The Major Taylor Project is on the GRO

This autumn marks the beginning of the Major Taylor Project’s third year of offering after-school bike clubs at Highline High School in Burien. For girls, however, this year brings a new opportunity to meet for GRO, “Girls Ride Only”, on Tuesday afternoons. 

The inspiration for an all-girl club struck this year, about halfway through our spring riding season. At the same time that Major Taylor youth were blowing previous years’ records out of the water in terms of turnout, distance and speed, there remained one glaring shortcoming on our part—the failure to recruit and retain female riders.

As the only female on our team of three ride leaders, I initially blamed myself. Wasn’t I cool enough to attract girls to the club, or was my sweaty spandex just too bizarre for the average skinny-jean-clad high school girl? Perplexed, I started researching.

I quickly discovered that the Major Taylor Project is not alone. At a time when over 60 percent of women in the U.S. are overweight, it is clear that our entire nation is having trouble recruiting females for physical activity. There are many reasons posited as to why girls are less active than boys. The two that stood out to me, and which GRO aims to address, are (1) community is a more important factor for women who ride bikes , and (2) in their teens girls become more deterred by the possibility of hurting themselves during physical activity than boys do . 

At Highline High School, I encourage girls to think of GRO as an additional, smaller setting for them to get out and ride, not a replacement for the co-ed club. Six out of the seven girls who attend GRO on Tuesdays also attend the co-ed club on Thursdays, and three weeks in, it is apparent that they have had twice as much time for improvement as the boys. 

Every Major Taylor Project club begins with an opening circle and ends with a closing circle. These are opportunities to get to know each other better, and to share reflections on the day’s ride. At GRO, these spaces are an opportunity to discuss issues that affect girls. In the closing circle of GRO’s third ride, I asked, “Why did you decide to attend the all-girls club?”

One girl, a senior who overcame her fear of drop handlebars after completing two rides the week before, responded, “It’s nice to get the extra practice without having to worry about how my butt looks to the guy riding behind me.” Her comment was met with nods of support from around the circle. 

When it was my turn to answer (I was careful to limit myself to just a couple of sentences) I explained that through some inadvertent trial-and-error I have learned to equate my own physical health with my psychological and mental health.

I want to see the numbers of females involved in the Major Taylor Project increase, not just so we can hit a number and publicize how well we are doing, but because I am a woman and bicycling has changed my life for the better. I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to share this passion with future generations of young women. 

If the smiles on their faces when they departed the last three Tuesdays are any indication, I’d say we are off to a great start.