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Decline in women racers raises alarm, sparks action

Posted by on July 23rd, 2007 at 10:26 am

[Updated at 12:39pm]

Racing at PIR

Women compete at PIR series.
(File photo)

The local road racing community is worried about the decline in the number of women racers. To reverse the trend, they’ve stepped up their outreach efforts and launched an online survey find out the cause.

The number of women racers has dwindled so much in recent months that some race organizers have had to combine small fields to be able to run their events.

Mike Murray with the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA) says that while the number of purchased memberships is on the rise, women’s participation in some local events is on a downward trend.

Of the total OBRA membership, slightly more than 15% are women (which equates to 400 members).

The declines, however, have not been consistent throughout each category nor at every race. Clark Ritchie, who organizes the popular Mt. Tabor Series noted an increase among entry-level (Category 4) women in contrast to lower numbers in the senior women’s field.

Racing at PIR

Kronda Adair at PIR.
(File photo)

At the Monday Night Racing Series held at Portland International Raceway (PIR), the number of women in the novice fields has been on a steady decline.

Jim Anderson, the man behind the PIR series, worries that the novice field will no longer be part of the series if more women do not come out to race. As this is one of the few true “novice” races for women in the Portland area, it would be a great loss for the racing community.

Tonight at PIR: Ladies Night
In response, Anderson is holding a special “Ladies Night” event tonight to bolster attendance. Race organizers have partnered up with Hillsboro-based cycling apparel retailer Team Estrogen to offer $10 gift certificates for each female entrant. Top finishers in the night’s races will also receive a pair of Teva clogs.

A clinic for first-time racers will kick of the event at 5:45 tonight.

In another attempt to encourage more women to race and understand the needs of current racers, a group of local women cyclists have put together an online survey.

Local racer Uma Kleppinger says she helped put the survey together to,
“try to gather more specific information about why women race or not, and what factors contribute to which races women participate in.”

Another effort to bolster the ranks of women racers is a series of “Meet the Team” and women specific rides scheduled for this fall (more info here). The rides are a joint effort by several local teams and are designed to introduce women to group and team riding in a non-competitive environment (the rides will have a “no-drop” policy).

Despite these efforts, the reason for the decline of women racers remains unclear. It’s obvious that there is a substantial reservoir of women who are interested in racing; the issue is now how best to activate them. Any attempts to help this part of the community grow are beneficial for OBRA, racers and the women themselves.

To learn more about these and other women’s racing opportunities, read the the OBRA email list.

Also, don’t forget to take the Oregon Women’s Bike Racing survey.

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  • Bearhat July 23, 2007 at 10:52 am

    I want to race cross, but I need to find a frame that fits first. You\’ll see me out there one day!!

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  • Cecil July 23, 2007 at 10:58 am

    I had really hoped to learn to race at PIR this year, but there\’s this little thing called a job that prevents me from getting to the track that early on a weeknight – drats.

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  • Bearhat July 23, 2007 at 11:09 am

    Ditto Cecil!

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  • patrick July 23, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Looks like 40+ women are coming out to PIR Mountain Bike Short Track. Dirt is the gateway into riding. Come on out and give it a try, you can check out what the road scene is all about as well.

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  • Nikki July 23, 2007 at 11:43 am

    In response to Cecil and others who are interested in racing, please fill out the survey so these thoughts can be collected. -Maybe other women are not racing because of similar reasons (job, time factors, support, money, etc.). Hopefully these issues will be looked at and maybe races can be altered to fit the needs of the entire racing community of women. For newbie racers: PIR is a great beginner race. Go and have fun!

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  • Jessi July 23, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    To quote Mike Murray, from the OBRA message board:

    \”Historically a higher percentage of women members have attended races
    compared to men. In general about 10% of the available market will turn out
    to any given race. For women\’s race this has, in the past, been closer to
    20% for many races. As total numbers of women members go up I expect that
    the percentage that attend a specific race will move more towards the rate
    seen with men.\”

    Either your numbers are backwards in the article, or something has changed drastically in the last few months.

    At any rate, the issue is not participation of already registered riders so much as getting more women racing. So I suggest we start here, with recruitment. Also, cut some slack to those of us who are already out there racing … we\’re trying! We can\’t be expected to show up at every event, and don\’t cut our fields from the event just because you can\’t make money off of us the first year.

    Peace out and ride fast!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) July 23, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    thanks for pointing that out Jessi. we did have the numbers wrong. I\’ve updated the article and decided to remove reference to that stat altogether.


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  • Kristin July 23, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    I agree…the start times for women are always the worst. It makes sense to give the largest field the best start time, but for once, could we not start at 6pm? Tabor, PIR, Short track…I\’m always rushing out of work tearing off my clothes in the bathroom trying to get to the race on time! I had to miss the last Tabor race because I had to stay late *15 minutes*. ARRRG!

