Sunday, April 16, 2017

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

In the transcendent words of Aretha Franklin, 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T.' The queen of R&B may have been singing about romance, but she knew that any functional relationship revolves around respect. I've been giving this particular topic a fair bit of thought lately as I rocket towards the third decade of my existence and reflect (as most people are prone to do) on what I've sort of got figured out. The answer is mostly 'nothing', apart from my basic knowledge including the constant laws of the universe.

Take gravity, for instance -- it's what holds us to the surface of this planet, is our greatest challenge and our biggest fear. But like the inevitability of death, we know it's there. We have a healthy respect for it while we gently push the boundaries of how we can manipulate it. The same goes for death. Bear wrestling and downhill mountain biking seem to examine that fairly well. But what about respect itself as a universal law?

That we seem to have a bit of a struggle with.

In an attempt to engage and mobilize the Utah trail community, I've recently begun talking more about my efforts to give back; while I've been a pretty outspoken advocate of public dig days and responsible use for the majority of my bike-riding adulthood, I tend to keep my shovel antics behind the scenes. My low-key approach stems from a combination of feel-good anonymity and, until recently, a belief that most enthusiasts within the trail community step up when they're needed... That and nobody wants to hear about how I spent my weekend digging holes in some random corner of the forest. Trailbuilding is a good outlet for me, but not a riveting story one relates at parties. Due to the current debate around trail access and the explosion of growth in the outdoor enthusiast market leading to a boom in trail use, however, collaboration with land managers and cities is more important than ever. It's been good for me -- In spite of my anarchy-driven solitary soldier style, I've gotten a bit more involved with the local organizations responsible for trails, because everything about MTB has changed. We're a high-school sport now rather than just a few crackpot bike guerrillas bucking meat in some dark corner of the planet, and as such, organization is more important than ever. In working with these groups, I've been a bit surprised by the low level of public relations functioning and the amount of information and engagement that happens with the community, so it seemed like an appropriate time to broach the subject publicly from whatever diving board/soap box I have.

The only problem? Public awareness campaigns never begin when the situation is manageable. When informing and educating the members of a community is imperative, it's always because the issue has reached terminal velocity and must now be dealt with thanks to years of neglect. And neglect, unfortunately, breeds contempt. It's safe to say that most public relations and advertising in the mountain bike community (and outdoor industry at large) has been less than informative about our responsibilities as enthusiasts. Less Americans understand the 'leave no trace' edict than ever, trash and vandalism are at an all-time high, and as America battles for the preservation of it's most precious public lands, a few of us are left scratching  at our scalps and wondering how on earth the situation deteriorated to this point.

Neglect is sneaky like that. One day we're on top of our collective shit and the next, we're fighting to keep oil companies out of national parks.

But I digress.

So we're raising awareness, discussing the need for public involvement as a local community, setting up dig days and suddenly, there's backlash. 'Backlash to trail maintenance?', I can hear you ask.

Yeah. Something like that. Or talking about responsible use and appropriate behavior. See, that's the other problem with neglect -- when the standard of operation goes by the wayside, it's essentially every person for themselves. When there's a vacuum left by bad/nonexistent leadership or lack of guidance (aka, public awareness), the community at stake will flounder without gentle direction and reminding that yes, this is a functional relationship between the land and the users of it. Without Smokey the Bear smiling at us as we enter the forest and explaining that only WE can prevent forest fires, would we even think about forest fires? I grew up on Smokey's influence as he stood there leaning on his shovel, or pointing at me from under the brim of his ranger's hat. He was the edifying deity of my childhood and possessed more authority than Jesus himself... Because who wants to disappoint a friendly, talking bear by setting his home ablaze?! Come on now.

The same lack of care extended to the sports industry in the early 2000's as the 90's fight for women's equality faded, girl power reached peak saturation and lazy marketing took over -- because we didn't actively fight sexism in cycling, it began to rule our lives like a virus run amok. And now the same issues are back on the equality table once more as we talk about things we covered twenty years ago and solve problems that were supposedly solved then. And in the 50s. And in the 60s. And 70s. And 80s.

Human instinct requires maintenance. Evolution and progress demand vigilance, but we can't pass (or take) the baton of responsibility if we lack a basic understanding of the need for it. This is where the backlash to awareness and my girl Aretha meet up.

