Brendan started down the trail ahead of me. “You’ll be faster than me going down,” he said, clipping in for the descent. The stranger at the mountain-top picnic table caught my attention with a chuckle. “It’s usually the other way around,” he commented.
Finishing my last energy chew, I tried to come up with a witty response as Brendan rolled the first switchbacks below us.
Swinging my leg over my bike and pedaling off, I tried to decide whether the guy’s comment was meant as a compliment or an insult. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and took it as a compliment. The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought, When was the last time you went mountain biking, dude? Did you not notice the other lady on the trail who totally sent the uphill rock garden while the guy she was with got off and walked?
I don’t know if the guy meant to imply that usually women are slow or scared. And I assume he doesn’t actually get out on the trail very often. But his words hung in my mind after the ride was over. Is this really where we are?
Where I ride, there are usually more men on the trails than women. And if you go to Interbike, it’s even more apparent how male-heavy the bike industry is. But anyone who rides knows there’s a solid—and growing—contingent of women riders who aren’t scared—and aren’t slow.
Ever see those Specialized ads a couple years ago? The ones with the model in a sexy nurse’s uniform, with the caption, “Get sick soon”? I remember opening Bike Magazine with my usual enthusiasm. When the pages fell open to the two-page ad, my heart sank. It was the same feeling I got from the stranger’s comment: Really? This is where we are?
So this month, when I opened the latest issue of Mountain Flyer, I did a little fist pump when I saw the Park Tool ad. The photo showed a women on the side of a forested trail, kneeling over her—or maybe it’s the guy’s?—drivetrain with a Park Tool kit laid out next to her. Two guys leaned nonchalantly next to her, one casually watching and the other taking a sip from a water bottle. It looked so natural, but staring at the ad, I realized I was witnessing something semi-revolutionary.
Park Tool chose not only to portray an average female rider without sexualizing her, they also showed a woman in a position of control. The longer I looked at the ad, the more my heart rejoiced. Finally, a company realized the female market for what it is: A stoked cadre of bikers excited to take control of their own destinies and relish the freedom bikes give. They didn’t have to make the tools pink. They didn’t have to make a huge announcement that “now we’re marketing to women.” They just made the subtle choice to run with an image that looks a little like the lady riders I know.
Sure, women are still a minority in a lot of outdoor sports. But it feels great to be represented as a competent athlete—and equal on the trail—instead of a sex symbol or accessory. Maybe this is a step toward a new “usual.”