RICCI: Mountain biking helps girls build confidence, courage and swagger
June 19, 2018
Women are fearless.
From flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean to being the first of their gender to run the Boston Marathon, bold and adventurous women like Amelia Earhart and Kathrine Switzer set a precedent that women are able to do anything they put their minds to.
That mindset is carried on by today's women entrepreneurs and athletes, who continue to inspire young girls every day — and that includes the world of mountain biking.
Because young girls need inspiration. They need to be able to look up at fearless women role models and think to themselves, "I can do that too."
Without the drive that comes with doing something they love, girls in particular (though all people suffer from this) will go into high school and the rest of their life without a certain confidence, a certain swagger, that helps them strive towards their goals.
And mountain biking is just the right place to perfect that swagger.
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"Riding bikes helps build confidence, communication, and mental strength for young girls," said endurance coach and former pro rider Robin Farina.
Farina is a Nevada City resident and has been coaching and racing for many years, and has helped countless girls find their love for mountain biking.
"Cycling is not always an easy sport," said Farina. "It teaches athletes to have to push through uncomfortable situations, ask for help when things get tough, and lift others up when their teammates need them. Sports are the backbone and foundation for teamwork during high school and cycling can be a very fun and adventurous way to learn."
Mountain bike companies have begun to make gender-specific fitting bikes, and there are just as many women's races as men's (though there often isn't as much competition for the girls). In fact, if they're dedicated enough, girls can become as fast or faster than boys — and this helps inspire girls to further themselves in their sport by getting rid of the gender bias that boys are stronger than girls.
"In my opinion, mountain biking also has helped young girls realize they are just as strong as the guys and they shouldn't be subjected to thinking they can't do the same as them," said Nevada Union student and high school mountain bike racer Morgan Smith.
In addition to making a name for themselves in a man's world, girls who race or just ride mountain bikes become more social, happy and confident — all skills that translate throughout life. They learn social norms and build friend groups that will last a lifetime, and simply step foot into a sport that they can do for a lifetime.
"Mountain biking allows most young girls to feel a sense of empowerment about themselves, knowing it is such a male dominated sport," said Stella Sisneros, who raced mountain bikes for the Vacaville High School team. "Plus it's a great way to get involved in a fun, hard sport that can build great fundamentals of life."
Despite the empowerment and confidence that comes with mountain biking, the sport is still heavily male-focused to this day. In fact, men outnumber women 10-to-2 in the mountain biking world according to a recent study by singletracks.com.
Because of the smaller numbers of girl mountain bikers, there is now a continual push by coaches, riders and women-specific mountain biking organizations to introduce more girls to bikes.
The most well-known of those women specific organizations is Little Bellas (https://littlebellas.com). Started by professional mountain bike racers Lea Davison and her sister Sabra Davison in 2007, it brings girls ages 7 to 16 together to ride, learn about bikes and have fun with women mentors. High school mountain bike girls and professional women racers have the chance to inspire and mentor young riders year-round.
It truly is an amazing organization.
High school racers Clodagh Mellett and Elise Nichol volunteer in the Marin County chapters of Little Bellas. The high schoolers lead a group of young girls around on fun, short rides to get them out riding — often with treats like ice cream provided at the end of the trip.
"I think that mentors, as well as just seeing other girls in the sport, are hugely important to mountain bike culture. Being able to see girls and women who have worked so hard for mountain biking and had it pay off in doing so well definitely impacts young girls," said Nichol, who began riding when she was 3 years old, but didn't participate in anything on a regular basis until high school.
"Girls entering high school have it hard socially and mentally and can sometimes feel like the world is against them," Nichol said. "Being able to do something they love as stress relief and also have something they're passionate about can truly be life changing."
Riders like Nichol, Sisneros and Smith are only some of the countless young riders who started in groups like Little Bellas and moved on to join the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which is one of the largest organizations helping introduce kids and teenagers to riding and racing. Founded in 2009, NICA's mission is to get more kids on bikes, providing a safe and fun place for teenagers to learn how to ride and race. It has created mountain bike race leagues around the U.S. for high schoolers to participate in. Possibly NICA's greatest achievement, though, is introducing hundreds of young girls to the world of mountain bike racing in a friendly, all-inclusive way.
In the Northern California subset of NICA alone, one of the biggest NICA leagues in the U.S., the ratio of boys to girls has already been on its way to equal. Guys only outnumber girls 4-to-1, and the number of girls in the program has steadily grown the past few years.
"NICA has been such a big part of my life," says Nevada Union senior Grace Swanton, who joined the Nevada Union mountain bike team her freshman year and races in the NorCal League, a California branch of NICA. "The organization has honestly allowed me to make new friends and is an incredible way to be athletic as well as meet new people. I continue to do it because NICA has done so much for teenagers and has made biking a lifestyle for me."
By bringing many young girls into the world of mountain bike racing, helping them fall in love with a sport that gives them confidence, and inspiring them to push themselves, NICA has inspired countless other smaller organizations to follow in its success.
Jet Lowe's organization in Nevada City, Bicyclists of Nevada County (BONC), also understands this need for more girls on bikes, and makes a special effort to reach out to women. Every year, the sub-organization to BONC called YBONC (Youth Bicyclists of Nevada County) hosts a women-only skills camp to help female riders with their bike handling skills and to have fun riding with other women (https://ybonc.org/events/mountain-bike-clinic/).
"We hire certified MTB instructors and have a program for all levels," Lowe said. "We want girls to learn proper bike handling, control, and more to improve their outdoor riding experience."
This rise in support for young girl mountain bikers has helped make a huge shift in the cycling world. Every day, more and more mothers, sisters, daughters and friends are hopping on bikes and joining their local mountain bike club, helping start a revolution of girl riders who will grow into more skilled, empowered and truly happy women.
Mina Ricci is a freelance writer who contributes to The Union
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