Letting my voice shake

“Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say.”

– Maggie Kuhn

When I was invited to speak on a topic that had a real chance of irritating some people, I’ll admit, I didn’t want to do it. Addressing a group of people with a reputation for resisting change is very different than teaching a bunch of marketers on a topic such as “how to build your personal brand.”

This felt too personal. There was too much risk that my opinion would be rejected. Or, worse yet, ignored. I wanted it too much.

But I recognized that the nervousness I felt as I considered the meeting was also a sign that I needed to do it. Because I do care. Because I can speak publicly. Because there are a lot of things I can’t fix, but this is something I could help with. Because I want to show my kids the importance of stepping up for things we care about.

So I went, with my husband and daughter there to support me (and our son understanding why we were missing his game).

I sat nervously until they handed me a microphone (!) and my voice shook as I spoke. I made some people laugh. I saw some people nod their heads. I met some riders who admitted they hadn’t thought about it that way. And I met others who thanked me for speaking up and told me their stories of complaints that were blown off with a “chuckle and shrug.”

So I think it went well. No one threw anything. And because I know there are others who weren’t there, I thought I’d share a version of what I said – because, as a sign of how nervous I was, I did something I never do before a talk . . . I wrote it down.

I have been a  member of the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) through my husband’s shop for a while now, but just recently became involved, running a few rides for beginners, and helping Steve set up other rides out of the Velo Studio. As you can imagine, when I decided to come to my first Chapter meeting, I had no expectation (or interest) in standing up here.

But when Brian (the Chapter president) asked me to speak on a topic I’m passionate about – how we can encourage more people to ride bikes, and some of the ways we inadvertently counteract those efforts – I couldn’t refuse.

Because getting more people on bikes is not just good for shops like my husband’s. It’s good for organizations like NEMBA which gains a larger pool of potential members. It’s good for safety when we have more people behind the wheel who also ride bikes. It’s good for open space and trail advocacy when we have more people at the table who ride in the woods.

And you, the people in this room, are doing amazing things to grow mountain biking – advocating for open space, building trails, running rides – which is why it can be frustrating to see us also doing things to discourage ridership. Specifically, and why I was invited to speak today, assigning sexually explicit, sexist or racist names to trails and Strava segments.

I know some of you will accuse me of being too sensitive. That this is a sign of political correctness run amok.

So let me tell you a little bit about myself. I have been a rider, in some capacity, road, mountain, cyclocross, for over 20 years. Before that, I started downhill skiing when I was a teenager, at a time when the guys we skied with thought it was funny to call women, including their wives and teenage daughters, “bimbos” whenever someone said something “silly” or incorrect.

Do you want to guess what they said to my mother when she told them to cut it out? She was being too sensitive.

I can’t imagine any of those guys using that term today to refer to our daughter, but I’m fairly certain of one thing – if they did, they’d be dead before they hit the ground.

So this isn’t about me being offended. Tired of having this conversation? Absolutely. And completely unsurprised this is still going on.

What this is about is me and Steve being able to take our 14-year-old daughter, who is here with us tonight, and our son out for a ride, and not have to worry about what may pop up on their Stravas.

It is about introducing girlfriends to new areas in the woods, without having to explain to them why anyone would think a certain trail name is appropriate.

It is about being able to tell people how great the mountain biking community is, without having to add “except sometimes the older riders will slip and say or write something offensive.”

This, by the way, is how we used to describe my grandparents. As being too old to change.

And to those who have said I am the first to complain, I have a few thoughts.

First, as you can probably tell from the shake in my voice, standing up here sucks. It sucks, in part, because I’m not even sure if this will actually change anything. Because here’s the thing – I have complained. Last year I reported a segment that so clearly violated their terms of service Strava changed it, only to learn recently that the segment owner changed it back.

But I’m here to stay. I’m invested. I love to ride my bike.

But someone new? They won’t complain. Best case is they just won’t come back. Worse case is they will complain online, not about the segment owner, but about NEMBA. And worst case? When NEMBA comes to their town looking for more open space, they will ask why they should welcome us, when we didn’t welcome them.

So that’s my spiel. And here’s my request.

Whether we like it or not, with Strava adding 1 million new users every 45 days, those naming segments are establishing the brand for new riders. So, I’m asking you to look at your segment names, and if they aren’t appropriate for a trail sign at Wachusett, or if you’d be uncomfortable explaining them to our daughter, please change them.  And changing a name to just the initials is not good enough – we can do better.

I’m here today, asking for us to do better.

Thank you to my friends for their words of encouragement (and the perfect T-shirt). And to the Blackstone Valley Chapter of NEMBA for the warm reception.

3 thoughts on “Letting my voice shake

  1. Well said, shake or not shake. Two thoughts:

    1. Your wrote, “Addressing a group of people with a reputation for resisting change.” That’s too many words–you could have conveyed EXACTLY the same thing if you’d simply written, “Addressing a group of people” (find me a group that welcomes change and I’ll change my tune! [smile]).

    2. Please please please tell me it’s still okay to name a segment “No way Bob Jenney takes THIS KOM!”

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