An Open Letter to the Cycling Industry

An Open Letter to the Cycling Industry

Dear Cycling Industry,

I am a female cyclist. And you don’t get me.

Here’s why.

Since your inception, there was one gender of rider that captured your attention: men. Why? Because men were your customers; men kept the lights on. So it only made sense that you targeted your marketing towards them – you focused on creating a faster, better, stronger depiction of cycling.

I get that, and I do not fault you for it. A healthy cycling industry is good for all riders, and nobody will argue against that point.

But then, you discovered that women also rode bikes. Not many, but enough to draw your attention – you saw an untapped market. And that’s where the challenges began. How did you entice more women to the sport of cycling?

So you did some market research to discover why women chose sports other than cycling, and wound up with decisive results: Women found cycling to be intimidating. Women went into bike shops only to be ignored by shop staff. Women couldn’t find equipment or apparel that fit them properly.

All barriers which could easily be overcome.

Instead of cycling being intimidating, you made it approachable with no drop Ladies rides where everyone stayed together regardless of ability. You trained bike shop staff on how to help women customers as readily as men. You even developed products that specifically fit women.

But you also needed to get the gospel of Cycling out to the female masses via marketing. And how did you market to women? The same way you marketed to men: you created a Female Cyclist Archetype, based on your previous research.

She rides because she likes to socialize with her friends. She finds that her goals are centered around fitness rather than competition. She tends to buy bikes based on color rather than technical features. She becomes overwhelmed in bike shops. She is easily intimidated by the sport.

And it worked, as women’s cycling has grown exponentially.

But.

In turning your attention towards the new woman rider, and in creating an archetype of what she is and what she aspires to be, you lost sight of the woman who already rode in the first place. Her stories and her experiences have been drowned out.

female-cyclist-001

Her experiences are about suffering on climbs and throwing down on the group rides. She doesn’t care about getting dropped, and she certainly doesn’t care about dropping people. She opens a magazine to read about the epic, difficult ride that joined together women of varying abilities, who all banded together in companionship to come across the finish line as a whole group, and she doesn’t see herself. She feels she must be missing something, and she doesn’t know why.

I love the fact that more women have entered the sport because they find it welcoming. I love the fact that I can walk into a shop and be treated with legitimacy as a customer. And I love love love that there are nice bikes I can ride which don’t require a 50mm downhill stem. So now that those barriers have been broken down, it’s time to expand your definition of what women’s cycling is today and what it can be in the future.

Some women do ride for friendship and companionship. Some women do find bike shops and group rides intimidating. That is their truth and completely valid. But some women don’t, and they also have a point of view and experience that is unique to that of their peers.

Please cycling industry, do not let the wonderful, colorful world of women’s cycling be diluted down to one oft repeated story or archetype. In doing so, you forget about those of us who caught your attention in the first place.

Sincerely,

A Female Cyclist

, ,

44 comments

  1. Austin McInerny

    Agree! We are working hard to introduce more young women to the sport and, as I have seen across our 13 leagues, there are many young ladies who can hammer and who want to be treated and respected for how they ride. Let’s all work to make cycling more inclusive, safe and fun for all!

  2. Jen See

    Good piece – this certainly speaks to my experience. I think it’s fabulous that the industry is at long last working to bring more women into cycling and inviting them to experience the sport we have all grown to love. But I often feel like the rest of us – those of us who have been here along, who came to the sport for the adventure and speed and joy of going outside and frolicing in the gorgeous light of day – are being written out of the story.

    I’ve sat in product discussions and been told – along with a room full of other women like me, who write about cycling for money and ride bikes passionately – that we aren’t the market for a women’s product. If not us, then who is. I’ve also been handed $8k demo bikes, and been told, well, we’re going to do skills drills now. Bike industry, do not hand me an $8000 carbon mountain bike and make me ride around circles on it. This will not make me happy. $8000 mountain bikes are meant to shred.

    I keep hoping in time, these attitudes will shift some. We’ll still find ways to welcome new riders into the sport and encourage them to try out something many of them may find intimidating and scary. But those of us who have been here all along will not feel left out or like some sort of freaks for the fact that we just want to ride bikes and feel the wondrous rush that comes with it all.

  3. Abbie Durkee

    I hear your cry for support of the diversity of genre, that us my passion. There is walking, hiking, jogging, and running but we having cycling. I am working on an opportunity that will bridge the gap for women to integrate the bike into her lifestyle more effectively. As women we need to support each others efforts as i believe those of us that have chosen to innovate come from this same desire of inclusion.

  4. Matthew

    I might have misread this letter, but it seems like Rapha is addressing this void nicely.

