Breaking Down Barriers: More Discussion

Continuing discussion with Breaking Down Barriers- I had turned to the Wheel Women Switchboard for additional voices/opinions for various topics. In this post I had asked about what seem to be the biggest deterrents for people in terms of riding, how men/women teach differently, and how group rides can be made into positive experiences.
It's been a great to read the various opinions/thoughts on these topics-a huge thank-you to those who have participated!

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Feel free to keep the discussion going and post your comments/thoughts!

In this post I had asked several individuals what they felt deterred women (and men) from riding. 

The large focus or seemingly common barrier would be safety and feeling inadequate/dumb. Time is another factor that often puts a damper on riding. Here are the following thoughts:

Barb G.-
Well, my perspective on this applies across genders and it requires a small preface: those who want to do something bad enough find a way to do it.
I’ve seen both men and women overcome incredible barriers in order to learn to cycle. They decided they wanted to do it and then had the courage to find solutions to their concerns.

We are all our greatest deterrent at times. However, if you asked me what the most common concerns among women are, I’d say it can depend on the type of riding. For many situations, safety is at the top of the list. Also being seen looking or feeling dumb/inept is up there too.
Regarding commuters: some studies list messed up hair/appearance, etc., and frankly I rarely have heard those concerns.

Bethany R.- 
There’s been some research suggesting safety is the biggest deterrent. But this is more than just safe roads; I think personal safety is a big consideration. I never gave much thought to this until I showed another woman a fantastic 20 mile trail I ride alone frequently. Her question was whether it was safe to ride alone. Honestly, not something that ever entered my mind. This past winter and going to spring there have been a number of attacks on women on this trail. The worst one was a rape of a woman around 6 a.m. who was walking to the commuter rail. Riding in groups provides a sense of safety. No group to ride with will deter women because they don’t feel safe.

More common is for men to be concerned about their appearance - being sweaty or concerns about their clothes. So, I don’t believe that one is a biggie for women. Time is one that I observe but don’t see verbalized. Women tend to prioritize family responsibilities over cycling more often than men (although I meet many men who do too) so they push cycling aside because they see it as a time obligation that just doesn’t mesh with taking care of the kids.

I was curious on what other people thought in terms of the teaching styles of men/women and if there was a preferred gender for instruction. Personally, I all of my riding instruction has been male-based and there have been times I've appreciated that but also times I found frustration. Regardless of gender, you can find exceptional instructors as well as those who weren't so good. The important thing is to find someone you trust vs. focusing on gender alone.

Barb G.
I’ve had great male teachers and bad ones, same to be said for women. But generally, it’s my experience that men tend to be less inclined to express fear and so are sometimes desensitized (unable to empathize) with the fear a new rider may have in traffic or descending or going fast.

I think men are really good at sharing information as it’s one of their default social mechanisms. Listen in to a group of guys just hanging out and discussing something technical and you’ll see that they talk about what they know, ask questions, and share experiences.

Women tend to be less talkative about what they know in social settings. We ask questions more easily perhaps. 

When teaching I tend to look at the individual, find out about their learning style and not assume a style due to gender.

However, in all of the classes I’ve offered the majority of students were women. It seems to me that women are more willing to recognize they don’t know something and need to learn from an expert. For example, I’ve done support on zillions of organized rides and observed many riders with poor technique - men and women alike. But of all of those riders who have approached me - sought out one-on-one help- over the years to improve their cycling skills, only one of those was a man. He, like many riders, wanted to improve his descending skills but unlike many men, he openly expressed the great fear he had descending. On the other hand, the majority of women I speak to and who have worked with me to improve skills express that fear.

Bethany R.-
I think women are more touchy/feel-y/sensitive than men in teaching. It’s a pro in that women can be sensitive to something like a safety issue and riding. Teaching something like changing a tire gives women a sense of security where for a man, it’s just something to learn and move on. The con on the sensitive approach is that it doesn’t lend itself to pushing or challenging someone. If you’re always concerned about being positive, encouraging, and nice, you’re not going to give some of the tough feedback that a person can learn from. This is what I appreciate in learning from men. Tell me like it is, tell me what I’m doing right and tell me what I’m doing wrong.

Tracy H.-
I’ve had both male and female mechanics instructors. I can’t say that I’m more comfortable with one rather than the other. I think it was more the class participants–with the more experienced guys trying to “assist” the women. I don’t totally hate that; it’s just that some men do it more gracefully than others. When I start feeling the condescension or the assumption that I don’t know anything is when I bristle. And, no matter the instructor, I just get nervous when it takes me forever to figure out something.

I do think the “see one, do one, teach one” method works well for me because it forces you to really understand how to do it. My preference would be for one-on-one instruction, but that’s a dream scenario. I have had occasional thoughts of going to UCI or some kind of more formalized training, but the thought of being put on the spot and/or not being able to keep up with the others in the class banish those thoughts pretty quickly!

Group rides can be a positive thing yet there are times when riding alone are just as fun. Group rides can be women-only or mixed gender. Either way if you look around at what your community offers you may find something you enjoy. If you see a lack, one of the things you can do is set up a ride yourself! Here are some helpful thoughts/ideas:

Barb G.
I guess I plan for the lowest common denominator and I try to see the ride I’m planning from the eyes of the range of riders who may attend. That includes considering ability, knowledge of rules of the road, and experience riding in groups,
If you are considering starting a group ride, think about who the ride is for. Is it for you, or is it for a certain segment of the cycling population?

Determine that (the purpose of the ride), identify an appropriate route for that purpose, then determine what those riders will experience on the route, and also identify ways to support safe riding throughout the ride. Many new cyclists don’t know the rules of the road, or are so preoccupied with the shifting mechanisms on their bikes or just the handling of their bike, that they may not be paying full attention to the other riders or traffic. I always lay down some safety rules - unbreakables - at the beginning of a ride. These have to do both with group riding (eg. using verbal ques and hand signals) AND traffic safety (eg. never cross the center line of a road).