Responsibility is accepted based on the level of respect one has for the issue. Accountability is rooted in a healthy appreciation for whatever subject needs maintenance, and maintenance stems from respect.

These are laws that apply to car mechanics and public lands alike. Like gravity and death, respect and accountability are immutable laws of function upon which society rests. Without them, we have nothing. Literally. We lose what we don't use and what we don't use, we neglect. When a wound is neglected, gangrene will set in. Gangrene will kill us. Even as a rule breaker, I follow these rules. Chalk it up to the ripe old age of 30, but respect for my environment and my place in the ecosystems of functional relationships has driven me to more value than any other single motivator... Even death. Or gravity. Combined. But I grew up on tales of respect. I cut my teeth on the stories of heroes who fought for something greater than themselves, for a higher plane of existence. My brain developed to the music of legends who built noble legacies with the bricks of respect and loyalty and it still took me years to embrace the concept of respect as an undeniable law.

As cliche as it might sound, fostering and promoting a sense of respect towards each other, our surroundings, the planet and the situations on that planet won't hurt anyone. What's the drawback of understanding history and taking part in how the world moves forward? Where is the negative consequence of respecting those who have come before us, those who come after us and living in a way that honors and benefits both? What do we lose by operating with respect, and not as a weapon to be tossed around, but a living, breathing embodiment of what and who we are?

Respect and it's inverse aren't the ego-driven concept that we're accustomed to. It's not a reason to kill or maim  (i.e., "They disrespected me"), but rather as a rule of functional relationships inside of a healthier existence at every level. Respect breeds respect. If you earn respect, you'll be respected. But we can't earn respect without showing respect, and the idea of respect demands self-discipline and control based on the functional respect carried for that subject.

Kids who respect Smokey the Bear don't set the forest on fire. People who respect the autonomy of others don't make jokes about rape or portray other people as sexual objects to be used and abused. Riders who respect the planet respect the scientific evidence that protects natural habitats from damage and neglect, and they respect the work done by other respectful users to maintain that delicate balance. People who respect the delicate balance want to learn more about it, and they educate themselves and help other people learn more so that a higher level of respect begins to build.

You see how that works?

Now imagine for a second that everyone operated on some level of basic respect for life. Yes, ALL life. Humans, plants, animals, molecular, historic, life. Imagine that respect folding into the other plane of thought where we respect life so much that we choose to respect the actions of people as long as they don't negatively impact someone else. Why would they? After all, if everyone respects everyone else and life in itself, there wouldn't be a reason to NOT act with respect and autonomy.

Respect is a universal law. We either have it or we don't. But when we respect something, we begin taking accountability for ourselves.

Think about it. Or don't.

I respect your decision. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Are Women's Specific Bikes Benevolent Sexism?


I've been in the anti-womens-specific bikes box for a while now, despite being one of the industry's 'most outspoken' feminists and an athlete who has repeatedly alienated a large portion of her 'target audience' by standing up for women's equality and equal payout. It's an intricate and complex issue, but at the heart of it, I don't believe that female anatomy demands a separate and wholly different construction of bikes.

I think it's hype. Even worse, it's bad business.

Why? Well, for one, a 'women's specific bike' doesn't actually make physical sense. The current model of 'women's specific bike' is built for smaller-framed women with lighter suspension, smaller grips, shorter frame dimensions, women-specific saddles and often, a belief that this bike will fit women. The only problem with that logic are the millions of women who disprove it. Tall, short, medium heights -- all with different and separate proportions. I'm a walking embodiment of this. At 5'8", I struggle to find shirts that are long enough, yet have the femurs of a person who is 6'2" and the tib/fib lengths of someone 5'4". I am a conglomeration of contrasting parts, which means my bikes must be as well. The kicker here? I'm not an anomaly. In fact, most human dimensions fail to fit the exact specifications of the majority of bikes, which is why 'bike fitting' is a crucial part of the industry. And yet, the entire 'women's specific' bike schtick is predicated that THESE bikes will fit women because all women (or most of the women on bikes) have roughly the same dimensions.

Are you kidding me?

This is a lie. It's also endorsing and perpetuating the problem that's known as 'othering': "to view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself." Women are not 'others'.

