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Guest Blog: Asking Women Bike Colorado, why not race?

Jessica McWhirt is a Cat 3 road racer, avid cyclist and active participant in
Women Bike Colorado, a Bicycle Colorado initiative aimed at getting more women on bikes. 

As a female Cat 3 Road Racer and avid cyclist, I don’t just want to see more women on bikes, I want to see women racing their bikes–women strategizing together, winning and losing together, racing in our own Tour de France. To see Colorado’s women’s race scene explode, with everyone on a team, and brackets created featuring the amazing women racing in our state: that, of course, is the dream.

That’s why I wanted to find out why more women don’t race, so I went to the Women Bike Colorado Facebook group and asked what I thought was a straight-forward question,

“For ladies who don’t race their bikes, I’m wondering what your reason is not to.”

The question garnered over 300 comments. Hot topic, apparently.

The responses I got were revealing, and many shared some common themes, the most popular of which were, “Racing would take the fun out of biking,” “I used to race” and “Time restraints.” I find it curious that for as many women who think racing wouldn’t be fun, there are the same number that used to race. On par with those two is the perceived lack of time women felt they had in order to train to race.

Other responses peppered throughout the conversation were, “I’m not competitive,” “I’m worried about performance” and “Money.” There were almost as many “worried about performance” as there were “not competitive,” so the reasons not to race spanned the spectrum of “not at all interested” to “interested but concerned.”

I was a couch potato all through my teens and early 20s. Working out felt more like punishment than enjoyment. Then I found cycling…

Competition isn’t for everyone, and I’ve been racking my brain to figure out if we’re born competitive or if it’s a learned trait. Personally, I was a couch potato all through my teens and early 20s. Working out felt more like punishment than enjoyment. Then I found cycling through an awkward first date. I didn’t own a bike at the time, so I borrowed a mountain bike my cousin had outgrown. Enough time spent slogging uphill finally convinced me to buy a road bike.

I loved riding my bike. I added more and more miles until I was doing organized rides like the Double Triple Bypass. While I donned my ride jersey along with hundreds of other cyclists, I couldn’t help but notice clubs and teams along the route. I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, I suppose, and I was drawn to the teams and their matching kits.

I didn’t know how to find a club, so I Google’d it, as my generation does. The first website that showed up was the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado’s clubs page. I picked the club nearest to me without much thought—pedal RACING—and I’m still a member.

Racing my bike has changed my life. I’m more confident. I’m in the best shape of my life. I fear less and strive for more. I respect all women who race and I equally respect all women who do not, but I’m here to say that racing IS fun, and it’s good for the competitive spirit.

I originally joined pedal’s club because I did not want to race, I just wanted people to ride with on the weekends. Still, it was intimidating as hell to meet with all the women the first time. I felt like a total n00b, even with all the rides I did the previous year, like Elephant Rock, Double Triple Bypass, Copper Triangle, Ride The Rockies, Pedal The Plains and Venus de Miles, to name a few.

The women shared races they were considering and I sat there in silence, questioning my abilities for a club. I quickly realized everyone had different goals, whether that was racing or participating in an organized ride. After hearing about the races I was intrigued, but also scared to take on an endeavor like that. I didn’t think I had the time to train or that I’d be any good if I tried. I assumed you had to be a professional with loads of time and loads of money to race your bike.

I know how the women who participate in Women Bike Colorado feel. I was worried I wouldn’t like cycling as much if I pinned on a number and pedaled the hardest I’ve ever pedaled in my life, but soon enough I started racing.

In my first race I was scared to death as I steered up to the start line, and that’s still the case, even after all the races I’ve competed in. I’m lucky if I get my cleat on to the pedal on the first try at the blow of the whistle. There were plenty of times that I had to choose between registering for a race and doing something else because money was tight. I never felt like I trained enough or had enough time to train.

None of those turned out to be true. I do have the time to train—because I’ve made it. I volunteer at races to afford it. I choose safety over first place and therefore, have never crashed in a race. I race, but I also spend time with my family and friends.

Racing my bike has changed my life. I’m more confident. I’m in the best shape of my life. I fear less and strive for more. I respect all women who race and I equally respect all women who do not, but I’m here to say that racing IS fun, and it’s good for the competitive spirit.

And to this day, I get nervous and worry about my performance before the whistle is blown, at every race. If that’s your reason not to ride, you’re not alone: we all feel the fear, but we do it anyway. I’d encourage you to face those fears and strive for more.

But whether you’re lining up for your first organized century, commuting to work alongside towering and dirty trucks, bikepacking along the Colorado Trail, or racing the sun before it sets behind the mountains, bike riding—no matter how you do it—is awesome. I tip my helmet to anyone on two wheels.

Many thanks to Jessica for taking the time to write this blog for Bicycle Colorado! 

We launched Women Bike Colorado in 2015 as an inclusive and diverse group of women who ride bicycles for many reasons. We wanted to do something about the fact that male cyclists outnumber female cyclists by at least 2:1 in the United States. 

If you’re interested in being a part of this engaged community, head to the Women Bike Colorado Facebook group by clicking here. Members will be approved by a group admin.

Bicycle Colorado

About the Author: Bicycle Colorado

Bicycle Colorado is a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Denver. We use advocacy, education and passion to make Colorado one of the most bicycle-friendly states in the nation. We encourage and promote bicycling, increase safety, improve conditions and provide a voice for people who ride bicycles in Colorado. With the support of our members and numerous partnerships across the public and private sector, we’ve made significant strides in improving bicycling since 1992.



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