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Category Archives: Issues & Infrastructure

What Makes a Bike Shop Attractive to the Ladies

Last spring at the Women’s History Ride in San Francisco I met young woman who had worked for one of the “Big Three” bike manufacturers on their successful women’s product line. On the long train ride down the Peninsula, we chatted about how, why and when women buy bicycles and gear, based on her experience and her company’s extensive research on how to reach this huge, largely untapped market.

Part of her job as a product marketing manager meant visiting retailers and training them on best practices for selling to women. As surprising as it may sound, some of her company’s dealers were able to do over half their business selling to women. Their key strategies included hiring women to work in their shops, offering repair classes for women, organizing women’s group rides, and hosting “ladies nights” at their shops.

She found it frustrating that many dealers weren’t receptive. Maybe they didn’t think there was much demand out there. Maybe it was too big a shift from the status quo. Maybe they didn’t know how to take that first step.

Lots of Bikes

But some shops do get it right, like Passion Trail Bikes in Belmont. That’s remarkable since Passion Trail focuses on mountain biking, a market that in our area is even more overwhelmingly male than road cycling. Even more remarkable is that it focuses on high-end bikes that are more commonly purchased by men.

Passion Trail’s founders started off building community by setting aside a beer and root beer lounge area for customers and by hosting “Wednesday Wrides” with post-ride BBQs that regularly draw over 50 riders. Then they went one step further by reaching out specifically to women, starting with founder Patty teaching new mostly female riders in small groups as a part of the Wednesday Wrides, and expanding to host monthly “Female Fridays” where dozens of women gather to ride together and are given the royal treatment.

This crowd was just the middle group. The chill and fast pace groups were elsewhere in the park.

All rides leave from the shop and roll a couple of miles across town to Water Dog Lake, a small city-owned open space that’s is known for challenging trails, most built by experienced mountain bikers, including founders and staff from Passion Trails. Water Dog is all about skinny singletrack carved into sides of steep canyons and tight turns and narrow wooden bridges. More technical than most local parks, it can be intimidating for less skilled riders. Many have been bitten by the ‘dog and have limped home with severe sprains or broken bones.

So how does a shop selling high-end mountain bikes entice women to a group ride on technical trails? They started by recruiting a few female customers with experience as ride leaders that also had female riding buddies. Then they recruited men as BBQ chefs and bartenders (that part was pretty easy). They promoted the event in the shop’s weekly newsletter, on their Facebook page and asked their ride leaders to promote it too.

Start by recruiting friendly, fun and experienced ride leaders.

At the event, the ride leaders helped the women divide into groups: a “chill” group taking a slower pace on less technical trails; a faster-pace group with fewer regroups for riders wanting a workout; and a large middle group that wanted to do the same technical trails as the fast group but at a more casual pace.

After the ride, the shop hosted a party with a gourmet dinner and cocktails prepared by the guys. I can’t tell you how much the women appreciated being served and how proud the men were to show off their culinary skill. The shop was also open for minor bike repairs and shopping for that next pair of favorite shorts or a new cute new jersey. Having other women around for gear advice and to help with important decisions like jersey color choice made shopping not only more efficient but a lot more fun too.

Jersey Shopping

I’m sure my friends can add more, but here’s my advice for bike shops who want to sell more to women:

  • Host a women’s ride. If you don’t have enough women on your staff or among your loyal customers to host one, take a hard look at how inviting your shop is to the average woman who walks in off the street.
  • Offer bike repair classes for women. But avoid implying that riders “should” be able to do much more than pump their tires and fix a flat. Many women do want to learn how to repair their bikes, but not all. Don’t assume one way or the other, just ask: “Do you want me to show you how to do this?”
  • Don’t call mellow, less technical trails “beginner” trails. Many riders who prefer gentler trails (or roads) have been riding for years, they just may not be looking for technical or physical challenges when they ride. Don’t imply they should be advancing their skills or strength.
  • Put some women specific items out front. When women walk into a store and see items designed for women they get the message that they belong, even if the bike or jersey isn’t their style. Don’t worry, the guys will find mens clothing. Most are probably paying more attention to the bikes and gear anyway.

Women Specific Gear Wide

What’s in it for retailers? Women’s products currently only account for 14% of sales in bike industry, but they account for 34% in snow sports and a whopping 46% in running. I’d say there’s a huge opportunity knocking.

Women, does your local bike shop do anything special that you like? Are there things they could do that might make you a more loyal customer? Are there things you wish they would quit doing?

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Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Dirt Trails, Women & Bikes

 

Will Drivers Apply the Golden Rule to Cyclists?

After two vetoes, Governor Jerry Brown finally signed a 3-foot passing law for California that requires vehicle drivers to give adequate space when passing cyclists on the road. Why were previous versions of the bill vetoed before? Because they weren’t watered down to allow drivers to pass closer than three feet when the driver “slows to a speed that is reasonable and prudent.” Note that the law doesn’t specify whether the assessment of a “reasonable and prudent” speed and passing distance is according to the driver or the cyclist.

Putting it another way, in a narrow lane will drivers slow their vehicles down to a speed that would be comfortable for them if they were on a bike and the vehicle were passing them?

Will drivers to abide by the Golden Rule and do unto others as they would have others do unto them?

Three Foot Passing Law Front

That begs the question: Would the average American driver even consider riding a bicycle given the street and road conditions available today? Sadly, the answer is no, Americans aren’t riding our inhospitable streets that favor people in cars over people on bikes. Most don’t think it’s safe to ride bicycles on our streets.

But that doesn’t mean that when they’re behind the wheel they’ll wait and change lanes to pass either.

Am I the only one who thinks this way? If not, why do you think some drivers don’t apply the Golden Rule?

