Friday Group Ride #154

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At work, we are putting together our marketing plan for the year, and yesterday I sat for an hour with a guy who sells ads for one of the major cycling rags. When you buy advertising, either with a magazine or a website, typically you get a demographic breakdown of the audience they offer access to. Almost invariably the gender breakdown is something north of 90% male. The median age is almost always north of 40. Income is high. Graduate degrees are not at all uncommon.

I see these breakdowns enough that I shouldn’t be surprised by them, but I always am.

Our sport is male-dominated and wealth-driven. Despite a recent uptick in the profiles of some female pros, the industry, as a whole, is still trying to figure out how to attract more women and more young people. The classic “pink it and shrink it” approach to women’s bikes and apparel isn’t working. Whatever urban styling that’s been applied to lower price point bikes isn’t drawing in the youth.

I am told that the median price for a bike purchased last year by subscribers to the major magazines is somewhere between $3200 and $3900 dollars, and that close to 50% of readers will buy a new bike this year, despite having bought their most recent bike in the last three. (Please don’t quote these numbers as hard data. I am only summarizing the information I have received from many outlets to form a composite picture).

The point is that all us upper-middle class and wealthy men buy early and often and dominate the consumption side of the industry. It doesn’t not necessarily stand to reason that these numbers correlate directly to the participation of women and the less affluent, who may simply not read magazines and/or ride used bikes that don’t make it into anyone’s data, but given what I see out on the road, I don’t think they’re far off.

Regardless, this week’s Group Ride asks the question: How do we change our sport to be more inclusive? What are the prejudices built into both pro racing and bike building that turn off those outside the core demographic? Is change and growth even necessary? Given the recent retirement tirade by Nicole Cooke and the disturbing derth of stock bike options for smaller women, the answer seems obvious, but solutions to the problems range from similarly obvious to vanishingly obscure. Your ideas greatly appreciated.

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69 comments

  1. Scott

    Just show more pics of regular people (non-racing, no pros) riding and enjoying the camaraderie of a weekend coffee ride. Bikes under $1500 as well as over. Point out that is a relatively inexpensive sport to get into and riding is free, no green fees,court fees or memberships required to go out and enjoy a ride that makes you mentally and physically healthier for doing so.

  2. cash

    In my locale (Colorado front range), I see no shortage of all demographics on bikes. But, this is a regional aberration and not the norm. Our current favorite son is a TdF contender and a damn nice kid.

    In broad sweeping terms, take the intimidation factor out of the experience. Walking into a shop shouldn’t be an assault on your senses wherein everything appears to bleed performance kill kill kill. Check out what New Belgium Brewery has done for cycling, particularly their sponsorship of the Urban Assault anti-race, which is one of the most fun “bike races” I’ve ever ridden, and Tour de Fat.

    Make bike riding fun again. Make it affordable (it really is … although the high-high end has gotten stupidly expensive … cheap bikes are better than they have ever been).

    And let’s not forget to thank the rich, older dudes who are the economic engine of our sport. I love lusting after the newesthottestfastest even if I can’t afford it.

  3. Jesus from Cancun

    I am in your 90% so I am not sure my opinion would be worth anything. But over the years I have come to believe that ladies seem to be attracted by the fun of pedaling at leisure, the healthy lifestyle connection, and the socialization that goes together with riding with other people.

    Sadly, when they show up to ride with a group, they often find snobbism, rudeness, silly competition, disrispect to the traffic rules, and other testosterone-driven behavior.

    I saw it happen several times, both in Mexico and the U.S. Nice ladies that are put off by group rides that aren’t what they expected, or who quit after their first crash.

    Several of the ladies I saw give the sport a try ended up riding mountain bikes instead, and very few liked cycling enough to go on and become racers.

    Just look at the faces of the ladies in the picture. Happy faces. Then look at the rest of the picture. What is missing? Traffic, tight pacelines, aero helmets and wheels, and guys pretending they are riding Milan-San Remo.

  4. Carrie Schmeck

    Hmm. Something I think about frequently.

    Seems like the mags are geared toward man topics, from man perspectives. And when there is a women-specific topic, it is either targeted to tough chicks who wanna race and dominate or yellow-jacket hybrid-riding beginners who need to be taught like children.

    Could it be a problem with too many male editors trying to decide what we want to read?

    What I am seeing in my community is that, while there are those women groups mentioned above, there are also those who want to ride pretty hard, increase skill and feel very empowered by doing so. There is also a HUGE social component for most of us. The hard work isn’t all that fun when there isn’t opportunity to share, chat, and challenge (but not dominate).

    Often these women feel intimidated because 1) their SOs are TOTAL roadies and the barrier to entry with dignity is high, or 2) they are intimidated by the technical aspects. Let’s face it, most of us are totally capable in our careers and hobbies, but chains and derailleurs baffle us. Not because we are dumb but because they just don’t make much sense, from our perspective.

    Going pink is not the answer, for sure. And I’ll admit, we women can be slippery folk. Our wants and needs for info and product is all over the place. You might hear: I need to learn something basic but I don’t want to be patronized as I ask questions. I want a new bike and I don’t care what kind it is as long as it is purple (let’s say).

    This baffles guys and advertisers and brands. You never know what you are working with.

    Answers could be as simple as using more women brand and content writers who will naturally communicate to women in ways they want to read. As women feel more like part of the group and less like interlopers, they will engage more and maybe make more purchasing decisions. (Although I’m not sure about that last point: most women I ride with are content with their equipment and don’t have that insatiable need for more bikes in their quiver.)

    It’s a quandary, especially from a brand’s viewpoint, where there is high cost to targeting a specific and less developed audience.

    But asking the questions like you have, rather than making assumptions, go far in engaging the conversation. Thanks for bringing this up. :-)

  5. Vince

    The cost is the biggest barrier to inclusion I think. I dreamed of being a cyclist as a kid and wasn’t able to make it a reality until I was 33. Even then I had to scratch, save and sell some things just to get in the game.

    Even now, every time I turn around a part breaks, things wear out and all I see are dollar signs.

    I had a crash in a race a couple weeks ago and my first thought as I was pulling myself up was; how much is the going to cost me? The entry fee..wasted. The hours of training…for what? New bibs..ca-ching, new parts…ouch!

    And my bike is worth less than the wheels of most of the people I ride with.

