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Getting More Women on Bikes

29 May


© For the Love of Bikes

© For the Love of 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.

Happy trails!


I Can Bike

6 Aug

Most of us who ride a bike believe everyone should ride a bike. When we aren’t riding we’re frequently preaching the gospel of riding to anyone who will listen. Or, pretends to.

We try to get family members, friends, even strangers to give cycling a try – or as is the case for most adults anyway – another try. My husband and I bought our grandson and granddaughter their first bikes and helped teach them to ride. Spreading the love of cycling – something as natural to any cyclist as, well, riding a bike.

So when I learned of a program to teach individuals with disabilities how to ride a bike, I knew I needed to help. Besides my affinity for bikes, I have an affinity for people with disabilities. I worked in the field of disabilities for 20 plus years, so the I Can Bike program seemed like a great thing for me to be a part of.

I Can Bike is a part of the I Can Shine program. I Can Shine focuses on teaching persons with disabilities a recreational skill by providing supported experience in the recreational skill – like riding a bike. It is a nationwide program which utilizes local volunteers and instructors to teach various recreational skills.

The Oklahoma City I Can Bike camp runs all week, offering 40 individuals the opportunity to learn to ride a two-wheeled bike on their own. What could be better!

Each day is divided into 5 sessions of 75 minutes each, with 8 “campers” in each session. Yesterday was my first day with my camper and we had a blast. He worked hard, but had fun and by the end of the session had progressed in his riding ability. I had progressed too in learning the right ways to support him without getting in his way or over-helping. A skill, I’ll tell you – besides I got a decent workout walking/jogging along while he pedaled. He’s a sweetheart; I’m looking forward to working with him again today.

Our goal is for each camper to be able to ride his or her own bike by the end of the week.

Check out the I Can Shine/I Can Bike website to learn how you can be involved, including making a donation. I’ll keep you posted on how my camper is doing as the week goes, so check back.

Small, but Mighty

13 Feb

Our youngest cyclist, granddaughter Isabel.

She looks like a natural doesn’t she.


Dear Santa

1 Dec

This fantastic letter/article is by Rachel Ruhlen, from the Hannibal Courier–Post, Hannibal, MO.

Dear Santa,

I love to teach people how to bicycle with traffic, because I get satisfaction from empowering individuals. But I could have more impact by educating motorists how to drive with bicyclists. What every bicyclist wants for Christmas is better drivers!

A bicyclist has a lot of motivation to learn how to bike with traffic and avoid drivers’ mistakes. Drivers do not have much motivation to learn how to drive with bicyclists. To reach other drivers, we first have to find their motivation to listen to this message. It’s easy to say “Those crazy cyclists run all the red lights” or “The highway is no place for a bicycle” and avoid the responsibility.

The best way to educate a motorist about how to drive around bicycles is to put the motorist on a bicycle. Bicyclists report being more aware of other bicyclists and pedestrians when they are driving, and most drivers, both those who also bicycle (91%) and those who don’t (80%), believe that bicyclists are better drivers, according to a survey by the Institute of Advanced Motoring.

Another effective way motorists learn to drive with bicyclists is by driving with bicyclists. In areas where bicycling is common, drivers know what to expect. This summer, I biked across Kansas with 800 other bicyclists, and by the time motorists met me, they had already passed hundreds of other cyclists. I was no surprise to them.

If you haven’t ridden a bike in a long time, I encourage you to ride around town. That will help you be a better driver and increase the population of bicycles, which trains other drivers to expect bicycles. You can give cyclists everywhere a little Christmas present by paying attention to these three lessons:

The most dangerous driver to bicyclists is the inattentive driver. Don’t text and drive. Pay attention. Watch for cyclists at intersections, especially when turning. When pulling out of a driveway or parking lot, watch for bicyclists on the sidewalk or going the wrong way, because many bicyclists don’t know that they are safest on the road going the direction of traffic.

The scariest driver to bicyclists is the one who passes too closely. Allow 3 feet or more when passing, and slow down.

Another frightful driver is one who harasses bicyclists, throwing objects, yelling, honking, and other intimidating and behavior. Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities on the road, including highways. There is no minimum speed limit except on the interstate. Be patient, and wait for a safe opportunity to pass, just as you would for a tractor. Often, the bicyclist will pull over into a driveway or other safe space and allow you to pass.

My present to you is the parking space close to the store that I’m not using because I biked. However, I understand if you choose to park further away because you know the walk across the parking lot is good for your heart. Happy Holidays!

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For the Love of Bikes Blog by Susan Lash (2009 - 2014) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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