Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday Mailbox: Cycling with Men vs Cycling with Women

Finish Dinner, D2R2
Monday Mailbox is a weekly post dedicated to questions received over email. Here is one that taps into a popular topic:
Until now I've been cycling on my own, but I am considering club rides. I see that most cycling clubs in my area offer women's rides in addition to their regular [mixed gender] rides, with the idea that this helps women feel more comfortable. [Also,] talking to women [cyclists] I get the sense that riding with men is not such a nice experience. What are your impressions of cycling with men vs other women? Is there an advantage to women only rides?
From personal experience (as opposed to stories others tell me), I have not formed any generalised impressions of gender as tied to specific cycling behaviours. 

For background: I occasionally take part in women-only club rides, as well as in mixed gender club rides. I also do lots of informal riding with 1-3 cycling buddies at a time, and the gender split there is roughly 50/50 (meaning, roughly half of my cycling buddies are men and half are women).

Among the people I ride with, I cannot say I notice a difference in riding style based on gender. Possibly this is because other differences are more prominent. For instance, there are experienced riders versus inexperienced ones. There are competitive riders versus non-competitive ones. Some riders are aggressive and take risks, while others are mellow and risk-averse. There is a category of riders who only talk about cycling while they're cycling (technique, nutrition, bikes), versus those who talk about anything but (philosophy, politics, gossip). I can think of other classification systems before gender starts to seem relevant. 

As far as advantages to women-only rides... As I understand it, the assumptions there are that: (1) women enjoy the opportunity to socialise with other women, and (2) women feel less self-conscious without men around. If this applies to you, then that would certainly be the advantage. However, it does not apply to all women, including myself. Men don't inherently make me nervous, and women don't inherently put me at ease, it's really more about the individual. I'll join a women's ride if I want to ride that day, but not because it's a women's-only ride.

Judging by how often this topic comes up, I recognise it as a serious issue and don't mean to be dismissive. For women who, for whatever reason, feel uncomfortable riding with men, women-only club rides are a valuable resource. In that sense, I am glad that more of them are appearing all over. 

But me, I'll ride with anyone. As long as they ride predictably and I can keep up. Conversation optional.

48 comments:

  1. And with sensible thinking like that, we men are honoured when you ride with us.

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  2. I think it depends on the group dynamic. Not all bike groups that are marketed as mixed gender are welcoming. Then again, women only groups might not be either. The only way to find out is to go on a ride and see if you like the mix of individuals.

    On a related note, commentators: how much do your local ride groups charge for membership? Do the ones affiliated with bike shops charge less or more?

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    1. Club membership can have a dollar amount associated.

      Shop rides are generally free, suitable to those who meet the criteria.

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    2. Any ride that doesn't want you there unless you're a paying member, you don't need that ride.

      If you want the chance to buy the club jersey, start making club events every week, and this is the club you want to stay with, then someone can reasonably ask you to pay dues. Just to ride, that has always been free and any who want to change that should be laughed at.

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    3. All our local Shop rides are run by the local Club, membership is $20 a year and if you're a glutton you can recoup that on the free food at the big gravel road race/ride that we kick the year off with.

      If you're thick skinned and can shrug off the pointed questions about your volunteer hours, you can turn your $20 into a years worth of free blinkies, food at the Race and century, the occasional waterbottle and the luxury of complaining about route, weather and pace on rides you didn't have to plan and the color of T-Shirts you didn't have to design, have printed or go pick up. GO TEAM!

      Spindizzy

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    4. Our club in southwest Virginia has a membership fee of $20 which includes at least two parties a year and the right to bitch about the things Spindizzy described above. Anyone is welcome to join the rides posted on the calendar. Some ride leaders make non-member participants sign a waiver of liability, others rely on the assumption of risk nature of our state laws.

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    5. Hi Erin - Sorry, I did not notice your question until now.

      There is some variety in how much clubs charge for membership. My club (Ride Studio Cafe) is, on the surface, expensive, but membership includes clothing, a gift card to their cafe and other stuff that makes it essentially the same as other clubs.

      But none of this matters for taking part in club rides, because they are free to non-members. You join the club out of a voluntary sense of affiliation or else to race on their team, but you certainly do not have to and are never pressured to.

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  3. I ride almost exclusively with two females these days. Took me years to get them to ride right. Years I tell you.

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  4. While I've occasionally found myself riding in a group that turned out to be mostly women, and have raced in women's races, I've never been on a women-only ride. I've ridden much, much more in groups that were mostly men and have often been the only woman. Only rarely does it even so much as cause comment.
    In particular, I've found brevets to have a higher percentage of men than club rides. I've been the only woman in the event a good number of times. But regardless, I'd rather choose my riding companions on the basis of shared interest than shared gender.

