Women’s lib

When I decided to contribute some cash primes to our backyard CBR crit, I figured that the first week I’d donate to the P123 men’s race and the master’s 40+ category, and then the following weekend I’d donate to the P123 men’s race and the P123 women’s race. It made sense to donate equal amounts to the men’s and women’s races because I’m an old school feminist.

But everyone didn’t see it that way. A few people suggested to me, privately of course, that it was silly to give equal amounts to men and women. “Women won’t show up, you’ll see.”

A variation on this theme was, “Prizes should be awarded in proportion to participation. The men’s field will have 120 racers and the women’s field, if you’re lucky, forty. Prizes should reflect that.”

This is the way prizes are apportioned throughout cycling. ‘Cross Vegas puts up half the prize money for women that it does for men.


Aside from the participation “issue,” people — almost always men — will tell you that women’s racing is boring, that it’s slower, that it’s less tactical, less exciting, less EVERYTHING than men’s racing. This attitude is entrenched on the pro level and it is a given on the amateur level, where women are lucky to have a category in many races. And since it’s so “less” everything, the implication is that it deserves less money.

I’ve often wondered how people would react if you substituted the word “women” for the words “African-American” or “Hispanics.”

My take on women racing is different. Women deserve the same opportunity as men to compete regardless of the numbers who show up. This is such a basic principle that if you are a university and you don’t offer equal opportunity in athletic dollars to women pursuant to Title IX, which was passed in 1972, you will lose all of your federal funding and essentially be forced to close up shop. Universities long ago dispensed with the canard that women don’t want to compete in sports and focused on doing the one thing that matters most in increasing women’s participation: Funding.

Naturally, as the funding ballooned, so did participation at the college level of women athletes across virtually every sport. In other words, you can’t use participation to justify low funding because it’s the funding that holds back the participation. It would be like going to a country where women don’t receive an education and denying them funding for schools because they don’t go to the school. This is the kind of circular reasoning at which cycling excels, not limited to women’s racing.

Cycling hasn’t yet caught up with August 26, 1920, when U.S. women got the right to vote, so of course cycling still thinks that participation can be addressed without providing equal opportunity. They are wrong. One elite woman racer told me that when she sees a flyer offering half the men’s purse to the pro women, she crosses that event off her list. Her list must be covered in black marks.

Truly equal opportunity means that funding isn’t contingent on equal participation. If there is $1,000 in cash primes on offer and only four women show up, the small turnout doesn’t diminish the opportunity or mean that the people who raced got more than they deserved or justify excluding equal prizes from future races. To the contrary, it emphasizes that people who make the effort to race are treated the same regardless of gender.

As Title IX proved, over time equal opportunity in terms of funding means that participation will grow exponentially. It will be nice when cycling graduates to the early 20th Century, but even better when it reaches the modern era of 1972.



For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and support gender equality. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

44 thoughts on “Women’s lib”

  1. Here! Here! Cycling continues to be a male dominated sport. I am currently at Eurobike where 98% of the bicycles here are men’s and the few women’s bikes are predominantly city/urban grocery getters. The majority of people owning the businesses are men, women are grossly under-represented here and while a bit better in North America (adding in Canada), as a female bicycle business owner, it is discouraging. I fight to be taken seriously except to my direct customers who are aware of my products and the passion that goes into them. Same is true for racing.

    1. Racing is even more extreme, maybe, because there’s so little money in it even for the men. What is left over for women is next to nothing.

    2. A little history for you:

      In West Los Angeles, two of the shops that still survive were started/run by women, Helen’s and Palm’s Cycles. I know Bicycle Workshop could not have stayed in business without a dedicated woman too.

      It’s a very, very, very tough business at every level, male or female.

      If you are really successful in the business, Sinyard sues you for impossible IP infringement and steals your product in one or two product cycles.

      Good luck and know that successful women have come before you!

  2. As a card carrying fiscal conservative/environmental nutjob, I applaud your position here. Sorry, no lengthy rant here…gots to go pick!

  3. As a person on a team that promotes races and has equal payouts I don’t have a problem with equalization. I do have a problem with making the case a moral one.