Women make up 51% of the planet's human populace. We are not mystical, strange creatures that exist to baffle the male mind and confound even the most sensitive of researchers. We are HUMAN. Part of being human is that we will be diverse and made up of a large variety of human characteristics, regardless of our genitals.

Homosapien embryos are formed using combined DNA from two different and individual DNA strands. In the womb, those embryos are relatively genderless for the first eight weeks until the indifferent gonads separate and become either testes or ovaries. It's a complex process of unpredictable ratios, but the gender of a human being is often decided by genetics, as is the hormone wash that continues throughout the nine-month cycle of birth. A baby comes out as a product of parental DNA and hormones, not to mention hidden (or recessive) genes that can hide for decades. Medical science has established the power of heredity and its effects on the human race, and yet, the bike industry thinks that gender is what defines a rider?

Size, strength, scope of experience and even physical fitness affect what bike will work best for an individual, but gender? Gender does not. Pretending that gender will influence the bike frames women need hasn't mattered since 1895 when women were breaking the Victorian traditions of wearing dresses. To sell an entire category of bicycles to women as though we're strange and alien creatures who defy the title of 'individual' isn't just insulting, but it's sexist.

"What do women want?" Is a question bandied about by billion-dollar companies in their ever-present race to win the female buying power (which is very real). But the question is null, because 'women' don't want anything as a collective group. 'Women' is a gender. That's it. It's not any more important than 'what men want', and it's just as fluid and extensive and nebulous as every individual human is. Why are we so willing to nail down a 'women's-specific' bike when the idea of a 'mens-specific' frame is absolutely absurd? Of course there's no such thing as a men's specific frame, because men are complex and unique with their own separate motivators and skill levels and sizes.

Why can't women be as well? Why does the bike industry feel as though women need a separate class of colors and 'women-specific sizing' when WE ARE NOT ALL THE SAME? We aren't even close to being the same and yet the bike industry (and world) is more than happy to smash us all into the tiny compartment titled 'WOMEN'.

What do women want? Well, we want the same things that men want because, you know, we're people. What do people want? People seem to want variety that fits their budget and skill level. People want accessibility and a proper fit. People want to have fun. Here's the kicker: different people will want different things.

Now, I know that sounds crazy. Differences in the human race in motivations and wants and desires?! Good lord. What will happen next?

I know. It's heavy. But what about offering people a better range of options based on their size and skill levels and individual needs rather than the non-item of gender? Call me crazy, but I have an inkling that if bike companies and bike dealers put as much effort into educating the wider bike-riding populace as they do about promoting the horseshit that is 'women's specific bikes', we'd all be a lot better off. We might even have an informed user base that understands which bikes they'll need based on their body sizes, desires and skill levels! Imagine that!

Women's specific bikes is the dehumanization and 'othering' of a group that is connected solely by gender and gender orientation. It is nothing more. It is nothing less. And it's time we stopped pretending that gender is a barrier between humans, or that it dictates or predicts what human beings need or their individual desires. The theories behind 'women's specific bikes' aren't based in conclusive fact or scientific evidence from an objective third party. The 'science' and 'numbers' have been issued as evidence by companies who have invested millions of dollars in selling the lie that every woman is (or should be) a certain size with specific proportions. That's not remotely true or even physically possible. While it might coincidentally be true for some people, to call a bike with specific and biased proportions a 'women's specific bike' is both alienating to anyone who doesn't fit those proportions and prejudicial for those who do. If a woman happens to fit a 'women's specific bike' but has larger hands or can't use the seat that comes with the bike due to anatomical differences, does that mean she's a freak? Because yes, folks... Not all lady parts are the same. Not all women have lady parts at all, or in the complete array of the 'anatomically correct Bike Ride Barbie'. And what about the guys who need a smaller sized frame with a different seat and smaller grips? Suddenly, they've wandered into the terrible 'girl bikes' section and thanks to our industry's obsessively toxic masculinity, OH MY DEAR GOD. And for women who don't fit the mold? Gee, I guess I'm just too 'manly' for those women-specific bikes. I suppose my proportions make me a completely separate creature rather than a rider who just wants a bike that fits.