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    1. Right. I think shared gender's relevance is as a side-effect of it, in some cases, coinciding with shared interests.

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  5. Just to add to your point about other factors being more important than gender, not all male cyclists act the same. My normal riding group is mixed, but we're all pretty androgenous-the guys aren't super masculine and the gals aren't super feminine. I rode with a group of manly men for a bit during a gravel event this weekend and couldn't take the testosterone myself. I opted to break off and ride solo 'cause it was just too manly.

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  6. Conversation optional? I would go insane on a ride with no talking!

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    1. yes, it's one of the main reasons i ride with others :)

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    2. Sometimes a little of this can be just the ticket.

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    3. I ride mostly with friends these days, but we do participate in some group rides with whoever may show up. I have no problem with being conversational, but I do have a real problem with riders that place a higher priority on chatting than paying attention to road situations. I see this mostly with men, but perhaps that is because the mix is always male dominant. If you can't place safety above conversation, then I don't want to be anywhere near you on a bike.

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  7. Everyday my rides put me in the male minority: On the way to school with my two daughters! Add my wife and that's three (and add my Beagle, in the trailer, and it's four... well, that one's only in the planning stage)

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  8. Rather intriguing subject to me, on many levels.
    I've often wondered how and why it's difficult for so many women to ride with men. I am often struck by the large number of women only rides where I'm at--I've never seen a ride advertised as 'men only', although it may be an implication I'm missing somewhere.

    Then again, I can't help but think of either side of it, men or women only, as a rather unsavory form of discrimination, but I suppose just like any other stereotype, it's essential not to see the forest for the trees.

    I'd say for the most part I like riding with humans--but they are tough to find these days.

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  9. I'm one of those women who gravitate towards women's group rides. So much so I spent many years organizing them and cultivating women to ride with.

    The issue I had with riding on so-called mixed gender group rides is that the vast majority of participants were men and they were the ones in charge of the ride. This was a problem for me because:
    (1) The overall speed was significantly faster than the average woman's speed. It's no fun to be dropped from the group or ride at max effort while the others are coasting along.
    (2) There was too much competitive talk which included unhelpful "encouragement" (e.g. "C'mon, you can ride that section. Just lift your front wheel over the root" "The hill's not that steep/long/technical. Just spin up and you'll be fine")
    (3) Too much bike gear talk. I don't want to hear about which tires are grip best for 20 miles.

    For our women's rides we'd often invite the guys, but the guys knew that we were selecting the route and setting the pace and the tone of the ride. It's totally different when women make up 50% of the group and we're the ones planning it vs being 10% of the group with the fastest/most skilled guys planning the ride.

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    1. Here is a question.

      As far as point #2, is it the case that (a) you find women are less likely to give unsolicited advice, or (b) you find yourself less irritated by it when they do it (or by the way in which they do it)?

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    2. For unsolicited advice I think it's more (b), a combo of the way it's done and the fact that many women are more likely to try something if they see someone like them doing it. In many cases "like them" means another woman, one of similar skill level/strength/style.

      I say all this as someone who has completed 100+ mile rides with 10,000 feet of climbing, who raced cyclocross for three seasons, and who once convinced four other novice mountain bikers to compete in a 24 hour mountain bike relay. I'm no wimpy girl. But I don't like certain aspects of "guy culture" and avoid situations where it's likely to be found.

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  10. I ride with the local club in Bucks County and generally do C or C+ rides. Generally more men show up than women but there are always at least a few women on those rides. I can't imagine why any of the women on our rides would have reason to say it's an unpleasant experience.

    We're a bunch of middle-aged or older guys; we don't tell dirty jokes and we don't make sexist or patronizing remarks. Heck, most of the women that show up are stronger riders than I am! We all speak to each other about current events, family, whatever.

    For the record, if I asked about "men only" rides and mentioned that I've heard riding with women is a generally unpleasant experience, not only would I get an earful but I absolutely would deserve it. I have to admit I find the questions somewhat offensive though your response is perfectly acceptable.

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    1. Exactly. Mattr's final paragraph sums it up nicely. Most group rides seem to identify themselves by the pace they tend to keep; know your limitations and choose accordingly. To solicit some sort of sexist stereotype about men on bikes is incredibly offensive, and I'm surprised your mailbox didn't have any better questions to feature.

