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Red Bull Outliers putting focus on increasing women in motorcycle racing

Although the competitors at this year’s Red Bull Outliers hard enduro race will be overwhelmingly male, behind the scenes work is being done to change that.

Red Bull worked with SurfinBerms, a non-profit that helps to get women and girls involved with bike racing of all kinds, to showcase motocross racing on Aug. 25.

Danika White, founder of SurfinBerms, said that the organization started as a way of raising money for women’s motocross but has evolved into supporting women getting into bike racing—motor or otherwise.

“Now we do ride days monthly, and it’s usually two wheel ride days, whether it’s dirt bikes, street bikes, mountain bikes, pump track, or BMX,” White said.

“Really at the end of the day, it’s just to encourage or fuel the first ride is the best ride. It is kind of our saying, so whether it’s a new rider, or one that’s coming back, maybe a rider that’s left for a while, we just want to be that community that people can trust to come out to and hang out and be encouraged.”

Red Bull invited a pair of Calgary women, both of whom had never ridden a motorcycle before, to try racing on a dirt bike at the Wildrose Motocross Association.

“We have two electric motorcycles today, so it’s a little bit different, a little bit easier to get your feet wet into riding, whether that be like street bikes, or other bikes,” said White.

“If you can like ride a pedal bike, you can usually get onto one of these and at least be a little bit more confident. They’re quiet, no sound, so it’s a lot more of a chill vibe to learn how to ride.”

White said that holding these types of events, where women are given a no-pressure introduction into the sport have been important to grow the interest from women in racing.

“The reason that I ride is the community behind it. I think once people just start seeing that community, and there is a spot for them to go, to not be nervous to show up, I think it’s great,” she said.

“If you don’t know somebody that has a bike, it’s pretty hard to get into it. Learn to rides or meet ups and stuff like that, I really encourage any riders that are even interested whether they show up without a bike or a new bike, just show up to those. The communities are always great, any type of bike that you’re on, there’s always somebody there willing to help.”

Changing perceptions of Motorsport

White said that while the perception of motor sports being highly focused on men might exist, that has been changing for years in Calgary.

“Our first ride, we probably had like 15 to 20 girls show up, which was rad. I thought it was gonna be like five girls, and I would have been stoked,” she said.

“Then the end of last year, we had 90 girls on bikes.”

She said that while that hasn’t yet translated into an event like Red Bill Outliers at the top level of the sport, locally and nationally there has been a push to add more women racing categories to race series.

“The women’s classes there they’re just so if somebody is a little bit more confident racing with females, then those classes are available to them. I’ve noticed a lot lately that females really do look for that. Especially if they’re new to the sport,” White said.

White herself said that she likes to compete in the combined classes, which have also seen a growth in the number of women competing.

Red Bull Outliers itself has only combined classes. Over the weekend, there will be eight women competing in the races, with one in the Expert Class—the class that advanced racers who have not competed under a pro licence at national or international events under.

Katie Hall-Leah, who has more than 10 years of racing experience, said that she is back racing in Outliers after being injured in 2022.

“Last year, I competed an expert as well, but I got injured in the prologue. Just a little slip up. So I’m back for redemption, hopefully, and we’ll see how it goes,” she said.

Racing in the amateur category—which reflects the level of specialized training a competitor undertakes for hard enduro—is local Calgarian Lexi Petchout who finished third in the category last year.

She said that racing was just something that she does, having been riding motorbikes since two years old.

The growth of women in racing sport, she said, was growing the sport overall.

“There’s more and more women every single year. There’s a lot of great programs and organizations especially in Calgary like SurfingBerms, where they welcome women to come to the track and learn in a in a safe environment,” Petchout said.

“That’s been really huge. There’s more women’s classes available for racing.”

FIM promoting women racers with special award

The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, the governing body for the hard enduro sport, is acknowledging women racers this year at Red Bull Outliers with a separate women’s award for best ride.

The goal is to ensure that women are represented in the sport.

“It’s pretty fantastic that they’re doing that,”said Hall-Leah.

“So many race series and so many races that don’t include women. It just is what it is because there’s not that many of us, so I really think it’ll motivate women to participate, because that’s all you need to do. You only need to participate. You don’t have to win. You don’t even have to finish, you just need to participate and push yourself.”

Petchout agreed with Hall-Leah about how awards that recognize women racers would help to grow interest by women to compete.

“It’s just one more thing to help promote women in motorsports, and get more people involved. I think that’s really special.”