    It’s portraying women cycling as well-rounded and they’re supplying products equal to their men’s offerings.


    1. Author
      Irene Bond

      Matthew, Rapha is a company that I admire very much for that reason. They are doing a great job of showing all sides to women’s cycling. And there are other companies who also attempt to give a broader perspective. But they are still few and far between when looking at the big industry picture.

    2. Jill

      I like Rapha’s stuff a lot, but there is still a gender differential even in Rapha’s approach. It’s especially apparent in their marketing, in which all women have helmets, no men have helmets, and all women are carefully coiffed while all men are as carefully scruffy looking (“oh, I’m riding so hard I don’t have time to shave”). There are rarely (never?) women depicted riding with men.

      Men are “cyclists” while women are “women cyclists.”

      The industry doesn’t care about women. It cares about selling stuff. Depicting women in any situation other than “pretty” doesn’t sell stuff, so they say.

  5. Nicole

    In all this discussion of an archetype you absolutely described perfectly how the bicycle industry attempts to connect with women. Yes, I agree that they are still lagging behind for the women who love to race and “throw down.” Yet you and the industry have omitted and yet another type of rider, one like myself. Granted we probably aren’t a huge demographic, but we exist. I am a solitary rider. I personally want to race and have trained to race at a velodrome even, but I admittedly get sketched out about other people on bicycles in close proximity…my fear, i get that. Yet at the same time, above all, I prefer to challenge myself, push myself on my solo efforts. It reminds me of the core strength I possess as a person, as a woman. As a single mom, my time on my bike is precious alone time for me. I get modestly offended when marketing “assumes” that all women want to do is ride “easy” and “socially.” Clearly that is NOT the case. Thank you for standing up for the women I really admire who do have the grit to race!

  6. James Raia

    I disagree with the letter writer. The author just sounds angry. I have reported on cycling for more than 30 years, including many women’s events, dating to the Coors Classic. Anger and making demands is no way to promote the beauty of the sport. Additionally, I’ve attended Interbike for many years. Many companies at the trade show have introduced women’s lines of apparel, bikes and other equipment. In short, the letter writer, in my opinion, is not informed.

    1. Anonymous

      I don’t think she sounded angry at all!! Just stating how she and a lot of other women feel.

    2. Jill

      This is why the term “mansplaining” was coined.

      Anyone who has been to Interbike and doesn’t think the cycling industry is rife with sexism and misogyny is a liar or a ridiculous ostrich with his head so far in the sand it’s coming out the other side of the planet.

  7. Shawn

    Women should read the link (below) too, although the message regarding marketing to women isn’t quite the same.

    http://ladyfleur.wordpress.com

    I think it might be OK to also consider that not every male bicycle rider matches the marketing archetypes either. Everyone/noone is really that special, regardless of gender.

    1. Janet Lafleur

      Thanks, Shawn, for sending some readers my way. If you look beyond the fashion posts you’ll see I have written several times on how the bike industry serves (or doesn’t serve) women in several disciplines:
      * How a high-end mountain bike shop cultivates female customers: http://ladyfleur.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/what-makes-a-bike-shop-attractive-to-the-ladies/
      * Where manufacturers and shops fall short pleasing female customers. http://ladyfleur.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/part-3-five-things-i-knew-about-women-bikes/
      * How types of trips women make more than men (e.g. errands) are not supported http://ladyfleur.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/part-2-five-things-i-knew-about-women-bikes/

      My biggest point is that we are half the population and as such have an enormous variation in what we are looking for in our bicycling experience. And we necessarily want the same bikes or gear for all our trips. That’s why I own seven bikes.

      The fact that we get strangely pigeonholed is largely due to our lack of strong presence in the of the bicycle industry. Until we have critical mass of women in decision-making positions, we will be subjected to strange products and strange marketing. That’s such a loss.

  8. Darryl

    I have no idea what universe the author rides in, but I have ridden with a lot of women, and none have complained about anything listed in the article.

    From the availability of equipment, to clothing, they all have had no stated issues with the cycling industry as a whole. In fact, my number one riding partner for the past three years has been a woman, and from the roads we ride , to the bike shops we visit, she has never felt “Ignored, ” or “slighted” by the cycling industry. In fact, it is quit the opposite, as she sometimes feels overwhelmed by the choices available to her.

    Therefore, to us, my female riding friends and I, the article reads like a classic, personalized, gender agitated rant, and nothing more.

    The cycling industry deserves better than that.