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  • Potential Racer July 23, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    Lycra & roadbikes can be just so incredibly intimidating for women. Actually, racing in general as a topic is so incredibly intimidating.

    I recently joined the OBRA listserve, and removed myself after about a day. I didn\’t understand anything anybody was talking about on there, yikes! The world of racing is precisely that – a whole other world.

    As a girl, I\’m interested in racing, but it\’s hard to know where to begin. What is a category four? What is a category one? Am I fit enough? Am I competive enough? Do I have the right bike? The right sporty clothes? Not to mention the intimidation factor of showing up to PIR by yourself, not knowing anybody, or anything.

    Kudos to OBRA for holding some novice events!

    ps – their online survey is rather confusing. It says it seeks to find out why people DON\’T race, yet the first question it asks is what category you currently race in; the forth question deals with whether you intend to \”upgrade\” in 2007/2008.

    How about a survey aimed at the women at currently have no clue about racing, but are interested? This survey doesn\’t seem to be aimed at that crowd.

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  • SKiDmark July 23, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    Maybe the women racers are all at Alpenrose. It can get up to 50/50 men/women there sometimes.

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  • Anonymous July 23, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    The women are bringing this on themselves in the way they race. Race results will show a trend of more and more women racing in the men\’s fields. Why? Because the women don\’t want to race – they want to parade and sprint for 100 meters. There is a reason the top women in the region typically race with the senior mens fields unless it is an NRC race. Maybe these comments will get people angry. If so, I encourage you to take your anger out in a race and actually race – don\’t just chase the strongest woman, then sit on her until the finish. Take a chance and race your bikes.

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  • Cecil July 23, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    I agree that the on-line survey was not very well drafted and appeared to be directed at women who want to race but are facing hurdles. Almost all the questions assumed a certain amount of racing experience – I skipped most of the questions because of that.

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  • jeff July 23, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    I wonder if anonymous would ever say that without the anonymity. Attack then!

    Honestly, that sounds like a good descriptoin of the mens 4/5 field.

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  • Sheilagh July 23, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    I look at this and do not see the numbers declining. When I started racing three seasons ago there was NO novice women\’s category, just a Novice category (men and women) and a women\’s category (all racers). Has someone compared the actual numbers from last year to this year? I think 23 racers in the first race in May for women was phenominal! I think that PIR is a place where a lot of racers try it out and then go and try other disciplines. I think it would be interesting to look at the weekly number of women race numbers and compare. I would suspect the numbers are not really declining just a small number of women being spread over different races… please correct me if I am wrong. It is only the past two weeks where the numbers were really down and if you add the short track racers then the numbers may not be as low as they appear… I feel it is always good to increase numbers however I think we should listen to Mike Murray and not see this as doom and gloom.


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  • Bikr July 23, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    It is great to see people wanting to do something positive for racing, but it seems like this whole hoopla was started on a premise of a crisis in womens racing that there was not very much statistics behind (and without someone getting in touch with OBRA to get some real numbers, apparently).

    I just wish that an initiative like this could have been a little more thought out; not only is it not that clear how to use the information gathered in a very useful way, the survey does not even seem to have gone through a spell checker.

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  • Clark July 23, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    > but for once, could we not start at
    > 6pm? Tabor, PIR, Short track…

    Agreed, but do understand the numbers make it hard to justify doing that.

    I am not sure it\’s a chicken and egg problem, either, at least in the case of Mt Tabor.

    For example, the Women 1/2/3 occupied the 6:50pm slot from 2001 to 2004. Still we were only getting 15-ish riders in that field. That\’s back when we had a separate Women 4 race which ran at 6:30.

    Running the women later may add 2-3 racers but I lose 10-15 men who cannot make an earlier start time for their race.

    In my case, I chose to give prime time — 7pm — to the one field that fills up, Men 4/5.

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  • Cecil July 24, 2007 at 7:18 am

    Jeff asked: \”I wonder if anonymous would ever say that without the anonymity. \”

    As opposed to the anonymity offered through the use of a pseudonym, as most of the commenters on this site do? Perhaps the better practice would be to require people to use their real names to comment – imagine how much more civil our discourse would be, or how much more effort we might make to ensure our statements of \”fact\” are backed up by empirical evidence, if there were a way to trace our postings and hold us accountable for the things that we say.

    Of course, there would be no way to ensure that people used their real name, nor would be there be a way to ensure that a post was really made by the person whose name is used . . . ah, anonymity – isn\’t that really why we all love the internet so much? It allows us to be part of a larger community without really being part of, or accountable to, that community.