    In our community most races are promoted by teams and there aren’t many if any sponsors. So total payout dollars are determined by total racers. The rest of the conversation is about what groups get money transferred to and what groups get transferred from. (Woe to the Cat 5s and juniors who pay and get medals.)

    My proposal to reduce pot splitting discussions would be to vastly reduce payouts for all fields in events without substantial sponsorship. Maybe limit them to a few dollars more than the entry fee. The sport is amateur bike racing.

    Putting your own money up is by far the best way of showing your preferences. Convince others to do the same. Calling people who have different but reasonable perspectives names doesn’t do much good.

      1. Unless you want to see vicious, corner-to-corner, safe, hard, dynamic and thrilling racing. Then, offer cash.

  4. Very well said! Look at what happened when big money started being thrown at Marathons. It rippled all the way down to there being more runners in general and bigger Marathon fields than ever in particular.

    I do wish women raced more just because it’s fun. 🙂 But we would certainly get more “big guns” if there were more money and with “big guns” you tend to get more of everyone wanting to be a “big gun” or wanting to race with the “big guns”. As for women’s races not being as exciting, watch the UK Jr women race to see some EXCITING racing, FAR more exciting than our local men’s pro/1/2.

    1. Yeah, but the structure of a marathon allows all kinds of participants.

      If you did a bike race where you started time-based waves, it would be a different sport. Maybe some promoter needs to do that?

      1. You can change the structure any way you want, but without money to kill for, most people will say “Meh.”

  5. I heard about your contributions at the Hughes Park ride last night, bravo! I did something similar at the MBGP a few years back with all of it going to the women. When I return to a better financial position I will do it again for the same reasons you outline. The Hughes Park crit training ride draws at best 3 women on a relatively consistent basis out of about 60 consistent men, what a shame!

  6. I wish it were as simple as money.
    We offered cash prizes this year for the biggest stage race in the state (which is to say, small) for the first time in a decade or more. Usually it was a trophy or something similar.
    Participation dropped.
    I’m not saying that the money was the cause, but it didn’t encourage turnout in any class. People just didn’t race (for various reasons).
    Payouts were equal, and I agree they should be. However, they might not be the effective carrot you think they are. “If you pay it, they will come” doesn’t quite do it for the huddled masses. It might attract out-of-town, elite racers, but your rank and file pack fodder (the people that pay the bills) aren’t swayed by how much they don’t have a chance to get paid. Figure out what makes them tick, and do that.
    Equally, of course.

    1. ^^^^ I’ve read this same comment elsewhere.

      This is where I argue that the structure of a bike race as defined by USAC isn’t really conducive to lots of participation.

      1. Look at the details of the “money.”

        1. How much?
        2. How many races?
        3. What period of time?
        4. How was it distributed?
        5. Did the wank and file have a realistic shot at any of it?

    2. 1. How much money was it?
      2. How many races was it offered for?
      3. Did a large number of people have a shot at getting some of it?

      Your arguments are all pre-Title IX arguments, and they’ve been demolished by history. Put in a big chunk of money, do it consistently, and racers, both men and women, will chase it like sharks to chum.

      1. Lets take the equal “award” thing off the table, most everyone of us agree with it. But its not the driver IMO of why women participation is lower.

        The Title IX argument is interesting, because the “pile of money” didn’t go to the “Awards”, it went to the “teams.”

        Your proposed solution, via the TitleIX argument, is in the “Awards”, I would argue if you are arguing Title IX as a model, that the “Teams” should focus more on women. The distinction is huge.

        How much of a Teams focus is on womens needs in the sport? Does a club have womens cut team kits? Does a club focus the differing needs of women? et al… I am only speculating here, but I bet if you surveyed men and women racers the output would be different.

        IMO The teams make the participation at the races possible, its front end loaded, if the teams don’t support the needs of women, the rates will be down.

        If you beleive TitleIX proposed solutions you shouldn’t be arguing for equal or more prize money(its a given), but the teams focus should be equal between men and women.

        This to me would be consistent with the TitleIX argument.

        1. I have a great idea! You put up your own money and fund your own solution because it’s sure to work.

          I’ll put up my own money and fund my solution, which you can then tear down and analyze after 1) It has failed 2) You’ve funded your own successful project.

          On your mark, get set, go!

