THE HEART AND SOUL OF BIKE RAC­ING

“Let me tell you what I think of bi­cy­cling. I think it has done more to eman­ci­pate women than any­thing else in the world. It gives women a feel­ing of free­dom and self-re­liance. I stand and re­joice ev­ery time I see a woman ride by on a wheel… the pic­ture o

Mountain Bike for Her - - Content - By Michelle Lam­bert

Many of us who are into moun­tain bik­ing can name at least one woman within the pro race cir­cuit. We are gen­er­ally familiar with the names of the teams th­ese women race for, what kind of bike they ride, and what they do in the off sea­son. We see them in mag­a­zines, in YouTube videos, and on cy­cling web­sites. Th­ese pro women are the ones that have a great in­flu­ence on what types of bikes the com­pa­nies will de­sign for women rid­ers. They take pro­to­type bikes and race the hell out of them, mak­ing sure that the ge­om­e­try, frame ma­te­rial, and specs are suit­able to sell to the gen­eral public. Th­ese women have to work hard to make it to the pro ranks, giv­ing up nor­mal ev­ery­day life to train up to six hours a day and make the com­mit­ment to eat a spe­cific diet - which means giv­ing up many of the foods that regular peo­ple could not bear to part with. Choco­late, Wine, Cake... No way! They have to travel many week­ends of the year, and they have to deal with a great deal of pres­sure to per­form up to ex­pec­ta­tions in or­der to main­tain their con­tracts. With all of this hard work the pros are re­warded with prize money, free bikes or equip­ment from their spon­sors, and pos­si­bly a yearly salary. Also within the moun­tain bike world there is an­other type of racer, the am­a­teur racer. Th­ese are women who put in forty hours a week at their “regular job”, fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, daily has­sles, and tight sched­ules and STILL fit in a pre­cious few hours of train­ing a week in or­der to race on the week­ends. Th­ese am­a­teur women, or week­end rac­ers, who par­tic­i­pate in lo­cal races are the back­bone of grass­roots rac­ing.

HIS­TORY OF GRASS­ROOTS RAC­ING

Grass­roots rac­ing has been around al­most as long as the sport of moun­tain bik­ing it­self. In the early days, a few guys in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia and Colorado took cruiser bikes, adapted them to the rig­ors of off-road rid­ing, and then raced th­ese bikes down fire roads. This idea spawned the first grass­roots rac­ing, the Repack Se­ries, a down­hill time trial which helped bring moun­tain bik­ing to the public eye for the first time. The Repack Se­ries is also known as moun­tain bik­ing’s first recorded com­pe­ti­tion. In 1983, NORBA (Na­tional Off-Road Bi­cy­cle As­so­ci­a­tion) was founded, which was the first sanc­tion­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion for off-road bi­cy­cle rac­ing (now part of USA Cy­cling). In the 1990s, am­a­teur moun­tain bike rac­ing re­ally took off and thou­sands of peo­ple around the United States got their first ex­pe­ri­ence rac­ing moun­tain bikes. Lo­cally held races be­gan pop­ping up as pro­mot­ers started of­fer­ing week­end moun­tain bike rac­ing within driv­ing to dis­tance to most rid­ers. This en­abled am­a­teur rac­ers to get their chance to com­pete against lo­cal com­peti­tors and vie for tro­phies, medals, and pint glasses. In 1999, I also caught the rac­ing bug and en­tered my first be­gin­ner race. It was in­sanely hard, I had my ass kicked up and down the trails but I man­aged to fin­ish third, and loved ev­ery minute of it! That race started me on an ob­ses­sion with rac­ing moun­tain bikes and I spent the next few years rac­ing up and down Cal­i­for­nia, mov­ing from the be­gin­ner cat­e­gory to the ex­pert cat­e­gory. I have been rac­ing off and on as an am­a­teur ever since.

