What is stopping women from cycling?

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby charliepolecat » 19 Nov 2018, 3:45pm

Women and ultra-challenge endurance sports

I wrote this piece mostly because I’ve often wondered why far more men than women participate in extreme athletic activities, so the first premise for this article is to ask the question, why do more men than women participate in ultradistance activities? You might say that this states the obvious, and that women cyclists have interests and motivation that differ from those of male cyclists and that it is unlikely that addressing these issues will in some way encourage more women to participate in ultra-cycling or indeed ultra-challenges in any sporting endeavor.
The second premise is that this article is not intended to provide answers but mainly to pose the questions that need answers.
As far as I know, apart from the accepted and well known and documented anatomical variations between the two main genders (there seems to be more variations added every day) racing on a bicycle is pretty much the same whether the cyclist is male or female.
My analyses was confined to activities where there was no prize money, the participants engaged voluntarily and paid their own expenses, therefore, no organized sports such as golf or tennis or such were included, nor were activities such as school or college sports.
Looking at the recent results for one 24 Hour ultra-racing event - Bessies Creek - for example, it shows that more men raced than women – 80% to 20% - and that on the whole, men raced the longer distances or times than women.
In the 3,000 mile Race Across America’s roster for the 2016 race, out of a total 248 racers in teams and solo categories, only 21 racers were women. In the sister event the 880 mile Race Across the West, out of 68 racers, only 5 are women.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that if women do race they are less likely to finish. In the 2015 edition of the RAAM, out of five females that started in the solo
category, only three raced to the end – so 60%, and for the men, out of thirty six starters, half finished – so 50%. For the 2015 RAW, three women started and two finished, for the men, eighteen started but only five finished. However, we still see fewer women than men entering these extra distance races. For RAAM we had 36 male starts and 5 women starts; In the RAW, the figures were 18 male starts and three women starts. These races were of the same length for both male and female although women were allowed extra time to complete.
These statistics do not only apply to cycling, we see similar results in other endurance activities.
As chronicled by the American Elizabeth Hawley, residing in Katmandu for the past 65 years and the doyen of Everest chroniclers, of the total successful ascents of Mount Everest, out of 6,871 summits as of February 2014, only four hundred and ten were made by women. As she has said: “There are no pioneering women on Everest, they need to be pioneers in other places”. In other words, she feels that women are probably best suited to succeed in other endeavors than climbing mountains.
Of the 3,841 successful English Channel swims to date, 63.5% were by men and 36.5% by women. There are no records of the total number of attempts or the unsuccessful attempts by either sex.
In the 2014 edition of Marathon Des Sables, the 156 miles six marathon distance race run across the Sahara Desert in Morocco, 925 men completed with 814 finishing the grueling event, and 184 women ran with 159 completing. Of note is that in 2008, Touda Didi was the first Moroccan woman to win the event.
Similar figures contend in other sporting activities such as the Appellation Trail, rowing across the Atlantic and sailing around the world.
The latest figures I have received on the Appalachian Trail is that between the years 1937-2016 on a self-reporting basis, there were 12,795 thru hikers of whom 2,861 were women either solo or in groups. For section hikers again on a self reporting basis for the same span of years, there were 2,997 total of whom 720 were women. However, the number of women undertaking the trek is rising. In
1992 16% of the thru hikers were women but by 2012 that number had increased to 21%,. So there is a glimmer of hope that women are catching on to the pleasures of absolute pain – at least in the hiking category of ultra-sporting activities.
