I began cycling well before I hit the road as a bicycle courier. I played hard and I rode hard. The usual things like wheeling, riding down stairs, and jumping over friends who lay stupidly side-by-side hoping we didn’t flatten them. My friends were mostly boys and I honestly do not remember having very many girlfriends.
I eventually discovered riding dirt in the early nineties despite having no friends in this relatively new sport. I don’t know why, but mountain biking just didn’t appeal to my group of lady friends, and so I found myself again surrounded by boys. Not knowing where to ride and having tons of fitness, I turned to racing.
Through competition I found a few other like-minded women but they lived far away. I only saw them on race weekends. So, I rode with the guys. There were plenty of them and they were better than me. That, in turn, made me better. Truth be told, I didn’t mind being around so many (cute) guys with awesome cycling legs and I really wanted to up my skills. So, it was a win-win situation for me.
As the years went by the racing stopped and I continued riding with my friends – a loyal group of guys whom I had been riding with for years and my friend Leslie. She was the only girlfriend that lived close by who knew how to ride. In fact, Leslie regularly rode circles around me, at least on the uphills.
In time, I married and we decided to have children. And my mountain bike gathered dust. This was a time in my life where I rode more on the road as it was the quickest and the easiest way to get in a workout. I was the primary caretaker and I didn’t have the luxury of time. A few times I was able to ride some sweet single track with my young son in a Chariot. Once I remember the Chariot tipped over on a small rock slab that I rode over. But that’s another story.
Today I’m happily back on the trails. I ride mostly on my own, with my friend Rick (who has the easiest work schedule ever) or with visiting friends on vacation. I also ride with my family which consists of a husband and two boys. Otherwise, I don’t ride much with women. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that it doesn’t happen often. I have a few part-time jobs and I’m a full-time mommy. I sneak in rides when I can and with people with similar schedules.
Looking back, I’ve been riding with men almost my entire life. The option to ride with women was limited back then. But today, there are groups, clinics, coaching, recreational clubs and hubs for girls and women. The industry is making bikes, snazzy form-fitting clothes, and accessories inviting more females into the sport. There are more women of all ages and skill levels participating than ever before. Women mountain bikers are no longer a rare breed.
While I do get out and ride with the odd women here and there, I have also come to acknowledge that I am now at the bottom of the totem pole, and that over the years—during my road riding stint—the girls and women secretly got better. I mean, holy crow, there are some serious kick-ass riders out there. I no longer have to surround myself with guys to ride with or to learn from. I regularly get whooped on Whistler’s infamous A-Line by 10-year-old girls or on my local hills by blue-haired women.
I don’t have much time to ride with anybody. That’s just the way it is for me at the moment. The difference now is that when I do ride with women I know I am going to learn, try new lines, get my butt whooped and have lots of fun. Cheers to all the female riders out there – keep it low and upright.
Cécile Gambin is a freelance action and portrait photographer living in North Vancouver, BC. Honing her skills from riding all sorts of bikes, her photographs are a fusion of Fine Art and Action to create vivid, exciting and engaging images. Her work has been featured in exhibitions, and has been published in national magazines. For more of Cécile’s work please visit www.cecilegambin.com