks to jump into a ride with dudes and have to soothe egos at the top of a climb or the end of a descent because they’ve been groomed to think they ‘got chicked’. They didn’t ‘get chicked’, I’m not an anomaly, I’m simply a better rider who is more capable or more skilled on that ride, that day. Am I always that rider? Nope. There are so many rides where I get destroyed by a friend who is a killer climber and we have a laugh about it at the top… Regardless of their gender. But these ladies’ guides to ________ are crap. The aggression I get thrown at me shouldn’t be because of these ridiculously stupid gender roles and expectations we continue to reinforce inside of MTB, but rather as a fellow rider. End of story.

    Stop publishing this woebegone ‘women are slower and expect to be coddled’ crap. If that’s your personal experience, maybe you should stop blaming your gender for your weakness and stop hanging around with other women who don’t see themselves as capable equals. Because this? It’s not a lady’s guide to SHIT. Instead, it’s a great lesson on how to blame your entire gender for the roles you continue to subconsciously play inside of MTB.

    God almighty.

    • Deiopei

      Umm, perhaps this article doesn’t apply to you because that’s not your personal experience. The odds of me passing a guy in a group is slim to none. Instead, of ranting about the article, how about having a little compassion for women who go through this. I’m no a novice, but I don’t get out frequently, so these thoughts do go through my head when I’m huffing and puffing a few mins into the ride. So, this is a great article on how to overcome those fears and have a good time. I’m sorry, but everyone has the same experience as you.

    • mongwolf

      Wow Amanda. The fact is some gals do struggle with those kind of thoughts. And I may be wrong but I think the article does challenge women not to blame their gender. Maybe a reread would help. The fact is guys struggle with the same kind of thoughts when they get dropped by guys … Lots of articles out there on the net on that too. It’s not really a gender thing you’re right, but that doesn’t mean it’s not in people’s own minds. Suggestion: even if you don’t like something, help people along with a little blend of kindness. And the issue does go both ways. Some women struggle feeling less around guys and some men look at women as lesser in different ways. Both should not be. In that first moment for me that I described above, I had that sort of thought, “I got passed by a gal”, and I respect women to the highest degree. I have three great older sisters who have all accomplished much in life. One is stud of an athlete — Division 1 distance runner. I had a wonderful mom; she was a concert pianist and endured hell in life with grace. I have a wonderful wife. And I have MANY very capable female friends whom I work with. And even I in that moment on the mountain, had the passing thought. So the issue is real both ways and imo should be address directly yes, but could be addressed best with a little understanding and kindness.

      Ultimately, I think the real issue for most of us is that we tend to place our personal value in our performance(s). When in fact performance is a fragile place to place or determine one’s value as a person. You can ask some of the greatest athletes of the world who had to learn this the hard way. Go out and enjoy the ride. Challenge yourself. Give it your all if you want. But in the end it doesn’t really make you more important, and certainly it doesn’t make you more important than any other human being. It’s silly to compare on a thing like a rec group ride.

  • mongwolf

    And yes, on the trail we want to treat women with equal respect, but sometimes we want to act as gentlemen and fix a tire for you. Thanks Maureen for being receptive to that. You are capable of doing it of course. It’s just nice to do something nice for someone. Heck, we even fix a tire or do a repair for a guy who is capable of doing so. It’s just nice to show a little kindness to one another.

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