SIS­TER­HOOD

Over the years, while rac­ing the lo­cal cir­cuit, I have had good (and not so good) ex­pe­ri­ences but one thing I have al­ways found when rac­ing bikes is the ca­ma­raderie among the women rac­ers - the sis­ter­hood you feel when you lineup at the start line. Ev­ery race is filled with both new and familiar faces. Some women you see will race one time, never to be seen again, but other women will show up at ev­ery race. You quickly learn

who your ri­vals are, and yet, there is a sense of bond­ing among the rac­ers who line up with you ev­ery week­end. One thing is for sure: the other women stand­ing at the start line with you are among the few mem­bers of so­ci­ety who can un­der­stand - or re­late to - your ob­ses­sive ded­i­ca­tion to a sport as bru­tally hard as moun­tain bike rac­ing. They can re­late to the pain of try­ing not to ex­plode dur­ing a race when you still have three laps to go. Only they can un­der­stand how hard it was for you to fit in sev­eral hours of train­ing in a week when your boss is breath­ing down your neck to get a sales pre­sen­ta­tion done be­fore the dead­line. Only other rac­ers can re­late to the be­wil­dered looks when you tell your fam­ily why you need to ride your bike at 5:00am in morn­ing while ev­ery­one else is snooz­ing away. This is the kind of bond­ing that oc­curs among women who spend their hard earned week­ends pay­ing race fees to get their ass kicked. You feel it when you roll to the start. The talk­ing, laugh­ing, and jok­ing at the start line is in com­plete con­trast to the phys­i­cal pain you are about to en­dure for the next two hours: a fast paced, bru­tal, yet, good spir­ited battle to the fin­ish. Once the whis­tle blows it is ev­ery woman for them­selves. The jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion, the grind­ing of gears, the grunt­ing of the rid­ers as they make their way around the course. The chat­ter is quickly forgotten as you begin a tribal battle over who will be the first onto the sin­gle­track, who will crest the top of the climb first, and ul­ti­mately, who will sur­vive the battle to emerge as the vic­tor. There is some­thing pri­mal about rac­ing bikes; you will never go so far out of your com­fort zone as you do while rac­ing. Like a sol­dier in battle, you sim­ply push your­self fur­ther and deeper than you ever thought pos­si­ble. Ev­ery woman who fin­ishes a race has some­thing in com­mon: the pre­req­ui­site ner­vous­ness, fol­lowed by sub­se­quent in­tense pain of go­ing anaer­o­bic for hours, then the com­plete sense of re­lief when the last hun­dred yards of the course is seen. This is fol­lowed by the re­lief and joy that is the cross­ing of the fin­ish line. Af­ter a race, the fin­ish­ers will usu­ally gather in groups shar­ing war sto­ries from the battle grounds. The talk­ing, laugh­ing, and jok­ing re­turn as the rid­ers start to re­lax again, talk about their per­for­mances, re­sults, course con­di­tions, and to dis­cuss up­com­ing races.

REA­SONS WHY WOMEN RACE

Let’s face it, the num­ber of women rac­ing moun­tain bikes is not as high as the men but the small amount who do par­tic­i­pate in grass­roots rac­ing are ded­i­cated cy­clists that be­long to a core group of women who make time to fol­low their cy­cling pas­sion. I asked some of my moun­tain biker friends why they race: “I en­joy the friendly com­pe­ti­tion with other girls my age and gives me a sense of sat­is­fac­tion to fin­ish a race” “I love rac­ing be­cause it gives me a venue to re­lease my com­pet­i­tive na­ture in a healthy way!”

“Sim­ply be­cause rac­ing is fun!”

“Kick­ing a$$ is fun”

“Rac­ing lets me see how I com­pare to other women in my area in re­gards to my fit­ness and tech­ni­cal skills. I can then see what I need to im­prove upon.” “I get a sense of pride when I re­al­ize all my hard train­ing pays off and I end up do­ing well in a race.” “I want to see how far and how fast I can push my­self” Th­ese re­sponses show that rac­ing means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent women but ul­ti­mately we can see that the un­der­ly­ing theme is the de­sire to be com­pet­i­tive and chal­lenge our­selves in a mi­cro­cosm. Of course, what would any sport be with­out com­pe­ti­tion? Any­one par­tic­i­pat­ing in moun­tain bike rac­ing gen­er­ally has some kind of com­pet­i­tive urge. By na­ture, we hu­mans are com­pet­i­tive at work, and in life, so it is only nat­u­ral that some women look to moun­tain bike rac­ing as an out­let for com­pet­ing.

