“I got chicked.” Have you ever heard that phrase?
A few years after I started mountain biking, I followed my partner into gravity riding. I found that I loved it and not long after, I started racing.
Why did I want to race? Initially, curiosity. I wanted to know how fast I could go relative to other women. That very quickly changed to loving the technical challenge of gravity racing, practicing a track until I was happy I could execute the fastest race run possible. I’m a perfectionist and that appealed to me.
Give me the countdown beeps on a start ramp and the red mist will take over, happy to endure the most amount of pain I can bear to go as fast as I can. This experience of racing naturally pushed the speed I was comfortable with and with it, my skills.
At the end of my first ever race run, the timing guy stopped the race. “That can’t be right,” he said. He called the start guy. “What time did you start that run? There must be a mistake.” There was no mistake. Just a guy who found it hard to believe that a woman could ride a bike fast.
After some time racing I found that simple fact made a lot of men uncomfortable. Teenage boys were upset if they were "beaten by a girl". Adult men were nervous until they saw their time was faster than mine.
Even men much older than me, on equipment clearly less suited to speed down a hill, would often make a comment that implied they were surprised I was riding faster. To my great discomfort, some men were openly mocked by others for not having ridden faster than me.
I once came sixth in my age group, men and women. It was, and still is, one of my proudest moments! So why the (repeated) comments?
Now let me point out that I’m sure none of these guys think they’re being sexist. I have never experienced anything but support from the men I’ve raced with and, overwhelmingly, it seems to me that the men making these comments are impressed with my riding and paying a compliment.
But this is why these comments are all about sexism. They come from a deeply ingrained attitude that no man should ever be beaten in feats of physical exertion by a woman. It starts with young boys telling each other, “You got beaten by a girl!” and it ends with grown men telling each other, “You got beaten by a girl!”
The implication that a man should never be beaten by a girl in a race, simply because they are female, is actually pretty toxic. And not just for me. This type of attitude is not just bad for women, it’s bad for men as well.
The idea that a woman who loves racing shouldn’t be able to ride faster, harder or more skilfully than some guys is really offensive to female riders and racers. These women put in the effort to train, bust their guts to go fast, invest their money in the equipment required, and spend their weekends travelling, training and competing.
Why should it be so surprising that a passionate, dedicated rider is faster than a male who’s just there for a laugh, or indeed some of the males who are there trying their guts out as well?
Unless you’re a man at the absolute pointy end of the sport, there’s a woman somewhere who is faster than you.
I heard an anecdote about Tracy Moseley’s (Trek Factory Racing) partner James being ribbed because his girlfriend is faster than he is. Of course she is. She’s a professional bike rider and a world champion. She’s faster than James and just about everyone else who rides a bike, except a bunch of the world’s top men.
Please guys, no more, “I’ve been chicked” and no more telling the other guys, “You got beaten by a girl” (with the implicit, unspoken addition, “You should be ashamed of yourself”). There’s no need for it.
If you want to be complimentary saying something like,“Great riding!” will bring a smile to your friend’s face. There’s no need to bring gender into it. And there’s really no reason to browbeat other men about it.
Telling someone they’ve been chicked doesn’t make anyone feel good. If we ditch the attitude, we’ll all be happier for it.