Inspiring cyclists: Encouraging other teenage girls to mountain bike

Eme sat with friends she's made whilst racing and riding mountainbikes
Eme Cosh and her cycling friends
Eme Cosh is a 14-year-old girl participating in a sport she loves, but one which is dominated by men. She explains why she wants to change this and why she wants more women and girls to cycle

Teenage girls and cycling … Not words you hear often in the same sentence. Why is that? When I mention to people that I play netball and do gymnastics and dancing, no one raises an eyebrow. Probably as these are the types of pursuits normally associated with teenage girls.

When I tell them that I won a mountain bike race at the weekend, though, I get looks of disbelief and tomboy comments. This needs to change.

Cycling is in my blood. I grew up in a family full of cyclists. My grandparents (both in their 70s) go on cycling holidays around the world and my dad has raced mountain bike enduro for years. This exposure to cycling for pleasure, health and socialising was one of the main factors that inspired me to take it up as a hobby.

Eme ridng with her Dad on the trails in the South of England

Off-road cycling, as a sport, has a few different variations: cross country, cyclocross, gravel specific, downhill and enduro. I do the last – mountain bike enduro – but they all have that same excitement of exploration, broadening your horizons, being outside in the wild and getting the thrill of moving at pace through the countryside.

It’s this exhilaration and enjoyment I want to share with other girls and encourage them to experience. Cycling has also increased my confidence, improved my decision-making processes and taught me how to overcome challenges. It’s not all about riding bikes, but about wellbeing, too.

Thrill of the race

After all my non-stop riding and hard work to improve my skills and fitness, I took the next big step and decided to enter a race. This was back in November 2018 and much to my surprise and delight, I took first place!

I can’t begin to describe how awesome it felt to have my name called out for the podium. From that point onwards I was hooked, not just on riding, but on racing, too, and I have been competing regularly ever since.

Race day is by far my best day of the week. Don’t get me wrong – turning up to a race and unloading the bike from the back of the car with a race field of guys watching can be daunting. But the confidence I have gained and trust in my ability have helped me conquer this.

I’ve also learned that I can’t become complacent with this new-found spirit. There will always be a faster or better rider somewhere, so I have to do the best I can on the day and continue to work hard – but have fun too!

Preparing for a race, cleaning and checking my bike and race kit

A love of exploration and the broadening of my horizons are the driving forces behind my passion for mountain biking. I was fortunate to take this to perhaps the ultimate limit earlier this year when I spent two weeks in British Columbia, Canada, at the world-class mountain bike resort of Whistler.

Whistler truly is one of the best locations in the world for mountain biking, and I had such an awesome time. The sheer scale of the mountains and endless sculptured trails, not to mention chair lift access to the mountains, brought my riding skills on in leaps and bounds. I’m already planning to go back.

Eme taking a jump on her bike, closely followed by dad, Russ
Eme tackling a rock drop in Whistler, Canada, with the Rockies in the background

While there I heard about a ladies’ race taking place on the iconic mountain. Not daunted (well maybe a little) but unbelievably excited, I entered and used all of the skills, confidence and determination I had gained since I started riding to keep focused and give it my best shot.

Just to have the opportunity to ride in such an amazing place, let alone race, was fantastic. I went on to take second place and the congratulations I received from the crowd was something I was immensely proud of and will never forget.

If you are a mountain bike enthusiast like me, and you can make it happen, Whistler has to be on your to-do list.

Eme receiving her second place medal at Whistler ladies race presentation

Taking part in a sport at this level has filtered through to other areas of my life. The ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ approach gives me direction and energy for my school work and keeps me fit. My teachers have picked up on this and have commented on my increased focus and willingness to tackle challenges head on.

The school as a whole has acknowledged my cycling efforts by awarding me an athletes’ tie – an accolade reserved only for students who compete at such a level. This has given me a great opportunity at school for starting discussions about cycling, where I can encourage more participation.

Mountain biking also forms part of my Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme as my chosen activity.

Mountain biking, and racing in particular, have introduced me to a small community of like-minded girls and women that I am proud to be a part of. I have made some great friends over the last 12 months and they have helped me develop my new skills and ‘race craft’.

Women such as Liz Greaves, Abigail Wright and Ellen Flewitt have offered me such great guidance and inspiration. Now I want to pay this forward to other girls considering taking up mountain biking.

100 Women in Cycling 2019

Being selected by Cycling UK as one of the 100 Women in Cycling for 2019 has given me even greater determination, as well as a platform to help other girls and women get into cycling. As much as I love racing, I feel my participation at this level also gives my message credibility and a means to be able to influence, inspire and open up mountain biking to others.

Eme at the Houses of Parliament, receiving her Cycling UK 100 Women in Cycling award for 2019

I am looking forward to this next year in racing and the new challenges it will no doubt bring. My hope is that I get to see more women and girls cycling alongside me in a thrilling, energising pastime that I know will bring them joy.

See you on the trails!