Women's Wednesday - Why Don’t More Colorado Women Race?

Author: Cheri Felix
(Photo Credit: 303Photo)

Today is going to be one of those days where I posit the question that we may not be able to answer. Why don’t more women race?

I’ve always wondered about this but racing the Big Mountain Enduro really brought it home. Why aren’t there just as many girls racing (period) and why aren’t there just as many girls racing enduro. Why is it that we have women physicists, women senators and women urologists but we can’t match the boys out at short track? Now don’t tell me it’s because girls aren’t as strong or as aggressive. Let’s see…it’s not because we can’t drive ourselves to the venue nor is it because we don’t have a bike. So what is it?

I really don’t know. I mean I can’t figure it out. They gave us the vote (after we demanded it) so we vote. We can drive unlike women in Saudi Arabia. I mean can it be that women just aren’t cut out for it. That we are intimidated? That we aren’t aggressive? That we don’t care about all that silly stuff like winning and losing. That we don’t want to break a sweat. Or is that we don’t do a good enough job bringing women up in racing? Or that what? That we just don’t care?

Now I know some women who don’t want to race. I get it. It’s not for everyone. It’s not for every guy either. I totally get it. I really do. But what if more of us try it. What if a few more of us try a short track race? What if I told you that you won’t die. That it might hurt a bit but that you won’t die. That yes it’s hard but not nearly as hard as burying a parent. Not nearly as hard as having a miscarriage. What if I told you that you’ll probably never win. Never come close to it but that that’s okay. That there can only be one winner.

And what if I told you that Enduro racing is no joke but that some of you should still try it. That even if you can’t ride part of it you can run it. That the whole point is not winning or losing (because there is only one winner) but in the trying. In the risk taking. In the representing all of us women and girls. Especially the girls who are craving good role models. Role models that aren’t judged by what they are wearing or their BMI or how sexy they are.

Racing is a habit. Just like flossing. Just like a training ride. Just like your yearly pap. Try a short track. It’s 20 minutes. Boulder’s is on Wednesday. Fort Collins has one on Tuesdays. I want you to feel what it’s like to do something you never thought you’d do. You never thought you wanted to do. Test your mettle. Show everyone that women deserve to be marketed to. Deserve to be sought after. Race promoters are waiting for you. What are you waiting for?


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I can only speak for me. I

I can only speak for me. I was afraid of racing because: a) I didn't want to come in last; b) I was nervous about passing and being passed (on mtb); c) I was afraid to see how I stacked up in general to other women (i.e., what if I'm just plain awful?); and, d) I didn't want it to change my love of riding or turn me into a borg. Having raced a variety of events the past two years, I've found that what I was afraid of is actually no big deal. Racing has made me love riding even more, given me goals to work harder, and even if I do come in last, it doesn't change the fact that I'm out there trying to be my best (besides race organizers should give medals for DFL). In general, I think women often eschew competition as bad, but if more and more women race and show you can do it and be nice and have fun doing it (Beti Bike Bash is a great example of this), then more women will get out there.

I agree.

I completely agree that racing does give us something to work towards. And I know what you mean about all that worrying about last place and the other stuff. I tell myself each and every week that I came in 6th or 8th or 11th not because I'm not good. But because there were others better than me. That night. And yes, role models are key. The BBB did a great job of promoting their never ever category and it was amazing to see so many women in their first race. Thanks for your great comment!

Like the others, I can only

Like the others, I can only speak for myself. I'm primarily a road racer (cat 1) and I've been racing for over a decade. I've lived in several regions of the country during this time - California, Florida, North Carolina, Mid Atlantic to name a few. Racing has always been a huge part of my life and something I looked forward to every weekend as a welcomed and exciting distraction from my work life. I loved racing because a) it was a hard, competitive outlet, b) it was a distraction from a high-stress, long-hour job, and c) the women I raced against were some of my best friends - people I respected on a off the bike who all had exciting off the bike lives.
Since I've moved to Colorado, however, I've almost stopped racing all together. A lot of this has to do with the culture of "if you're doing anything other than racing your bike, you're doing something wrong." At the end of the day, racing your bike should be fun. We're playing on toys as adults. When I'm mocked by others in the pelaton for having to work, or having some other obligation, it detracts from the spirit of racing. Racing out here is also substantially more expensive than in other parts of the country, another huge detractor for someone wanting to try it out for the first time.
All that being said... the CU short track races are awesome. And if there were more races with a vibe like that I'd be racing a whole lot more.

I'm about to move to Colorado

I'm about to move to Colorado and I'm shocked- people make fun of you because you have a job and a life? That's sad, and probably fueled by jealousy. And the fact that you keep up and or beat them while doing all that other stuff. Keep racing, please. We need more women like you as role models. I'll see you on the start line soon.

I have to agree with this -

I have to agree with this - the vibe out here in road racing is much more serious and cutthroat. There is considerably more aggression towards new racers than I've seen in other regions and god help you if you're a SW4 stuck in an Open field. Assuming you aren't blown off the back in the first 50 feet, my experience has been that the newer riders are "welcomed" into the Elite pack by screaming, swearing and ostracism. I get that there are dangers to unsafe riding, but I'm not talking about that - I'm talking about the "pull through you #$@!!" that's been directed at a young teammate, and the dressings down in front of the rest of the team for making some boneheaded tactical maneuver. Everyone out here is so deadly serious (at least on the road).

