Sunday, April 2, 2017

How To Fail at Introducing Women to Mountain Biking

There are not enough articles out on the internet or in magazines to help gents have a better understanding on how they can introduce more women (daughters, wives, girlfriends, sisters, etc.) to mountain biking.
I've compiled a post on some "fails" when it comes to introducing a female to mountain biking. These are from either personal experience, interviews, or conversations with women who had less-than-stellar introductions.

Note- not all of these may apply to you, or perhaps none. Not all women are the same and this might not resonate with some, and that's okay. This is written for those who may find benefit from it either as the person introducing or the person introduced. Either way, you aren't alone.

However, as much as you might want to deny it- there are women out there who make learning to ride off-road a very mental and emotional experience. Especially if we aren't at the same fitness level or confidence level as you.

I applaud you on wanting to share the joys of off-road riding, but I implore you to make sure you think about the notes below before following thru with it. Do some research, take time to talk about things. Make sure a proper bike and accessories are purchased, have her find a tribe of women or a single woman who can be a role model for her and additional source of support.

Be prepared to not have a "Disney Movie" experience when it comes to the learning process- the closer you are to someone, the more difficult it might be. Especially if it's your significant other.

Below is a list of "Fails"- these are legit. Either from personal experience, past interviews, or experiences told to me by other folks. Behold- the "Dirty Dozen of Dirt."

#1. Not doing enough research or asking enough questions. Is this something she wants to do or are you just projecting your grand ideas on her?

If there is no willingness on her end to go out on dirt trails with you and you force her anyway- the chances are very high you will ruin the experience for her. There has to be some desire or curiosity around mountain biking first. What factors are the most appealing? Being out in the woods in the beauty of nature? Riding somewhere with less traffic? Boredom with where she's currently riding? Mountain biking ticks off those boxes easily. If it sounds appealing, then it's time to explore a legitimately easy trail.

If there is willingness to take her out on the trails, but you do everything you "think" is right, you might still ruin the experience because you didn't do enough research, ask enough questions, or assumed everything you were doing was "right." If you think where you are taking her is "easy" because it's easy for you...find somewhere easier yet. Don't be afraid to travel somewhere that has more beginner-friendly trails.

#2. Not being able to think like a new rider with no handling skills or cardio fitness.

If you bike everyday and shred the gnar and you're taking someone out who may be entering the world of fitness for the first time- you need to tone it down. Way down. Making us "chase" you isn't fun. We won't know how to get up the hills, we'll be afraid to go down the hills, and we'll have a hard time keeping up. Be willing to take breaks and be willing to walk sections with us without shaming us.

You have to look at the trail with eyes of a new rider who hasn't done it before. What might be intimidating or scary? That little log you like to launch over? Scary. The roots over there? Scary. The rock you roll over? Scary. That bridge over the creek? Scary AF.

If you can't put yourself in the shoes of a new rider, then you might not be the best individual to take that person out. If you can't stand hearing how "intimidated" or "nervous" or "scared" the rider is, and you make no effort to be kind, thoughtful, and understanding- find someone who can.

#3. Not having the female on a bike suitable for mountain biking.

This means everything from the wrong type of bike, to an old clunker POS, to the wrong size. Get her on something appropriate! Too big, too small, falling apart, heavy, or not appropriate for mountain biking is just a disaster waiting to happen.

Do not get her on a bike of lesser quality than yours, especially if mountain biking is truly what she wants to do. If you have disc brakes- she should too, not the under $500 bike with rim brakes. Stop thinking "entry level" or "base model" when it comes to what type of bike she should have for the best experience. If you started from the bottom and worked your way up the quality chain- you learned nicer is better. If you wouldn't choose to ride it or buy it for yourself, she shouldn't, either. Also, don't make us feel like we need to "earn" something- that's just downright uncalled for.

If you can't buy a quality bike, see about renting one. Maybe there is a friend the same height that has a bike that is solid. Don't make the experience awful by not having a proper setup

Along with the bike- stop forcing the whole "You've gotta clip in, you'll love it!" concept.

Let us learn how to ride on quality, grippy flats first. (Like Race Face Chesters)
Don't let us go out with cheap plastic pedals that have no traction pins, either! Stock pedals are crap- you know it, I know it. If you don't ride stock pedals, don't let a new rider use them, either.

If we don't already ride clipped in elsewhere, learning to ride clipped in on off-road trails as a new rider is our worst nightmare. There is NOTHING wrong with riding flats, so stop acting like it's a total joke. If folks at the bike shop are telling you that flats have come a long way, that they are a viable pedal option for new riders- you should listen. Clipping in is something that can be introduced at a later time, like a few seasons in.

Let new riders get the hang of what they are riding first before you pressure clipping in- that's the smarter route to go.

#4. Not taking them on a trail that is legitimately suitable for riders with little-to-no experience with riding dirt trails.

If the person has not been on dirt on a bike before...find the flattest possible trail- NO EXCEPTIONS. Sometimes one just needs to have their first "mountain bike ride" on a terrain other than pavement. Take them on a smooth gravel or a well traveled fire road. A skinny path is scary as heck to someone who has not ever ridden something skinnier than a paved trail.

Also, don't push them too quickly- let them get used to riding one trail a few times before making a grand adventure out of it. Biting off more than one can chew the first few rides is one of the biggest deal breakers possible. Travis learned this during my first introduction- instead of just sticking with one thing for several weeks it was "Cool, let's try this trail, now this one, now this one." We didn't use repetition and I became easily overwhelmed. Sure, I had some successes- like climbing up Rocky Road as a newbie, but I was almost traumatized by not being able to really work on learning just one trail at a time. We rectified that the following year and would stick with the same trail or two for a couple weeks before venturing off onto another one.

#5. Devaluing the female's emotions.