    It’s possible for a lower middle class suburban dad to do this…but I’m one part failure, bib shred, taco’d wheel from being out completely.

  6. Ming

    Take another look at the picture: ladies are riding campagnolo! Maybe they’re not too far away from riding the Milan-San Remo after all.

  7. TominAlbany

    Good question. At this point, my 4.5 year old daughter seems to like riding a bit less than my almost 7 year old son. But she does love it. I ride lots. My wife rides little. So there’s the ‘modeling the behavior’ aspect of it. It’s also ‘what do my friends do’ that plays a part. I like what Carrie Schmeck said up above. Hire her.

  8. Ira

    The up front cost to get into cycling is prety darn steep. By the time you get a decent bike, shorts, helmet, shoes, you’re parting with better than $2500. Compare that with running, tennis, soccer, or even golf. And have you ever tried to travel with a bike? Between airline fees and having to rent a mini van vs compact car, it’s a real pain. It’s not a cheap sport.

  9. Drew

    I ride a lot. I watch races. I am versed in roadie culture. I enjoy this site, peloton magazine and others. But I ride a used aluminum Trek and I purchase close-out clothing. The majority of ads and reviews do not apply to me as the major magazines and websites imply that if you aren’t wearing $300 bibs and riding a custom built, exotic material bike, you’re not part of “the club.”
    The prevailing attitude seems to look down on those who don’t follow certain rules in dressing and accessorizing or who ride Trek or Specialized, unless you’re riding their top of the lines. I can see how this might intimidate people, men and women alike from getting into riding.

  10. Bin

    The solution to making bicycling more inclusive lies at least partly in providing safe places to ride.

    In an urban environment, in which a big chunk of our population lives, safe places to ride are pretty scarce. And frankly, bicyclists do not get much respect in many non-urban environments either.

    Without pointing fingers on who is to blame, much of this appears to be cultural in origin, or at least ingrained to the extent that bicyclists are labeled and treated as non-conformist to say the least.

    I blame GM – oops, I said I wasn’t going to point…

  11. Brian

    I got my wife to ride with me by riding slow and starting first on bike paths. Then we went on a ride from the bike path onto roads and ended up at a pizza shop. Now we go on vacation revolving around how we can bike to locations and roll on for miles. I usually go hard in the AM then go a few hours with her. That is just one person. I always try and tell everyone how great cycling is.

    We also need to make it easier for kids to go out on the roads and not have a stigma of cycling. Everyone is conditioned from age 13-16 that you need your license to be free. Does a bike provide that same freedom with far less costs? Parents fear their children riding on the roads and drivers are not educated. Here in Boston I feel we are well on the right road in regards to cycling advocacy.

  12. Bart

    I’ve written about my wife on this site before. I found Carrie’s comments above very helpful and interesting. I was looking for a “Road Cycling For Women” book for my wife for Christmas this year. She is never going to race. Is likely to never even want a cadence/speed/distance computer on her handlebar. She wants to ride and explore, look for interesting places to stop, take pictures, and generally enjoy the day. She has a 5 year old specialized road bike that cost about $1200 at the time of purchase. She has one pair of shorts, one jersey, helmet, glasses, shoes. That is all she needs for equipment. She doesn’t ride enough to need more options. What she needs is a way to figure out how to ride safely in traffic, how to navigate a route, and friends that want a similar experience. I try to help but my style is different enough that I’m not the answer.

    For me, I ride a 10 year old aluminum Trek with $300 “training” wheels. I can still out-ride most guys on $4000 rigs and it feels good. I would love to splash more cash but I have two kids and I just can’t justify spending more on bike parts. I usually buy one or two new shorts/bibs a year and maybe a jersey. I also tend to buy closeout/discounted items and make things work. Would I be more comfortable if I spent more on the fancy stuff? Probably. Would I ride more if I spent more on the fancy stuff? Probably not. That makes my decisions pretty easy.

    I’m not going to spend $300 on bibs. But I will spend $120. I won’t spend $3000 on wheels, but I might spend $700. That’s just me.

  13. Scott G.

    Last years club survey showed 40% female membership, members are interested in more socializing after rides. Interest the racing part of cycling is about 15%.
    The club dropped its paper newsletter a couple years ago, dead tree media
    probably trends to older riders.

    Ira, cycling is still less expensive than golf, an old diesel Jetta is way
    cheaper than a Cadillac. ;-)

  14. Melissa

    I found a women only bike maintenance class a huge confidence booster. Overall my impression of biking was that it’s a boys’ club and I felt like I had to start the sport well-versed in bike mechanics and full knowledge of everything biking though. A great staff at a local bike shop got me over that fear.

  15. Steeb'n O'

    From my perspective is sounds as if we’re confusing our terms.

    Those who subscribe to the major cycling magazines make up what percentage of bike sales?

    Those who attend the lunch ride or Saturday morning coffee shop ride make up what percentage of bike owners?

    A very small subset of bike owners are rich white men, and those folks tend to read the racing mags, visit the racing websites, etc.

    So maybe the question isn’t, how do we make cycling more inclusive? The question is, how do we make cycling publications more inclusive?

    Next point … and I have nothing but some very small anecdotal evidence here, so I’m not going to claim it’s anything but an observation.

    Tyler Hamilton: middle class family, but personally dirt poor before he started racing
    Floyd Landis: about the same
    Jonathan Vaughters: dad was a lawyer

    You see where I’m going here, yeah? The actual racers come from a wide variety of economic backgrounds — they do tend to be white, though, on both the men’s and women’s side. If diversity and inclusiveness is the goal, then there are some obvious areas that need work, but in terms strictly of family income, it’s more a question of how you’re asking the questions and lumping folks together.

    (Just a guess, but I’d bet bike racers come from a more diverse demography than NCAA Div I swimmers. There are lots of poor kids racing around on their bikes who get noticed by someone willing to point them in the right direction than there are poor kids swimming laps in the town quarry who similarly get noticed. Swimming is a real rich man’s sport, and it doesn’t need to be.)

  16. Jeff D

    Quoting Carrie Schmeck from above – “There is also a HUGE social component for most of us” and “Often these women feel intimidated because… the barrier to entry with dignity is high.”

    Bingo.

