*But was afraid to write about until I had data to back me up. The is the third post in the series.
Last week the League of American Bicyclists released their Women on a Roll research report on women and bicycling. The report breaks down results into five key areas: comfort, convenience, consumer products, confidence and community. Here’s my take on consumer products based on my personal experience.
What I knew about CONSUMER PRODUCTS: Women are willing to spend when retailers sell what they want.
Some Statistics from the Women on a Roll report:
- Women accounted for 37% of the bicycle market in 2011, spending $2.3 billion.
- Just 1/3 of women said it’s “no problem” to find clothing and gear that fits their personal style.
- 89% of bike shop owners are male, but 33% of shops are run by a husband/wife team.
- 57% of women bicycle owners reported not visiting a bike shop in the past year.
My Personal Experience: I really should love bike shops. They’re filled with beautiful bikes (which I love) and handsome fellas (including the one I married). But with a few notable exceptions I don’t have much in common with shop staff, and I don’t expect them to understand what I want or need. Probably because 95% of them are men and the few women who work in shops often have more in common with the guys than with me.
It’s experiences like my friend Steph had when she asked about lower gearing and the sales guy said “just ride more and you’ll get stronger” even though she had been riding for years. All that was available at the time were standard doubles with a 39×23 low gear. No fun for climbing the long steep hills that ring the Bay Area.
The good news is that in the past 10 years the bike industry has made enormous strides in offering road and mountain bikes designed and marketed for women. Big brands like Trek, Specialized and Giant now do extensive research that goes beyond simply fitting women’s bodies to include exploring the riding experience women desire. The bad news is that the local shops don’t always get the message.
For me, the lack of appropriate gear hit hardest in the clothing department. I was going on bike dates every Sunday with my now-husband and wanted to look my best. Even at race weight, my curves don’t look good in jerseys that aren’t designed for women. So I was walking past racks of men’s jerseys in shops to find a single rack for women and flipping through 35 pages of men’s clothing in catalogs to find five pages for women in the back. Only when I found women-run online retailers like Team Estrogen and Terry did I find what I wanted.
Women’s taste in clothing ranges far wider than men’s, whether it’s bike wear or street clothes. What’s fun and cute to one woman is something another woman wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. And we want our clothes to look good AND be fully functional, say with pockets that can hold a jacket, arm warmers, wallet, phone and sports bar, even in a size XS. That makes it a lot harder for manufacturers and retailers to please us.
The Impact: While it’s great that we now have more bikes and jerseys designed to fit women better, it means women are treated as a niche market. The big bike brands have women’s sections on their web sites, but women rarely make the home page except in images labeled “women’s products” that lead to the women’s section. That’s better than being ignored, but it says that women aren’t mainstream cyclists.
The result is that the cycling is defined by masculine values of riding harder, faster and longer. So we get stories and images of sweat, dirt, and suffering, and slogans like “too hard to die” instead of the more universally appealing “the adventure begins here.” That’s hardly a way to attract new female riders to the sport, nor to sell new bikes and equipment to the existing riders. Georgena Terry wrote about it on her blog and I agree 100%.
The good news for retailers is that women rely on word of mouth more than men. Shops that hire or train staff to be responsive to women’s preferences sell more. Sometimes all it takes are small things like putting women’s clothing out in front of the men’s (and not because you’re having a Breast Cancer Month promotion). It makes women feel instantly welcome. One little-recognized upside for retailers is that women who ride not only buy gear themselves, they’re more likely to approve expensive bike purchases of husbands and significant others.
Ladies, are you finding the gear that works for you? Was it hard to find a shop that had what you need? What would you like to see changed in the bicycle industry to suit your needs better?