Published: 03rd Oct 2023 Images: Scottish Cycling

From skateboarding to BMX: making space for women in male dominated spaces and sports

We spoke to Ashley Armstrong, a trailblazer in the BMX world, about making more space for women and girls in a traditionally male-dominated sport.

As a child Ashley Armstrong spent a lot of time on her bike, falling in love with cycling and the freedom it provided. She also learned to skateboard, often the only girl pushing around the concrete bowls of Livingston skatepark.

So, when she first tried BMX whilst at university, she was already comfortable being the solo or one of the very few females in a male dominated space.

With the purchase of a pre-loved Diamondback BMX bike and the opening of an indoor facility, Ashley developed her skills in freestyle BMX, getting a job at the facility and moving into coaching, to help other riders develop their skills. She said she felt welcomed in by the BMX community, during a difficult time in her life, meeting people who were kind and nice, and who did not judge.

Trips to the United States to ride the BMX parks and to work in an action sports camp, Ashley also competed in ‘jams’, where she was often the only female entered, and up against the males, since it was mostly males who participated, gendered sports categories were not included. However, she also began riding with other women, making friends, and joining a community of female riders, slowly infiltrating the sport.

Health issues have disrupted Ashley’s participation in events, but her love for the sport is as strong as ever. She says she loves the creativity and freedom of BMX freestyle; and appreciates the dedication that goes into learning the craft.

Whilst spectators wonder at the marvels of 360s, barspins and bunnyhops, Ashley says the sport is pretty accessible, you just have to start small, learn how to land and keep working on your skills. She recommends not comparing yourself to other people, take it at your own pace to where you want to go with it. She suggests watching online videos, where tricks are explained and broken down into progressive steps. She recommends Bloom BMX, a platform dedicated to covering women’s BMX.

Her place in the sport now is in coaching, in which she is being supported by a Total Computers scholarship from British Cycling, receiving financial and educational support, mentorship, access to behind-the-scenes opportunities and support from her fellow coaches on the programme. She has taken the first steps in building a coaching business, delivering ‘BMX in Bloom’ sessions to women and girls in Aberdeenshire, earlier this year.

She has also very recently completed all the steps required to becoming a BMX freestyle judge, including judging rounds 4 and 5 of the 2023 National BMX Freestyle Series, to become only the second UK-based female judging the sport. This summer she volunteered at the UCI Cycling World Championships, supporting the sport that she loves at the highest level. Thank you, Ashley, for sharing your story with us, highlighting the challenges of being female in a male-dominated sport, hopefully inspiring more women and girls to get involved, to help shift the gender balance, and make sure females feel equally at home in this exciting and impressive sport.

Summing up Ashley says “BMX freestyle is more than just a sport to me. It’s built my confidence and gave me access to opportunities I could never imagined. In addition, the encouragement and respect within the BMX community has got me through really tough times. BMX is love. BMX is family.”

For more information about BMX freestyle click here and flatland click here.