    The most successful club in my area, in terms of the number of women actively participating, is one that offers entry-level training for riders (of all ages), explicitly slower-paced rides (as well as fewer faster-paced rides), and friendly ride leaders willing to share and teach on the road. They also emphasize the social component, before/during/after rides, and by having events off the bike in civvies. BTW, they also offer training and regular meetings for ride leaders.

    It takes leaders who are on that social wavelength, and quite often are retirees. It’s no surprise that the average age of the club members and ride leaders is quite a bit higher than the local go-fast clubs and teams. This old greybeard is one of those ride leaders, and while I still enjoy a fast rotating paceline and trying to lay down the V on the pitches, the priority of being inclusive and having fun with others at a slower pace has increased.

  17. PeterLeach

    Two words just about say it all: “Respect diversity”.

    Carrie Schmeck’s thought “… the barrier to entry with dignity is high” works for me, too.

    If we respect those beginning their cycling lives – by guiding them through their first rides, sharing our early experiences [I'd wager not many start their riding on a high-end bling machine] and accepting that there’s more to riding than racing – then we are actively inclusive.

    That, to my mind is the real deal.

  18. The_D

    Focus first on getting the bike-curious more events in which to shine. That will make our natural ambassadors more various than just the high priests of the local racing scene.

    Let’s try varying up the events a bit.

    Maybe more hill TT’s at the grass-roots level. Sure, it puts a premium on lightweight gear, but takes it off aerodynamics and the sprint. Solo steady state and W/KG events seem to appeal to more strong women more than the cut and boost of crits and fast group rides. Lower speed, solo format also take handling out of the intimidation equation. Yeah, there are lot of badass women crit racers, but I am referring here to the averages whose opinions we should care more about.

    Let’s get fixed-gear and single speed races out of the alleys and into the limelight. Maybe as a companion to the usual rich middle-aged-man crits & RR’s. The cheap cost and viewability draws in youth. It would be the short-track skating to traditional cycling’s long-track.

    Mix BMX stunt stuff in with the festival that surrounds gran fondos and centuries. Maybe throw in short fussy vintage tweed or novelty rides as well. We could learn a thing or thirty from those rock festivals.

    Maybe cross-promote gear in expected ways. i.e. free skuut bike or commuting helmet with purchase of latest power meter. With some refinement, this could save cycling from the inherent limits of being thin suburban Dad’s “me-time” hobby.

  19. unfilteredcyclist

    For racing inclusion, lowering race fees would go a long way. Additionally, (I’ve been riding/racing 1 year at this point) the culture of “need more, better and get it now” really drives a mindset of snobbishness and exclusivity that those just coming in have to overcome. When I started racing, I did it on whatever bike I could get my hands on, which meant 10+ year old road bikes and outdated cross equipment with skinny tires.

    A lot of folks I know weren’t willing to go out with what they considered ‘sub par’ equipment because they don’t want to look foolish. People need to realize and communicate to others that though equipment makes a difference, the effort and spirit of the rider matters much more.

  20. Shawn

    I think that while cycling is far more enjoyable than taking a spin class or just working out in a gym it is not ‘competing’ to attract the many women and minorities you find exercising in these context. Why not? Part of it is convenience. Too may areas have little in the way of roads with wide shoulders or bike paths for the non-lycra crowd. In addition, if bike shops in all neighborhoods organized group rides for families, and all levels of riders, a more diverse crowd could be brought into cycling.

  21. scaredskinnydog

    Where I live they started doing women only group rides and mechanical clinics. They’ve been very popular so I don’t think its that women don’t want to ride. In my experience its usually a case of a few macho jack offs giving women a bad overall impression of the sport. I usually just tell them to shrug off the machismo and then try to offer some positive encouragement i.e. “Stick with it and next year at this time I’ll help you rip Fred’s legs off”.

    1. Padraig

      Ming, Bob: I shot that image while guiding on a tour in Tuscany. We were in the country and there was next to no traffic. The women in the shot are all riding bikes rented in Florence.

  22. bob

    Ah ok that sounds like great fun! We have some issues with group rides blocking the road out in my area with lots of blind curves so I was curious.

    1. Padraig

      Carrie, Bart: Not to toot my own horn, but my book, The No-Drop Zone, was written specifically for new riders who have no racing ambitions. While most of the book is gender-neutral, there’s a sizable chapter devoted specifically to women’s issues. In writing it, I consulted with a great many of my women friends who ride. And while I’m aware that it may seem like only one chapter for women is little more than lip service, most of the body of knowledge in cycling is pretty gender-neutral.

  23. Bikelink

    I’m in the above demographic, but I really don’t want to spend $2000 for a set of really fast racing tubulars to be a little bit more competitive racing (which I’m about to do). Why can’t there be steel frame 32 spoke 23 lb requirements for amateur racing so that if you spend more than $700 it’s for a more comfortable saddle or something, but not to be ‘competitive.’ Our fascination with the latest technology/incremental gain has made even recreational riding seem like it can’t be done without a $2K bike…that the incremental advantages used for racing are now an entry requirement to get out and roll with a group…we’ve shot ourselves collectively in the foot.

  24. producifer

    Bike shop snobbery is a big disincentive to just about any greenhorn who walks into one, male or female. With almost no exceptions, I hate them- the repairmen, the salesmen, the owners (especially the owners). I am a motivated buyer/user & I can barely enter most of the shops in LA. Imagine how a woman who has an interest in biking must feel. Yuck. So- as for all aspects of this business- if you want to attract women, then hire them first. Put them in your repair shops, on the sales floor, on the editing staffs, in the r&d departments & in the boardroom. Anything less will result in the same elderly sausage fest we currently have.

  25. Michael Ghitelman

    Cycling is many things, but above all others it is a sport. Most (all?) sports involve competition and ultimately someone wins. In my experience it is rare that even the most casual club/shop ride doesn’t include an unspoken race to the top of a climb or substantial sections when the pace ratchets up well past the one we planned. Men like this stuff. They like looking over their shoulder to see their buddies behind them.
    I am the husband and father of very competitive athletic women, including a former olympian. This pleasure in racing against and beating friends seems less common for the women I’ve known. I ride with women who can drop me like a brick, but there just don’t seem to be as many with this sense that beating your friends is not an unfriendly or unkind act.
    I don’t know how to getting more women riding but I think part of the answer includes addressing this attitude toward competition.

