There’s been a lot of attention on women in the bike industry lately, so we decided to take a look at one area that’s taking the lead when it comes to leveling the playing field: recreational mountain biking. Girls and women currently only make up about 20% of mountain bikers*, however, programs like Little Bellas and NICA along with the help of local bike shops are working to change that and improve gender parity.
Start ’Em Young with Little Bellas
“Gender parity is important in all facets of life. In mountain biking, I’ve seen how the sport can have such a positive impact on someone and I’d hate for girls to miss out on that because it’s perceived as a sport for guys,” says Minnesota Little Bellas coach, Martha Flynn.
Unfortunately, many girls are missing out on the opportunities and growth that mountain biking provides.
“By age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate that boys are – and most of them don’t come back,” explains Susan Help-Murtagh, NICA Board of Directors vice chair, in a recent NICA e-newsletter. “Girls are missing out on powerful development opportunities.”
To address this drop off, sisters Sabra and Lea Davison along with Angela Irvine (all accomplished mountain bikers), created Little Bellas in 2007. Founded on the principle of helping young women realize their potential through cycling, the organization empowers 7-16-year-old girls through the sport of mountain biking, goal-setting, and healthy lifestyle education.
Little Bellas currently has chapters in 13 states, and they’re growing rapidly each year. It’s not school-affiliated, so any girl who has a Little Bellas chapter in her area can sign up to be part of the club.
The girls in the program are introduced to mountain biking through playing games on and off the bikes, cheering each other on during group rides, and soaking up wisdom from their coaches and mentors.
“Mountain biking teaches you the skill of sticking to something and progressing even when there are setbacks. There’s a certain amount of grit that mountain biking requires. That’s hugely important for young girls to experience,” explains Sabra Davison.
As a byproduct from getting more young girls on bikes, Little Bellas has also helped to increase the number of parents including moms who mountain bike.
“I think moms follow what their kids are excited about. We recently put out a survey to our participants and the number of families who are taking up mountain biking keeps going up every year. That means fewer kids are riding alone and more parents are getting into the sport,” says Davison.
Aside from riding, parents can get involved with Little Bellas through mentoring and leading activities.
“Everyone thinks to be a Little Bellas mentor you have to be a cyclist, but you don’t. We look for people who love being outside and give them tools that support and empower them as a mentor and leader,” explains Davison.
Young women from high school mountain bike leagues can also lead rides for Little Bellas. This way, the girls in Little Bellas have role models who are closer to their age and the older girls gain experience in a leadership position.
“We have a formal partnership with Little Bellas,” says Austin McInerny, president of the National Interscholastic Cycling League. “Our high school age girls serve as ride leaders. That way the younger girls see older girls who are experienced and confident. It’s a perfect mentorship and helps older girls to be role models for younger kids.”
Little Bellas is always looking for brands, bike shops, and individuals who want to get behind their mission of introducing girls to mountain biking and retaining them as they grow up. To learn how you can contribute, start your own league, or volunteer check out the Little Bellas website