I see so many road bikes on campus and I wonder, “Who are these people?” They appear to own perfectly good racing bikes, which leads me to believe they are denying themselves a sport. Formerly a member of the Idaho Vandal cycling team in the spring of 2012, I decided to go off the grid on a year-long study abroad. When I returned to campus this semester, my first concern was to reconnect with the team and hear about the highlights of the past season. What I did not expect to hear was the severe lack of interest, showing almost no women had turned out for spring 2013. This wasn’t completely shocking news, we have never had enough women to fill a full team, but somewhere deep down I had expected progress.
In American society, unlike football and wrestling, cycling has never been classically viewed as a male-dominated sport. Not riding a bike is like skipping out on the presidential vote. Seriously, did we fight for women’s equality (we’re talking Title 9) to participate in sport and then just decide to sit on the sidelines anyway? It certainly feels that way when I witness the turn out of females versus males for the cycling team.
The proof is in the pudding. The cycling team is always growing, but those numbers are oozing testosterone. In 2012 the team had three female participants and almost five times that amount of men, and the number of women continues to decline. Only two girls came out to race in the 2013 season, with the 2014 turn out yet to be determined.
One reason I can find for fleeting female turn out is that, for some reason, the thought of being the only girl in a competitive situation can scare some people away. I remember attending a group cycling event and being very intimidated at the turn out, two girls (including myself) and ten guys. Instead of feeling confident in a sport I had participated in for five years
and was very proud of, I almost gave up my entire collegiate cycling career based off male turn out. Being surrounded by guys wasn’t a new thing for me, I have always had plenty of male friends, so why back down in the face of something I know so well? I had just as much experience, if not more than each guy in that room, so why was I so afraid to do something that I loved? Is it perhaps because in this very society we say that if you “play like a girl,” it’s supposed to be a negative thing? Because of cycling, I have met so many strong women who could break that saying in half with one flex of their calf.
Like many sports, cycling divides the field of racing by gender and level of competitiveness, so girls will only race girls. I never really considered the choice to not join cycling a problem, because I did join, but seeing now that I am not the only girl to second guess it, I wanted to get an idea of why we are afraid of trying.
Jenna MacPherson, a returning member of the cycling team, explains why she thinks women might be less likely to turn out:
“People on the team say I scare away the girls, but I don’t know if there is a lot of truth to that. Girls get easily intimidated, especially when they see only two females riding in a pack of boys. A lot of it can be because they don’t feel they have anyone to relate to on the field.”
Perhaps it’s not the nature of the sport that could be driving people away, but cost. Understandably, cycling is a very expensive sport, but lack of funds and lack of experience should not deter anyone from coming out anyway.
“Everyone is welcomed to join, we encourage people with and without experience, and sometimes if you are really set on cycling but don’t have a bike, then there is always a chance [the team] will have one extra. It’s really about getting people involved. Everyone can bike.”
If that is not enough to make you want to give cycling a try, Wednesday nights have been exclusively deemed “ladies ride.”
“Last Wednesday we rode and there was only four of us but we had a blast! We’re going to just keep having girl’s rides until we get more female interest. It’s a great atmosphere, it’s all about the camaraderie and being with a group of people who share your same interests. We will never turn down anyone who shows interest in the sport.”
Joining cycling ended up being the greatest choice in my college career. I found friendship and bonding that can only occur after pulling through difficult times together. Women are strong, and so are the bonds they form by working together in sports. Cycling has not just become a lifestyle for me but an outlet for finding good, strong women to cope with over an excessive amount of sweat and sports gel. And to think, I almost let it go by first impressions.
To find out more about Idaho vandal cycling and form a community, visit the facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/VandalCycling?fref=ts .