  26. R. Freeman

    I’d say that the whole problem is competition. Lots of people just plain don’t want to race. I know this is a race-oriented website, so I understand that most of the comments so far assume that racing is the highest and best use of a bicycle. That’s not true of a large part of the population, a part that may not be fitting into the skewed demographic.

    “Cycling is…above all a sport…most sports involve competition..” or “Very few (ladies) liked cycling enough to go on and become racers.” I’m not picking on anyone, but that attitude is keeping people off of bikes all by itself.

    Your 90% rich white guy demographic is being catered to by an industry that is like-minded. Who is running the big bike companies, by the way? Might be rich white guys, hmmm?

    There are many opportunities to ride socially. I think that they might not be apparent from the inside of a “training” ride looking out. You might have to dare to step out of the racing mold and join a (lame? non-competitive?) ride to find the riders, men and women both, who just want to ride. No need for $3500 bikes or a racer’s attitude or performance anxiety. Just ride. How fascinating.

    Disclaimer: I fit the 90% group perfectly. However, I prefer my old steel bikes to new carbon ones and I don’t buy any popular cycling magazines, so I’m invisible to the magazine marketing machine.

  27. Eto

    Great topic.

    Jeff D: I think you and your club have it right.

    Real leadership is not easy, but it can make all the difference when working to attract and retain a preferred following.

    BTW, I too can not justify $300, or even $200 bibs. But then, who pays retail any more?

  28. Quentin

    I ride with my wife pretty regularly. She regards the rides as a way to get out and enjoy the outdoors and take it a little easier in between her “real” workouts that take place at the gym. (I should point out that she is far more fit than I am). She found riding much more fun when she got the aluminum road bike she has now, which was a big step up, but I don’t think she has any particular interest in something that’s lighter or stiffer. She never uses the inner or outer rings on her triple crank, partly because of the relatively flat terrain in our area, and partly because she doesn’t want to bother with the other shifter. It makes me wonder if there isn’t a future for setups like SRAM XX1 on entry level road bikes, maybe when 11 speed makes its way a little further down the food chain.

    Two of my most recent bike acquisitions have been used tandems, which we’ve adapted so our kids (6 and 9) can ride on the back. I did a fair amount of research on how to do this and what would work. There’s some nice material about kids and tandems on Sheldon Brown’s web site, but honestly, I’m surprised that this seems to be mostly the domain of tinkerers (like me) or hardcore tandem enthusiasts that are willing to spend a lot on custom bikes. It seems like the industry as well as cyclists who want to pass the sport on to their kids would both be well served by having more options for cycling with kids.

  29. Michael

    One of the things I like about this site is that, while there are some discussions of the latest and greatest, the love of the bike shines through. That part is gender-neutral. I imagine Padraig’s book carries that through nicely too.

    I am a professor at a university and teach environmental sciences. One of the things that surprises me is when I ask for hands at the beginning of a semester on how many own cars, and 90% raise their hands (this in a town where it is easy to live without a car, if you don’t mind taking a bus to go to the big city). It was the reverse when i was a student – 90% would NOT have owned a car. So, one of my goals is to get as many as possible on bikes for utilitarian purposes, figuring love will lead to longer rides later. In discussing their experiences on bikes at the end of the semester, I have noticed that my female students speak more of the social aspects of riding, and the visceral enjoyment of the experience, whereas many male newbies are more likely to talk of adrenalin-producing events.

    I guess where I am going with this is that there are few sources of information that cater to the visceral enjoyment of the experience part, but I suspect that that sort of place/publication is what will get Robot’s advertisements to a different audience.

  30. Drago

    Partly, it’s a gear/tech/mechanical thing. My wife loves riding, but she still can’t fix a flat or remember what psi to put in her tires. She doesn’t do pink–I’m not sure that’s the answer. Guys love stuff: Ferraris, skis, tools…. Girls aren’t real into sliding cars around corners, either. Will it change much? Are there quilting groups out there trying to get more guys involved?
    And then there’s the traffic….

  31. Hautacam

    1. Can’t help pointing out that it’s “dearth,” not “derth.” Sorry. It’s a character flaw. I’m working on it. One day at a time, as they say.

    2. “Cycling,” as sold in the USA, is sold as a competitive, type-A, technology-driven, high speed thrill-seeking activity where every ride is supposed to be “epic.” That may appeal to some women who are already competitive athletes in other equipment-intensive sports (e.g. snowboarding, downhill skiing, rowing, etc.), but it ain’t going to get the soccer moms out of their minivans.

    3. To see what women-inclusive cycling looks like, check out your competitor/colleague from the Great White North at Momentum Magazine, http://www.momentummag.com . It’s very cool. It’s definitely opened my eyes to other ways of riding. I might even give it a try.

    4. Cycling (at least urban cycling) is, at bottom, pretty darn risky. I believe that science suggests women are, on average, more risk-averse than men. Not sure I have this exactly right, but one of our local urban bicycle planners said something to the effect that “we know we will have succeeded when grandmothers are riding their bikes to work, because they represent a risk-averse demographic.”

    5. FWIW I fit the demographic except for my heavy old steel bikes, I have raced (poorly and infrequently), and I ride to work in downtown traffic pretty much every week. So take my $0.02 for what it’s worth.

  32. Gary

    Intimidation? My advice is to get over worrying about what other people may think of you. I’m old enough that I don’t give a shit about that. I smile and sometimes wave at other cyclists, wishing them a good ride whether they are fast or slow, all the while being glad to be on the road.

  33. Andrew Joseph

    less racing, less competative, less emphasis on expensive lightweight ‘racing style’ bikes, less emphasis on riding hard and hurting.

    more scenic ‘epic’ rides on bikes built for long day comfort.

    once women and young people get comfortable with the idea that they can ride all day, the competative element will surface in those that want to compete.

    take away the idea that bike riding is only about racing.

  34. Maremma Mark

    The vineyards, olive trees and terra cotta tiled roofs gave away the Tuscan location in the photo. I find that there are considerably more women riders on Italian bike tours, percentage wise, than there are in the “real world.” I’m not sure what that signifies but it’s noticeable. It’s not representative of the mass market, coming to Italy to ride ones bike implies a selection on many levels. But the women I see here on tours are for the most part competent, experienced cyclists. No pink and no shrink types, just riders. Great site!