    1. Author
      Irene Bond

      Darrly, you are correct, there are lots of amazing products available to women, and shop staff now treats the vast majority of women who walk into their doors with equality (and those who don’t, don’t last long). I am more referring to the picture the industry paints in the marketing sense. It seems that while men’s marketing has a wide variety of colors to choose from, the palette for women’s cycling is two or three shades at best. It is not so much the choices available, as the way those choices are presented via magazines, websites, etc.

    2. Janet Lafleur

      Daryl, you have no right more right to dismiss this author’s perspective because you’ve never met a female cyclist who complained than I (a white Southerner) would have dismissing the experiences of a black person in the South because the black kids I went to high school with never complained to me.

      She’s spot on. The bike industry does offer more for women now, but the emphasis is on selling to men as mainstream customers and to women as a niche market., using messaging that doesn’t suit the author’s experience. Why does her rather restrained complaint of “you don’t get me” bother you so much?

      Personally, I fit the industry’s female cyclist archetype more closely than she. Sport cycling on the road and on the dirt is more social than hardcore for me (even honestly when I was racing). I don’t like dropping people nor being dropped. But that’s me, not her, and she has the right to express her point of view. And she’s not the only woman that feels that way.

    3. Anonymous

      The author has obviously not heard about the worlds largest manufacture of bicycles splitting in two… thats right Giant Bikes now have the male (or unisex) models branded under giant while the female brand is now called LIV (No longer Giant Liv). Surely this is enough to recognise that the cycling industry is moving ahead in birding the gender equality gap. Many other brands have also followed suit (i.e. Santa Cruz bikes and Specialised have their women specific models).

      In regards to “no drop” comment, how trivial do you want to get? In competitive women’s cycling you will be dropped if your slow… just like in mens cycling.

      Plain and simple – There are more men in cycling. Why? who cares. If that is enough to turn you off cycling, then this isn’t the sport for you.

    4. TylerB

      Dude, you think that because you haven’t engaged in a discussion about this with all your “female riding friends” there is no problem? Ugh.

      I’m sure your “female riding friends” are super stoked that you speak for them on the internet. Chicks love that!

      Your comment reads like a personalized gender agitated rant to me, and nothing more. The world deserves better than you.

  9. Diane Lees

    I wasn’t going to comment – I bit my tongue until it bled. I scrunched my eyes tightly and shook my head violently. But, for those who know me, you also know I couldn’t NOT respond to this.

    So, FYI Jim Raia – she IS angry and not entirely without cause.

    I’ve been in the industry for 40 years; and I’ve stated repeatedly (and publicly) that what women want is simple – to be treated equally and with respect. Offer us the same quality products (not the cheapest and especially not in pink!), the same courtesies you offer men, and stop pandering to us.

    Those who have been “in the industry” on the manufacturing or retail level are well aware that it’s an “old boy’s network” (even with young product managers) and that women in general are not truly a factor. Yes, there are women bike shop owners and women product managers, and even women who have started and run their own successful businesses. AND, somehow we are not taken seriously.

    Unfortunately, with the proliferation of advocacy, women are now being pigeonholed or are practically pigeonholing themselves in that arena – the same way they did in the 60’s by being rabid about “feminism” – and so, once again won’t be taken seriously about wanting to be treated equally.

    It’s an interesting dilemma for women – we’re strong, we’re smart, we’re incredibly competent – OH, maybe that’s the problem…

    1. Pat O'Brien

      Diane, as an interested observer, and recreational cyclist, with a partner who rides, I agree with your comments. When we worked as volunteers doing neutral support for the Vuelta de Bisbee, we always worked the women’s race. It was more exciting, and the riders were nicer and without an attitude while still being super competitive. I think that Epic Rides was one of the first to pay equal race purses for men and women, and that was just a few years ago. And that pink shit is about as condescending as it gets.

  10. James

    This “Open Letter” stuff makes me sleepy.

    Like male cyclists, there’s always going to be the core, the enthusiast and the beginner. Not everybody races or “used to race” as I often hear. My guess is there’s more cyclists who don’t race than do and that there’s more enthusiasts than core. Just a hunch.

    The fact of the matter is that the cycling industry is a sausage-fest full of “bro’s.” They design the majority of the bikes, decide the colorways and create the ads and marketing material. Yeah there’s some females in this industry, but the percentage is so skewed it’s not even funny. Well, funny-tragic.

    I’ve met plenty of female product managers and for the most part they are core, but they aren’t the decision makers. We must all admit that women’s product has come a long way in the past 5-7 years. The industry seems to have gone away from the “pink it and shrink it” method and have pushed the designs and layups and colors and fit to another level. You can’t argue with that.