MTB is a very different vibe and much more welcoming, but (speaking for regional MTB races) at $50 a pop for an XC race these days I see more of a barrier to entry than just fear of competition. I can understand triathlons being more expensive because they really outdo themselves on the amenities, but most MTB promoters act like they can rent a port-a-john and print out some cardboard "prizes", charge $50-$100 bucks for a 20 mile unsanctioned event, and call it good. And unsanctioned racing brings up the whole wtf-is-my-category? problem - the barriers to entry / athletic threshold here is already very high, and then you've got absolutely zero accountability for unsanctioned promoters to track or upgrade folks, and I'm sorry but yes you do see some serious sandbagging (even in STXC... pro triathletes racing in the Bs? seriously?)

Cyclocross is starting to get pretty ramped up on the expense side too, although at least there you don't have the high entry fees. ITTs would rightly be the "entry point" for a lot of beginner racers, except you rarely-to-never see a "Merckx" category and so it's difficult-to-impossible to compete against all the folks with the $8K worth of aero rig (yes, even in the cat 4...)

I guess what I don't see in this region is a real push for true grassroots development. I rarely to never see "First Timer" or real "Beginner" categories anywhere. For 'cross, you have Women's 4, 35+ (open) and Open. Also known as Fast, Insanely Fast, and Absurdly Fast.

Yeti Beti has the right idea with what they're doing, and the ACA is doing at least something with the Womens 4 Mentoring. But there's really such a high bar for entry even then that unless you have a lot of time to devote to training and a big equipment budget, it can get very discouraging fast.

tl;dr: barrier to entry is more than just difficulty. It's also cultural and $$$ based.

yep all that plus..

I think for me personally, I hate being dropped! I mean sure everyone gets dropped, but it really sucks when you first start off racing and you get dropped. Not only being dropped and doing the solo laps off the back I think some girls just don't want to crash their bikes. Talking to my non roadie friends, they just don't like road racing. I ask why? They say, they are scared to crash. And these are girls who have crashed many times on their mtn bikes! They aren't wimps. But the very close fast riding scares some.

As far as the road racing culture here, yah, Colorado is TOUGH. I miss home, where the girls are a lot nicer and more welcoming to new faces but I'm not so sure this is a barrier though. I still go out there and race, but I'm not expecting anyone to be nice. its just the way it is here but I could see how newer riders just don't want to participate.

getting dropped out of the

getting dropped out of the field in a road race is isolating and humiliating in a way that many women have been culturally trained to avoid for a number of reasons. Speaking for myself (and I am older so I think this is slowly changing) we are socialized from girlhood to "fit in" and "be nice" and just in general road racing has a level of danger and risk and aggression and EXPECTATION that I think most guys don't really "get" that we feel uncomfortable with.

I'm generalizing here, but I think there are some philosophical and psychological differences that we'll have a hard time breaching. Yes guys worry about the risks of crashing, but at what cost? If they get scars, that's just more "tough points" on their cred. Women worry (and yes this is shallow) about disfigurement. They worry about not being able to care for their kids. They worry about being singled out, and they worry about being thought of as "not nice". Depending on our roles at home, we also might not have as much discretionary income to funnel towards racing for (xyz) reasons.

There are a lot of intangibles here that I don't expect to make any sense to the men reading this thread. It's a subtle form of social pressure, that IS changing, but very slowly, and you're still, to this day, seeing the effects of it.

Recreational rides don't have that because there's no pressure to "keep up". Participation and socializing is it's own reward. Road racing in specific is a pretty antisocial activity when you think about it on a psychological level. You have to be very egocentric and pretty aggressive (not in a negative sense, just in an athletic sense) to maintain position in the field in a crit or a road race, and you have to be pretty aggressive to pass people in the singletrack in a MTB race. This self-centered mindset is something that, for better or for worse, has been messaged to women since birth as "not being a team player" or "not playing nice".

Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for sharing your experience with racing. I've definitely lined up with women who really want to win. For the most part I feel supported in races by everyone. Now that could be my delusional self but...I can't speak for anything other than mountain bike racing but I've had great experiences. I also introduce myself at the line and try to put the new women at ease. I love when someone says "Let's have fun and not get hurt." That's what it's all about for me.

This is such a great question

This is such a great question. I raced STXC last summer and tried my first small XC race this summer (and continue to race STXC). It was SO HARD to get my team mates out to short track - very few came last year. But this year after a little team MTB clinic, they gave it a try. As CX racers already, they were PUMPED at how fun it was! I tried not to but I couldn't withhold the "I told ya so". But I do see a lot of girls in the 10-18 range, and I see a lot of families making it into a family sport. This is how we start them out. The barriers to entry are many though. As a mom, I worry about injuring myself and not being able to take care of my youngest. I will worry less as he grows up and can be more independent. I used to worry about DFL but who doesn't? I think also that women are taught that it's not "ladylike" to be competitive but I think by our natures we truly are, and why not put it out there? Maybe there's a cultural paradigm there that needs breaking. In any case, I have hope for the future by watching the girls out there racing. They are chasing the dream and not looking back! Maybe it's just an Oregon thing?