Cycling in a skirt

One life, some bicycles. A million possibilities, zero clue!

Riding scared; Are women more afraid than men?


I’ve come to the conclusion that women are more afraid of things than men.

Not that men are braver, I’m not saying that, indeed I think it takes more bravery to be scared of something, and still do it, than to be unafraid in the first place.

It’s just that the whole fear thing has come up a lot in conversations recently with women that I know, strong women, independent high-flying women, who are still scared.

I’ve touched on it too in previous blogs, especially my last where during a wonderful trip riding in the Alps, I also spent a good proportion of it being very afraid. Afraid of going up a mountain on a ski lift and afraid of going down the mountain again on a bike.

So it’s got me thinking, do women feel more fear than men or are men just better at hiding it? And does this fear deter women from cycling, especially mountain biking? 

Downhill biking is not after all without risks. It says this on the bike hire agreement in my pocket so I know it for a fact.

After one particularly snot and tear filled meltdown on the bubble lift, after it had stopped moving mid-ride and I was convinced the world was coming to an end, I quizzed my partner M over his feelings (if any) of fear. Ok, so not everyone hates heights like I do but didn’t the mountain biking scare him…. Even a little?

The short answer was not really. Even allowing for a bit of inflated machismo, it was apparent he didn’t experience anywhere near the same overwhelming, exhausting grip of worry.

He has, he says, moments of fear, out on the trail when things get a little sketchy, heart in the mouth moments when things start to go wrong…..but, and it’s a big but, his is a reactive fear rather than an anticipatory one like mine. He’s only afraid when something goes wrong whereas I’m afraid about the potential of it.

We were riding down the side of mountains for goodness sake, over some very gnarly terrain. I’m riding with laser-like focus on everything, the trail, on my bike handling, on the potential for falling off…..and there it is. From the top to the bottom and back up again, I’m thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong, how easy it would be to fall, of the chance for serious injury.

To be fair this is not unfounded, after all I’ve spent 9 months recovering from broken bones caused in mountain bike accident. I’ve also fallen off more times than I can count but still, M has fallen off plenty too, far more regularly than me but he just seems to bounce back, physically and mentally.

Is it just me then? Talking to other women I know, some cyclists, some not’ it seems maybe it isn’t, it seems in women fear is possibly more of a universal trait.

I wonder if it’s in our biology? After all, in cave-dwelling days the food-gathering, family raising women may not have flourished well if they ignored those innate feelings of fear and started hunting down tigers or fighting other tribes. Losses of women would mean no more little cave-babies and ergo, no more humans. Whereas for the discerning cave-male that willingness to rush headlong into the fray was probably an asset. Hampered by too much fear, men wouldn’t have made the best hunters and the family would starve.

Genetically then, fear, for the Neolithic woman, was a useful tool for staying alive.

Fast forward a couple of millennia and I wonder, is that biological residue still there? Has the thoroughly modern mountain biking cave woman retained that ability to anticipate and assess danger and to feel scared in an effort at self preservation? Modern research would say it’s true. One study of reactions to horror movies researchers found that women became more scared than men because they had more anticipation of the scary scenes, picking up on more audio and visual clues i.e. changes in music and lighting.

If it’s true, and women do experience more fear, it would go a way towards answering why there’s a distinct shortage of female mountain bikers as noticed in the Alps and closer to home, in the groups I ride with but surely it can’t all be down to a residue of biology

Of course it’s never that simple, women don’t mountain bike or road cycle for a whole raft of reason including upbringing and expectations, time; child care and family commitments to name just a few of the top contenders.

Lack of opportunity and lack of suitable bikes/equipment also mean it’s a catch 22 with biking as well, manufactures don’t want to make female-friendly frames or protective equipment if there’s few women to buy them and of course women then ride less if they can’t find the right kit.

Age also plays a part, as you age the potential for recovering well from injury reduces, it hurts more for longer. Age also brings you face to face with your own mortality, I definitely think I’m more scared now than I was in my 20’s and 30’s. But maybe that’s just experience and a cumulative exposure to potential dangers.

Whatever it is, it won’t stop me riding because, despite the fear I genuinely do enjoy it and get a real thrill out of riding trails well/staying upright/not hurting myself. As a friend describes it, it’s Type 2 fun (the kind you only enjoy afterwards). But I also find it comforting when I talk to other women, especially some of the excellent, skilled mountain bikers that I know, that they too are scared.

So, maybe men are braver by biology or maybe they are just better at hiding fear as that’s what’s expected of them. Maybe for women it’s some, all or none of the above?

What do you think?

And finally, in the words of Franklin D Roosevelt, remember, the only thing you have to fear is fear itself…….and spiders.

Author: cycling in a skirt

A forty-something, journeying through life on two wheels. Possessor of limited common sense and practical ability, but full of a passion for adventure, life and bicycles. Writing about the highs and lows of cycling, cycle touring, skirts, silliness and the daily struggle not to grow up and be responsible.

6 thoughts on “Riding scared; Are women more afraid than men?

  1. Good read 🙂 xxx


      • Interesting thoughts. Agree with your premise that it is often braver to do something you are scared of than that which does not scare you.
        But would be interesting to explore other possible reasons for women not mountain biking – seen as a male pastime, getting muddy , too much of a faff compared to road biking(how do numbers compare?)….I don’t know. But I don’t WANT to think of us as scaredy cats……..!
        Good food for thought, though. ☺

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Kim. Definitely lots and lots of different reasons that less women cycle. I’d be interested in knowing the actual numbers but from personal experience there are far fewer women mountain bikers than women road cyclists…. but the numbers (and the bravery) are increasing!


  2. First, if evolution is real, and I think it has merit, then we’ve probably evolved quite a bit from the cave days. Women aren’t more afraid, they’re more concerned. They look at the big picture better than men because it’s in their nature to. The men charge off half-cocked because they have to… if we were as concerned as women, the team would break down and it would be miserable.

    Just a thought. I reserve the right to be wrong. And sexist. And a misogynist. Er something bad. Simply because I’m a male of the species. Chuckle.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not sure there’s any one answer on this one….. it’s interesting to read people’s thoughts. I think women do look at the bigger picture more and all the things which could go wrong…… That said I know some top class female enduro riders who are fearless and fast!


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