    Years ago a certain magazine wanted to dedicate 16-24 pages to women’s “stuff”: racing, product, human interest stories, etc, every couple of issues. It got no ad support from the industry and ran once. Some websites try, but calling it “Girl Talk” makes me barf. And some magazines do some really fine work that’s not just some lame diet-related article or “10 ways to…” If you can’t see a small part of yourself in the women of varying skill levels who rode the REVE Tour (way before the Rapha Tour of California stuff by the way), then I find that strange. There’s female photogs and writers that both shoot and write their faces off about suffering and collaboration and friendship and getting dropped and exploring and commuting and building bikes and wheels and designing kickass clothing and all the shit that makes cycling cool and frustrating and accessible. It’s there. Embrace that it’s there.

    1. TylerB

      Your painfully long pedantic response makes me sleepy. Why do men think they are the last word in women’s issues, no matter what said issues may be?

  11. Robyn M Speed - Writer

    I love to ride. I love to push myself. I have only been biking since December 2012 (got my first bike for my 50th, then bought myself a racing bike two months later). I am not interested in social rides, I ride to go as fast as I can, as far as I want, at the time of day that suits me. Currently on a Saturday or Sunday I am up at 5.30 a.m., off on the bike at 6 a.m., reach the beach in time for a spectacular dawn, and then I race home over the hills and crank out the best pace I can on the last 10 kilometres of the ride. On a weekday I head off at 5.30 a.m. to beat the heavy traffic and enjoy a safe ride.
    I don’t want to talk to a bunch of people while I ride, I want to RIDE, to concentrate on what I am doing….PLUS….biking is my sacred time of day, my time to just be me-and-my-bike … it is an almost holy experience.
    I ride a Specialized Ruby Comp, and she makes me very happy.
    Women ride for the same reasons men do.

  12. SF Bike Girl

    I agree with this article to a point. I think what the cycling industry and those involved on the periphery (organized ride & race promoters, event organizers, etc…) need to understand is there are not just two types of cyclists – Men & Women. We all fall somewhere on a spectrum, from the uber serious competitors to those who just want to cruise to the ice cream parlor with the kids. In my humble opinion, the cycling industry should consider catering to points along the spectrum. Bike shops could do is a better job of assessing where we all fall on that spectrum. Please just skip the patronizing questions, if I tell you I know my way around a bike and have raced please don’t push me towards the entry level, pink with sparkles bike. I just may have my eye on that 8K carbon number that shreds, as one other commentator so eloquently put it.

  13. Pingback: Grabbing as many links as I can today because tomorrow is a Really Big Day, and the Feed | Witch on a Bicycle

  14. Kevin Love

    Let’s model success! The place that has the highest mode share of female cyclists is The Netherlands, at 54% of the total. Yes, there are more women than men cycling.

    So instead of ranting about bike shops, why not rant about crappy infrastructure. Instead of going on about the bike industry, why not go on about the government failing to provide safe routes to cycle where cycling is the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of going from A to B.

    As for “pink shit,” the Heir to the Throne of The Netherlands, Crown Princess Amalia, rides a pink bicycle. See:

    http://bicycledutch.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/crown-princess-amalia.jpg

  15. Katherine

    I’m not entirely sure this topic is a gender-specific issue. “You ignored the woman already riding in the first place.” I’m not sure I get what that means. Do you mean women with more experience? With a “true” love of the sport? Do we need more special treatment, or less? I also can’t tell—forgive me—if this is directed at product designers/marketers, or journalists. Is it more products, more ads or more stories you think we need? I was riding long before the industry “discovered” women, and … so what? I don’t feel slighted. I love the three, non-gender-specific bikes that I own and I love to ride them. I don’t race, am confident in a bike shop and almost always ride alone, but I am inspired by cycling stories of all stripes because I know that even when I roll solo, I am not alone in my passion.

    I do think the cycling media, especially, could do a better job of telling broad stories of all types of riders and riding adventures, but I think they need to do that regardless of gender. And marketing/storytelling should consider including women in all kinds of adventures, stories, product ads, etc. without making a big deal out of it, to normalize it. Maybe the ad for your bike park shows a woman hucking a jump, or the ad for your gran fondo features a mix of men and women, but you don’t brand these places/events/products as a “women-specific” or make a big deal out of it; you just treat their presence as normal.

    I admit, I get a little tired of rants without suggestions. Perhaps I’m an anomaly, inspired by the humanity and joy in all kinds of cycling stories, regardless of gender or ability. And I assume that the female riding experience is as diverse as the male riding experience. But marketers in a new landscape have to start somewhere, so where do they start? They start with data and research and surveys. Then, if they’re smart, they continue to evolve. So what’s the next step? Who do we study? Where do we turn? What questions do we ask? Let’s have that debate. Let’s figure that out.