Something similar is evident in the Boston Marathon where out of 27,491 runners in a recent event, 14,877 were men but 12,610 were women. So is the fact that running a marathon – although strenuous - is a relatively short endurance activity that attracts so many women?
But on the whole, women just don’t engage in these types of endurance activities to the same extent as men, so the question is why?
If it is simply a case of unsurmountable physical obstacles then why should women try to compete? So, accepting that in general it is simply a case that women will never be able to race as far as men, what are women to do?
I think to answer this question it is necessary to look at the psyche involved. If it is a given that ultra-challenging events are predominately raced by men, does this imply that women are just not as motivated as men to accept the physical and or mental stresses required? Maybe women don’t want to get on a bike and ride 24 hours or longer (not many sane people of either sex actually do), maybe women accept that they have no psychological desire to do this to satisfy any kind of challenge, maybe women are just satisfied with being women and don’t need to make out they are as strong – or as risk taking – as men.
If a female racer wants to participate in an endurance race they generally do so competing in their own categories, much in the same way as age categories for both sexes. But if the races contain both men and women, women are in actuality racing against men as well as other women on the same course at the same time, so does this give a negative aspect to the race for women?
Being passed by another racer in any kind of race is intimidating and demoralizing enough, but in a mixed sex race and if the women racer is being passed by a male racer, what impact does that have on the women’s psyche?
For example, a 60 year old racer of either sex would not expect to be able to compete with a 20 year old of the same sex, assuming both are in good physical condition, but for a woman to be blown away by a male racer that has to be demoralizing. Therefore would it not be better for a woman not to have to compete with men in the same race?
A study by Dr. Salvatore J. Tirrito, cardiovascular disease specialist in Tucson states: “Studies show that women utilize less glycogen and more fat than men in long, lower-intensity exercise. This makes the female athlete particularly well suited for, and may potentially provide an advantage over men in endurance events”.
Therefore it suggests there is no general physical impediment to women undertaking endurance activities, could then the issue be one of the historical social environment where women were never expected nor encouraged to pursue the same activities – physical or intellectual - as men? Perhaps women in general don’t feel strenuous activities are expected of them. Although it would be correct to add, that neither do the vast majority of men in our sedentary, physically unexacting lives. Consider the number of people of either gender who actually participate in any kind of sporting endeavor – couch quarterbacking not included. At one time in our society people walked everywhere and were a lot healthier for it, now there are far fewer pedestrians going down my street than there are cars and trucks.
So, why do we see fewer women riding ultra- distances, or climbing mountains or hiking trails or doing the myriad other activities requiring endurance, courage, fortitude and downright grit? Perhaps it is because they have yet to appreciate the extraordinary pleasure of acute physical pain to be found in endurance events as a means of achieving the euphoria of absolute success.
Having said that, I doubt there is anything quite like the same physical exultation of giving birth – which if left to men to experience this same trauma would have led to the end of human kind at the outset – which proves beyond doubt that women are just as capable if not much more so than men to overcome brute suffering and going on to live and fight another day. So they could, so why not?
All in all, I proffer the truth that women can do whatever it is they want to do, they just have to decide that they want to do it.

