I started instructing mountain bike skills clinics in 2010. Having taught over 2500 mountain bikers in that time, around 40% of them women, I have 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.
By Sean Badenhorst
Austrian shredder Angie Hohenwarter absolutely owns this right-hand turn. It confirms that even though they have less natural power, women can do pretty much anything men can do on a mountain bike. To find out more about Angie, click on the image for her website.
Photo: majola.de / KME Studios
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 at least a Confidence Clinic – 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 during the theory segment 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 sub-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 etc) on the trail. Men tend to embrace and trust the bike technology easier than women.
The famous Matt Hunter bar-drag (elbow-drag!) shot. It’s not fake. Click on the image for the video! While the angle of the trail helped a great deal, placing Hunter essentially parallel to the ground, he did need the right amount of momentum and a big dose of courage, to take the risk.
Photo: Sterling Lorence
…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.
A mountain bike skills clinic teaches you how to ride with more control and confidence. Once you have more confidence you can ride more challenging trails or just feel more relaxed while riding.
Here is a list of female skills instructors that we can recommend:
Ride Like A Girl (Gauteng)
Tel: 082 893 6704
Cycle Training (Western Cape)
Tel: 076 579 1722
Over The Bars (Western Cape)
(Search for Over The Bars via Facebook)
Daisyway Coaching (Western Cape)
Tel: 082 2200 002
Dirt School (KZN)
Tel: 079 508 7268
Biking in the Bosch (Western Cape)
Sarah Hill (Gauteng)
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