  35. Jan

    I’d bet that most of the women I know have been harassed while out riding; some have been followed, one was driven off the road, and so on. So I’d say that changing the culture so that men don’t feel empowered to harass women anywhere would make women feel more like going out and doing stuff, especially stuff that might include going out alone on a bike to the middle of whereever.

    (I haven’t been harassed in a long time, but I’m well into middle age, and that’s a bit of protection, sadly.)

    I read here because it’s fun to read about other sorts of cycling (racing stuff, for example), but I’d LOVE to get to see women’s racing on TV or to read more about it. It’s way easier for a non-racer type to see men’s races on TV, read a bit around, and have fun watching the TV races; I recognize riders, root for the breakaway, and so on. I’d love to do that for women’s races, too!

    Finally, the bike shop issue: I have a couple of bike shop choices in my town, and only go where they are friendly to me, and don’t look at me (with my middle aged, too sedentary body) like I’m an alien.

  36. bigwagon

    The story seems to be very different in the triathlon world–yeah, yeah, I know–”that’s not cycling,” which is part of the problem road cycling has!

  37. slappy

    just got back from the Crested Butte Alley Loop weekend. Venerable nordic cross country ski race that wraps through town. The first ever fat bike race was held on the proceeding evening and there was a great turnout, a relay division, lots of ladies, and the typical middle age white guys on fancy fa bikes drilling it on the front. Today was amazing though, tons and tons of skiers, plenty in costume, plenty in skin suits, plenty of ancient skis, plenty of kids, plenty of women, plenty of middle age white guys on the front drilling it. . . maybe the lack of traffic does make it that much more enticing. . it was awesome and it was a carnival costume party but the hammerheads were there too. Therein lies some of the solution in my mind. .

  38. kyle bohling

    What about velodromes? I think american parents are use to dropping of their kids at a field or court or pool. Drop the kids off and pick them up an hour or two later. Letting kids out on the open road sounds scary to newbies. Epuipment could even be provided for new comers. I know its expensive to build but having a central location for kids to show up would really help. All we have to do is get people over the issue of riding a bike with no brakes.

  39. SusanJane

    I’m am so gratified to see so many of us seriously talking and thinking about this topic. I don’t have the time/energy right now to go deep, but I did have an idea that might interest someone somewhere. Bike shops are very intimidating for girls and women — all that strange tech with alien terminology and high price tags. So… take the bikes out of the shop and to the potential buyers. Many shops and clubs sponsor safety classes for kids, why not tag on something to educate those moms standing around watching? They need to know a bit about bikes and how they work. Throw in a spiel about the club and how this can lead to other things. Mention the women who won gold medals and world championships. And please do let them know where they can take their kids to see the next women’s race.

    Oh I’m 51, white, female, and do not ride. I am passionate about the sport, subscribe to two magazines, go to three web sites daily, and watch the general public news to see who cycling and the pro peleton make themselves know to outsiders.

    Question: Has anyone noticed that there seems to be an open season on hunting cyclists with motor vehicles? Not just pros either. We’ve had four in my local area resulting in two deaths, and one scary close call with two 8 years olds legally in a crosswalk.

  40. Ron

    Problem: People that know how to ride a bike on busy roads would rather just ride than go through the trouble of dispensing advice.
    Cycling is an activity that needs self policing of etiquette and safe practices but there are no cops on the beat.
    Maybe write an article about your experience volunteering with the League of American Bicyclists teaching people how to ride in the city and mention the common errors that you corrected. That might help your readers realize they can make a difference, too. Or maybe they just want to feel the dimples on Zipp Wheels and debate BB types.

  41. Randall

    As a new cyclist (though that label is becoming less accurate), I am constantly surprised how elitist people can be.

    Posts like this one: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=541522689198975&set=a.130154053669176.18159.129125333772048&type=1&comment_id=1900627&offset=0&total_comments=14 on an otherwise innocent pair of shoes do more damage than people realize, because it is a small but constant reminder that “cyclists are wealthy snobs.” I don’t think it’s true, but if one has no cycling friends, it may seem that way. I wanted to respond to that post, but I couldn’t determine how to do so “correctly.”

  42. Conrad

    I think SusanJane is getting at the main problem: roads are often not friendly places for cyclists. Claiming your rightful place on a road with a bicycle might become second nature after a while if you ride a lot- but it takes some boldness that men are much more likely to demonstrate than women- in general.

    That being said, the snobbishness that often accompanies male racers or pretend racers doesn’t help. The fact that most bicycles are designed as racing bicycles despite the fact that most people don’t race doesn’t help. And smaller frames are generally even more poorly designed than larger frames.

    But despite all of this- on my daily commute I am seeing more and more women. In the local races, the fastest growing fields are usually women’s races. So we’re going in the right direction I think.


    1. Author
      Robot

      @Conrad – I also think Susan Jane has hit the nail on the head. My wife’s great objection to riding is the terror that is Boston traffic, and I have to say, it’s gotten better in the last 20 years. It used to be a total shit show. Now it’s just…well…there has been some progress.

      Having said that, I looked at the road conditions this morning, icy and snowy, and opted for the car. It was about 25F and windy, too. The one commuter I saw was a woman on an upright, wearing knee high leather boots and a scarf around her head. She wins.

  43. Simon

    I don’t know there’s a simple answer to the cost of entry question. I’ve read comments on various websites displaying downright incredulity at the idea anyone could even train on, let alone race on Tiagra, three-year old 105, or Veloce, or Rival. We that don’t do so and know we could are as much to blame as anyone else. When I was 18 I rode a sub-23 minute 10 mile time trial on a 531 frame with a mish-mash of whatever I could afford, all of which was out of date even then. The frame had a bottom bracket like a noodle. I have never gone faster since then …Bikelink, I like your thinking.

  44. wheelman61

    I think the point that too often gets missed is that you have to be a “rider” before you can be competitive cyclist. If we are trying to build and populate the sport with individuals that jump from interested & curious to full-fledged competitors we need to start with riders who love the sport for what it is. When you love to ride the equipment and the kit is secondary. As a riders fitness, skills and passion for cycling grows the progression to competition and the attendent higher performance gear will happen.

  45. Don Byrd

    I think if I was a middle aged single woman and wanted to date . I would buy a bicycle and find some cycling club to ride with or associate with on regular basis . You garanteed to find suiters . It always happen in Velo Club Monterey . The Demographics are so in their favor. The Alpha Males would be battling at your front wheel. To change the situation , the bike industry needs to concentrate on bringing people up through the sport . Hold clinics in Elementary Schools and form a customer for life. We are too much a gasoline automobile driven culture . Maybe with harder economic times coming toward us, simplified life and more earth friendly transportation might turn the demographics around. Single woman , you see the numbers , buy a bicycle .