    And if you don’t see yourself in a magazine article, go out and write that story. The bike magazines always need great stories, but many of their writers have been on for a long time, and might be guilty of being pigeonholed in their perspectives. So if you feel you have a good story to tell and it’s not being told, muscle in there and tell it. Then see what kind of reaction it gets.

  16. Pingback: Morning Links: New Santa Clarita bike safety campaign; Beverly Hills official calls you an organ donor wannabe | BikinginLA

  17. Gary

    Not sure I get the point of the article. Those of us who ride for pleasure and health don’t see our experience much portrayed in bike adverts, but that’s changing, too, and really, who cares? I like it that Bicycling magazine is running many more articles concerning the general “sport” and adventure rider and not just the racer. If the author of this piece is a competitive rider and is comfortable in bike shops, I believe she would feel at home with most bicycle advertising, aimed as it is at the competitive rider or the cyclist who fancies herself as such.

  18. Walt S

    Women are different than men. Female cyclists are different than male cyclists. One may view these statements as too simplistic to even consider their merit, but then some important points would be missed. Let me try to explain.

    The piece by Irene Bond is well written. She gives concrete examples to illustrate what she is trying to say. But if not read carefully, it appears that she is rehashing an argument already presented to the bicycling industry, an argument that has been successfully heard, successfully acted upon, and successfully won. After all, hasn’t the industry changed and made such amazing progress when it comes to woman and cycling? The majority of male readers reacted with, “What’s her point? Haven’t we already gone down this road?”

    Guys, unfortunately you missed Irene’s point. Her premise is subtle and the point she is trying to make only really comes at the end. The successes and progress made with women and cycling have been acknowledged, but Irene is also presenting the argument that the bicycle industry in all its uncomfortableness when it comes to dealing with women in cycling, has many times not understood what direction it should precede to next. She asks, now that the bicycle industry has “figured out women cyclists”, that it does not again stereotype women with its newfound knowledge, but instead keep abreast of the changes and challenges that are occurring in women’s cycling and flow with those changes. The lessons learned about women and cycling by the bicycle industry were learned kicking and screaming only because of the economic impact they had. Women have dollars to spend. If they choose to spend them on cycling related products, they got the attention of all involved in the bicycle industry. Women’s specific cycling products, whether they be clothing by Rapha or bikes by Specialized, have resulted because it is economically advantageous for companies to do so, not necessarily because they are now treating women with respect. Diane Lee’s request seems spot on: “Offer us the same quality products (not the cheapest and especially not in pink!), the same courtesies you off men, and stop pandering to us.”

    I offer that the male dominated bicycle industry trying to understand women cyclists is akin to gender wars in other arenas. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. I don’t think it quite that complicated. Women just want to ride bicycles. All types of bicycles that are ridden by all varieties of women. We wouldn’t be having this discussion if all inequalities related to women in cycling were finally put to rest.

  19. Touriste-Routier

    While I understand the author’s argument, I don’t see it on the road. Sure there are women who like to shred and enjoy the suffering, but I haven’t met them in any appreciable quantities

    On our club rides that cater to more experienced riders, women rarely exceed more than 10% of the participants. At the more hardcore events I organize (Gran Fondos, Cyclosportives), women rarely exceed 15% of participants. Considering it is generally believed that women represent 50% of the population, they are under represented in the participation demographics.

    Both of the environments I speak of are welcoming, supportive, yet don’t pander. As with racing (where general participation is also low), if women want to be counted, and treated as a serious market segment, they need to show-up. And if we are doing something wrong, something that turns them off, they need to let us know what this is, and how to correct it. We really want you there, as do our current female participants, but if they (your peers) can’t get you to show up, how can we?

    Serious answers and suggestions are welcome!

    1. sedef

      Answers and suggestions from my end:

      I’ve been cycling since my teen years, my first bike being a Peugeot steel-framed road bike. I currently own a Cannondale Bad Boy and a Trek Lexa XLS.

      Am totally supportive of bikes being built with frames that accommodate the [sometimes] different proportions of women’s torsos, arm/hand reach, and inseams, etc. Great progress. Bikes that “fit” improve performance and ride experience. However, some of us women, who ride for the same reasons that men ride, will ride regardless of industry marketing failures. I also applaud the unisex and mens frames that are smaller or provide enough equipment proportion/sizing options for the cyclist of ANY size.

