Queens of the Himalaya - Women power on the go!
Here's what women have to say about their cycling expeditions and the obstacles that come along with them.
“And though she be but little, she is fierce.”
Seeing a woman revving up her bike, wearing gloves and sunglasses before going off on a long ride to the hills might be a rare sight even today. But scores of women in India are breaking gender stereotypes and taking on the open road. This year, Hero MTB Shimla got the opportunity to host nine female riders, the maximum number it has ever achieved vis-à-vis its previous editions.
Sarah Appelt, who won the female category in the 6th Hero MTB Shimla, is a German who lives in Manali and owns a travel company. Her company organises adventure, cultural and Ayurveda-based trips all over India.
“It's a thrill riding – it gives me confidence and it's a head turner; I just can't imagine life without it," said Sarah brimming with affection for the machine. "If men can ride motorbikes, why can't women?" Sarah, who started bicycling at the tender age of three, added.
Surbhi Singhvi, meanwhile, is a graduate from St. Stephens and works as a consultant at a renewable energy consulting firm in Gurgaon. For her, the long rides started in Jaipur (her hometown) when she got associated with a group of cycling enthusiasts called the Jaipur Cycling Community.
In a country where two-wheelers are the vehicle of choice for millions, seeing a female on a motorbike isn't uncommon. Except, they're usually the ones taking a backseat while the men drive.
Usha Khanal from Nepal, who stood third in the 6th Hero MTB Shimla edition, spoke about the hurdles female riders face. “Being a female and choosing a sport that requires a lot of time and dedication to prove oneself is not an easy job. Also, MTB is one of the more expensive sports. In a country like ours which is male-dominated, it is hard to make others (family or relatives) understand that it is okay to take up biking and fall and undergo a few crashes while biking.”
"People say girls can't kick-start bikes or put them on a stand without the help of a man; I just wanted to prove girls can do that too," she added.
Gurleen Kaur, who is a mother of two college-going kids mentioned that cycling kick-started for her when she got selected for Manali to Leh Cycling trip with the Times of India. “I have cycled all my life...I used to deliberately miss my school bus so that I could cycle to school. I wish I could just cycle and not have to do anything else...but that just isn't possible with two grown up kids in college! So, I take maths tuitions for classes 8-12 to supplement my husband's income.”
Gurleen too opened up about some obstacles that women as cyclists face. “As a female, at times we get unwanted company from men on motorcycles/cars who tend to drive very close They pass comments or follow us which is very unnerving, especially when out on an early morning practice.”
“Men have stronger, more muscular legs genetically. We, on the other hand, have to work towards this. So, weight training combined with serious long Endurance no-nonsense rides is the way to slowly but surely build your stamina.”
When asked about the future of female cyclists in India, Gurleen said, “I feel that the future for women is very bright in this sport. When I started just three years back, there were hardly 3-4 female participants. Now, with the sport becoming more popular, we have more participation which is good.”
Sarah, meanwhile, also spoke about how Hero MTB Shimla (organised by HASTPA) has been instrumental in supporting her passion. She believes that Hero MTB Shimla makes you push your limits – mentally and physically. “During these long uphill tracks, you are just with yourself, your thoughts and your bike. You come to know yourself much better. You learn to overcome fear, you learn team play, friendship, you learn to maintain your strength. Hero MTB Shimla is a great school.”
Sarah belongs to the Hero Action Team that sponsors her races and provides much-needed technical assistance.
Clearly, women in India could give a lot of guys a run for their money when it comes to both riding skills & passion for their mean machines. Perhaps more organisations like HASTPA and Hero Cycles could change the face of cycling in India and ensure greater female representation in the world of MTB.
Female participation is at an all-time high with many groups such as SSB (Poonam Rana from SSB stood second in the 6th Hero MTB Shimla) supporting women to take up the sport. We hope to see an even better participation in the 13th edition of MTB Himalaya.