  46. Patrick

    I have all kinds of stories with a different slant but they all seem to say the same thing. Last Spring, a lady shows up at the group ride and some jerk tells her “You need to flip the stem to be more aerodynamic” The lady had no idea what he was talking about. We start off on the group ride(slow night) and the group is splintered within minutes due to pace. I hang back and ride with the lady and find she is trying to get healthy and lose some weight. I have never seen the lady again. Without groups, most ladies are not going to take off for a 20 mile ride in the countryside. I have no idea if the lady is still riding but I doubt it. Bike is probably hanging in garage.

  47. Don Byrd

    Now being in my fifties and discovering I will never ride with Lance as I did in the late eighties and early ninties . I still put in a 150 – 200 miles a week . I have decided to give back to the sport. After all these hard years pounding my body , I can at least one or two gentle rides a week in which I ride with women. My goal now in cycling is to be fit enough to ride with the prettiest women. (No ! Not the fastest ) After my thirty something years , I have learned some pointers that could help bring some ladies into the cycling club . With all people new to the sport , Just get them comfortable first, Upward stem placement and flat pedals are fine at first . You have to ignite the desire first to ride. Gears are next and learning your body is like a big semi truck . Semitrucks have lots of gears and you need them too to get over the terrain . Once they figure out how to use the gears to their advantage , You got them hooked most times . Then , you can work on rider position and clipless pedals . Baby Steps ! I like to drop back and help pull newbies back to the bunch . If they can not hang , I drop back and help shelter them to get them home. You would be surprised how hard you work just to shelter a newbie and get them back home. I have long given up my macho ambitions of killing the pack for my testerone spirit. I derive great pleasure of seeing somebody new come into the sport and be a regular on the sunday ride . It is up to us each one of us to help make a new person feel at home in the sport . You will loose more than you get into the group . You have to a least try . Some turn out to be life long friends . I still communicate with some I help bring into the sport in the late eighties back in Dallas at the Richardson Bike Mart . It is good feeling to bring new people into the cult and watch them thrive . Now, I live in California for twenty years and I still hear from those newbies from Dallas so many years ago. That is way you grow the sport . Take a pupil under your wing and teach them what you have learned. They get good and kick your butt , go find another to kick your butt . If they kick your butt , you were successful. Byrdie on the left coast .

  48. Carl N.

    @Patrick – Well said. Why do we males always do the wrong things on rides when it concerns women? We are either “the tough guy” or condescending. Neither one helps the sport…. and when I say “sport” I’m not talking about racing…. I’m talking about helping someone to become a rider. I was a group ride leader for 2 or 3 years at a local shop. I still ride with them when I can even though it’s been a few years. Of all the women who rode with us back then, only one, -ONE!!!- is still on the ride. I see the guys trying to prove how strong, smart, and sexy they are and the women never returning.
    I live in Boulder. There are rides of all levels here, all of the time. If you absolutely HAVE TO HAMMER, go do it else where… not on rides with female newbies! Jeez…. be an adult, will ya?

  49. R. Freeman

    Males often do the wrong thing because we seem to think that women will show up on our rides and act like the other guys. Ain’t happenin’ Women are often riding for completely different reasons than men. If you really want to attract women, you need to figure out why – and how – they want to ride. Then you set up the ride to match that, not do the usual men’s ride. This is a little like method acting. Know the subject, be the subject.

    This applies to newbies of any gender. I’m not sure how this thread morphed into attracting women to cycling.

    And racing. Another comment a few back, “As a riders fitness, skills and passion for cycling grows the progression to competition…will happen.” Some people just plain don’t want to race. Their progression leads elsewhere. Accept that. Pushing people to do something they don’t want to do will push them away from that activity. Cycling has much more to offer than the narrow and exclusivist world of racing. Ride a bike to ride a bike. Fun is enough.

  50. B. Graham

    Great question. I think the way to expand the demographic of our sport and make it more inclusive is to make it fun, friendly and social. It’s a rare person (myself and, likely, many of you) who will battle through a sea of less-than-friendly group rides trying to make friends and acquire the requisite fitness. It’s also a rare person who wants to head out solo for hours on end with nothing but their thoughts and the open road.

    Truth is, there is an undercurrent of exclusivity in our sport that needs to be countered with friendly beginner rides and skills clinics, taught in such a way that it brings back the joy people felt when they were first on bikes as kids. In many areas they have these.

    When I first met my wife, I would tell her about my time on the bike and what it was like and the racing and how alive I felt and all she gleaned from those stories was, “What’s your obsession with suffering?” And she was a boxer for many years! That helped me to realize that most people are not like ‘us’ and that kind of talk can put new people off to our sport.

    Make it fun, friendly and encourage people to ride a bike. For whatever reason. Oh yeah, and be quick with a smile. It’s about the people.

  51. Davo

    That’s the thing about disposable income; it’s disposable. When I see an issue of Outside Magazine that includes a review of a $400 pocket knife, I have to wonder, “who buys this stuff?” I only ask because I already know who “needs” that stuff…..

  52. Sean

    I belong to a free to join cycling organization here in Las Vegas that has 2500 members of all levels of fitness and ability. Bikinglasvegas.com was started by Lisa, a female cyclist and web designer, to provide a resource and forum for local cyclists. I’ve never found anything close to it in other cities. I’d say most BLV rides contain 25 to 40% female riders.

    Any member can organize a ride, as well as having many “BLV sanctioned” rides organized by Lisa herself. There is (usually) a monthly beginner’s ride to acquaint new cyclists with safety on the street and within a group. The group rides are always ‘no drop’ with a sweeper to make sure no one rides at the back alone. We have designated regrouping points so the faster riders can do their thing without splitting the group too much.

    Agro attitude from anyone is not tolerated! It is meant to be a safe, social organization. Everyone in the group, male and female, wants us to be an example to our community of what recreational cycling should be about: Safety, fun, fitness, and friends enjoying a common passion for cycling.

