As much as we like to see improvements in gender equality in mountain biking in South Africa, there remain differences between males and females that are simply unlikely to change. One place that these are very evident is in mountain bike skills. After years of teaching men and women how to improve their mountain bike skills, here’s what I’ve learned.
By Sean Badenhorst
I first started instructing skills clinics in 2010. In that time, I’ve personally instructed around 2000 South African mountain bikers at skills clinics in Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and of course my home province, Gauteng. I have trained others to also instruct our TREAD Skills Clinics of which there are now around 100 per year around South Africa, thanks to the support of Volvo.
I love instructing skills clinics because I get to meet so many South African mountain bikers, each of whom has a fear or a weakness that we work on changing during 3-4 hours. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, they leave the clinic with a feeling of satisfaction and new-found confidence and/or speed. It’s tremendously rewarding to guide people to become better riders (in many cases, much better) in a short space of time.
While the number of female mountain bikers that enter competitive events is a lot lower than that of the males (around 15%), that’s not the case with our skills clinics. Around 40% of those that attend a TREAD Skills Clinic are female. Over the years I’ve learned that female mountain bikers, compared to males, differ, sometimes significantly. Obviously there are exceptions, but in general, here are seven key differences I’ve noticed.
Female mountain bikers…
…are more open to learning
Most males feel that they don’t need a skills clinic. And from a confidence perspective, they’re mostly right. It may be because boys tend to have ridden bicycles over obstacles more than girls as kids and developed a more natural confidence on mountain bikes as adults. That’s not to say there are males that don’t need to attend a Confidence Clinic (our most popular clinics) – and many do, improving their confidence further. Women, however, tend to need less convincing that the investment of a few hundred rand and a few hours at a skills clinic can change their mountain biking for the better, forever…
…are less likely to take risks
This isn’t only limited to mountain biking (ask any insurance company). Females are generally more cautious than males, some would say more sensible, especially when it comes to doing something that could lead to physical harm. But in mountain biking, females will quickly decide if something appears too high risk – and say so. Men tend to be more open to trying anything tricky or new on a mountain bike.
…are better ‘students’
At every single skills clinic I instruct, I start with 15-20 minutes of theory. This theory segment isn’t exciting, but it’s exceptionally important. As soon as we start the practical segment (riding various trail obstacles), it becomes obvious that the women (mostly) paid better attention to what I explained than the men. Compared to men, women tend to also listen more carefully when I explain what they’re doing wrong during the practical segment of the clinic and work on correcting it. Some males do this, but most tend to slip into their default (old) way of doing something and take longer to adapt to the better/correct (new) way.
…have less natural power
I don’t hesitate to send males up steep or technical climbs on skills clinics. Among other smaller elements, you mostly need power and commitment to get up them. The males that struggle, generally lack commitment, not power. But with females, who have less natural power than males, I change the gradients to be less severe or less technical (or both). Of all the scenarios, it seems there’s nothing more intimidating to women (clipped into their pedals), than the possibility of a low-speed tumble on a steep, technical ascent.
…are less likely to trust technology
Thanks to technology, even a fairly standard R10 000 hardtail can be ridden up or down most South African trails. I explain this (often in detail) and ask my students to trust the technology (frame material, geometry, wheels, tyres, suspension, gears and brakes). By trusting the technology, you’re better able to focus on carrying speed through corners, crossing a rock garden smoothly, and, in most cases, just riding without a constant fear of the bike not being able to manage something (roots, ruts, small stones etcs) on the trail. Men tend to embrace and trust the bike technology easier than women.
…are more expressive
This isn’t really unexpected, but I can confirm that women on my skills clinics are not afraid to let you know how they feel. An excited “Whoop!” when they do something new or well; a group cheer for someone else on the clinic doing something successfully. A swear word or few at a nervous moment… Men tend to quietly go through a skills clinic, unless they’re doing a clinic with mates or colleagues, then there’s always a higher chance of banter and emotional expression.
…are more interested in fun than competition
Male mountain bikers are inherently competitive, even more so when they’re on a skills clinic with their mates. None of the obstacles I have on my clinics have prizes or are timed because that’s not what it’s about. But I often detect an underlying needle from the male ‘students’. Women, however, are far less worried about who can do what obstacle first and/or how fast and way more focussed on having fun. Improved skills lead to greater confidence, comfort and control, all of which combine to ensure more fun can be had on a mountain bike. Women seem to just get this from the outset.
I thoroughly enjoy that there are differences between male and female mountain bikers on our mixed skills clinics. But from time to time we do also have separate ladies-only clinics too, where there’s a different kind of energy and focus, lower levels of power and higher levels of fun.
If you’re a keen mountain biker – male or female – consider attending a skills clinic. You’ll spend the rest of your mountain biking life enjoying the return on the investment.
Upcoming TREAD Skills Clinics, safely driven by Volvo. Bookings at www.treadskills.co.za
LADIES-ONLY CLINICS – www.treadskills.co.za
Ladies Confidence PLUS Clinic – Sunday 9 July, Thaba Trails Joburg
Ladies Confidence Clinic – Saturday 12 August, Thaba Trails, Joburg
CORPORATE CLINICS – www.treadskills.co.za
TREK South Africa (staff and clients only) – Friday 14 July, Central Park Trails Joburg
CONFIDENCE CLINICS – www.treadskills.co.za
Confidence Clinic – Saturday 15 July, Constantia Uitsig Bike Park, Cape Town
Confidence Clinic – Saturday 15 July, Big Red Barn, Centurion
Confidence Clinic – Saturday 22 July, Holla Trails, Ballito
Confidence Clinic – Saturday 19 August, Holla Trails, Ballito
Confidence Clinic – Saturday 19 August, Big Red Barn, Centurion
Confidence Clinic – Saturday 26 August, Central Park Trails, Joburg
SPEED CLINICS – www.treadskills.co.za
Speed Clinic – Saturday 30 July, Thaba Trails, Joburg
Speed Clinic – Saturday 27 August, Thaba Trails, Joburg
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