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    2. The question of whether women's-only spaces (schools, clubs, etc.) are offensive extends beyond cycling and taps into which brand/wave of feminism, if any, one subscribes to.

      In my estimation, if I get a question often enough it is worth featuring, if only to say that my thoughts on it run contrary to the way the question is posed.

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    3. Yes, indeed, those are bigger questions that extend beyond cycling, but I'm talking about the following: "I get the sense that riding with men is not such a nice experience. What are your impressions of cycling with men vs other women?" That certainly qualifies as flagrant sexism. Bigotry. Small-minded redneck nonsense. It wouldn't be cool if we replaced the term "men" with terms like "woman", "homosexuals", "Catholics", "Latinos", or anything else that qualifies as a protected class. The same holds true for men. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but a lot of ppl are likely to call foul when they see sexism tossed out there so casually.

      Kudos to you for having some thoughts that run contrary to prejudice, and I get it that you probably get the question frequently. (Sad, but believable.) It's still an insensitive question, though.

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    4. The "not such a nice experience" sentence was followed by details, which I cut to keep the question short and general enough to represent other questions of its kind.

      Basically the phrase is shorthand for several ideas. One is that men are more aggressive in their bike handling, which makes them dangerous (for women who presumably dislike aggression) to ride with. Another is that they try to "teach" (give unsolicited advice to) any female they ride with. And another still is that, being typically faster and more competitive than women, they will pressure female group members to ride faster than they are comfortable until finally leaving them behind if they can't keep up.

      If you are familiar with various feminist theories, as you seem to be, you should know that, philosophically speaking, making these accusations against men is not the same as bigotry against the minorities and outgroups you listed. This is because women are themselves considered to have the status or history of an outgroup/minority/oppressed people in most societies. So in describing their social discomfort around men, they are describing what it is about the majority that oppresses them.

      I have my own views on the subject. But it's not as simple as calling this stuff bigoted. This is attached to a huge body of work spanning decades where philosophers and activists of all stripes debate the finer points of identity politics.

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    5. I'm not sure the question is bigoted per se, it just seemed as though someone was painting with an awfully broad brush and it surprised me. Maybe its because the C/C+ riders tend to be older/slower but the only time I've seen agressive riding on one of my club rides is when another 40 something guy cut me off and forced me to ride over rough pavement. I ride 32s compared to everyone elses' 23s & 25s so I didn't much care. The 30 something woman riding behind me saw what he did, laughed and said "that was some good horseback riding" as she rode past me on the smooth pavement. What could I possibly have to teach her that she doesn't already know so that's not an issue in my group. Since we all ride at roughly the same pace, there's not a whole lot of competition either. I think the bottom line is that whoever is asking the question, and whoever she used as a source, is riding with the wrong group of people. If you're ever in Bucks County, you should ride with us (Central Bucks Bicycle Club).

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    6. The responses to this post make me more aware than ever how many of my readers and active commentators are male.

      I do not think the comment quoted would surprise any of the women; whether you like it or not, this kind of stuff gets said/written in private conversations. over email and on female dominated forums and blogs pretty often. Whether that's good, bad, bigoted or not is a separate topic.

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    7. So according to 'various feminist theories', 'philosophically speaking' there is a reason why women are not being 'bigoted' for asking questions based on assumptions of gender stereotype?

      Then because women in our society, as well as many other societies are stereotypically considered to have been oppressed, explaining their 'social discomfort', or why some guys on a group ride were annoying is describing the 'majority that oppresses them'?

      I get the feeling those feminist theories have their roots in the sorts of patriarchal theories they are supposedly going to destroy. Is it an ironic joke, or a sincere attempt at utopia?

      It's disturbing to me how many death threats this poor lady received--from women.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erin_Pizzey

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    8. In response to your first question: Yes.

      For the rest, I will hold back and play the "outside the scope of this blog" card. Read up on it from all perspectives, think independently, draw your own conclusions. Let's keep this here to cycling.

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    9. I thought the few comments that amounted to 'who cares, let's ride' were beautiful--and as far as the topic goes, that's still my take.

      While I appreciate (and follow,) the advice, I can't help but think no matter what amount of literature I read on feminism, racism, class discrimination, religious discrimination, etc. I won't be able to decide one group has inherent rights another group does not--isn't that what got us into this mess?

      Perhaps I'm missing something.

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    10. I was hoping that more women would chime in about their experiences. I'll post mine a little further down. I wonder whether some of the comments suggesting the topic is discriminatory or bigoted may have derailed the discussion of women's experiences, making some women feel reluctant to cmment. I do agree that the topic of why this is problematic is outside the scope of this blog. Thank-you, V, for your comments and moderation.

