Last week I went to two group rides: one was just your typical cycling meet-up, and the other was a women-only ride.
The “regular” ride began with everyone (mostly guys) meeting up under a shining lamp-post, on the corner of a well-known, bustling intersection. Forming a half-circle around the group lead, we straddled our bikes, some people making introductions or swapping stories. The group organizer explained the route and gave a quick reminder of road etiquette, some handshakes and high-fives were exchanged, some jokes about last week’s ride were chuckled at, and we rolled out.
The women-only ride looked a quite a bit different: I entered the Bike Shop doors at the appointed time, and leaned my bike up against the wall with a couple others. There were three short rows of folding chairs assembled in a semi-circle around a bike stand, and a handful of women wearing jerseys seated quietly.
A smiling Bike Shop representative warmly greeted me, telling me that we’d get started soon. A few minutes later, she gave a quick (15 minutes or so) presentation to the group on changing a flat and hand signaling. The woman in back of me asked a question about changing gears, the woman in front of me volunteered to change a flat in front of everyone, and two others just picked at their gloves. Afterwards, we collected our bikes and headed out for our ride.
This scene is not foreign to me. I have been to many bike clinics, especially when I first started cycling. And having a supportive environment in which to ask questions and meet other female cyclists is key to growing the female cycling community - in fact, that’s why I started blogging about my experiences.
But I took a quick look at my in-box, read all the invites to my female-only rides, and found a commonality: women-only rides tend to operate under this same itinerary:
Each ride starts with a lesson in maintenance or safety, and then we ride.
This format works on some assumptions that I’m not comfortable with: It’s not fair to assume that because we are female cyclists, we must be handled gently, that we are afraid to ask questions or jump right in to a situation.
That is condescending.
I see the value of women’s clinics and I, myself, learned all the basics from attending them. But clinics are different than rides. It’s patronizing to assume that a group of women must be taught something before we ride.
It’s a difficult topic, because I am an advocate for women-only cycling events and clinics and recognize that the needs of female cyclists (especially beginners!) are different than men’s. However, if these types of events propagate negative gender stereotypes or work under sexist assumptions, then they may be undermining their own goals.
There is no resolution to this thought, it is just a thought. I suppose next time I’ll call ahead to find out when exactly the ride starts, if I don’t feel like attending the clinic portion.
Or perhaps some awareness around the gender politics of conducting women-only rides like this may produce a better alternative to the current itinerary.