FAM­ILY RE­SPON­SI­BIL­I­TIES AND WORK

There can be many chal­lenges for women when they de­cide to start rac­ing moun­tain bikes. Piec­ing to­gether a work­able train­ing pro­gram around a fam­ily can be dif­fi­cult, but it can be done with care­ful plan­ning. Ar­rang­ing for af­ter school care or to have a babysit­ter to come by a few days a week can al­low us to get out and train worry free. Pos­si­bly sched­ul­ing train­ing rides early in the morn­ing while ev­ery­one is still sleep­ing is an­other way rac­ers have learn to adapt to squeeze in more hours. Many women also ar­range for their hus­band or a grand­par­ent to watch the kids for a cou­ple hours while they train. Most women have to be cre­ative to make train­ing time work, all while try­ing hold­ing down a full time job; the bosses might not be so un­der­stand­ing about some­one want­ing to leave early to do a longer train­ing ride, or un­der­stand when you come in an hour late be­cause you were held up by a flat tire on your morn­ing train­ing ride. Many times we are of­ten re­quired to work late or come in early so train­ing must be tai­lored to fit a busy sched­ule. Lunchtime rides are also an­other good way for women rac­ers to pick up ex­tra hours, and it re­ally helps to find some co-work­ers to train with. Sol­i­dar­ity.

MOUN­TAIN BIK­ING IS NOT VERY LADY LIKE

It is a sport that can be looked upon as be­ing more on the “manly” side and even the at­ti­tudes that run though the cy­cling world tend to pro­mote moun­tain bik­ing as a man’s sport: the ex­treme sport with mas­sive drop-offs, big air, and big crashes. In the “olden days”, women were ex­pected to be prop­erly dressed, be “well man­nered” and cer­tainly never par­tic­i­pate in ag­gres­sive sports. Luck­ily, this view for the most part has changed but there are still peo­ple out there who feel that women shouldn’t in­volve them­selves in such “an­i­mal­is­tic” be­hav­ior. This view is more gen­er­ally shared by peo­ple out­side the moun­tain bike world, es­pe­cially among other fe­males. Other women at work are shocked and dis­gusted by the large bruises on your legs when you wear a skirt or dress. Scratches or cuts are yucky! Mus­cu­lar legs on a girl? Eww! Women should be do­ing things like horse­back

rid­ing, tak­ing dance classes or cooking classes... Not bomb­ing down dusty fire roads at 40 miles an hour. Women moun­tain bik­ers, and rac­ers are rebels, re­belling against what so­ci­ety views as “nor­mal” fe­male ac­tiv­i­ties. That is part of what makes rac­ing moun­tain bikes so ap­peal­ing to me, the out­law feel­ing it gives. Flip­ping off so­ci­ety!

WHY RACE?

Rac­ing is a com­pact metaphor for our daily lives: rep­re­sent­ing the strug­gle to com­pete, thrive, and suc­ceed. Some peo­ple may ask why would any­one vol­un­tary get up at 5:00am on a Satur­day morn­ing, drive two hours or more to a re­mote lo­ca­tion, pay fifty dol­lars, spend two and half hours rid­ing as hard as you can, all to have your ass handed to you on a plate? Well, the an­swer is pretty sim­ple, el­e­men­tal, and it’s not be­cause we are crazy! It’s sim­ply be­cause the small group of women rac­ers who are out there ev­ery week­end com­pet­ing at the re­gional level have a pas­sion for the sport, love bikes, and love com­pet­ing. And love life. We aren’t rac­ing for spon­sor­ship money, big bike com­pa­nies, or as a job, but we are do­ing it for per­sonal grat­i­fi­ca­tion and for a per­sonal chal­lenge. We spend our week­ends driv­ing from race to race with kids and hus­bands in tow. All for the glory of a cold beer, a cheap medal, and a fourth place fin­ish. It’s to­tally worth it!

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