Stop telling people what they need and start giving them what they want. If that want is to be special based on gender, then the industry needs to cater to that need equally and start making men's-specific bikes. If the want is to have sizing available from XXS to XXL, then perhaps we need to start building bikes and equipment that fit real people. If the end goal is actual equality, we need to stop perpetuating the myth that women are all made the same and stop selling bikes to women that they don't need. Sell them what they want. Give people options, educate your buyers and then empower them to spend what they can on something that will work best for them as an individual.

The bike industry is peddling damaging myths and lies about an entire gender to benefit the bottom line, and eventually, the pseudo-science behind 'women's specific bikes' is going to emerge as something created to support a crap theory made by sexists who have fabricated evidence to support their sexist beliefs about what women are and should be. When it does, those companies with their sticky fingers in the bullshit pudding will face huge losses of both revenue and public trust.

Women aren't the same because humans aren't the same. End of story.




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Friday, February 10, 2017

So. Much. Fury.

Humans are probably the dumbest 'intelligent beings' this side of the Centauri system. Our wasted sentience is only outmatched by our total disregard for the fact that we are sentient. Most days, I feel as though opposable thumbs are entirely wasted on 99% of homosapiens.

I went to the Chaffetz Town Hall this evening.

Yeah, I know. You don't have to say it. I expected it to be rowdy, but I assumed that the other self-aggrandizing internet liberals would at least formulate somewhat coherent arguments that possibly resembled an overall goal.

I was so, so wrong.

What I ended up with was a splitting migraine and an animalistic urge to start swinging my fists at throat-level while exiting the building. Instead, I rolled my rage into a tiny ball, stuffed it behind my eyes and made a beeline for my vehicle while breathing in a 1-2-1 pattern to avoid spontaneous combustion. Can I.. Can I just say something real fast? WHAT THE EVER LIVING FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU POTATOES?!

If you want to see what's wrong with democracy, just wander into any political meeting these days and stand there for ten minutes. If the current speaker doesn't incite a riot, just whisper 'Trump' into the air and wait for the hair to fly (or the sky to fall). Tonight was a warped version of that, but push the 'naïveté' dial into the red zone, drop the 'general world awareness' bass all the way down and let that fat lady sing: you'll have a rough estimate of how I spent my Thursday evening.

Now, I don't mind a good 'boo'. I'm not going to begrudge anyone of that oh-so-satisfying pleasure, nor will I respect someone any less for a well-timed and overwhelming show of disgust and disapproval. But after one long, loud 'boo', it tends to lose its weight for about sixty minutes. Even the ghostbusters knew they had to stretch the ghoulish antics out in order to avoid saturation -- it just doesn't hold the same appeal after a while. Nobody in that room seemed to understand the art of the boo, nor much of anything at all, if we're being honest. From talking and shouting over each other to bandwagon-ing on the 'Answer the question!' demand, there was too much rage.

I am the queen of the rage.

If I'm saying that there was too much rage, it means that the rageometer is broken and the world is exploding. Hell, I've build a brand on rage. But you can't rage all the time. You can't even rage most of the time, because the effect of the rage wears off. You have to mix it with some humor, a dash of actual threat and a solid dose of really terrifying facts. Nobody can rage all the time... Not even me. While I generally try to avoid giving away the illusions behind my rage magic, this seems to be a really important time. Listen carefully:

Politicians don't care about your rage. Business people (real business people) don't give a damn about your anger. They don't listen to your screams, they're not vulnerable to your shouts and cries, and they do not give a single fuck about all the tantrums in the world. Here's the other secret: tantrums make great press. Fits of rage are the single best headline-stealer in all of news history. THE BIBLE HAS STORIES ABOUT JESUS THROWING PEOPLE OUT OF A TEMPLE, okay? So they get headlines. But a tantrum must have something dangerous behind it in order to do any good. A fit must contain an element of strategy that holds attention much longer than a headline or a news cast.

Politicians don't care about your tantrums. They throw them all day, everyday. It's called 'grandstanding', and they are the masters. This is their role, on their stage, in their stadium. Your tantrums, while sincere, do not matter.

Do you want to know what scares these people? I'll give you a hint: it has something to do with speaking softly and a something, something "big stick".

Here's one more teaser: if you set the bar at one height to accomplish one thing, the bar cannot stay at that height to accomplish an entirely different thing. Throwing tantrums is great. But the allure of a tantrum fades, and if you won't speak softly, you'll become what is known as a 'blowhard'.

