Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
A woman’s guide to learning to ride
With tongue in cheek, Laura Williamson suggests sometimes old boys need to learn a few new tricks when teaching their other halves how to MTB
Men. Bless them. They smell good, they look great in shorts and they’re handy to have around when your forks need servicing. But one thing they are not so hot at is exercising good judgement when teaching their female partners to mountain bike.
I learnt this when I started leading women’s clinics. We always begin by asking students why they’re taking the course. There are the usual answers: I want to go faster, I need to work on my cornering, my climbing or my shifting, I want to ride with more confidence. But an alarming number of answers begin with, “The last time my husband took me biking …,” and finish with one of the following:
“… he made me ride down a really steep hill and I crashed.”
“… he kept telling me to go faster and I crashed.”
“… he made me try a jump and I crashed.”
One woman just walked up to me, threw her bike on the ground, and began to weep.
To start, women need to understand that they are not alone. For my first ride using clip-in pedals, my boyfriend chose a narrow bit of singletrack that dropped off appallingly on one side to a churning river below. Sure enough, I fell over, couldn’t unclip, and ended up halfway down the bank clinging to a tree with my bike dangling from my feet. Yes, I cried.
It’s not that our partners are cruel people. It’s just that men and women learn differently. If my son is any indication, most young males teach themselves to ride bikes using the huck-now-ask-questions-later technique. This involves launching themselves down horrifyingly-steep asphalt driveways, breaking their arms, waiting for their arms to heal, doing it again, and, on the 35th attempt, finally mastering the art of riding at high speed. A similar approach is used for learning to steer, jump and use the brakes.
Boys take note: This is not how adult females should be learning. Girls take note: Boys forget this, so it is up to us to remind them.
With this in mind, I’ve listed below a few truths about improving your biking; keep these handy the next time a male suggests teaching you anything when you’re out riding together. In fact, feel free to quote me.
• Just because you think a track called The Crippler might not be ideal for a warm-up run does not mean you are a complete wuss. It means you are a woman of intelligence who is approaching her ride in a thoughtful and measured way, and for this you should be respected.
• Going faster does not make you better. You need to get better first and then go faster. In that order.
• Heading to the top of a vertiginous precipice and hurtling down it with your eyes closed in terror will not improve your skills. You need to practise on terrain that you are comfortable with. This way you can focus on your bike handling, and not surviving the vertiginous precipice.
• Unless you want to, you do not need to do jumps. Ever.
• It’s OK to challenge yourself, but the main objective of mountain biking should be to enjoy yourself.
Good luck ladies, and have fun – this, and only this, is the best way to learn.