      I’d love more variety in gear. I love that bikes sized for women are starting to appear in cooler frame colors and paint jobs. I avoid pink in pretty much all areas of my life. Same for purple, pastels, floral, butterfly patterns…you get my point. For this reason, I sometimes find better clothing choices in mountain gear than road gear for women. I hope that continues to change (I applaud Rapha). I want cheap AND expensive gear options that look just as desirable and cool, while also designed and intended for the same rugged use as the men’s gear options.

      Most importantly, respect as a woman in a bike shop can also mean don’t be put off by the fact that I have the same knowledge, needs, concerns, and customer demands of a man. If I know I need my seat raised, having been cycling for leisure and in races for some 3-4 decades, trust that I’m right (i.e., my feet don’t need to be flat on the ground while I’m on the saddle ;); is this something other women insist on?). Treat me the same as you would a guy, until I say I’d prefer different. I love the bike sales clerk who rejected his colleague’s suggestion of a pink water bottle by finding me a kick-ass version that matched my kick-ass frame paint. He gets it. It’s pretty simple actually. I go to his store regularly for my service and gear needs, simply based on that one action.

      I’m a marketer by trade. I’m not waiting for cycling industry, marketers, or manufacturers to figure it out. They tend to measure women-buying-products-because-no-other-options as a “success” and claim “growth” of this market. There is a lot of money, ahem “growth,” left on the table. Period. So I totally understand where this author is coming from. Lots — I mean LOTS, especially younger generations of women cyclists — ride bikes for the SAME EXACT reason as men do. Think on it. Accept it. You can even make money off it, if that’s your thing.

      Happy riding..

  20. Wildcat

    Sounds like Women’s Basketball.
    I really love basketball and I REALLY love women, but I just can’t stand Women’s Basketball. Like nails on a chalk board.
    Same diff to me.
    Glad you enjoy riding!!!

    1. Padraig

      I find it interesting that Irene’s post has found widespread support among women readers (even women who don’t usually read RKP) and all the real resistance comes from our male readership. I’d understand if we were getting pushback from men who work on the product or marketing side of the industry, but that isn’t the case. I published the piece because I see both sides of the issue nearly every day. On a per capita basis, the women’s market seems to be far more diverse than what I see with men; e.g., I see women buy road bikes over a much broader range of prices. Consumer groups have always struggled with a fundamental rub: If a company can’t speak to you, why would you buy their product? For every woman I meet who wants a pink bike, I meet another who will scream if she can only get the bike in pink. And to Katherine’s point that Irene should write the story that reflects her experience, um, she just did. That’s precisely why RKP exists, to publish work the rest of the industry wasn’t interested in.

  21. Katherine

    I meant more women should write riding/adventure stories they don’t feel are being written. What IS this claimed experience that’s being ignored, and where is the rich Technicolor of telling it? I’ll read that; I’ll eat it up.

    Forgive me, but maybe I don’t understand what Irene is calling for. I thought part of it is that she doesn’t see her experience in the cycling media, whether media is editorial, reporting or advertising. I assume her experience is something more than feeling slighted. This, to me, was more of a general outline, more of a thesis statement, than a story. Maybe I’m just not a critical reader, but I’ve gone over this several times seeking concrete answers, but I feel Irene only alludes to the attributes of the woman being ignored. I’m interested in change, so I need evidence.

    Still, thank you for publishing this. I work in the advocacy side of the bike industry. Only about 10% of our supporters are female, and I completely hear what Touriste-Routier is saying about offering an open environment and not pandering, and still feeling totally befuddled when the women don’t care or don’t get engaged.

    And I sincerely echo his plea: “If we are doing something wrong, something that turns them off, they need to let us know what this is, and how to correct it. We really want you there, as do our current female participants, but if they (your peers) can’t get you to show up, how can we?”

  22. Sarai Snyder

    BRAVO. Very well stated. I want to give you a huge hug right now.
    Part of my argument for why we need more women’s race coverage. If the aspiration is the 30 mile group ride then many will only ride 25. We need the unattainable to keep us motivated, to give us something to work for.

  23. Full Monte

    My wife pretty sums up the “new rider” the author describes — the one much of the industry, from bike manufacturers, to clothing companies, to bike stores wants to attract to cycling.

    She was and is intimidated by the equipment. Was overwhelmed by the selection at the bike shop. Later, tears were shed over clipless pedals. Arguments were had over the operation of how and when to shift. And it’s not that she’s not athletic — at 105 lbs, her power to weight ratio crushes mine. Nor is the problem a lack of intelligence (she’s a doctor, psychologist, and former college professor) — she’s further along smarts bell curve than I am.

