Words by Rachel Jevons
Recently, one of my new found mountain bike chums popped up and mentioned that a fledgling brand was looking for ambassadors. Did I fancy it? she asked. She thinks I'd be perfect.
Now, at 42 years of age, I automatically thought: "pah! That's a hiding to nothing right there." I mean, for a start I don't feel I necessarily represent what a lot of male dominated companies who claim to cater for women seem to want. In fact, this particular fledgling brand, are targeting the social media accounts of very young women who fitted a certain type. I could imagine them with a check-list, which I’ve applied to myself:
- boobs (yep – decent bra and a stiff westerly breeze prevailing);
- perfect teeth (still have my own);
- lustrous hair (see teeth);
- endless legs (compared to a 6 year old, yes);
- young (Ah)
And I fall at that last, arbitrary, why-is-that-even-a-thing hurdle. (Well, to be honest, I fall at the second to last hurdle with my little pigeon drumsticks - but let's not go there).
So, it got me thinking; how are we portrayed and represented in the sport we love?
I did a little research about how women over 40 are represented in MTB. God, it was a bit depressing. Put simply: we aren't. It's not great. It is, in fact, very bad indeed. The context is that women get a whole lot less coverage and exposure across the sport full stop. The social media accounts, publications and websites run by women, for women, have nailed it - but the mainstream stuff? Not even close.
The simple fact is: They. Just. Don't. Get. It. And by 'it', I mean women who MTB, and even less so, older women who MTB.
#ThisGirlCan, but not in our kit, thank you
So I decided to speak to someone I know who works at a senior level in the bike industry, and ask them why we don't see older women in their advertising. I was disappointed, but not surprised, when I was told that big brands need people to feel their kit has an aspirational and inspirational quality. Are women over 40 who MTB somehow less inspirational and aspirational I asked? I didn't get a reply.
So, I argued the older rider's case. That some of the most inspirational people in women's MTB right now are those who don't fit the marketing brand ideal. Women who are giving this MTB shiz a go – regardless of age. Women who are flicking the Vs at the big boys.
Playing with the big girls
We know that although only 10-15% of the current market are women, we are the fastest growing Cycling and MTB market in the UK. Although places like Bike Park Wales say that only 5-6% of customers are women, Whistler has a whopping 35%. That’s a potential market growth any marketing department would need a change of Y-fronts for. And the older women? That’s where the real money is – because we’ve generally got a hell of a lot more of it than our younger counterparts.
So instead of just whinging and waiting for the brilliant women racers in their 30's to reach their next decade, I'm going to give the big boys in the marketing departments a little insight in to one of the biggest untapped markets. Let me introduce to you: The 40+ brigade.
*Disclaimer - I am not for one second suggesting that we are a homogenous group. But we are dealing with demographies, and so there will some assumptions, which are based on population statistics and facts
Who are The 40+ Women MTB Brigade?
Well, not wanting to generalise, but I kind of have to really. Put simply we are the women you don't seem to want to have wearing your kit.
We are more likely to be professional, independent women. We leave our insecurities at the door and hit the trails with nowt but a sense of our own liberty to do what we want to do; and possibly in a decent lipstick.
We have lots of free time to do the things that make us feel good, more often, things like..... riding our bikes.
Many of us will be in positions senior enough so we can chose our hours to suit our riding.
Our kids - if we chose to have them - are more likely to be older and doing their own thing, which also gives us more time.
We are more likely to be homeowners and have disposable income to spend - not on the odd piece of basic equipment or clothing here and there - but regular outlay on a whole range of premium brand bikes and clothing. Because we want to feel good, comfortable and hell, a lot of us actually want to look good too, so we get the best we can afford - which is usually the best. If it's good, we tell other people in our circle - who are also likely to fit into this bracket (because membership of riding clubs seems to be in the upper age range for women, compared with women in their 20's).
Who knows - we may even have a partner or family who feel the need to shower us with gestures of love and affection and keep us in decent kit...
So - there is your niche. It's a rough caricature, but it's a start. You're welcome.
Where are The 40+ Women MTB Brigade?
Aha! This is the squillion dollar question. In terms of the media view - on balance we are well represented and acknowledged in the women centred MTB media, and in some women’s publication that aren’t MTB related. So unless you look there – you won’t really see us. You’ll see men over 40 in the mainstream MTB magazines, but not women.
In real life, we are everywhere - whether as part of a group, riding alone, out with the other half or dog. We are holding everyone up, or we are flying past you, we're doing a leisurely ascent chatting - or we are head down-arse up, and giving it the beans at a DH event (vets category, obviously).
As I've said - we aren't a homogenous group. There's no badge to give us away - but we are there. Looming large in the queue for tea and cake (we earn our cake), spending money in the cafes and shops, buying the kit you’d rather we didn’t wear. Doing stuff everyone else does really - we just have a lot more miles under our belt on the trail of life. Which makes us older, wiser and cooler
What do The 40+ Women MTB Brigade want from brands?
Well that's easy really. Talk to us. Let us occupy some part of your magazine, your brand or your social media as a regular feature, reviewer or ambassadors. Interview us about our experiences and let the wider world know that we are here. Ask us to review your products. Be interested.
Help us define our role and find our place, and we will help you grow and be relevant to this brilliant group of riders. Find out what we want. Then - if you're really smart, you'll direct some of your marketing toward us - because promise you, we are waiting. Oh so patiently. With our money, our talent and the sheer force of our buying power.
So, we’re all yours, basically
Look. We aren’t going anywhere. We’re getting better, bigger, stronger and we’re getting more vocal. And the brand who steps up and taps this amazing market is in for one hell of a ride. So, what are you waiting for?
Are you an over 40 trail shredder? We want to hear your thoughts on the representation of older women in mountain biking. Do you share the same opinions as Rachel, or does your gripe lie elsewhere? Let us know.
While the women's MTB industry has been growing rapidly over the past few years, there's still a long way to go before it can be consider a level playing field. The future glows bright for women's mountain biking, and while change is slow to happen, we can take comfort in knowing that change is still coming our way.