The off-road sector that includes mountain biking is the fastest-growing segment of the billion-dollar U.S. cycling market. Yet, women comprise only about 18 percent of it, and there is a sentiment among some participants that women should have a bigger share.
A gathering called the Women’s Off-Road Cycling Congress is working for change, and forcing conversation about topics such as the need for more opportunities to ride or the dearth of gear.
The forum is a series of events founded in 2017 by Elorie Slater, a Boulder, Colo.-based bike shop owner, and it’s coming to the metro: Minneapolis is the first place beyond Colorado to adopt the group’s initiative. Quality Bicycle Products (QBP) will host the congress Jan. 30 at its Bloomington headquarters. (Editor's note: The event was postponed until Feb. 27, owing to the extreme cold.) The location fits QBP, the nation’s largest distributor of bike parts, accessories and bikes, which has created a yearly bike mechanic scholarship for women. There were 32 recipients for this year’s program.
Minneapolis also makes sense, said Laura Haraldson, QBP operations manager.
“There is a lot of interest and really good organizations here, women-owned bike shops, women’s group rides, girls’ mountain biking camps, and the growing high school mountain biking league,” she said.
“The Women’s Off-Road Cycling Congress is about bringing women’s voices together in an intentional way to identify opportunities in the industry that haven’t yet been captured,” Slater added. Open to the public, the evening will include a keynote speaker, food and drinks, and breakout sessions.
At its core, the event is a community-building, fact-finding mission with a focus on gaining an understanding of what women in the off-road realm want and need. The off-road umbrella covers mountain biking, fatbiking, gravel riding, cyclocross, and bikepacking. Organizers are hoping the gathering, along with sister events in Boulder and Phoenix, will serve as a platform to collect information from a historically underrepresented segment of the off-road market.
“The event is an expansive research project,” Haraldson said. “We want to get to the roots of the opportunities of this subset of the industry — women and women-identifying people — to get a better pulse on how things are going, and then look at the data and share it with industry partners and the community.”
Slater echoed Haraldson: “This isn’t about sparking a gender debate or women’s empowerment, it’s about women coming together in the spirit of cooperation and community to unify our voices around topics that matter to the industry. There isn’t existing high-quality target market research out there — so we decided, let’s have this conversation and share the information with the industry.”
They hope that the data gathered will inform everything from clothing, bicycle frame and saddle design, to how brands market their products, to methods industry partners can rely upon to effectively organize women’s group rides.
The evening will begin with a meet and greet followed by an address from Kristi Mohn, one of the organizers of the Dirty Kanza 200, a 206-mile gravel race in Emporia, Kan. Breakout sessions follow. Attendees can take part in four of the eight 20-minute sessions, led by facilitators. All will get a chance to voice their opinions and listen to others on a variety of topics, including: where and how women who ride off-road are acquiring gear; equality in the industry; community rides, portrayals of female riders in the media; races and festivals; and electric mountain bike.
The congress wants to attract a wide demographic, from experienced riders to newbies. Its event last week in Boulder attracted 140, and organizers are optimistic about matching that in Bloomington.
“What I hope is that eventually the result of these events and the information we gather will be greater diversity in the workforce in the cycling industry, fewer barriers to entry for women to becoming off-road cyclists, and an industry that is overall more profitable and sustainable,” Slater said.
Mackenzie Havey is a freelance writer from Minneapolis.