Words by Kath Bicknell | Images by Melissa Popov

When women get together to go riding, there’s something just a little bit different to rides with the guys. As this side of the scene develops, it’s moving past ideas about what it ‘should’ look like and is taking on a life of its own. Kath Bicknell explains.


Working in this sector the challenge, for me, is to find ways to discuss women’s riding with integrity. Ways that reflect the sport as riders experience it, vaginas and all.

I often find mountain bike media that syphons women’s riding into its own special category somewhat artificial. To rephrase a gay marriage meme, I don’t put women’s petrol in my women’s car to women’s drive down the women’s freeway. And I don’t women’s mountain bike in this way either. Or do I?

When you get a group of female riders together for an extended period, something special happens.

When you get a group of female riders together for an extended period, something special happens. Defences come down, chattiness goes up, and conversations, rhythms and images appear that contrast to the sport as it’s often portrayed. I saw this again and again last month while spending four days filming ‘Like a Local: Tropical North Queensland’. I was working in a group where the women outnumbered the men.

Some of the things that stood out reminded me of things I value in any crew: people who look out for each other, a sense that we’re in it together, an attitude that a social ride is a social ride (not a competition), and that all good rides start or finish with good food. There was also a strong sense of femininity that came through in the way these women enjoyed cycling as part of an active lifestyle. This is a femininity that I don’t always see in mountain bike media or advertising material that tends to focus more on women who race and those who are getting into the sport for the first time.

 This is a femininity that I don’t always see in mountain bike media or advertising material that tends to focus more on women who race and those who are getting into the sport for the first time.

Take Cassie Abell for example: “It’s called a ‘vaginjury’,” she yelled at the top of her lungs in the middle of the forest, explaining what happens when you smash your groin. She didn’t just say it quietly to the trees or the person next to her, she yelled it. Part of me empathised with the region of bike inflicted, saddle munting pain she was talking about, as I think any female would. But as a writer I couldn’t help but love this word for its humour, its agency, its economical clarity, and its ability to make something awkward no longer awkward at all.

Take Jade Robinson: “I can’t get a good tan when I’m wearing kneepads riding a bike,” she explained to the camera on the way to the reef. It’s a comment that seems like a joke at first but one that a lot of other riders can relate to, even some dudes, and even if they don’t want to admit it.

When asked about her favourite trail, Mandy Michna’s perspective wasn’t so much about the trail itself as what it signified at a certain point in her life. “My favourite trail out at Smithfield is a trail called Blake Snake,” she said. “It was a personal challenge for me when I first started riding. Straight after I’d had my second baby – about two months after that – the fitness that I needed to achieve to get to the top without stopping…I got there. And that’s kind of memorable for me,” she added. “And then there’s a really great, fun, cut in descent on the way down,” a mountain biker through and through.

While it’s hard to pinpoint to a single moment, or event, or type of rider, this femininity came through in the multiple ways this crew, all at very different stages in their lives, talked about their reasons for mountain biking, the friendships they’ve made and their goals on certain trails. It came through in the clothes they wore while riding and at the bars we visited afterwards, the language they use to describe bike mods, whether and when they chose to wear makeup, and the comfort and ease with which they do these things and more.

These women don’t need to be one of the guys to have people to ride with. As the scene has developed there’s a much bigger space now to (quite happily) be one of the girls.

These women don’t need to be one of the guys to have people to ride with. As the scene has developed there’s a much bigger space now to (quite happily) be one of the girls.

“The girl gang is amazing. I couldn’t imagine my life without them anymore,” said Jacinta Pink listing off the endless number of activities everyone gets up to on a typical weekend.

“I’m a mum and I’ve got kids at school and I hang out with mums who don’t really do anything for themselves,” said Cass. “I really want to get them back into having fun and finding themselves and finding the ‘rah’ woman, you know, rather than just being mum and unappreciated.”

Audience comments have been interesting too. “I feel so good being able to be a girl now,” said a friend talking about the clothing options available for female mountain bikers that no longer make them look like blokes.

If there’s a group of people in your own riding community who enjoy the sport in different ways to the majority, take more notice of the things they say or share when given space and time to do so. My hunch is it will make the rest of us become better at talking about the myriad reasons all sorts of people enjoy this sport and better reflect on our own experiences while we’re at it.

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