          Oh… you mean you’re not going to fund anything? I see.

      2. 1. Not SoCal money, but we don’t have the same meth habits to support.
        2. All upper-category races. Lower categories got swag.
        3. GC podiums only- chances depended on the size of the individual field.
        The promise of money really didn’t bring people out of the woodwork. It was nice, but I didn’t see people tearing themselves apart for the money any more than I saw them tear themselves apart for a trophy made of old bike parts or a sock prime.
        Title IX doesn’t play into it. Money or no money, the awards have historically been the same across the sexes.
        We obviously operate in very different environments, and I’m a big enough man to admit when you’re wrong. A large amount of our roadies are elite-level cross-country skiers or other elite endurance athletes. This isn’t their only gig- they’re doing this for fun. Very few, if any are living in a van down by the river.
        It’s a different world with different priorities.

        1. If you aren’t putting up the same money, it’s not really a valid comparison, is it?

          NorCal’s cycling enclaves are some of the wealthiest places on the planet. We have our biggest series in Compton.

          My guess is that, like everywhere else, you are just cheap. If bike racers are given real money to race for and the herd has a chance of winning some of it, my theory is that people will show up.

          I note that you answered all my questions in the negative.

          The money you put up was inconsequential.

          It wasn’t given to lower categories, as if they don’t matter.

          The only people who had a shot at it were those who placed at race’s end, i.e. the same old faces.

          “The awards have historically been the same.” Prove that outlandish claim.

          And of course, this: If you’re happy with the way things are working, then congratulations on your success.

      3. In our small pond, awards have been historically the same across the sexes. Nothing for men is the same as nothing for women. The trophies were made by the same person. The sanctioning/organizing body barely breaks even or loses money on certain races because of permitting/manpower costs, and that cost is offset by profits from other races (mainly TTs attended by triathletes). Nobody is getting rich, and the operation is run as economically as possible to be sustainable.
        Our best racers spend thousands of dollars each time to race down in the Lower 48 and get a 4-3 or 3-2 upgrade. Going Cat 1 (which many of them are capable of) would require a even more significant investment. They aren’t motivated by money, because they’re bleeding it on every trip. You can’t dirtbag a road trip to the Lower 48 on the cheap, no matter how you travel.
        Likewise, other than a handful of Fairbanks riders, no cash award we could possibly offer would entice anyone from out of state to make the trip to race here. We’ve had racers that were on vacations or business trips, but the race was never the reason for coming up. It’s a small, isolated pond.

        1. How can you say they’re not motivated by money when there is none? Unless you’re saying that participation is where you want it, in which case, congrats.

          In the rest of America participation is poor, women participation is terrible, and new people don’t join.

          Dump in a bunch of money and see what happens.

  7. Universities long ago dispensed with the canard that women don’t want to compete in sports and focused on doing the one thing that matters most in increasing women’s participation: Funding.

    FYI, they were dragged, kicking and screaming the whole way with lots of bitter alumni kicking and screaming too.

    It would be interesting to know how funding is structured in a modern Title IV world for D1 broadcast ballsports programs vs. every other sports program on an average D1 campus.

  8. Hello fsethd-san and All,

    It might be worthwhile to look at other venues and see how they motivate the participants (with a good share female) to line up and pay to race.

    Most professional triathletes do not get big paydays. The thousands of age group participants that make the races a sellout in 1 day or sometimes one hour (with 1500 to 2000 participants in a race) do not get any financial reward … usually paying several hundred dollars for an entry fee and getting a tee shirt for finishing or a cheap medal for winning their age group.

    The World Triathlon Corporation just sold to the (used to be) richest man in China for $888 Million or so.
    . http://www.slowtwitch.com/News/Ironman_sold_to_Dalian_Wanda_5306.html

    Fastest Growing Sports Around The World

    1. Triathlon The first “triathletes” hailing from the San Diego Track Club could not have envisioned that 40 years after the first ever triathlon event in 1974, the USA Triathlon organization would have over 550,000 members.