  53. marshall of moab

    Simply lower the cost of bicycles,provide more disposable income,free time and transportation to lower income and young riders. And while you are at it make clothing that’s less otherworldly and single purpose.
    I think it is a better idea to face facts. This is a middle age boys club. If you are reading this I’ll bet you are perfectly suited to join.

  54. Mark Evans

    Robot – I think I help with identification of the problem.

    Patronizing, middle-aged bloke can’t spot when he hands out sexist insults and then wonders why there are few females in the sport he and his buddies frequent.

    Whilst you wrote “given the recent retirement tirade by Nicole Cooke”, the Leadership editor at Forbes had a different take http://www.forbes.com/sites/frederickallen/2013/01/18/the-anti-lance-armstrong-bicycling-champion-nicole-cooke-calls-him-a-criminal-who-should-go-to-jail/

    I thought it a very articulate and controlled statement on what fundamentally broke down into issues of sexist exclusion and incompetent/complacent/corrupt leadership, at virtually every level.

    No woman is going to come near your club, or spend money gaining the entry tickets – bike, clothing, if you can’t be bothered to treat issues raised in say, that statement, with anything approaching the genuine respect they deserve.

    Then look at the phrase you put beforehand – “Is that growth necessary?” I don’t think anyone would be surprised that a poll of the core demographic you identify would generate a popular “No” response to that question. “Who is bothered – we are quite happy playing amongst ourselves.” Of course that would not be the right answer.

    All manner of tinkering could produce minor changes but the sport of cycling has attracted some very unpleasant characters to it and that ugly side spins down to the local club-run, where, as so many point out in other posts, there are macho guys parading around thinking they are just one ride away from the Tour and they don’t want some female, gate-crashing the dream-world they have created for their leisure time.

    My wife cycles, I cycle and our, now adult, children both cycled. Cycle with other club guys ? A minority had a decent attitude the rest – cave-dwellers. We gave up trying to socialize our enjoyment long ago. (Yes – the bad attitude of a lot of motorists is a huge negative but getting an education system in place alongside gaining a license, is a big ask.)

    I have been in local cycle stores and winced at the patronizing and dumb attitude of the owner towards the odd female who dares to venture in and ask. All the sport specific magazines reinforce the considered irrelevance of female participation or at best offer random tokenism and at its highest level, the sport has prejudice designed in, within the rules of participation.

    I am not for quotas forced onto organizations but this is one broken plot that will not mend itself any decade soon. At every level, clubs, shops magazines and in the administration of the sport, it has to introduce women into the management. And those women have to be capable of telling the guys how it is, and when those guys come back with “feeling better after your tirade dear” they need to kick the misogynists where it hurts.

  55. tjalve

    This is interesting as, in my mind, the sport of cycling developed along with the rise of the bicycle as a vehicle for the urban poor to become more mobile. Cycling has shifted from the sport of the working class to the sport of the rich somewhere along the way.

  56. Don Byrd

    I think most people are lazy. That is why some motorist get angry when you block their progress . I have been riding at lunch @ work for ten years. People at work have express interest in riding at lunch. I even had to build bicycles for people so I would have riding partners @ lunch . They all start out with good intentions. At one time, I had four people riding with me at lunch . Now , I am back down to the lone wolf riding at lunch . There is one lady that says she is ready to come back and ride at lunch . I practically built and gave her a bicycle . She missed for three weeks in a row. I know riding at lunch is tough. The company has installed showers and even bought the riders kits with our company logo on it . They are not too strict on the time for lunch either . I tune all the bicycles for the riding employees and use my money to help keep running . I have given parts, clothing ,my time ,and mechanical skills. We are in Monterey and have the best weather most year round . It is home of the Sea Otter. Still , it has boiled down to just me . I have always kept the pace where everybody could stay in contact . I just think that most people are lazy and it is too easy just not to do it . I think many new riders are scared of traffic too. Probably the traffic is a major determining factor.

  57. James

    Stop segmenting your market so much. If you’re only trying to communicate with Men over 40 with high incomes, then you are ignoring a huge chunk of the market/potential market. Marketing people love segmenting, but the truth is that its a dangerous behaviour. Instead you should look to appeal to light and non-buyers. The heavy/loyal buyers (those 40+ males) will buy anyway, and they’ll buy from either you or your competitors because they all have a repertoire within the category. Only a minute %age of buyers are 100% brand loyal.

    I’d also argue that you need to look at advertising outside of the major magazines – all you’re doing there is preaching to the converted, to that small segment of consumers who are already on board.

    Finally be aware that the point of advertising is not to persuade. It isn’t and it doesn’t. Studies over the last 10/15 years have helped us to learn far more about how people make buying decisions and how advertising works. It works by building memory structures at a subconscious level. The argument is that by adopting a reach-based marketing strategy, you are more likely to build these memory structures, and so are more likely to ‘come to mind’ in the buying situation. To assume that all purchase decisions are made consciously or rationally is a huge mistake. Most purchase decisions are made at a subconscious level and then post-rationalised at a conscious level.

    This is all borne out by proper scientific research conducted by the likes of the Ehrenberg Bass institute. Marketing is still stuck in the dark ages, relying on received wisdoms, and gut feeling, rather than empirical evidence.

  58. kemelyn

    Hmmm…so many threads on the lack of female cyclists and reasons. I’m in my late 40′s. I’ve been riding since my mid-twenties. I picked up cycling after law school. So, I have that part of the demographic – over 40 and decent income- now. I didn’t when I started riding. By way of background, I’ve been an athlete all my life playing tennis in my youth and on my college team. After college and through law school, I got the running bug and participated in local races including marathons and half’s. I must say that, in my experience, there definitely is something VERY DIFFERENT about dynamic of amateur competitive cycling versus say- competitive tennis, running or even golf- Why is racing bicycles so uninviting to most women? It’s an attitude that bike racers have that is different than your average club running racer or tennis player. I think it’s real. Anyone else know what I’m talking about?

    In my experience, cyclists who race tend to be very snobby and exclusive in their attitudes…men and women alike. I’m not talking the real Pro’s here, but your average Joe or Joann Blow cat 3 or 4 racer from Timbucktoo. I’ve even experienced this attitude in the higher end bicycle shops in my town– you not a racer, you nobody. I went into my LBS about 15 or so years ago wanting to buy a new cycling computer with a cadence monitor and was promptly laughed at and talked down to…you don’t need some thing that high tech, … Bottom line, this attitude doesn’t invite any one, especially not women to invest in the equipment and compete.