    She works at cycling, but has yet to find a flow state (as Padraig recently described). Cycling is still a very conscious act for her — requiring concentration, planning for every move, and in the back of her mind, she’s got a strong bail-out instinct for the moment anything gets even slightly hairy.

    I’ve learned to shut my mouth and let her figure every aspect of riding out for herself. And leave bike mags scattered around the house. Even encouraged her to try women’s-only no-drop rides sponsored by the local bike shops (she’s still not convinced she’s experienced enough to not be a danger to herself or others, so she declines.)

    But by the same token, there are women riders in my area that have been riding for years, have killer instincts on the bike, and will crush all but the most elite male club riders. And there are a couple women who are right there with the very best of the boys.

    As for my bike shop, I think they do a great job of catering to both ends of the female-rider spectrum. They have women sales advisors (not that the guys aren’t as equally respectful and patient when it comes to new customers). They have women’s only rides for beginners, intermediates, and bring-a-map-cuz-we-will-drop-your-ass near-pros. They sponsor women racers, along with the mens team. They carry a great selection of women’s bikes and gear, are experienced fitting women, and make sure they have a huge assortment of women’s demo saddles.

    From a national and international marketing standpoint, I can see where Irene is coming from (as an advertising creative director myself). Men’s bikes and ancillary cycling product sales have been flat, and much of the growth in the industry is coming from female riders. In fact, I just read more women 18-28 own bikes than men of the same age group! Much of the focus of women’s marketing at riders like my wife, new to the sport, recreational in nature. Non-competitive, fun, fellowship. Very little marketing budget is aimed at the experienced female rider — the competitive, racing, club cyclists.

    I can see why Irene feels ignored. But it’s not intentional, it’s based on ROI, simple economics. The growth is in attracting the millions of non-riding women who see the bike as a fitness tool, not a way of life, or source of passion (at least not yet). Irene’s moved on to that higher plane of riding. And she’s not alone, but there simply aren’t a lot of her kind yet.

    Of course, she can open any magazine and see no shortage superbikes advertised to advanced male riders — and in terms of the male demo, that’s where the ROI is. There are many more “hardcore” male riders than female, and that core male group is aging, hitting peak earning years, and able to drop $10k+ on their next new bike. Yet most of the women’s bike offerings are in the $1k – $3k range, focusing on endurance and comfort, rather than racing pedigree. Again, this is where the sweet spot is right now in the women’s market.

    Besides, another reason these men’s superbike ads exist is for their “halo” effect — much as the Corvette is the “halo” for all of Chevrolet. Not everyone’s going to buy one, or even appreciate the “halo,” but by its very presence, it helps elevate the entire brand.

    Don’t worry, Irene. In the coming years, there will be plenty of advertising aimed at hardcore cycling women, with the manufacturers building more female-specific superbikes as this demo grows, becomes more mature, and seeks the same level of technology the men enjoy. Much of this (hopefully) will be fueled by a renewed focus on professional women’s cycling, with races held along with, or shortly before or after, the premiere men’s events. And a push by national and international cycling to improve the earning potential of professional female cyclists.

    Did I mention, one of those women my bike shop sponsors that can ride any guy off her wheel is 15 years old? She is the future of women’s cycling, and there are more and more like her every day. My wife? Well, I think her Cannondale Synapse will pretty much be the one and only road bike she ever buys (chosen in part because she is a fan of Peter Sagan).

    But for now, Irene, you’re a unicorn to the industry. And a pioneer of sorts. I get your frustration, even from my male perspective, so when you blow me into the weeds, I won’t take it personal. In fact, I’ll be cheering you on.

  24. Touriste-Routier

    I have re-read the article and all of the comments several times, and am still not clear on what would speak best to the author, and others like her. I understand her words, recognize the problem, and don’t dismiss her experiences, but I am no closer to any solutions. I guess what this says is that she is correct; “I don’t get her”; I really want to, but I need help.


    1. Author
      Irene Bond

      This is a question I’ve struggled with myself, and I think for me the solution would be for companies to simply stop segregating their advertising based on men/women. Of course I understand that a company wouldn’t want to have a woman in an advertisement for a man’s racing bike if their company also makes a woman specific model, but what about both men AND women in ads for shoes, apparel, and helmets? Just as if we were like any other rider out on the road, which we are? I do know that many companies already do this in fits and spurts, but perhaps if it was more then norm. What a bout a woman in an ad for the new gravel grinder or fat bike ads that I’m sure will be hitting the newsstands soon? This is my best stab at a “solution” though I understand the problem is more complex.

  25. khal spencer

    I’d be concerned that whatever industry does, it does for the good of industry. Not for me or any other cyclist. Call me cynical, but I see attempts to create archetypes as part of creating market share. Not much different from what the car companies do. There is a certain push by the advertising geniuses to get us to think we need to be whatever the industry wants us to be so they can sell us stuff.