    Growth stretches both far beyond the traditional triathlon format and boundaries of the US. Now days its possible to compete in organized triathlons in some of the worlds most remote countries, from Vanuatu to Iceland. In the US, growth in off-road/non-traditional triathlon participation has increased by 25% over the last three years while traditional triathlon participation has increased by 10% in the same period. We’ve previously written about the sold out registrations and increased event fees that generate complaints from some of diehard endurance early-adopters, while at the same time signal the sports maturation.

    2. Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) (nearly half of SUP’s are female)
    3. Rugby (worldwide 1.5 million women play)
    4. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
    5. Cycling By 2019, the global bicycle industry is estimated to grow to $65 billion thanks to rising commuter costs (e.g. cost of fuel), growing traffic congestion and cycling as a preferred fitness and recreational activity. On the transportation side, one interesting trend is the growth in electric-bicycle sales, which have become more popular in the Netherlands and Germany. Recreational and competitive cycling is also on the rise. In the UK, the British Cycling organization experienced a remarkable 54% year on year growth to reach 75,000 members in 2013. Recently it was announced that Team Sky and other professional teams launched a joint venture to further develop the sport in the UK. All these signs point to a building momentum that is propelling cycling towards the mainstream



    +1 mph Faster

    1. In August, there’s one triathlon in SoCal. There are 14 bike races in the LA vicinity alone. Triathlon attracts people with a lot of disposable income who like to train all the time and race a little. Bike racing attracts people who are broke, living with their parents/girlfriend, and generally hate training and would prefer to race 300 days a year rather than do a single interval.

      Bike racers love money. Cash money. They are the greediest, hungriest, cheap-assedest, dirt baggiest bunch of cannibals on the planet. They will axe-murder their grandmother for a $50 prime.

      Cycling has been mainstream for years but bike racing hasn’t. It’s a cultish, clique-ish, weird pathology that parents shamefully admit to about their children when pressed.

      Bike racing can only grow with money paid to racers. A bike “pro” can make $100 go farther than a .22 rifle shell. That’s my crackpot theory anyway. And I’ll change it when someone comes up to me and offers to demonstrate the conviction of their opinions with their own hard-earned cash.

    2. The problem with comparing current running and tri events to cycling is the formats of the events are completely different.

      A tri/run are more or less “no drop.” I know road running events seed fast people to the front, but after that it’s every person for themselves, see you at the finish line. USAC/UCI cycling is not that.

      In this sense, cycling events have a fundamental problem. They have just begun to acknowledge sportifs and distance events with timed sections. But, still, that’s not like a 10k or triathlon.

      If you’ve ever worked in acquisitions, you know the guy who bought Ironman didn’t pay that. If you look at their business model, it’s pretty weak as are most events outside of a handful of marathons.

      I go into full geek mode on these sports organizations. Sorry.

  9. …wanky the capitalist… running mate for The Donald…i’m disappointed in you. Let’s talk on the next NPR..

  10. Seth, Great writhing! What’s your thoughts on total gender equality like they do for America Ninja Warrior? No gender category. Every person does the same course has the same chances to win. It’s often bothered me that the woman don’t even get to race the same distance as the men. I think that is a major part of the problem because it implies that they can’t do it or are less of a rider because they are female.

    1. This is the other huge issue. Women should race the same courses and same distances as the men. Boston Marathon women don’t run 18 miles. There is no such thing as partial equality.

  11. I mostly watch women’s races, they are fantastic, and I suspect at this point, less doped.

    I am relatively new to cycling, 7 years. My club has a strong mix of women and men racing. All of them have jobs, so I suspect they will race because they love it, and sure, if they can win some cash, it’s always nice.

    The question is the money available for those on the edge who need to make a decision to pursue this professionally.

    Last year, at the Whistler GranFondo, there was prize money for the first men and women. They actually had oversized cheques handed to them with about 4,000 riders watching. The winning man got about $9,000.00, the winning women $3000.00 I spoke to one of the women in the top 3 who was thus affected and she was really upset, but she couldn’t really say anything.

    I wrote to the organizers and never heard back, though I did hear later that they used the “participation numbers” excuse. What message was being sent to all those participants?

    I mean, if a company has 200 employees, 150 men and 50 women, do they pay the women less because there is less of them?

    This is a great little documentary by Kathryn Bertine about the inequality in women’s cycling, she is the one behind getting women to race on the last day of the Tour.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: