Skip To Main Content

Student Voices: Achieving Gender Equality in Mountain Bike Races

Student Voices: Achieving Gender Equality in Mountain Bike Races

By Sarah Olson ’26

You are surrounded by determined individuals with a love of adrenaline and the outdoors while racing down trails in a fight for first. However, as a female rider, you have to push against a strong headwind, because males have dominated this sport for over six decades. 

Nevertheless, even with the headwind, females are pushing through, and their presence is becoming more prominent in the mountain biking world. The mountain bike racing community must change in order for women to be equal and involved by giving them more opportunities and chances to be comfortable and excited to ride, without a strong headwind pushing them back. 

group photo of NMH mountain bike team

Gender Equality in Sports and Biking

Sports have always been considered masculine, since the ancient Greeks introduced formal sports. With mountain biking, it is no different. As of 2018, according to a study called “Female Perspectives on Mountain Biking,” in outdoor recreation, which includes mountain biking, 54% of participants were male, and 46% were female. The difference is probably even more prominent in mountain biking. Having a completely equal participation split is not exactly necessary, but it would help to get more women on bikes. The study also noted that most of the sport's participants are young, middle-class white men. 

According to The Draft, 45% of male mountain bikers have been riding since childhood, and only 28% of female riders have. If men have more experience biking, it can be intimidating for women to jump in with them, so there needs to be a way for more young girls to get on bikes and join teams. Studies from the Women’s Sports Foundation show that boys can get 1.13 million more opportunities to play sports in high school than girls. There are benefits from exercise and the connections people make with their fellow athletes that should be equally accessible to all, regardless of gender. 

NMH mountain biking team lining up at the start of a race

Mountain Biking at Northfield Mount Hermon

“It is not enough to treat the girls as equals. You actually have to prioritize them, because this is a historically male-dominated sport and space,” says Steve Allison, the head coach of the Northfield Mount Hermon School mountain bike team. The mountain bike team at NMH is trying its best to keep girls on the team by having a supportive environment for everyone. In the 2022-23 school year, the NMH team was the only team in the Northern New England High School League, or the NNE, with a team that was 50-50 girls and boys. 

The NNE races were also unequal, with the varsity boys racing 10 miles and the varsity girls only racing 7.5 miles. Will Lamoureux, a racer in the NICA Idaho league, points out this is unfair because, he says, “Girls can get just as strong endurance-wise, so they can and should race the same amount of laps, even if it is a little slower than some guys.” Allison says that the shorter races for girls were due to the time allotted for races, but he suggested coming up with a new structure in which girls' and boys’ races go off together, and they ride the same distance, so the races will not be any longer than they already are.  

Race Structures

Races are different all over the world, depending on the leagues and the teams that are a part of them. For example, the Wood River Mountain Bike team in Idaho races within the National Interscholastic Cycling Association or NICA. The races can have hundreds of kids, with 18 race starts going off. From sixth to ninth grade, riders are placed by age and gender; from 10th grade up, riders are placed by skill and gender. 

There are fewer riders in the Northern New England League, with a total of four race starts. The varsity girls race with the junior varsity boys. At some races, the varsity girls were placed behind the junior varsity boys, which can be aggravating for the girls who are faster than the boys. There is less time for the NNE League races than for Wood River’s, but it is frustrating for the varsity girls to get placed behind boys whom they are a level above. 

A Rider’s Experience

An NMH varsity racer in the NNE league, Dory Hindinger '24, says of her experience being a female rider on a team, “There can be little comments, like the mansplaining, that can get out of control from my male teammates.” She adds that she does not think her teammates know they are doing it, but they just assume they know more than her, even though Hindinger is the top point-scorer on the team. Hindinger also mentions that boys on her team will often cut in front of her when they are riding, even if they are not faster than her. It can all get frustrating sometimes, but Hindinger loves her team and the sport. She says it is a supportive team who are all there to do what they love: mountain biking and having fun.  

members of NMH mountain bike team outside Memorial Chapel, looking at a rainbow

Getting More Women to Ride

Girls’ mountain biking has come a long way, but there can always be more to do. “There have been women in the sport from the get-go, and there are some really amazing stories of women who have raced,” Allison says. Women can still be seen doing amazing things on bikes. Many professional women bikers are working hard to bring more and more girls into the sport. NMH coach Katie Simpson says, “When you see women doing things that females do not typically do, it is going to inspire other women to also do it.” 

 In order to empower women and girls to mountain bike, they have to have other women showing them they can also do it. Luckily, there are strong female professionals and coaches who are inspiring and motivating young girls to join the sport. The number of girls biking is growing quickly, and the gender equality gap is slowly closing. 

Mountain bike racing is a beautiful, thrilling sport with an amazing community of people who love pushing themselves and getting outdoors. Women have been getting increasingly involved in the sport as time passes, but even if the gap is closing, there are still moments when it is unfair and intimidating toward girls who ride. We can change this by offering opportunities for girls and women. For example, rides organized for girls or women can make women feel more comfortable learning and mastering skills on a bike. Teams can make it more welcoming for girl riders by having female coaches and acknowledging any equality issues, whether in races or the team. The mountain biking community has done a lot of work to improve, but there is always more to do to ensure opportunity for all, so everyone is welcome to rip down trails together as equals.

Sarah Olson is a rising sophomore and a mountain biker from Ketchum, Idaho. She wrote this piece for her NMH journalism class.

Top: The NMH team. Author Sarah Olson is in the second row, far left; teammate Dory Hindinger sits to her left. Photo by teacher Craig Hefner.
Middle: NMH riders ready for the start of a race. Photo by Albert Xie '23.
Bottom: Taking a break from practice to enjoy a rainbow. Photo by Albert Xie '23.

More News