You must speak softly at exactly the right time.

We did not speak softly at the right time tonight. We did more of what we've been doing, and what half the country is mocking us for: throwing fits.

Few facts were presented tonight. The reasonable, data-based questions were nearly nonexistent  and there was very little specificity in demands or in theme.

Add to that the antagonizing that Rep. Chaffetz did with his DeVos question, the 'I like ________" statements. He was baiting those in attendance, and they took the bait.

Hook, line, sinker.

There was no solidarity. There was zero organization. There seemed to be little awareness of the policies on the table and almost no discussion of how they affected Utahns. There wasn't a SINGLE mention of the economy. Now, I don't know about you all, but my rent doesn't get paid by some magic fairy in the sky. Money matters. And to the people in that room tonight, they seemed very unconcerned by how bad policies affected both humans and economics.

Know thy enemy.

You want to beat the opposition? Know what they want. Figuring out what someone wants is the easiest way to control them. Do you know what Chaffetz wants?

A senate seat.

How do we control that? By not screaming at him, but exposing his economic failures that also happen (cough, cough) to affect human beings, too. You don't just scream about the wall. You ask what the wall will cost. Where will that money come from? What will the US lose with an immigration ban? What benefits do we currently get from the countries on that list?

Big picture thinking, folks.

I sat in that auditorium while people around me leapt to their feet and shrieked incomprehensible demands at him; hundreds of people shouting aggressively about whatever pissed them off at that moment. They didn't just interrupt him, either: they interrupted each other. Whether it was shouts of "answer the question!" or cheers for something they liked, it wasn't a controlled demand from one person saying "Answer the question, representative." It was a mob.

Like it or not, unless we change things, we will continue to be forced to defend ourselves from the 'paid protestor' lies because people don't know what to believe. The easiest way to solve that? Cut it off at the pass. We stop giving them something to lie about.

Be aggressive, but be easy about it. Lure them into a friendly interaction as though we're on their side, then go for the political jugular. The best trap? Open with a smile, thank them for coming and then bring them to their knees with facts. Not with shouts or screams, but with words and strategy. With forceful personal stories that demand to be heard... And not just to be heard by Chaffetz. But by the media, by other politicians, with stories and facts so strong that they speak to other people across the country.

There is a time to scream and shout. You wanna do that? Go protest. A town hall is not it. Whether you like it or not, people will stop listening the more you scream. If you need therapy through shouting, go somewhere else. But stop acting like your screams scare these people. They don't fear you. They fear people who can beat them at their own game.

They terrify people who acknowledge them, give them what they want, speak softly...

And then you create a diversion.

You organize. You have one group throwing a small tantrum on one side of the room, and the other half of that group sitting silently, waiting to ask questions that hammer away at policies, at facts, at the damage done by this individual.

Stop thinking small picture. You want progress? Fight for it.

You want change? Be willing to outsmart everyone else.

You want noise? Stop focusing on the noise and think about the end-game.

What is your goal? Work the puzzle backwards.

And then stop ruining these fucking meetings.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Hot Take: Intense Factory Racing And Parity In Downhill

Intense Cycles announced their 2017 factory DH race team over the weekend, and it was exciting. As someone who follows team selections fairly close, I was thrilled to see the new Intense Factory Racing crew made up of strong, talented racers who all have very bright futures ahead of them and plenty of time to grow.


What I didn't see, however, struck me as both disappointing and really strange -- there's not a female racer on the new team. Now, I understand that the percentage of women who shred a DH track is small potatoes compared to the overall DH market (believe me, I do). But in a rapidly changing market that has struggled to bring in consistent and reliable revenue in recent years, I'm baffled at why the new IFR team is made up of all white dudes.

Are there not enough teams on the World Cup circuit who epitomize the male domination of cycling already? The industry needed another?

Now, I don't want to pick on Intense here. They make great bikes. They're US-based. Hell, they're the alma mater of the legendary Shawn Palmer and have supported junior racing development unlike many other brands across the spectrum. They're still small, and they operate like family... I've always respected the brand and the company that seems to love DH racing.