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  11. Just relayed to me - a lesbian friend hates going to lesbian bars. Why? "Too many women."

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  12. I like mixed rides.

    I hope this doesn't sound creepy, but getting to spend a few hours a week with some women who aren't in my family makes my life nicer. I don't think it's about male escapist fantasies either( I have those too but that's usually all about psycho Librarians and stolen Camaros), there's a type of intelligence and perspective that you find more often with women than men, and if you like that then that's where you want to be looking for it.

    Rides are nice safe places for a married guy like me to make some friends, listen and share a bit about things that don't come up much in male conversation and just generally get in the Girl Bubble without it looking like you're on the prowl. Just move around a bit in the group and spend a little time chatting with whoever feels chatty that day and often enough it turns into something nice. If it doesn't then just go back up to the front and try to hang out with the fast boys and girls. But if you want to talk about Emily Dickenson or John Steinbeck or Frida Kahlo, that isn't usually going to happen on the pointy end of a men's fast road ride.

    And while it's not the point, sometimes you do get to be around bright, attractive women who smell nice, smile and laugh politely at your jokes. And really, what old dude doesn't like that?

    Spindizzy

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    1. I don't think it's creepy at all. I am a married forty-year-old woman who enjoys riding mostly with "The Old Farts" group. These are age 60+ men who keep a decent pace but don't want to kill themselves trying to keep up on faster rides. They are safe, predictable riders and their life experience provides great fodder for conversation. I even stick around and have coffee with them afterwards.

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    2. Not to get all scholastic, but there are two lines of thought on this one. One is that genders enjoy each other's company for precisely the reasons you describe, and that mixed groups in sports are a healthy way to go about this.

      But another goes something like this (crude summary of nuanced theory alert): Mixed gender groups are sexualised, in that the mere presence of the other gender activates certain modes of behaviours. For males the mode involves showing off their strength and knowledge, while behaving domineeringly. For females the mode involves showing off their physical attractiveness while behaving submissively. Therefore mixing genders in (and thereby sexualising) a sport puts men at a further advantage and women at a further disadvantage, since the male mode of behaviour around females is more conducive to sport.

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    3. No, please get all scholastic, I think anyone reading this far is willing to think a little deeper...

      RE the 2 schools of thought you mention, Yeah, I think I get it. Unfortunately too often we don't realize we've skewed as far as the leering caveman side of the equation till we(men) say something condescending or make an ass of ourselves in some other way that even we notice. If it's in the context of a socially accepted activity, like sport, that allows us to minimize or deny unhealthy behavior or attitudes then we're more likely to go even farther before we notice we've crossed the line? Am I close?

      All this wanting to be around other people is so complicated and fraught. Even leaving the unavoidable sexual nature of these things out of it, if we participate(all of us, not only men) because we feel a little lonely and isolated or because we find being around others makes us feel strong or smart or cool, than we run the risk of looking like a dope and making others(regardless of gender) feel uncomfortable(sometimes because of they're insecurities?) if we can't maintain a sufficient level of self awareness. Most of us probably learn from getting it wrong, unfortunately. Add sex back into the equation and it starts to feel pretty overwhelming...

      I asked a friend of mine who's over 80 and really squared away, when do you stop reacting to Women in that way, he said he'd let me know...

      Spindizzy






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    4. velouria
      I have been doing club rides since 1984. Slower riders vs fast riders, women vs men always comes up. There has never been a solution. My wife started riding with us in 2000. I purchased a low-end road bike from Performance that had flatbars. Initially, she could hardly keep on our rides going 14-16 mph. Well, she trained and worked very hard and she now can keep up on the flats at any speed. I never led her to a ride before she was ready.
      In 2009, we rode the Wine Country Century in Santa Rosa,Ca. The ride goes through Sonoma Co. and is moderately hilly. She averaged 18mph(ride time) at 57yo.
      Not everybody is athletic or goal oriented. But, with a little coaching and very positive vibes, people can have a real blast accomplishing some of these feats.
      Don C.

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  13. Is this about cycling with 'men vs. women' or training with 'men vs. women?'

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    1. Good question. Initially I'd written a paragraph about social rides vs racing-oriented training rides, but removed it to avoid further complicating the topic. With the latter, gender segregation makes sense to me, since the races and teams themselves are segregated. But then I don't race, so I'm reluctant to bring something I have no experience with into it.

      Furthermore, I think when clubs hold rides open to the public, it is not always clear which kind it is; they are not so well defined.

