By Tamia Santiago
Tamia is going into 10th grade at Mastery Charter School: Pickett Campus
At practices I was always told “I could” or “I would” but never “I couldn’t.” I would struggle, I would even finish last, but that was never the expectation. My coaches gave me the same treatment as my other teammates, especially when it came to motivation. That was the safe zone: a bubble of equality, fairness, an environment in which experience and skill were the key to becoming a successful cyclist. That is, until the needle of reality struck.
May 31, 2014–I remember that day so clearly. I woke up around 7am to meet up at my school to ride to the Cadence [Cycling Foundation] meet n’ greet. Everything that morning went wrong. Neither one of the coaches could make it, a teammate’s chain broke in half, and we didn’t have the key to get into the school, nor the cycling room. I was too excited, however, to be affected by the negatives. Just the thought of biking somewhere made me forget how tired I was from staying up that night, anxiously awaiting the morning. Despite last-minute calls and mechanical difficulties, both teammates and coaches were ready to go and have fun.
Thirty minutes later we arrived at the Cadence bike shop in Manayunk. We all were greeted by the mayor’s wife, but my engagement with her lasted the longest. “It’s about time they got some females on the team,” she said with a smile, and I just smiled back, too distracted to fully take in the depths of what she said. My mind was lost in amazement as I looked around ––it was like bike heaven. Cyclists from Philadelphia and beyond fawned over the glistening bikes. But what captured my attention most was the bike shop’s modernized anatomy. I entered to the luster of wooden floors and displays of scintillatingly designed biking gear. I followed the scent of coffee to the second floor where I received a name tag. After meeting other cyclists and CCF supporters, the speeches began.
A few people spoke before the professional female cyclists were interviewed. They started off by stating their appreciation for programs that kept youth active and out of trouble. But then the speeches got more specific. They started talking about something called the “gender gap” in cycling, and it was in that moment when I started to make connections. Specifically, there is a disproportionate ratio of girls to boys on cycling teams, and popular televised events only show male cycling. Then the pro women cyclists talked about how they couldn’t live off of cycling, yet pro men cyclist could make at least a middle-class salary($40,000-$60,00).
I was interested in this topic, so I started doing research and gaining different perspectives. The main or common causes of this issue, in my eyes, were both intrinsic and extrinsic—confidence and society. Because some women do not trust themselves biking without getting hurt, they decide not to do it at all; I’ve heard that some women were afraid of getting hit by cars. Furthermore, the female biking community is small. Not a lot of females ride bikes in Philadelphia. In fact, it’s estimated that women make up less than half1 of the cycling population. While the gap is shocking, the reasoning behind it is not: beginners do not feel comfortable riding in the city, especially alone. To augment the discomfort, society portrays cycling as a male dominated sport: males get ample amount of sponsors and major events such as the Tour de France with worldwide attention. On the other hand, female cyclists have only side events. It’s a start, but more needs to be done.
This was an eye opener for me, not a discouragement. I haven’t personally experienced any discrimination as a female cyclist yet, but this experience helped to inform me of the future obstacles that I might face. However, they do not concern me, because I also know things are getting better. Organizations like Women Bike PHL are helping to build a strong community of female bicyclists. It won’t be long before glass ceilings are broken and a greater Philadelphia is born.
- Ed note: widely-used estimates are that women make up 25% of the U.S. cycling population. In Philly 33% of trips are made by women. ↩