But when it comes to female parity and equality in cycling, the landscape is dismal. There are few advancement opportunities for pro women beyond their national circuit and, unlike junior men, support and mentor-race program availability for future female elite racers is almost nonexistent. We know this. We've seen this. So why is it still so prevalent? It's not as though the planet has no female shredders capable of representing the Intense brand. It's not as though there isn't a collection of well-known and respected women on the World Cup who race without bike or team support. And in a year where the qualifying standards for women have been raised so significantly, does it not make more sense that there will be more eyes on the women's DH field than ever before? Competition is already heating up: with Miranda Miller on Specialized Gravity, Tahnee Seagrave a whisper away from a win  and an undefeated Rachel Atherton looking to storm the circuit again, not wanting a horse in that race is absurd... And frankly, it's just bad business.

Women are buying bikes and bike equipment at unprecedented rates. The women's mountain bike industry has ballooned so much that we have a behemoth women's-specific selection bubble of growth and more girls on bikes than ever before... And it's not slowing down anytime soon. So why would a DH-based brand with a factory team not onload a badass female rider to represent their interests on a global level?

I've jumped at the jugular of sexism in cycling over the last few years for one reason: it keeps women off of bikes and away from racing. It puts our gender into the focus rather than the fun of just riding bikes. I started speaking out about sexism because I wanted to be able to do my damn job without opening up a magazine and seeing a gross ad or coaching girls who had been told they were less. I've been aggressively pro-lady because I truly believe that women are equal. Different, yes, but just as equal and just as valuable as men.

The saddest part about the Intense Factory Racing not having a lady racer isn't the widespread disappointment, but what the entire team will miss out on because they lack a well-rounded perspective. Gender diversity promotes success because it presents a wider view of what matters. Different people will take different lines down a DH course, and skill isn't limited to gender. A wider range of life experience presents a greater scope of understanding. What sort of team avoids an advantage like that? Outside of a bike racing-specific angle, Forbes and economists across the globe discovered and documented that gender diversity promotes greater success in both Fortune 500 companies and small start ups. Racing is a business. Successful businesses arm themselves with the tools that will give them an edge. At any level, winning downhill races is about consistently occupying that edge, especially as a team that operates both as individual athletes and as a representative entity of their sponsors. Having the added experience and viewpoints of someone with a different background is invaluable -- studies report that companies with women on their boards "outperform their rivals, with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity", according to The Guardian. Unfortunately, the Intense Factory Racing team won't benefit from that.

So why is there only a handful of WC factory downhill teams with female racers? When we get really honest, the problem here almost seems to be that many team managers and companies at large see the female perspective as worthless (or, at the very least, less valuable). The bike industry is still stuck in the mud of women not being seen as having the intellectual capacity or experience to stand with the men and the pervasive opinion that women should be content to stand by and watch. There are so many women on the DH circuit with the experience and skills to help a new team grow, but even more who have left racing entirely because of lack of factory support. Their experience has value, it carries weight and it will lead any team to greater success if only teams start trusting it... Economic science has proven that.

I'm not saying this solely as a DH racer who has observed my share of insanity in the bike industry, I'm saying this as a businessperson who has helped built brands, who has worked with teams to lead successful advertising campaigns and who has studied and slaved away at companies doing it right and at companies doing it very, very wrong. I'm writing this as someone who sees the economic value in Germany's board-parity mandate and who has sometimes been critical of Title IX. I'm sending this to the struggling downhill MTB and wider cycling industries as a plea for gender and racial parity because it is the only thing that will save the bike industry.

We need change, and we need it sooall ner rather than later. Whether that change comes in the form of a UCI mandate requiring that all UCI trade teams have a female athlete on roster in order to register for the season or whether it comes with companies and teams stepping up to the plate and bringing more skilled women to the table, I implore you to find out what it is that you can do, and do it.

If it means not approving that sexist advertisement, do it. If it means adding a female racer to your enduro squad and DH team, do it. If it means promoting a female athlete or women's race heavily, do it.

We need to take the steps as an industry that enable women and girls to be active and involved participants in the evolution of this sport, not passive observers. The bike industry (and yes, downhill racing, too) has to provide a place for future racers to actually go. What's the point in getting girls into racing when they end up without options to pursue that effort? Yes, racing is amazing whether or not it turns into a career, but how can we blame the lack of parity and equality in DH on the lack of women when there is no future in DH racing for women? There are so few spots for female pros right now that enable those athletes to forego full time employment and focus on training and racing year round, and yet we tell these athletes that the lack of opportunity is their fault? Not having enough competitors in the field, not taking enough of a market share, enough getting enough media exposure, not forcing enough attention, not engaging in enough fierce competition, or getting enough support? All of that is solely on the shoulders of these female athletes?