Kenneth Jessett.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby pjclinch » 20 Nov 2018, 9:43am

While much of your piece concentrates on raw physical characteristics, the fact is you could ask much the same questions on participation figures for fishing and golf, neither of which require particularly athletic physiques but which are dominated by men. Or building model railways, for that matter.

Whether that's down to cultural aspects (nurture) or innate sex-based psychology (nature), a mix of both or something else I won't pretend to be able to answer, but it does seem to be a fact that it's there. And for those women that want to break the mould it's good that there's increasing awareness there's no real reason they shouldn't and some encouragement to do so.

For cycling in general, as I've stated before, there is no block to women if you look at real cycling cultures. In NL slightly more women than men ride, but that's just getting about, it's not Enthusiasts out working on the chain gang (I don't have numbers, but personal anecdotal observation suggests that's male dominated in NL too). Of course in the UK just getting about is the province of the Enthusiast too, and I think that's a lot to do with its male domination (particularly that class of male that has All The Gear).

Often seen riding a bike around Dundee...

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby Barks » 28 Nov 2018, 11:12am

I have been following this thread on and off and finally thought I would add my thoughts. Being a lifelong sport participant (football, rugby, hockey, cricket, skiing, sailing, climbing .....) bloke (who only cycles for utility purposes by the way) who is married with a grown up daughter, both of whom regularly undertake various sporting activities I have long noticed that women on the whole have culturally not had the same encouragement to partake in sporting/physical activities as boys/men. In fact I encountered surprise and even opposition when I took my daughter along to early years soccer and cricket coaching. I do think however that the tide has turned and that, over time, participation of women in sport will continue to climb both in the western and wider world. This growing cultural acceptance has seen female participation in ‘male’ sports grow considerably and I can’t see it it not continuing. Direct competition in gender free sense will be the main challenge but any activity that does not have direct physical confrontation/simply revolves around muscle power but relies on highly technical skills is the area that I believe we will start to see the next real breakthrough. Some activities are already in evidence such as equestrian but I do see women closing in on men in various areas such as cricket (there is no reason a competent female cannot play against men at their relevant level) and climbing but it will take time and those breakthrough individuals will have a tough time no doubt and not just on the sporting stage. We now have female fast jet combat pilots and I have no doubts that the recent policy change to allow women into direct combat roles in the military will ultimate be found to be successful. I do see competive cycling as another example that has great potential but still expectations do have to be realistic both in event terms and the time it will take for an extradinary talented female athlete to be able to compete directly with men effectively - but if they can they mus5 be allowed to do so and the coaching systems have to be encouraging it. As regards utility cycling, female participation will also converge as day to use of the bicycle increases over time - that of course will in my view require routine car travel as we know it to be curtailed as has happened in countries like Netherlands and Denmark. Make using a bike the easiest option and the numbers will follow. And we will have massive environmental improvements in our cities and small towns which will make them so much more enjoyable to be living in.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby charliepolecat » 28 Nov 2018, 2:43pm

All very true, in the US a programme called "Title 9" mandated that equal emphasis - and funds - in college sports must be given to women has helped tremendously and so it is up to women to now decide they want the same sports opportunities that so far have been the bailiwick of men.

As far as unitary cycling goes however, the apparent or real risks to solo women from predatory men out on our roads will continue to be a significant deterrent.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby brynpoeth » 28 Nov 2018, 2:45pm

Mixed tandem riding is the solution :)
Cycling-of course, but it is far better on a Gillott
We love safety cameras & STOP signs

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby RickH » 28 Nov 2018, 3:19pm

On the racing side I notice they are including a mixed team time trial on the 2019 World Championships in Yorkshire, to replace the trade teams TTT.

https://www.eurosport.co.uk/cycling/wor ... tory.shtml

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby Altissima » 28 Nov 2018, 5:27pm

Charliepolecat - there is a factor that you haven't considered, that women are traditionally the carers in society. We give birth to and rear children, we care for elderly relatives and generally, we have less disposable time and income than men.

I don't participate in long distance events now as I don't have the time. Previously though i have audaxed. 3 female friends with adult children are ultra marathon runners. They didn't take up the sport until their late 30's and 40's because previously they had childcare responsibilities

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby charliepolecat » 28 Nov 2018, 9:01pm

Hi, I do understand that and I didn't mean to diminish the resolve of women to want to emulate (or exceed :P :P ) men - and I almost wanted to mention menstruation and menopause but decided not to venture too far into that minefield - as further deterrents, but on top of all things, I hope it goes without saying - but I'll say it anyway - there is probably no greater admirer of the inner strength, fortitude and resilience of women in all things than me and all of us recognise that it is women who make the world a much better place. It is also a truism to say that if men had to bear babies, the human race would have come to an end one generation after it started.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby Ben@Forest » 29 Nov 2018, 7:57am

charliepolecat wrote:... all of us recognise that it is women who make the world a much better place. It is also a truism to say that if men had to bear babies, the human race would have come to an end one generation after it started.

Not sure l agree with that. It is generally acknowledged that women in positions of power can be as mean and malign as men. And of course many men in positions of power are neither mean, nor malign. I have little experience in this, I've generally had good bosses of both sexes, but know my sister once had a tyrant of of a boss - and yes she was another woman.

But my main reason for posting was a question arising from your long post - women seem to have a better record in completing ultradistance events - but overall how do their times or places stack up against men? i.e. are their times close to parity irrespective of sex (taking age into account)? Or are they better or worse?