More Women Participating Means Finding Ways to Give Them What They Need

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Tenae Jones with Family

Tenae Jones with Family

Tenae Jones with Family
Tenae Jones with Family

In our last newsletter we discussed some reasons why women ride bikes but don’t enter events or races. 

We included reasons like course intimidation, not being fast enough, not having friends around, not enough time and jobs getting in the way as some of the top researched barriers. We offered solutions, specifically for the Pikes Peak APEX, to help women feel empowered to crash through those obstacles. We received feedback that sparked intriguing dialogue regarding a glaring reason some women don’t participate in organized events—the decision about what to do with the kids.

Let’s go back to the USA Cycling Female Participation survey from 2013 referenced in the Barriers article. Of the 3,400 women who responded, 23% have 1 or more children. 20% of racers and recreational riders say that family friendliness is the most important aspect of their favorite event. 12% said family commitments were the biggest reason for not racing, but that ranked 7th in the list behind non-competitive, not knowing how to start, not knowing anyone who races, and others. 25% listed family commitments as the primary reason they don’t race as much as they used to, and it’s the 5th ranked choice discouraging women from racing.

Now this survey didn’t define “family commitments”, but when 23% of those surveyed have children, and 25% list family commitments as the reason they don’t participate as much as they used, then I think we can see how having children can be a big barrier to participation.

Tenae Jones of Sugar Beets Cycling has two kids, ages 7 and 6, and both her and her husband race mountain bikes. When it comes to racing, they’ve found a system of flexibility, patience, and support that works for them.

“We don't always do the same events. So, if I'm racing the Laramie Epic up in Wyoming, then he's not racing that race; so, he has the kids. And if he's doing Pierre’s Hole up in Grand Targhee, then I'm not racing that race. So, we try to coordinate that way.”

But it doesn’t always work so cleanly, and it doesn’t solve the equation if both want to race.

Tenae: “You have to coordinate who can ride when, who's watching the kids, making sure that everybody has snacks and water, and all of that. So, training is one thing because you can be a lot more flexible with that, but when it comes down to racing, things can get a lot more complicated depending on the races. If my husband's race starts at the same time as mine, or if it starts in the middle of my race, sometimes he'll either have to start his race late, or one of us will just have to race in a different category than we normally would, just so that we do have the kids covered.  It takes a lot of flexibility and a lot of being okay when things don't go the way that you hoped that they would, because you're racing with the juniors instead of with the women, but at least you're still racing.

In a couple of weeks, we're racing 12 Hours of Mesa Verde as a team.  We'll be switching off every lap, and the kids are going with us, so I'll have the kids while he's racing his lap, and then we'll switch. So, we'll see!  That'll be a whole new adventure for us; we've never done that before.”

Tenae’s teammate, Anna Kelso, has a different challenge as a single mother of a 6-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy, who are with her 50% of the time.

“When the kids are here; like, that is paramount. You know, but then I have all this free time, on the other end. So, honestly, I think in some way that it creates a healthier balance. But it's a really fine line that you have to walk. And I think being organized, and protecting your training time is important, but at the same time being able to let it go. When your kids need you, being able to be like, ‘You know what I'm a mom, and this is the best I can do,’ and that can be okay.”

Anna typically chooses to race when she doesn’t have the kids, even when an event offers up kid races, like the Fort Collins-based short track races that support a local youth foundation but have been suspended since the start of the pandemic.

“Let's take the [short track] thing for example, they have the kids race at 4, and then I'm going to race at 5 or 5:30, it’s a lot of logistics. It takes a lot of brain activities to pack, and bikes, like it's about all I can handle to pack my own bike, and my own shit, and my own snacks, and my own food for a race. So, yeah, I don’t know, maybe if I had a partner that could help with that.  It's just a lot of moving parts.”

Picking and choosing events, riding outside of your own category, being limited to 50% of dates on calendar, watching others race while you care for your kids, none of that sounds very optimal. And for Tenae’s family, they also consider what’s fair for the kids and the parent watching them.

“We don't like to stick the other person in a situation that is going to be hard to entertain the kids with, while the other person is racing for several hours. Most of the time when we do races, we go camping, too. So, we try to make sure that there, the campground is not just the parking lot, it's a campground, that the kids will be able to ride their bikes around, or there's a playground nearby. So, we definitely do pick events that are family friendly. And we can cheer and support but also still have fun with the kids.”