We're asking women to fund their own racing and travel through full-time jobs (often multiple), demanding that they not only run their own nutrition and training plans, but somehow manage their own brands, film videos, build relationships with every photographer and video, and then take the time off of work to travel, race and train at the same level as the top three, full-time athletes, and then we're surprised when they can't take top honors? We're shocked that they get injured and just walk away?

In 2016, there were 44 registered UCI DHI Trade Teams. Of those 44, only 13 teams (29.5%) had a female athlete on squad. Even worse? While there were 177 riders total on trade teams, 89% of trade team athletes were men. Roughly 9% of downhill racers on trade teams were women (16). For every 11 male riders on UCI trade teams, there was one woman.

One woman per every eleven men. 

We don't just need parity on teams, but in board rooms, in research and development, during bike testing, in the bike shops, at the events. We need companies and federations and events that actively seek out female perspectives to round out perspective, and we need talented and experienced women to fulfill those roles. This sport desperately depends on reaching a wide market of perspectives, and we can't do that when only one perspective is presented.

It takes all of us, not just one brand. But it starts with one decision, one step at a time, like including a female racer in a factory team.

Just think about it.

______________________________________________________________


PS: if you're on Twitter and enjoy useless banter, come hang out -- it's where I let it all hang out (and occasionally thread together something interesting).








Monday, January 2, 2017

So You Wanna Race A World Cup, Eh?

It's fairly well known that I've been attempting to race a UCI World Cup DHI for the last three years. It's also widely known that I've failed to do so. I've registered for more than one, have gone to a few now, yet can't seem to get myself into the starting gate.

It's almost funny at this point.

Almost.

While I'm no expert at racing a World Cup, I have a bit of experience in getting there, which I nearly made a form of art over the last couple of years. To be fair, I do most things through trial and error, so it took me a bit of awkwardness to get the registration together, but get it together I did. As it turns out, however, there are few authoritative and condensed guides out there for someone who's interested in racing a World Cup. My first year as a pro taught me that much as I stumbled around the internet attempting to figure out just how to get in that gate... So I decided to write this in the hope that someone, somewhere actually finds it useful. After all, what's the point of knowing anything if we don't share it?

Aaaaaaanyway.

This little bit isn't a useful guide into hitching a ride in someone's RV or borrowing cash to buy plane tickets to get there, but rather a more technical bit of information about what the requirements are to even be allowed to think about racing in a World Cup Downhill race.

The first 'step' to racing in a UCI World Cup is being a pro and having a pro license. Now, this seems like a sort of obvious step, I know. However, when I began racing in 2012, this seemed like a really simple task. BUT! If you're eying the possibility of racing on the biggest stage in the world, you should at least know whether or not you're qualified to stand on it. Upgrading to your national federation's pro category is the first step. I'm in the US and therefore race under USA Cycling rules and whatnot, so this is a guide for US racers. If you're outside of the USA, your individual country may have separate requirements, all of which should be outlined on their respective federation websites. For USACycling (also referred to as USAC), upgrade requirements can be found here.

Essentially, you have to start racing. You can start racing as a Category 3 or as a Cat 2, whichever your skill level fits. Once you've accrued enough wins in your respective category as outlined by the USAC site, you can upgrade. The key here is: the faster you go, the more you win. The more you win, the more you can upgrade. Upgrading to Pro through the proper channels is important, because that's how you gauge your readiness. Now, once you get to the Pro category, you'll receive (aka, you have to pay for) a fancy new license that declares you eligible to race USAC- and UCI-sanctioned races as a Pro racer. As a pro racer, you can get an international license immediately or you can accrue points first. Either way, you'll need a license to race these events, but your strategy of points accrual will determine how much you spend out of pocket for a license. More information on 2017 pro MTB licenses is available here; you can decide to pay for a $200 international UCI license up front if you think you can accrue points in the same calendar year, or, if you want to race as a domestic DH pro, you can spend $70 for a domestic license while you earn your UCI points before upgrading to an international license the following calendar year. Ultimately, you'll have to get both an international license and enough UCI points to even register for a World Cup DH race, but going about that is a strategy based on a racer's goals and probability of success. Strategy is important, as you'll see in the next couple of steps.

