Breaking Down Barriers: Riding

I decided to pose the question on Wheelwomen Switchboard on whether the women were taught aspects of riding from a man or woman. If they have worked with both-what worked and what didn’t. To share the positives/negatives, and also the age-old worry of people assuming you are a “racer” or “professional” because you ride all the time, etc.

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Elly Blue: “As for people being intimidated by your riding prowess, that’s always a funny one. I used to crack up when people would tell me I must be so “athletic” or that they weren’t athletes like I am. But lately I figure I might as well own it. If you bike everywhere for a while, you do tend to get fitter than the average bear. The occasional high five can’t hurt, though it is sad when folks compare themselves to me and feel like they have to apologize – no way, ladies, you gotta live your own life!

Julie B: “For those who say they are intimidated and won’t ride with me I’ll try to hook them up with someone else I know. In general, I don’t really engage people’s judgments of me until after they’re been out with me. I try to move the conversation away from their intimidation, for example, by getting curious about their concerns and about how serious they are to get out on a bike. I let them know that they can talk with some other people who’ve been out with me if they want. I guess I don’t work on convincing anyone. I think when people feel intimidated use their feelings to dissuade themselves from even trying to ride with me says a lot about their fear. Until they’re ready to move with and through that fear (with or without me) I don’t think there’s anything I could say that would convince them otherwise. So I rely more on their willingness to experience a ride with me, and then discuss their impressions afterward.

Another topic is the concept of “no drop” which means what it sounds like- not dropping a person from a ride. Generally no drop rides will have the leader taking turns with riding alongside those who are slower and/or the whole group will wait until all of the riders meet up before continuing on (say on mountain bike trails, waiting before you start on a new trail section.)

Barb G. “If the guys invited me on a ride, we rode at my pace (or at the pace of the slowest rider). If they needed to train and go faster, I was told that would be the case and it was up to me to either work to keep up or choose not to go. If it was a social ride they would not drop me, which wasn’t the point of the ride. That attitude is something I think is really important. I do a fair amount of teaching bike skills and riding with friends, and I too often hear their concerns about slowing me down. I assure them that a) I am agreeing to ride with them and that it’s important to me that I ride together at their pace, b) that some of the skills they perceive I have, also includes being able to ride happily at any pace, including even slower than they likely ride, and c) I don’t believe in dropping people who I’ve invited on a ride.”

Yvonne P.: “From experience, people dropping off the back are so grateful when you drop back and ride together with them (especially on the road - to take the lane, etc), as it shows them that you don’t mind doing it.

Julie B: “With regards to teaching others, or riding with newbies, I’ve been told that I am a very patient teacher/guide. I try to ask people first if they’re interested in some advice, suggestions or feedback before offering it. And, I try to be very verbal with people about where we’re headed and what they can expect (i.e. turns, terrain, signage, etc) as we’re riding along. For those who are initially intimidated, if they choose to ride with me it seems that they usually find that I’m pretty willing to go at their pace, and that I’m having fun just being on my bike. I also ask them for feedback after a ride to see what changed for them, and how.”

Bethany R: “I had been helping with my LBS on a women’s no drop ride the past couple of summers. To lessen the intimidation for women showing up, I’d always explain that I was there to ride with them and that my goal was for them to have fun. I’d encourage them to let me know if the pace was too slow or too fast or if they needed a water break. Before starting out, I’d ask some questions to gauge their comfort level on street riding and how long they typically rode so I could tailor the ride better to their level. If another lead rider was there, we’d split up to accommodate faster and slower riders. I draw on my experience from personal training to keep things from being intimidating. I think intimidation mostly stems from not knowing; whether that be the rules, the competition level, the pace, the machine, or even just the people and expectations of the ride. If a majority of the “not knowing” is removed, I think you reduce the intimidation level.”

The male/woman dynamic: Who did you learn or have instruction from-were there any differences in teaching methods/style? What kind of experiences did women have when they rode with men or other women? It’s interesting when you hear so often men saying “like a girl” or “typical woman” but sometimes they are the ones women feel more comfortable riding with. Sometimes other women find that females can be more difficult to relate to or perhaps too competitive to ride with.

Yvonne P. “I haven’t found a specific correlation between male / female contributors and effectiveness to my cycling journey. I’ve found different people have different skills and approaches (that I may or may not respect or enjoy), so I started by asking the same questions across all the experienced cyclists that I know and based on how useful I found their advice, I’ve now sort of tagged different people as different go to’s for specific things. (Ex. Someone for what to wear, train, bike handling skills, maintenance, etc.)”

