The mountain bike industry may seem a huge and formidable presence to most, a vast churning machine comprised of product, money and professional outfits. But just take a moment to look at the level of which most of us come into contact with this large beast and you may find an animal of a more accessible and friendly demeanour looking right back at you.
Think about your contact with the industry, who do you speak to and see on a weekly basis? A local bike shop perhaps, a stalwart of the high street, servicing bikes, giving advice, staff there because of a passion for working with machines of a two wheeled kind. Or maybe it is contact with an event organiser, who is out in the driving rain for the love of the sport and for the good of their local community.
There is evidence of a clear passion for the sport by so many cyclists and a genuine desire to get even more people involved. In fact, the mountain bike community is pretty damn good at putting in the effort to get what they want and to increase participation – we are a population of sharers with an overriding obsession to see as many people get the most out of the sport as we can.
With this in mind when we heard about Cat Topham and her concerted effort to improve the sport she loves for the women involved we were more than interested. We’ve met Cat before and we know she’s one tough but fair cookie. She’s seen her share of the world too, both good and bad, within the bike industry and outside it. Cat is a hard worker, a trait she uses in all aspects of her life whether that be bringing up her little ripper, racing bikes or working to make a difference to the sport she has found herself with a slight obsession for. With a character like this at the helm, you can rest assured, that when Cat said she was going to create a survey to investigate just quite why female race entry numbers were so lacking in the UK, it was going to be a logical one. Whilst she has a sympathy to the fairer sex and the character traits some of us possess, Cat is no pushover and a flowery affair this was not going to be, we expected hard stats and that is just what we got!
Cat (far right) got to know her local community quickly and is a regular at races . Rachael Gurney
On behalf of UK race organisers, the British Enduro Mountain Bike Association and with the support of Tracy Moseley Cat set out to find out why, when there is such a large number of numbers of ladies regularly shredding bikes, do race entries for the discipline enduro stay so low in the UK? You can check out a full report on the technical details here but we will summarise for you. Completed questionnaires stand at 600 women riders, with a massive 53% of them willing to give racing a go but having some reservations.
Cat in race mode. Credit - Jerry Tatton @jwdtphotography
That number alone is a testament to the fact that there are women out there, they are riding and they are interested in having a say and importantly to haveing a race! A variety of questions boiled the results down to the crux of the problem of non-participation; women predominantly feel as if the tracks are too hard (43%), they feel they are not fit enough (49%) and that they are intimidated by male competitors (35%). Problems that with a bit of training, education and alteration of current systems should be easy to rectify to help future participants.
Cat then set about questioning respondents as to where the route to alleviating these issues should be directed, with questioning surrounding event information, seeding times, category separation and timing systems. Analysis of results showed that larger gaps between female riders and the rest of the competitors, inclusion of age-specific categories and the creation of an atmosphere akin to that found at female only races would encourage more ladies to don a number board show their competitive side.
Armed with this information Cat reported back to the powers that be in UK Enduro racing receiving a great response all round, it was just the information they wanted and needed and will no doubt have a huge impact on the way events are organised in the future. It is people like Cat that not only help the bicycle world to carry on revolving, they also support and nurture its growth. Whatever your skills and interests, there will be something you can do to contribute to the growth of the mountain biking scene. Whether it be using your analytical skills as our intelligence officer Cat did, or marshalling a race in less than favourable conditions, together the community will take mountain biking forward and most importantly – encourage others to join the party!