Getting More Women on Bikes
The number of women bicycling lags behind men bicycling. A recent study, Bike Shops for Everyone, by The League of American Bicyclists addressed how to make bike retail more accepting and welcoming to women.
Caitlin Giddings, with Bicycling Magazine, took it a step further outlining 10 basic ways local bike shops could facilitate more women biking in her article, 10 Ways Bike Shops Can Welcome Women.
I encourage you to read the article but her 10 strategies rang true for me; if you’re female they likely will for you too.
They are as follows:
1. Don’t assume she’s a beginner. Don’t assume she’s not. As you should with any customer, start a conversation to get a feel for her level of bike experience and then work from there. You’ll be glad you took the time to assess the situation when you’re saved from the embarrassment of explaining a basic bike concept to a pro masters racer who happened to wander into your shop in civilian clothes that day. If it turns out that you are dealing with a beginner, don’t just sell her the bike—explain what other gear she might want or need.
2. Remember that women aren’t a niche. We’re road bikers, commuters, mountain bikers, cyclocross racers, bike messengers, cycle tourists, and more. Don’t pigeonhole us or stereotype us. We have just as many needs and interests as men do on the road (or trail!).
3. Stock diverse women’s gear in different sizes—from XS bikes to plus-size cycling clothing. And make women’s gear look just as appealing as the men’s, says deputy editor Emily Furia. “Don’t cram a measly two women’s jerseys amongst a big rack of guys’ stuff, forcing us to dig for it like we’re at TJMaxx (an awesome place to score deals, but not a pleasant shopping experience).”
4. Don’t assume she wants a women’s bike. Gear editor Gloria Liu tells this story: “A friend of mine recently had the Liv Avail pushed on her so hard by multiple shops (though she said repeatedly that she didn’t like the position it put her in) that she asked me, ‘Geez, are they getting a special commission to sell these things?’” The geometry commonly used on women’s bikes—shorter top tube and taller head tube—doesn’t suit every woman’s body or riding style. And men with long legs and shorter torsos could be better served with a “women’s” bike, depending on their preferred riding position.
5. Take us at our word when we say we can do a mechanical task, says Emily Furia. “At a demo tent at a gran fondo, I had to explain to the guy working there THREE times that I knew how to install pedals before he would release my test bike without them.” Also, we like to work on our bikes, too, so stick to the requested repairs unless we’ve indicated otherwise.
6. The golden rule of all human interaction: Don’t be a dick. Staff writer Molly Hurford says this just boils down to a few simple points. “Don’t talk down to women, don’t hit on them, and don’t make assumptions about what kind of riding they’re doing.”
7. Hold rides, events, and mechanical clinics tailored to women. Many women feel perfectly at ease in a bike shop, but others don’t. And most will be excited to have new riding buddies. “Ask if she has friends to ride with,” says contributor Selene Yeager. “I saw an interesting survey about women riding much more often when they have others to ride with. Help her find a community.”
Associate editor Taylor Rojek, who used to work in a bike shop, agrees. “We had a women’s ride that was really great for introducing women to each other and growing networks,” she says. “Something I did personally was to ask women who were buying new bikes if they wanted to go for a ride. There were plenty of women who were just plain scared to ride on the roads, by themselves, with this expensive new bike. If you add in someone who’s supportive and encouraging and knows what she’s doing, it becomes a way more positive experience.”
8. Ask your customers—both men and women—what they want from your store. Women’s bike shop Gladys Bikes in Portland, Oregon, has this down to a science. “We have this thing called ‘GAB,’ the Gladys Advisory Board, made up by customers providing feedback on what they want from a women-specific shop,” shop owner Leah Benson says. “We’re constantly evolving in terms of what it means to make a place relevant for a large community of women by asking our board, ‘Hey, what do you want to see?’ Our Saddle Library came out of that. A lot of women saw saddle comfort as a barrier of entry to cycling, so we said, ‘Hey, we can make your butt more comfortable!'”
9. Talk saddles, suggests Selene Yeager. “I’ve heard from many many top industry insiders that this is the number one silent issue that keeps women off bikes. They are uncomfortable ‘down there,’ and they’re not comfortable talking about it. Dudes in bike shops are generally uneasy about broaching the topic. But somebody HAS to or there will be many women who will simply not ride.”
10. “Hire women!” says Taylor Rojek. “Having me at the shop made the whole experience more comfortable for a lot of women, and they were super appreciative of it,” she says.”
Case in point: Several years ago my husband and I went to a LBS for bike fittings. Mine was first, and although I repeatedly explained to the guy that I had ridden for many years and cycled many miles, done multi-day bike touring, etc., he insisted on setting me up on my racy ready carbon fiber road bike very upright, not the least bit aero. The problem was he treated me like his mother rather than a fellow cyclist. If he had listened he could have told by my level of understanding that I didn’t just fall off a cruiser. Completely ignoring my input, he explained I’d be “more comfortable” with the “non-aero” fit and left it at that. I didn’t want to be comfortable, I wanted to be fast!
My husband who at that time had ridden very little in recent years was fit in a much more aero position than I, even though he explained to the guy he hadn’t ridden much and was just getting into it again.
This shop did an injustice to me and my husband by making assumptions based on gender and not listening to our needs and experience level.
The same thing occurs because of age, but that’s a post for another time.