Norte sees the bicycling community needs more girls — and it’s doing something about it.
By Craig Manning | April 7, 2018
Norte is fighting to get more girls involved in cycling.
For the past four years, the Traverse City-based organization has pushed to get more local youths on bikes. For the most part, the mission has been successful. Norte has hundreds of kids involved in its various programs, including a Youth Leadership Council that helps the organization advocate for a more walk/bike-friendly Traverse City. According to founder Ty Schmidt, though, Norte’s programs have consistently skewed heavily male.
Across Norte’s programs, Schmidt says that boys tend to outnumber girls five to one. Last year, Norte’s Bike Mas Project — an after-school and summer camp program geared toward elementary school children — had 95 kids. Only 25 were girls.
The numbers are just as skewed for older age groups. Norte’s 2017 middle school mountain bike team had 110 boys and 30 girls, while the organization’s aforementioned Youth Leadership Council — called El Liderato — had 12 boys and just one girl. When Norte took kids out for Traverse City’s annual 30-mile Iceman Cometh bike race in November, girls accounted for a quarter of the 60-person group.
Schmidt has asked parents for their opinions on why Norte’s membership tends to skew male, and why getting girls involved seems to be such a challenge. Answers varied, he says, running from ideas about limited visibility of female cyclists in the professional sports world to the way young girls are often treated as being more “frail” than their male counterparts.
“Do we need a Mia Hamm to get girls to notice cycling?” one parent asked, after noting the discrepancy in coverage between the male-driven Tour de France and the little-known female equivalent, called “La Course.”
Whatever the reason for the limited female representation, Norte is doing its part to change the narrative. The organization recently announced a new “More Girls on Bikes” initiative, which includes several 2018 events designed to get girls more excited about cycling.
The first “More Girls on Bikes” has already taken place. On Sunday, March 25, Norte invited girls to meet at its clubhouse — located at the Traverse City Civic Center — for a bike ride over to the Bijou on the Bay and a screening of A Wrinkle in Time.
Other events planned for 2018 include a ride to the State Theatre for a morning film screening (10am May 19); “Take a Girl Mountain Biking Day” at the VASA single track (10am June 16); a PB&J ride sometime in August; and a girls-only Iceman gathering for the Nov. 3 race. Norte also plans to add other girls-only events to the calendar for July, September, and October.
Norte’s kickoff celebration for “More Girls on Bikes” initiative is planned for April 29 at the Keen Loft, located above The Franklin in Traverse City. Schmidt says the event will feature “snacks, high fives, a dance party, fun, and prizes.” Norte will also use the event to give away 10 scholarships to its summer camp and after-school programs. The celebration is an ideal opportunity for girls to learn about Norte and get involved.
Traditionally, Norte has opened all of its programs to girls and boys alike. However, Schmidt is hopeful that offering a series of girls-only events will help send the message that cycling is a sport for everyone.
“Bicycles change lives,” Schmidt says. “More than most sports or types of recreation, bikes are for life. Bikes are freedom. Bikes are transportation. Bikes are adventure. Bikes are happiness. And girls on bikes are healthy, independent, confident girls. Girls on bikes are strong girls, and strong girls will change the world.”
Read up on Norte’s More Girls on Bikes initiative and get the scoop on the latest event announcements at elgruponorte.org/moregirls.