To capture the women who may be missing out on racing because of childcare issues, what can we do? In the USA Cycling survey 15% of respondents said family friendly atmosphere would bring them back to racing, and 9% answered childcare.

Tenae loves family-oriented midweek racing in northern Colorado,

“They have two separate kids races along with the juniors, our kids have been racing since they were on striders. They have a course that the parents can jog around, they're never in the way.  We’ve made our kids excited to go so they're not just going to mom and dad’s racing, they're competing too, they're a part of it, they're involved.  I really like that it's very family oriented and so it's really focused on good healthy competition. There’s also a course marked off [in the middle of the venue] where kids and can play and have free reign.”

What can bigger events take away from this model?

Tenae: “I would say a kid friendly venue is always big.  Space where they can play, where there's not bicycles everywhere, in every direction. It's not just in a parking lot.  Campgrounds, or BLM land where they have space to run. And also, it'd be great if they have little activities to do while parents are racing, or even a childcare option.  We're fortunate enough that we've coordinated, but oh my gosh. How amazing would it be if we could race the same race and not have to leave our kids for an entire weekend at one of our parent’s houses?”

Anna: “You know me, I feel like the big answer is safe, reliable childcare at the race.”  

Their team, Sugar Beets Cycling, try to break away barriers to encourage more women to race mountain bikes.  Anna was an integral part of a committee trying to solve the childcare issue at midweek grassroots races in Fort Collins before racing was paused last year.

Anna: “It would be ideal if everybody could enjoy and experience the event together and it can be mutually beneficial.  I'm super picky when it comes to childcare, so I would want something that I felt like I trusted so much, that I could just race my bike, otherwise it would not work.”

Tenae: “I don't think we're quite there yet, but I see it in our future hopefully, that we can have events that are more focused on getting more women on bikes.  I’m fortunate that it's not my situation in particular, but a lot of times women are the main caregivers, especially when the children are young. It would be awesome if race coordinators took that into mind, and especially if they're trying to promote races for more women, if they provided some sort of childcare. Or it doesn't need to be childcare, maybe an event where they help entertain the children. That would be amazing.”

The APEX: Would you pay more in addition to your event registration fee for vetted childcare or kid activities?  

Tenae: “Yeah!  It would be cheaper than a babysitter or nanny. It would be way more affordable.”

Anna: “Absolutely. I would pay handsomely.”

Other ideas specifically for the Pikes Peak APEX that came in from your emails were staggering start times, co-ed teams who switch days racing, and one day race opportunities. While the event stakeholders weigh and discuss all of these suggestions, please know that not all are feasible, but the dialogue is rolling.  

We recognize too the impact of bringing kids to bike events is bigger than riding for your own pleasure.

Anna: “What I think is more valuable for both Harvey and Gracie is that, I'm not winning. I think it's good for them to accept you can put your heart and soul into something and not be the winner. And that can be okay. I forget what race it was, but Harvey was like, ‘you didn't win.’  ‘No, I didn’t. And you know what, you're not gonna win a lot too, and that’s okay.’  It makes me remember this poem on NPR a long time ago a dad wrote to his kids about, you know, I hope success for you in life but, honestly, more than that, I hope failure for you, and the failure teaches you resilience and the drive to get up and go again.”

And as for the mama who might feel like she hasn’t done enough riding, hasn’t trained enough to ride for 4 straight days, Anna had this to say.

“I think just being cognizant of the fact that it's a very time demanding sport. When you have kids, managing priorities is tricky, and sometimes you just have to let go of your expectations. I remember the feeling of anxiety of knowing I'm not going to perform in a race in front of people that I want to impress or something. I know I'm not going to do well, but now that I'm a mom, it's just like anything more than that is just icing on the cake. It's kind of given me freedom to just be like, we're just all throwing elbows, and like trying to figure it out. I wish I could have had that freedom before kids, just the raw vulnerability of like shitting the bed, and just getting up and trying again and trying again. Maybe you're not the best, but that's okay. The point is just to get in there and duke it out.”

So, to all of the badass mom’s out there, we’re going to continue this conversation. We’re saving a place for you at The APEX, for you to be a strong role model for your children, and do something damn rewarding for yourself too.

Related article:

Let’s Crash Through Barriers to Entry Together