by Antony de Heveningham
April 28, 2016
Every time the mountain bike industry is called out for sexism, there’s an instant and predictable reaction from the bottom half of the internet. First of all, you get a lot of responses from people saying they simply don’t see the problem. Then there are the “let’s ignore it and it’ll go away” brigade, who argue that making a fuss about dodgy marketing campaigns only helps them to succeed. And then there’s always a small but vocal element of commenters, who see the objections to Playboy girls at trade shows as a plot to systematically neuter their beloved sport.
It’s this last lot that fascinate me. They’re so insistent that I wonder if there’s something in their combined rantings. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that there is a shadowy conspiracy afoot to change mountain biking irrevocably. What would it look like? Using the combined predictive powers of the internet’s bottom half, here’s my vision of the future:
The trails, which once rang to the sounds of belches, swearwords and fingernails scratching crotches, are now soundtracked by giggles and compliments
..and the feminists have won. The trails, which once rang to the sounds of belches, swearwords and fingernails scratching crotches, are now soundtracked by giggles and compliments. Failure to stem the rise of women-only rides in the early 2000’s means that they are now the default, with many men being unable to find a local club or group to go out with. These women-only rides roam the trails in huge packs, harassing any men riding in groups of more than two.
Male mountain bikers are the butt of suggestive comments, or are shamed for having imperfectly plucked eyebrows and unwaxed backs. Men going alone into bike shops are patronised and belittled. If they’re accompanied by a woman, the invariably all-female staff will talk directly to her, and ignore the man entirely, barring the odd smirk or “amirite, darlin’?”
The off-road cycling industry has almost stopped developing new technology, to concentrate on women-specific products, like pastel shorts, pink Camelbaks, clip-in stiletto heels, and lock-on grips shaped like sleeping kittens. The standard wheel size is now split between 24” for XC and 20” for Enduro, and no new bike can be ridden by anyone over 5’4” tall. Any man short enough to try risks having his pelvis cracked by a massively wide saddle covered in squishy padding.
The demand for men’s mountain bikes and accessories nose-dived after marketing departments were banned from including pictures of scantily clad women in their adverts, and were unable to think of any effective new ideas. With no random bikini-wearing models to ogle, consumers stopped looking at the adverts and then stopped buying the products. For the print magazines, all too predictably, it sounded the death knell. How could any number of features, reviews, and route guides compensate for the absence of a 3-inch high picture of a barely clothed lady in the corner of an advert?
Trade shows are a thing of the past, as it turned out that posing for photos with booth babes was the sole reason the majority of people attended. No amount of exciting new products, shiny trade stands or free stickers was enough to arrest the decline. And the industry suffered another near-mortal blow when it was forced to sever its sponsorship deals and tie-ins with adult magazines and websites, cutting off the financial lifeblood that drove cycling’s growth.
There are no races any more, barring a handful of struggling events, where the requirement to provide equal prize money for male and female competitors constantly threatens to tip the organisers into financial ruin. Just having a womens’ category is not enough – there now need to be more womens’ categories than mens’, and any rider with longer than shoulder-length hair is press-ganged to make up the numbers.
The effect on road cycling is even worse. Without podium girls, prize-giving ceremonies have become a hollow, joyless sham that often leave the winner weeping bitter tears of despair. The distances of men’s races have also been reduced to the point where even the most testing Grand Tour stage can be comfortably completed by a unicyclist.
The new double black trail is known as “Pink Princess Party”
Contrary to popular expectations, mountain bike trails haven’t been made easier or dumbed down. There has however been an extensive campaign of renaming. At Bikepark Wales the new double black trail is known as “Pink Princess Party”, and Laggan Wolftrax renamed “Chihuahua Snuggles”. Stravaing rides has been replaced by scrapbooking them, or recording particularly noteworthy achievements in cross-stitch.
The venerable MTB video, too, is unrecognisable. Gone are the days when riders hucked cliffs to a soundtrack of thrash metal; now they sit around camp fires talking about their feelings, to the strains of Kate Bush and Nina Simone. The most popular cycling Instagram accounts feature teenage boys in thongs draping themselves over crossbars. Even male riders’ social media feeds are filled with shots of yoga and manicures. It is illegal to have a beard.
Adjectives like “gnarly” and “rad” have been replaced by “fluffy” and “on fleek”. This, coupled with the constant monitoring of internet communications by angry feminazis, means that male mountain bikers barely talk with each other any more. Some have taken up cage-fighting or professional wrestling. Others have disappeared off the grid entirely, and the only sign of their existence is the occasional trailside arrangement of stones in the outline of a naked female torso, accompanied by a Drunkcyclist sticker.
By now you’ve probably written this off as a witless one-joke opinion piece, but do so at your peril. I’ve seen the future of mountain biking in the scrying bowl of internet comments, and it’s bleak. But if we act now – by being as insensitive, crass and defensive as possible – we can still save it. Am I right?