I have been involved in the cycling community for almost a decade now and throughout those years I have seen an explosion in women’s cycling. I see so many more women on bikes today than I did even five years ago and it’s amazing. However, women’s involvement in racing seems to ebb and flow, one year there will be thirty women at a particular race and the next year there may be only six women at that very same race. So where did those other twenty-four women go?
Women who race are constantly having to battle to get equal payouts and even have dedicated women’s fields included in races. For the promoters, if they have had a very low turnout one or even two years for the women’s races it doesn’t make sense to them, from a time and money standpoint to include those extra fields the following year. This becomes a vicious cycle because then women who want to race go to look for local races with women’s fields and they become more and more scarce.
It has been encouraging to see an uptick in the registration of women at the time trials over the past two or three years. I started out racing time trials, as a logical transition from racing in triathlons. After doing a handful of time trials I decided to try one road race and I found it to be challenging and exhilarating. The next year I added a few more time trials and another road race in to my race plans. The following years I started doing more and more racing. I am a big advocate of putting yourself out there and at least giving road racing a shot, especially if you enjoy competition.
Time trials are a great way for women and even juniors to dip their toes into the waters of the bike racing community, but many of those women never expand their horizons beyond time trials to other kinds of racing. I know that a road race or a criterium can seem riskier than a time trial, but the more women get educated about racing the less risky it becomes. Many organizations put on racing clinics for women to teach them skills and give them experience riding in a pack. The CRCA holds clinics in central park every year which seem to be well attended and well organized. When women tell me that they will never do a crit or a road race, fear is the biggest factor that keeps them away.
In a race, a few basic things that will make the race safer are:
- Riding predictably, don’t make any sudden movements or jam on your brakes
- Hold your line; think about driving your car, you wouldn’t jump from one lane into another when a car was already there, so imagine those lane lines in a race
- Don’t overlap wheels with a person in front of you; your front wheel should not overlap the rear wheel of someone in front of you, if they go to make a move they may not realize your wheels are overlapping and a crash will ensue
- Be very alert and aware of who is around you
- Don’t panic, many crashes can be avoided if you try to keep your wits about you
- Look for courses with fewer sharp turns as those are more difficult for beginners to take a high speed
Many of us go on group rides at least once in a while and while those can be more casual and less aggressive crashes can happen there too and many of these same principles apply. On a bike shop group ride, some riders, men or women may be more aggressive than others and take unnecessary risks. Luckily most riders and racers are safe and even if they want to ride hard or want to win that race, they also don’t want to leave the ride or race in an ambulance.
For the women in the cycling community (men too) if you have any interest in racing, consider giving it a shot. Look for a racing clinic, talk to someone you know who races and ask for advice on a good first race to try. We need to get more women racing to keep the women’s racing community thriving. Show up to the races and show the local cycling community and the race promoters that we deserve to have women’s fields kept in those races.