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  14. I'd hve to agree with ladyfleur above, but would also add that the best training partners are those with whom I have enough in common to have a conversation that is not just about the riding and riding gear (as more varied conversation makes the miles go by faster) and also those who are at a similar fitness level so one is not slowing down or the other straining for every breath to keep up the talking. I'd say that I find this more often in other women though.

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  15. In my city there is a women's only club and ride, and it's my first choice. This club goes out of its way to educate and encourage women cyclists of all levels. It is a no-drop ride with mid-pack sweeps and back of pack sweeps. No one gets left behind. The front is very fast and the back is not so much, and there is usually a check point mid-way to regroup. I find that sometimes women who are on a mixed ride are with a male partner and both are less likely to converse and take on another rider in a group as well as converse. And my experience on a few mixed training rides is that the traffic rules are not as strictly followed--we took over an entire side of the road and blew through a lot of signs as a large unstoppable pack. This just could be the personality of this ride but the women's group stresses correct group riding in my congested city.

    I guess I just appreciate how hard the women's club works getting women into cycling and want to support them.

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  16. Most of my group riding experiences are of the slow, vintage-bike type social rides. As a woman, I've usually been the minority in these groups, but this has never been a concern for me. I think this is mainly due to the fact that these rides attract the kind of men who are looking for a relaxed, social ride, so our riding styles are pretty in sync.

    On the sporty side, I am more concerned about whether I can keep up with the group than with the gender mix. A group that tends to be intense, aggressive, and competitive would not be appropriate for my skill-level right now. Still, I can understand why women look to women-only groups as a safe space - safe from unwanted advances, unsolicited advice, or risky riding styles. Not having deal with these issues can be...restful. Sometimes I just need that kind of rest.

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  17. I have a lot of experience with both mixed groups and a ladies group which i coached at club cycling level. Mixed groups in club cycling are more about picking a group were the ave speed is suitable than which sex is on the ride. As for ladies only i have experienced leading a group which the bike control and group riding was at a high standard. I feel some ladies who are new to group riding at club or leisure cycling might feel intimadated by males in the group.

    chris531

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  18. I ride in mixed groups often and love it--we always have a varied skill level but we look after each other---usually no drop group

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  19. My best ride buddy is a guy, we do rides maybe 3 times a month. When we start inviting other people, they're usually guys too since we don't know that many women cyclists. So I do mostly ride with guys, and me & my ride buddy have excellent ride chemistry - we just seem to know what to do around each other.

    I've been on casual mixed rides that were A LOT of fun. Joining up with a bunch of strangers who announced their rides on the 'net, we end up a beach, there's music, it's all good.

    I won't do mixed rides if there is even an ounce of competitiveness to it. When random strangers act like getting their times it THE most important thing...it changes the atmosphere of the ride. I find men just take it too seriously; they make too big a deal and get all macho. It's okay to want to get a good time, but women seem more relaxed about it, less stressed. Perhaps it has a lot to do with how we're socialized as kids (sports & winning is undeniably a bigger part of male culture) but who knows. Either way, I don't like riding with men in that situation.

    I also get a bit frustrated that I'm weaker than some men when I *know* that I bike more & try harder than they do. I'm car free, so I bike everywhere year round. And I still get to feel like I'm holding them back, and it SUCKS. Even when they're being super nice about it.

    I haven't encountered any sexism on rides, though I have in the cycling community in general.

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  21. I am obviously reading this a bit late, just found it while researching women and racing (psychological differences between men and women etc). I have a minor in Women's Studies, but it was 20+ years ago. I tried to start a women's cycling magazine in 2008. I lasted with 3 issues. Why? Ultimately, I found that the vast majority of women did not want a magazine about the sport that many of them participated in everyday -- even though it only contained about 25% race/training info. I once went to a large (2500+) women's only ride to hand out FREE copies. I gave away fewer than 200. I am highly competitive, I have raced at the World level in several sports. It's taken me a bit to actually realize and be able to recognize that whether or not we want to admit it, there IS a difference in the sexes. Many women do not feel comfortable riding with men...add in insecurities with lycra and I get it. I don't like it, but I get it! For example, there is nothing wrong with thinking or saying that men ride more aggressively. As a general comment, minus the badass women out there, they do. They take more risks. It's perfectly fine to acknowledge it. I've ridden with women's groups of casual riders who, yes need some basic bike handling skills, but truthfully, I know men who needs skills also. I've also been on balls-to-the-wall fast women's rides. and Velouria is pretty much spot-on when she speaks of feminist theory :-)

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