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.
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.
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”).
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.
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.
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.