    I suspect there are as many reasons women ride bikes as there are reasons men ride them. Sure, I suppose there will be gender biases in what the mean and median woman in the bike world wants. There are biological average differences in body structure, too. I suppose there are also differences in what an old coot like me wants vs. what a 25 year old budding racer wants. Hopefully, the market will be robust enough that each of us finds that right bicycle, top tube length, mix of carbon, and saddle. Not to mention, a decent place to ride.

  26. Mark Mahan

    Excellent piece, complimenti Irene. LIke Padraig, I found it telling that the push back is coming from male readers. The fact that we men find it necessary to get our backs up if a woman points out that we enjoy and reap the benefits of gender privilege…(and we have for millennia) bothers me. Irene’s article was about her, it wasn’t about us, she was simply stating facts.

    Janet, in a reply above used an example of growing up in the South, very apt to my way of thinking. White folks, of which I am one, can’t hear talk of white privilege, we go nuts in our denial. Again, mainly men in that arena.

    I guess I am lucky, I have pretty much only known women riders who stomp when they want to and go easy when that feels right, complete cyclists. Just like male riders. And just like male riders, deserve and expect equal treatment and full respect. It makes sense to me.

  27. Margaret

    As a female cyclist, I’ve thought about this a bit and I think things are gradually getting a little better as far as gear and bike frames go. Since I ride a size 54 frame it may be a bit easier for me to find a wider variety of bikes to choose from and it never even occurred to me to get a bike designed specifically for women. Correct frame size, good components and reasonable price were my primary objectives and color didn’t have much to do with it.
    As for getting more women involved or out on bikes of any kind, it sometimes seems like a chicken and egg question. Are women looking at bike magazines and other bike related media and not seeing many women and then moving on? Do those in charge of creating and distributing the various media see a lack of interest from women and then direct their ads and content towards male riders? Would the inclusion of more articles and ads geared towards women increase viewership and subscriptions? I don’t know the answer to the media question but it seems like there could be a bit of a self perpetuating cycle going on. I’m saying this in a general sense about the a lot of the cycling media I’ve seen, I haven’t seen this on RKP which is why I enjoy this site and keep coming back.
    I think organizations like NICA are doing great things and I hope they grow and expand. Having a fun and well run league for kids of both genders will hopefully increase participation of girls and even out the gender gap.
    Having equal prize money and equal coverage on TV of women’s events will help a lot I think. There was a local criterium race that I was interested in seeing until I saw that the prize money for the top men was $15,000 vs $1,000 for the top women. Cat 1 riders in both events of the same distance. When I saw that I lost all interest in going, I do not want to show support for race organizers that run things that way. I do not think I am alone but maybe I’m wrong.
    The tour of Britain and the US Nationals in Chattanooga have equal prize money, I hope their leadership and good example catches on.

  28. Champs

    I’m late to this article but want my two bits. As it’s been stated, Irene is a unicorn. I think she’s awesome for that, and also acknowledging that the equipment has improved despite the arguably low return on it.

    Ms. Bond may be feeling the Big Tent Paradox: the bigger it gets, the more its enthusiasts feel like outcasts. This, and the fact that everything used to be better when we were younger. Manufacturers and (quality) retailers have more objective data, however, and it points to decades of treating women as just another demographic being lousy for the bottom line.

    My girlfriend bought a new bike this year—more on this in a second—and it’s a women’s fit. Even accounting for size, I can’t stand test rides with its fit. This must be what it’s like for many women trying to ride men’s-specific bikes. This is getting better.

    The retail side of buying the bike was a disaster. Most shops still ignore/pester (nothing inbetween), a concept store for one major manufacturer looked at us like walking ATMs before saying hi, and only one of dozens of sales reps spent any time at all trying to help my girlfriend pick something out. I gave him the cover to press for a road bike, because it’s what she really needs. He just couldn’t work up the courage to do it, but I suspect that a male customer who came looking for bikes to ride 10,000 foot centuries would be treated differently. The worst part is that if I were his manager, I wouldn’t fault him for discriminating, either. Biases run deep.

    And of course there are just snobby/cliquey shops. They exist for everything, and they have customers for that.

  29. Kevin

    Wonderful article and some great comments too.

    My wife got into cycling an year ago and I had to learn all about lady saddles and the difficulties of buying apparel that matches the colour of the handlebars. In my opinion, the industry is changing much faster than the attitude of some male cyclist out there. I guess women who love fishing or golf face similar issues, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>