    But I digress – we were discussing why women are not coming out in numbers to race, and anonymous had suggested that it was because women would rather parade and then sprint than race. MIght I suggest that part of that may be because many of us women have not had the opportunity to train or get experience in a proper race and therefore, end up getting stuck in the parade waiting for the chance to sprint to the finish? Call it a chicken and egg conundrum if you like, but the fact is that certain conditions will perpetuate themselves without a catalys for change. I would love to learn to race, but the schedules for racing and training appear to be designed for people with extremely flexible schedules and lots of time on their hands – this rules out people like me with very tight schedules and lots of time commitments. Not just women, but it does create one more hurdle to add to the hurdles already faced by women looking to break into the field.

    As for racing in mixed fields, the problem there is that even the most elite women racers are going to have a hard time matching elite men racers when it comes to strength and stamina – we may have the power/mass ratio going for us to a certain extent, and I know there are some incredibly strong women racers out there, but there comes a point where we simply can\’t beat the men who are at the top of the field. I have competed in mixed fields in other sports and, frankly, I have gotten tired of coming in somewhere in the middle of the pack. Yes, I can outdistance and outplay some guys, but there\’s always going to be a gap in strength that keeps me out of the money in a mixed field.

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  • JV July 24, 2007 at 8:17 am

    Cecil, agree with comments on anonymity.

    Potential racer: racing *is* intimidating. I trained with an established team on weekend rides for a year before doing my first race. Those rides are where you can absorb the info you seek. The Portland Wheelmen have rides that range from donut-shop hopping to competitive hammer-fests (that means they go fast). Sorella Forte, River City, Veloshop, Ironclad, Team Oregon (and I\’m sure others) all have friendly rides and members who are happy to mentor those who are race-curious.

    Finally, some seem to confuse racing with winning. Many (if not most) of us on the race circuit have families, jobs, and busy lives; most of my training consists of commuting to work. Still, racing is a blast (even when you don\’t win)–in fact, having modest expectations for your finish can be liberating. I have a lot more fun when I don\’t expect to place highly; I attack more and often do better. YMMV.
    Jonathan Vinson (Actual Name[tm])
    Cat 3 pack fodder, track newbie, \’cross addict.

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  • beth h July 24, 2007 at 8:27 am

    Some reasons that more women don\’t race:

    1. Time. Lots of jobs require shifts on the weekends, or later into the evenings. Add to that the time required to train — because racing does require training — and you have what amounts to an impossibility for many would-be racers.

    2. Money. Racing costs money. A decent bike, appropriate clothing, transportation to far-flung locales (thin time-trials and hill-climb events) and entry fees all cost money. Women still make [statistically] less than men in many cases, and must stretch that dollar a bit farther.

    3. Children. Women continue to carry more of the responsibility for child rearing. Young children often make it impossible to pursue activities like racing; most parents are lucky to squeeze in a short ride to the store with the little ones in tow.

    4. Body image issues. Too many women of merely average shape and size are struggling with body image in a society that all but requires them to be heroin-thin. When they come to a race and see that nearly all of the participants are slender and fit, they\’re just not as excited about pouring themselves into lycra and getting out there themselves.

    5. Not enough of a welcome for women in general in the roadie/club scene. You want more women to participate? Then don\’t invite them on a club ride and drop them after the third mile. You don\’t need to make a point here, you need to make another friend of road riding. And sadly, this has sometimes been true of more experienced women racers as well as men. The last time I went out on a bonafide club ride I was dropped by other women who grumbled (thinking I was out of earshot) that I was cramping their style. Oops.

    For one example of how to do it right, look no further than the Bike Gallery. Although I was by far the slowest rider on one of their weekend women-only rides, everyone else in the bunch was friendly, welcoming and encouraging and made me glad I came.

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  • Cecil July 24, 2007 at 9:38 am

    Although I will be among the first to agree that racing is not ALL about winning, and lord knows I am all for lowering expectations (lowered expectations go along with my standard philosophy of \”hope for the best but prepare for the worst\”), I would also be among the first to admit that winning is a heck of a lot more of a blast than not winning, and never having a hope or prayer of placing, let alone winning, is downright discouraging.

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  • Lynne July 24, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Friends were trying to get me to race at PIR a year or so back. Obviously confusing me with someone who was fast. Anyway, that very Monday night, all three of them went down, when the rider in front of them went for her water bottle. Broken body parts, broken bicycles, broken helmets. Noooo, I don\’t think so. Time trials, sure. Or the bike part of a triathlon. Riding in a pack? It simply does not appeal.

    I might mention that Portland Velo also has a race team, welcoming ALL who want to participate.

    Portland Velo club rides also have pace groups for riders that aren\’t racers 🙂

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  • jeff July 24, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Cecil – I also agree on the anonymity. Then again, Jeff is my name and I wouldn\’t write anything here I wouldn\’t say in a pub, though I wonder if the same could be said for the anonymous comment.