Don't tell her she's worried for nothing- you're the one who can ride all the trails. Stop being insensitive. Shutting down her feelings will lead to more trail-side arguments and feelings of resentment. You have to bring forth some empathy- don't shut down what she's scared of. We don't need to hear from you how "little of a hill" it is or how "small" the log is. If we are new, we don't know what we're doing and what's easy for you is hard for us! Do not shame us for crying. Do not be surprised if you hear "You don't understand!!!"---because you probably don't. Actually, you don't.

#6. Don't say "Just follow me!" blasting away, while she is yards away trying to keep up, ultimately hating the experience because she's alone and feeling anxious/scared because she has no idea what she's doing.

We learn nothing when we can't see. We just learn that you're too busy caring about your ride to care about ours. If you never take the time to ride with us, why would we want to ride with you?

You have to take the time to ride with the person you're introducing. If you don't, you're instilling the whole "I'll hold you back, I'm making it not fun for you, I'll always be last, and I can't keep up" thoughts that make women never want to ride with others. Stop trying to show us how good you are- we're more focused on not getting lost and not crashing everywhere.

Along with this, don't follow behind and bark orders or scold us for every little thing we do incorrectly right away. If we don't have the basic knowledge of simple skills, of course we're going to screw up. You can bring up those things in a nice manner, maybe show us some skills, help us learn and practice instead of acting like we should simply absorb knowledge by photosynthesis while we're biking with you.

#7. Don't "mansplain" things.

It's not appreciated, especially in the high-stress environment of learning something new. Keep things simple. Don't give us a million tips/advice because that will overload us. One thing at a time, please, and be willing to show us multiple times- if you overload us with all of this "knowledge" you have of trails and riding we often become stressed and anxiety ridden because we can't either a. use it all or b. don't understand what the heck you mean.

#8. Don't take photos of us after we crash, laugh at us, or "WTF" the situation.

Don't antagonize us when we're at our most vulnerable! All you are doing is making us feel embarrassed about our "failures." As we grow with experience and confidence- we'll tell you when it's okay to take a picture of us when we crash. To put it bluntly, don't be a dick.

#9. Don't think you are the best mountain bike instructor ever; especially if you've never introduced another woman (successfully) to mountain biking before.

You probably aren't a certified coach. You aren't a female- do you really get how we think? Are you truly ready for what may unfold out in the woods? You probably won't see the next Emily Batty and you'll likely find yourself wondering what the heck you got yourself into because you thought it would "be different" with this one. No stress, worries, anxiety, tears, etc. If you're making the same choices as you did with previous failed attempts- that's why it's not working!!!

#10. Do not discount the opinions/thoughts of other women mountain bikers.

You should seek them out for their opinions on easier trails to introduce the female to. You should also see if one could take her under their wing for additional support, advice, etc. If you don't have a woman mountain biker to talk to- talk with your local bike shop(s) and get suggestions from them. They will have ideas on appropriate gear and bikes and likely rattle off easier trails for out-of-town folks/new riders all the time. That can be valuable- ASK. LISTEN.

#11. LISTEN to the female and what her needs are.

If she says it's too hard (and it's more of an intermediate trail vs. beginner) than find a damn beginner trail. Stop making it more difficult than it has to be. Mountain bike skills and confidence take time to develop.

If she says she wants to work on easier stuff- go out of your way to help her boost her confidence by riding those "boring and flat" trails. Travel to them and make it an adventure! The more fun she has- the more fun you'll have, because you're actually on your way to helping her have a positive experience with mountain biking. Which is the point!

#12. Don't avoid the concept of having her join a women's mountain bike ride/group. You should encourage it. 

Women do often times fare better around other women- plus it will give you a break from being the sole "teacher" to the off-road scene. Sometimes a break is needed, and that's okay- many times women will "get" each other more. They feed off their successes and often times a women's ride will help boost confidence or increase the desire to try more things (like going over that small log) because women are inspired more by seeing other women doing something vs. seeing men do the same thing.
If you are introducing someone to off-road riding, understand that there is a level of trust between you and the new rider. Once that trust is broken, it's extremely difficult to earn it back. 
If you want to give it another shot, show that you are truly willing to ride with them and that you are completely open to feedback and requests. For some new riders it takes more time and repetition to gain confidence. Don't try and force it. You'll know when they are ready for a push to try a new trail and that will be after they can ride some easier trails with confidence and success.

If you are a woman reading this who has had a less than positive experience with your first introduction to off-road riding, I would love to help. If you are not local to the Decorah area, please check out the FWD Ambassador page to see if there is a FWD Ambassador near you. If not, please contact me and I may know of someone near you that would be willing to assist from previous interviews on my blog.

If you are within the Decorah area, I would love to help you get re-introduced to off-road trails with one of my FWD Women's Rides or a solo ride.

4 comments:

  1. This is an amazing post! Spot on. I just read it to my newly born riding sister and she gasped at the relatable experience she has been having with her helpers....Thank God for access to riders who understand the importance of different learning styles. I encourage every women to find a riding mentor!!

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I'm always thrilled when something I write is relatable to someone. I think that is the biggest thing- we all learn differently and there isn't one cookie cutter experience or way of teaching that will work for every individual. It's a struggle to be the teacher, but it can also be a struggle to be the "learner!" I really had to work at learning when Travis was trying to teach, and he also had to learn how to teach me :)

      I think it would've greatly eased the stress had it been easier for me to find another companion to glean from during my biggest learning stages. As scary as it might be sometimes to go out of a comfort zone and "find someone else" it can be so beneficial! Kudos to you and your friend! Thank you for sharing part of your #bikelife with us!

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  2. I love this so much. You hit the nail on the head in so many ways!

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Larissa! I am glad my writing resonates with some!
      Long live #bikelife!

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