    I don’t know the answer…other than to say to the racers, get over yourselves!! seriously, any one can ride a bike!!? Just like any one can run a marathon or play set of tennis or 18 holes…sure, there will be different levels of expertise, but who cares?! it’s not that big a deal.

    Spotting there is an issue is the first step in fixing the problem…keep the dialogue going. In my area of the mid-us, it is getting better. More women are riding; there are women-exclusive groups modeled after Velo Bella that are helping women– lessening the intimidation factor of the testosterone-fest group rides and providing support groups for new women racers.

    The ladies in my area have a saying.. …”chicked”…it’s when the female rider drops the bad ass boy on the bike. To the women reading…keep riding. Don’t settle for the pink bar tape and lesser components if you don’t want them. Insist on a proper crank length.

  59. Full Monte

    As an industry, cycling sucks at appealing to youth and women. It’s where the long-term growth lies, but not the immediate profit. And given our 30-day to quarterly statement business culture, cycling may always suck at appealing to youth and women.

    All is not lost. Like all movements, to be successful, it needs to happen at the grassroots level.

    That means, LBSs (Local Bike Stores) must take the lead. Many good ones already have.

    In my community, we have not one, but three very good bike stores carrying top shelf brands and offering very good, knowledgable, friendly service. Yeah, we’re lucky.

    One store offers mid-tier group co-ed club rides, along with training and club rides geared especially for triathletes.

    Another offers club rides for Cat 3-2-1 riders (drop rides, bring a map, you’re gonna need it to get home) for the competitive set. But also, women’s only group rides, led by a woman. No drop. And no testosterone fueled advice or breakaways.

    The third shop is home to the somewhat geriatric riding club, and also the recumbent club, which includes handicap-able riders.

    Two of these LBSs each sponsor professional races in the summer, closing off two adjacent downtowns to traffic, and bringing out cyclists and non-cyclists alike get up close to the whoosh and whiz of a pro peloton. (Followed by kids races for tykes on up through middle school.)

    All really good stuff, and educating the community in what cycling’s all about.

    But we need more, especially aimed at high school and younger kids. Programs that get these kids in cycling clubs, in club kit, and thinking about competing. An avenue to cycling that appeals to top athletes competing on their school football, softball, volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball teams — a summer sport, if you will, that’ll lead to a lifelong love of cycling. (In many communities, especially those in bike loving states like Colorado and Oregon, this is already happening.)

    And also, a way to show kids of all athletic ability that cycling is a lifestyle. That it’s a commitment to health, being outdoors, a sport to enjoy casually with friends or alone, a petrolium-free way to commute.

    So to the industry I say this: skip the ad campaigns and marketing hype which attempt to appeal to youth and women. Put that money into programs your LBSs can leverage at the grass roots level. Education programs, exposure plans, youth development leagues and clubs. Race sponsorship co-op funds. Safety clinics and helmet drives.

    The boys will be boys, us old guys finding new gray hairs and checking our portfolios every day. We’ll keep buying bikes and gear and kit, even if we don’t need it (especially if we don’t need it). Take a fraction of that ad buy and push it down to the store level in outreach programs and do it now. There’s a leadership position in there for the Specialized, Trek, Cannondales of the world, and for the smaller players who also contribute, this tide will raise all ships.

    Promise.

  60. C

    In my area, we have year-round riding conditions (mounatain, road, cross, BMX, whatever). We have an active lifestyle, we have an active cycle club, and several well stocked LBSs locally and access to many more within a few hours. We have clear roads with little traffic. We have everything one would need, but we really have no grass-roots movement. Kids don’t cycle – girls or boys. I have a garage full of bikes, but they rarely come out.

    What will it take for children – the future of the sport, to ride a bike? For any reason? At all?

    We all started, I’m guessing here but probably accurately, with a cheap bike, and we rode it – to school, to work, with our friends, whatever. That grew, not into a fitness craze, but into just sort of place in our lives. We had a bike, and we used it. Not for exercise, not for coolness, not for a way to wear tight fitting clothes.

    I find the discussions of finding a new way, finding a new market, finding a new cohort somewhat presumtuous – as if marketing will deliver results. As if a well organized campaign – from LBSs, to local clubs, to whatever, will actually generate results.

    On the high end of the scale of presumption is the hubris of the male dominated triple-A type personalities that are in the business and sport. In the mid-range are folks like the above commenators who work very hard to be inclusive and pass on thir knowledge while themselves staying fit and on their bikes. I applaud your efforts, really. However there is a thread of presumption that your efforts will deliver results – that that woman who came out once to a group ride should come out again because you tried (please don’t get me wrong – I respect your efforts immensely)

    Maybe its because we (the “sport”) have labelled cycling as a “sport”, rather than a state of being, a form of transportation, a tool in the game of childhood, a teacher in the development of a human being.

    I argue that cycling, to truly rebuild its place in life, must be a part of life. No battles with drivers over the roads, no hubris from bike industry, no $4000 bikes on Sunday morning rides with $1000 worth of tight clothing on a chubby middle aged group of men. Just a part of life.

    To be a part of life, there must be a bicycle, inexpensive, sized correctly, for every human and for every way of life. From the Dutch style, to the pure carbon road bike, to the little girl’s bike with training wheels and streamers on the grips – and everything inbetween. The bicycle must be a part of life.

    And, now, with the freeways, airports, game consoles, tablet computers, risk-intolerant parents, bitter automobile drivers, dopers, and middle-aged chubby males on pure carbon road steeds, it is not.

    I continue to ride. By myself, on quiet roads, for the pure pleasure. Without an answer to your question.

  61. Seth

    I think Kemelyn has it right. Cyclists are snobby and exclusive in their attitudes, and it’s a huge turn-off for new people entering the sport. I think a perfect example is showing up for group rides; often people spend more time sizing up other riders by their look and equipment rather than being friendly and introducing themselves.

    When I show up to play hockey in a new rink, players are infinitely more friendly and inclusive. There seems to be something about cycling where riders are playing a dominance game and it starts before any one ever puts shoe to pedal. I like group rides and to a certain extent, you need them to get better, but it usually feels more like a chance for people to flaunt fancy wheels and pretend they are cycling tough guys instead of making people feel welcome. If we’re going to get new people in the sport, that’s got to change.

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