    \”and never having a hope or prayer of placing, let alone winning, is downright discouraging.\”

    Well, that pretty much sums up my racing. I\’m out there to have fun, and I create my own battles and take a lot of enjoyment and encouragement from that. I raced cross last year in the Cs. Got one finish in the top ten (yes, 10th). Next year, I plan to ride the Bs. I\’d hope that it\’s not all about winning for everyone, but the challenge and the desire to improve.

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  • chelsea July 24, 2007 at 11:37 am

    the issues why women do not want to or are not able to race are many and complicated. women are often more busy with the kids, have less money, and are gennerally, from an early age, less encouraged to compete. things are getting better, but until recently almost every aspect of cycling was designed by and for men. guys, how do you think your performance and psyche would differ if all your life you were stuck using sports gear designed for women? it makes a difference. also, i get crude sexual comments thrown at me when i ride down the street in jeans and a t-shirt, when i go out in spandex it only gets worse. women fight a lot of battles that some men have no clue of.

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  • Matt Picio July 24, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Cecil (#17) said:
    \”Perhaps the better practice would be to require people to use their real names to comment – imagine how much more civil our discourse would be, or how much more effort we might make to ensure our statements of \”fact\” are backed up by empirical evidence\”

    I agree for the most part with \”civil\”, but many people who post under their own name still do not do fact checking.

    I post under my full, real name for 2 reasons: I believe in taking ownership of my opinions, and it makes me known in the community. I don\’t want to be \”known\” out of vanity, I just believe that if you take the time to introduce yourself to others and to build community with them (and help out and volunteer), then these are people who will stand up for you in return when the chips are down.

    One should never underestimate the power of community.

    Sorry, this post totally had nothing to do with the topic at hand.

    Oh, and I totally agree with beth h (#19) about being dropped, and would add that it\’s not only a problem for women riders, but endemic in any group that has people (of any gender) of widely different fitness levels.

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  • velodevi July 24, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    As co-author of the survey, I can answer some of these questions that are surfacing. First of all, it was prompted by the fact that senior women were showing up to races and having races cancelled or absorbed into men\’s races and there is concern among about this becoming a larger/routine issue. This is a much larger issue than just PIR or the Tabor series, affecting race events statewide and at every level.

    It is true there is great turnout for *certain* women\’s races, but others are sadly under-attended. Part of the purpose of the survey is to gather information about why women chose the races they do attend so that in the future race promoters can provide the best product.

    We can\’t simply talk about women\’s \”racing\” in such a nonspecific way: Road racing, cyclocross, MTB all have their own trends. We\’re trying to figure out why people do or don\’t race and how we can support women A) starting at all, and B) taking it up a notch (upgrading), particularly in the road racing and track areas. I can\’t tell you how often I\’ve heard promoters plead \”tell your friends, and bring more women!\” Nothing would please me more to be able to bring more women.

    The comment that \”women should just race the men\” is completely not helpful, and yet very common. Sure some women can race with the men and hang in there and finish the race and not get dropped. But many, if not most want to race their peers where there\’s at least a fighting chance of points, primes and placements. Should we just be content with getting a good workout even though that solution isn\’t very sporting? Going from a novice race to racing with the men is not a solution that is going to encourage more women to continue to race. To suggest that women \”just want a parade and a 100meter sprint finish\” is utterly dismissive. Suggesting that only the women who can keep up with the 1/2 men should be allowed to race is not a constructive solution. Or is what you had in mind? Only elite women should be permitted to race (with men)?

    OBRA is such an amazing, diverse and exciting community of racers. As a newcomer to the scene I have found (mostly) overwhelming support. I am a bit surprised about some of the negativity that is arising as we try to collect information to help us strengthen racing in the coming years. Men\’s racing takes care of itself. It\’s part of our culture. No one save ourselves is going to promote women\’s racing through mentoring, education, recruiting, etc. The survey is not perfect, but it\’s a start. Do the best you can with it and if it doesn\’t apply to you, leave it be.

    When the survey is closed the results will be compiled and shared with OBRA, team leaders, promoters, and whomever has an interest in the supporting women\’s racing.


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  • velodevi July 24, 2007 at 11:08 pm

    And one more comment… I\’m not sure who came up with the word \”crisis\” to describe the state of affairs… Certainly not me! I fear that word may be a bit inflammatory, and contributing to the \”I wish this could have been better organized, let\’s look at the numbers…\” arguments.

    This entire debate, the survey, the mentorship, and Meet-the-Team rides sprung from the reality of women\’s races being cancelled or absorbed into men\’s races due to low attendance, period. Some of us want to do something proactive to boost women\’s numbers, not just in with new riders, but across the board. Who wants to have one other person to compete against (Masters women)? And here\’s one for the betters in the house… the more women who start and continue racing, the better the odds that some of them will stick with it, move up and become 2s and 3s, and god help us, even Pro riders!

    It\’s very simple. No statisticians required.

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