Step two is earning enough UCI points, which means racing events that are UCI-sanctioned and points earner. Luckily, these events in the US have become more plentiful the last few years, so US domestic pro DH racers have many more opportunities to gather their required points. UCI points can be snagged at all of the ProGRT races and MTB national championships, which is a huge bonus, but can be semi-cost prohibitive with the traveling, etc. However, if a racer is fast enough and strategizes well, they can mitigate costs by placing well in a few select events based on points structure. For 2017, the UCI changed the points requirements for racers, so you gonna have to be faster. What does this mean? This means that your season starts in November -- gym time, baby. The competition is getting tougher and, depending on your pro category, fractions of a second can be the decider between getting enough points and not. The amount of required UCI points for 2017 is 40 points per rider. That means that all riders who want to race a DH World Cup must accrue a minimum of 40 UCI points at UCI sanctioned races in their countries. As I mentioned above, this has become easier thanks to the ProGRT series and MTB nat champs in the US, but has gotten a bit more difficult for riders in the UK and other places as national series have lost their UCI sanctioning.

However, under USAC series, points-earnings go as follows and is based on race placement results:

MTB National Championships (Elite):
1st Place - 110
2nd Place - 90
3rd Place - 70
4th Place - 60
5th Place - 50
6th Place - 40
7th Place - 30
8th Place - 20
9th Place - 10
10th Place - 5

ProGRT Hors Classe (HC - 2017 Windham ProGRT)

1st Place - 90
2nd Place - 70
3rd Place - 60
4th Place - 50
5th Place - 40
6th Place - 35
7th Place - 30
8th Place - 27
9th Place - 24
10th Place - 22
(This category gives points 25 deep. For further points breakdown, go here, then scroll to page 68.)

ProGRT C1 Classification (2017 Angel Fire Chile Challenge ProGRT)

1st Place - 60
2nd Place - 40
3rd Place - 30
4th Place - 25
5th Place - 20
6th Place - 18
7th Place - 16
8th Place - 14
9th Place - 12
10th Place - 10
(This category has points 15 deep. For further breakdown, go here, then scroll to page 68.)


ProGRT C2 Classification (All other 2017 ProGRT Events)

1st Place - 30
2nd Place - 20
3rd Place - 15
4th Place - 12
5th Place - 10
6th Place - 8
7th Place - 6
8th Place - 4
9th Place - 2
10th Place - 1

The point of pointing out the points breakdown above? (Ha ha, see what I did there?)

Giving you an accurate chart to base your strategy off of. For example, if you're a domestic US pro looking for World Cup points but who can only attend three races this season, your best bet is to plan on attending National Championships, Windham's ProGRT and Angel Fire's Chile Challenge GRT. These are the higher classification of race and, for a racer who gets into the top ten (or a woman who gets into the top three), can quickly add up to a solid points accrual. Why is this important? Because remember that a racer needs 40 UCI points to even register for a World Cup. Below is the schedule of the 2017 USA Cycling ProGRT, as well as the classifications for each event. You can match them with the points breakdown charts above.


  


So. You've got the upgrade, you've got your license, you're racing on a national level, you prioritized your events, you raced your little butt off and now you've earned your required UCI points. What next?

Step three: registering for your very first World Cup race. It starts by going HERE, to the USAC website and reading up on all of the fun stuff. 1: DO THIS IN ADVANCE. We're talking far advance here, kiddos. I suggest doing the other steps and booking your flight and lodging before you register, but you'll figure it all out when you go to the link above -- you DO have to give the UCI your locations, and general travel plans. Visas are also important if you're traveling to a country where you'll need them. Oh, and did I mention that you're probably going to need a passport? Tiny, insignificant little details, amirite?

But after all that's done, make sure you check your I's and dot your T's, and don't get hurt two weeks before you fly, or two weeks before the race, or the morning of qualifications, or your last practice run before qualifying or... Well, we all know what happens then, right?

Indeed.

Start saving those pennies, though. You're gonna need 'em.