Yvonne also shared this article, which is a really great read.

Julie B.  “I’ve been riding since I came out of my mother’s womb (okay, that’s weird, but that’s my mother’s report of when she remembers my getting on a bike). I believe my father was the person who helped me to start pedaling a two-wheeled bike, and I have no negative memories of that (well, I did “fall” and because the bike he was teaching me on was his, with a straight top tube, well, I hurt my lady-parts–but that wasn’t his fault). I’ve pedaled with both women and men who were incredibly patient and generous, and women and men who were just jerks. So, maybe this is all to say that I can’t really address your question about learning to ride ‘cause I’ve been doing it all my life.”

Bethany R. “When I first started road biking, I rode a lot on my own. Recognizing I needed to learn a few things to improve, I joined a women’s only group thinking it would be more welcoming and less intimidating. I’m a former personal trainer, lifelong athlete, and have always stayed in pretty good shape. I showed up for the ride and the lead rider immediately decided and said out loud that I must be really good based on appearances. This was something of a blow to me, because now I felt like I had something to prove and knew I was going to disappoint. And I did. The lead rider was awesome in not dropping me. But I never learned a lot from this group because the women were quite insular and the leader seemed to think I knew more than I did. I gave up on them and went back to riding on my own and have found more success riding with men where I live now.

My experience in learning to ride from women has not been positive. Perhaps the first group I rode with was intimidated or just couldn’t adjust their expectation and recognize I was there to learn. I’ve had more success learning when riding with men because I didn’t feel there was an expectation there. And they weren’t worried about hurting my feelings. If I was doing something wrong, they’d tell me. I feel I’ve gotten more encouragement from men as well.

Barb G.: When I started riding, most of the folks available to ride with were male. So that’s who I rode with. I think that made me a stronger rider as I had to keep up with them. But, it also taught me that the really good riders would ride with me.”

Kristin E. “I know there are a lot of ladies in my area that ride but I just don’t know them personally so I ride with my male friends. While, for the most part, it’s a great experience and they are very patient with me, I sometimes find that they can see me as more timid than their male friends. Really it’s only one friend that I tend to feel that way around but at the same time, I wouldn’t really not want to learn from him either. He knows what he is doing and I know I will improve because of him and all the other guys I am learning from.

When I was road riding, I think I have had the opposite experience to many ladies. My one female friend really made me feel very inadequate and it was very hard to learn from her. It felt as though she was constantly competing with me and I don’t know why. I felt often very discouraged and frustrated and it wasn’t until I started riding with a couple male friends that I started to improve. I think I just had a very bad experience but it was so bad that she and I stopped riding together and we lost touch. She didn’t have patience with me and felt I should have excelled much faster I guess. Once I did get the hang of things, I could have easily ridden with her but I wasn’t given that chance.”

Rachael R.With riding, I’ve learned best from my very-patient- and-extremely- skilled-rider husband. We’ve been riding partners for 10 years and it’s an amazing shared passion that has brought us together.

Tracy H.I’m an experienced rider–not fast, but confident in my road skills. As for riding with guys, I don’t do a lot of it. Mostly I ride alone. BUT, when I do ride with guys, and when I notice men riding with women, I have noticed that they like to lead. That doesn’t especially bother me, as the rides with guys are generally social in nature, but I do find it amusing to observe.”

These are some fantastic and very real viewpoints made from women. As you can tell, what works for one person may be different for the other. It goes to show that not all women and men who instruct others are created equal. Not all women’s rides will be something you will find enjoyable, simply based on the personality of the group/group leader. The important thing to take from this is to figure out what you need and want out of your riding. If you need an instructor you may have to try out a few individuals before you find someone that really meshes with you.

Be true to yourself-if you feel like you are being pushed too far too soon or not comfortable, say something. If you force confidence on yourself that is artificial and have a negative experience-you may find yourself pulling back even more. I think it’s good to have someone that can push you to get out of your comfort zone, but ultimately they have to be knowledgeable of you, your wishes, and how best to do it so they do not counteract the positive outcome. There is such a thing as pushing too far, only you can decide this-you may have to advocate for yourself and your learning style.

You may not enjoy riding with other women, and that’s okay! Just because you are a female does not mean you must ride with the same gender. You may find that you prefer to ride alone or perhaps ride with the guys. That’s fine! There is no rule in existence that says “You must ride with this gender, all the time, no matter what.”

If riding a bike is something you love, own it! You can make it what you want it to be, alone time, a social outing, a challenge-whatever you want. So get out there and enjoy the ride!