Previous lessons: One of the first group rides that I went out on, I was trying to find out an idea on speed or pace. The organizer would not tell me, she wouldn’t even give me a range. She just told me to come out and I had no idea how long the ride would even be. When I started leading a ride and talking to women about coming out to ride with me, I’d give them an idea that it would be about two hours. For most beginners, that’s not insurmountable. If you give timeframe, they can commit. If you find out they’re in great shape, you can push them and get more miles in during that two hours. If they’re in not great shape, you can turn around at an hour and you haven’t screwed up their day’s plans.

Bethany R.-
1. Experience level and goals - some people ride at a slow speed and have no desire to increase speed or distance. They’re there for the social aspect. They are just as important as those who want to ride at a high level and have lofty goals. You just might want to avoid mixing those two, or make it really clear what type of ride you’re leading so people can make decisions on whether to join or not. If you have easy routes, you can always tell the faster riders to go ahead and ride off the front. Finding a person to team up on leading the ride will be beneficial in being able to split the group so both needs are met.
 2. Pray for flat tires and easily fixed mechanical issues - SERIOUSLY! Experience is the best teacher. I went out for a ride with a friend who has ridden RAGBRAI a couple times, double century, many centuries and a lot of solo miles. We were out for a ride and she got a flat on the rear and had no idea how to change her tire. Sunset was coming and we were probably 5 miles from her house (and the 5 miles lies in the area where the aforementioned rapist is). Not knowing how to change a tire is not a safe thing to do. But she rides with a lot of men, she gets a flat, they fix it. Great when they’re there, not great when you’re on your own. I taught her how to change a tire through a whole lot of laughter. Being able to calmly show someone how to handle a setback like this goes a long way in removing the intimidation of mechanics and the “what happens ifs
3. Things to carry - this goes hand in hand with item 2. Go over the items you carry and why. I lead a ride once where a woman got a flat tire; I used one of my CO2 cartridges to get us to a nearby bike shop. She didn’t have a spare tube. I could have used one of mine, but it turned out that she had some fancy schmancy locking wheels (to prevent theft) and she left the key at home. So the bike shop couldn’t even help her. She had to call her husband to come get her. What needs to be carried is pretty individual, but needs to be considered.
4. Safety and liability - the rides I had been leading with my LBS were in conjunction with the owner’s wife. She frequently bailed out and left me to lead on my own. The women on the rides would ask me if I worked for the shop. I didn’t. My husband is a cop and was concerned regarding liability and in conjunction with my background in personal training and knowing where and when a person is covered under a business’s liability insurance had me concerned enough that I no longer wanted to lead a ride where there was a perception that I was acting as an agent of the bike shop. This was a shop that didn’t bother giving me a discount on items (I bought two bikes from them); I had zero confidence that they’d cover me in case a participant decided to sue.
5. Safety - require helmets, talk about items like road Id, and teach group riding etiquette before setting out. If someone does something dangerous, let them know immediately. If you’re riding in a group and one person on the lead decides to try and beat the light, many in the group will follow. That is a dangerous person and I won’t ride with them. The best rides are always the ones you come back from in one piece. We’re not pro riders and cycling is risky enough without one of the riders endangering the group. Go over hand signals, and what ‘take the lane’ means.
6. Some ways to attract people to your group. You could use social media, like a FB group, Google Groups, craigslist, Let local bike shops know you have a group. It helps them sell their bikes and merchandise. Ask local businesses to put a flyer up on their community boards. Places like coffee shops, bakeries, health clubs, sporting good stores, running shoe stores. Let local tri groups know too. They may have people contacting them that aren’t interested in triathlons, but just looking for a group to ride with.
7. Finally, commitment and follow through. Be consistent in showing up for when you say a ride will be going. It’s not unusual for people to not contact you to say they’re coming. They’re assuming that you’ll be there. They’re uncertain and sometimes it’s a last minute decision that they will meet for the ride. Help them out by being there no matter what. If you’re doing something like Google groups, twitter, or Facebook, add recaps of the ride. There are always a lot of watchers on those groups and lists, and your description of the ride might be the encouraging factor in turning those watchers into riders.

There was a specific situation I wanted to relate about a co-ed ride I was on. Towards the end of a ride a man in the group asked if I knew how to draft. I said no, so he proceeded to teach me. This is a pretty valuable skill and I was thrilled to learn. A woman in the group began chastising the man for trying to teach me something like drafting which she saw as too advanced for me and irresponsible of him to teach me. I think the man had gauged that I was steady on my bike and was pretty comfortable that I was ready for that skill.

I think the woman was gauging that this was my first ride with them and not ready. Watch closely to see how people are handling their bike, how do they look when they swerve and corner, are they smooth on their breaks. Listen to what they tell you about their riding ability and let your eyes tell you what is really going on. If I had to point out a difference, I’d sum it up as the man made a decision based on what he saw me do; where the woman made a decision based on nothing.

Tracy H.-
I ride alone because I’m a great big introvert! I just prefer to ride alone. Most of my riding is transportation or errand-based, so it would feel weird to have others along. Bike time is my time to be alone with my thoughts, to sort things out, to sing, to enjoy my own running commentary on driver behavior, etc.

My partner is female, so when I do ride with another female, it’s usually her! But I have had such fun riding with guys. The ones I have ridden with have been supportive, encouraging, and just good fun. But then again, most guys I know are just so thrilled to see women on bikes that they probably bend over backwards to make us feel welcome. Or maybe I’m just lucky in my selection of riding cohorts.