Why is mountain biking perceived as more dangerous than riding on the road?
Since I qualified as a mountain bike leader, I've spoken to many more people about mountain biking and I've been keen to find out why so few women are mountain bikers.
One big surprise is the number of women I speak to who are regular roadies, but think that mountain biking is too dangerous.
I do both. Mountain biking is my first love, but I also commuted to work by bike for years, first in London, and then in rural Devon. More recently I also bought a proper road bike and find it's great for building fitness, and I enjoy the speed of it. However, I also feel increasingly vulnerable when I ride on the road.
Only recently we were cut up by the driver of a Big Green Parcel van who overtook on a narrow country road. He couldn't see far enough ahead to know whether anything was coming. The Range Rover coming round the bend had to screech to a halt, and the van pulled in too early, nearly taking my partner's front wheel off.
This isn't an isolated incident. There is only one safe place to pass on the winding mile between the village I live in and the next one, yet virtually every time I ride it, someone overtakes when they can't see round the corner. Mostly they get away with it! But my heart is still in my mouth each time they take the risk.
I'm not trying to put anyone off riding on the road. Just to compare that the dangers of riding on and off road. On the road the danger is mostly out of your hands as we can't control the risks drivers present. Whereas on a mountain bike we have a choice about the level of danger we put ourselves in:
We can choose to stick to gentle gradients.
We can choose to get off and walk if the trail gets tricky.
We can choose to stick to the green and blue routes at trail centres until we build up the skills to try a red.
We can choose to interrogate anyone who offers to take us for a ride about what sort of riding they do, and how technical the riding is.
We can choose to join a guided group ride that is the right standard, and where we can meet others of a similar standard to ride with.
We can choose when to push ourselves and when to hold back.
Of course, this doesn't mean we won't fall off sometimes. Or scare ourselves a bit, but it does mean that we can manage the danger to a much greater extent than is possible on the road.
So if you're one of the people who think that mountain biking is more dangerous than road riding I'd be really interested to hear why. I'd also love it if you gave me a chance to show you why I think it isn't! The freedom of getting away from traffic and out into the wilder parts of our beautiful country is both exhilarating and addictive.