Three Foot Passing Law

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Issues & Infrastructure

 

Epilogue: Five Things I Knew About Women & Bikes*

*But was afraid to write about without before I had data to back me up.

Writing this series was more emotionally difficult than I expected. In my “Looking Back, Moving Forward” post in January I wrote: “I’m not really sure the year will bring…I see myself speaking out more for women’s issues in cycling. I’ve written about it some and gotten into a few Twitter fights. But I’ve been biting my tongue a lot.”

I was biting my tongue because I knew that people would challenge my statements: “I’m a woman and I like repairing bikes” or “I’m a man and I prefer protected bike lanes too.” That’s why I needed the survey to prove that there are indeed demographic differences that may not fit your personal experience.

I also knew that criticizing the “faster, longer, harder” sport-driven emphasis of cycling would challenge people who are comfortable with cycling remaining an activity for an elite breed of rider. Real cyclists have the strength to climb 10% grades, the skill to clear rock gardens, the endurance to commute 15+ miles to work one way, and the courage to merge across high-speed traffic. Those who can’t are encouraged to learn some skills and try harder. Those who don’t want to are relegated to novice status, even if they’ve been riding for decades.

Because of this cultural bias, I felt compelled to show my credibility as a skilled rider and former racer when writing this series. It bothers me that I felt I had to do that to be taken seriously.

This series is complete, but I pledge to keep writing now and then about women and bicycling. I already have one partially written about everything a high-end mountain bike shop does to win women’s loyalty, and another about everything a race organizer did to alienate beginner racers. As I said, I’ve been biting my tongue.

What issues have you experienced as a woman in cycling? Did it affect how much, where or what type of riding you do? What changes would you like to see?

Arastradero Bowl

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Women & Bikes

 

Part 5: Five Things I Knew About Women & Bikes*

*But was afraid to write about without before I had data to back me up. This is the final post of the series.

Two weeks ago 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 community based on my personal experience.

What I knew about COMMUNITY: Women get more out of bicycling when they ride with friends.

Solvang Century Success

Some Statistics from the Women on a Roll report:

  • 42% of American women say “people to bike with” would encourage them to ride more.
  • 12,500 females participated (39%) in New York City’s Five Borough Bike Tour, America’s largest cycling event, in 2012.
  • 38% of participants in 2012 multi-day bike tours hosted by Adventure Cycling, the nation’s largest bike touring group, were women.
  • Women were more likely than men to be inspired by another person’s example (18% vs 11%)

My Personal Experience: Every major advancement in intensity or skill in bicycling I’ve made is a direct result from riding with friends, mostly women. Peer pressure is an amazing thing. It started when my girlfriends and I challenged ourselves to ride 33 rolling miles in the Tour de Peninsula on my first adult bicycle, a fully rigid hardtail mountain bike. The route had some short steep hills that we weren’t so sure we could clear without walking, but we did it. We celebrated with brunch at the end and all agreed we could have ridden more.

Six years later my friend Deanna convinced me to do my first triathlon, the challenging Wildflower Olympic distance that starts with a steep 400 ft climb in the first mile of the bike course. Within a year of mountain biking with Velo Girls I was dragged into the 24 Hours of Adrenalin mountain bike relay and then cyclocross racing. Pretty impressive considering I’m not that competitive, as you can see in this rare racing footage.

I’m not the only woman who’s succumbed to peer pressure. It took some convincing to get Katie to do the 12 Hours of Humboldt relay with us. She was relatively new to mountain biking but she rocked the singletrack and we came home uncontested winners in our category. The lesson: you can’t win if you don’t show up.

12 Hours of Humboldt

I’m not saying that riding with men can’t inspire women to go farther or ride harder, but it’s a lot easier for women to say to themselves: “it’s easy for them, they’re stronger, more experienced, more daring” or whatever. But when you see someone you consider your peer conquer a challenge it says “if she can do it, then I can.”

That’s why I’ve always gravitated towards women’s group rides and have spent many years organizing them and cultivating women to ride with. The issue I had with riding with mixed gender groups is that the majority of participants were men so they set the pace at an overall speed that was significantly faster than the average woman’s speed. It’s no fun to get dropped from the group or ride at max effort while others are coasting along.

Plus, when I struggled there was too much unhelpful “encouragement:” “C’mon, you can ride that section. Just lift your front wheel over the root” “The hill’s not that steep/long/technical. Just spin up and you’ll be fine.” The way a woman encourages is often different, and it’s certainly received differently by most women. And guys tend to talk about different topics. I don’t want to hear about which tires grip best for 20 miles.

For some of our women’s rides we’d invite the guys to join, but the guys knew that we were selecting the route and setting the pace and the tone of the ride. It’s totally different when women make up 50% of the group and we’re the ones planning it vs being 10% of the group with the fastest and/or most skilled guys planning the ride.

Hitting the Trail

The Impact: Women who only ride with men often think they’re slow or unskilled when they’re average to above average for a women of their fitness level and experience. Here’s a typical reaction from a reader:

“I also get a bit frustrated that I’m weaker than some men when I *know* that I bike more and try harder than they do. I’m car free, so I bike everywhere year round. And I still get to feel like I’m holding them back, and it SUCKS. Even when they’re being super nice about it.”

Feelings of frustration do not bode well for long-term success. Without peers to ride with, women are more likely to drop out of the sport, which makes it even harder to reach critical mass of women riders. And that only adds to other barriers like having few comfortable places to ride, having trouble finding gear that suits them, not getting the professional skills training they want, and not having a bike shop staff that serves their needs.

The value of community isn’t limited to sport riders. In some ways, it’s more important for commuters and errand riders who for logistical reasons are far more likely to ride alone. So they don’t get the information sharing, the moral support and the friendship that comes from riding with a group.

Is riding with a group important to you? If so, how does it enhance your bicycling experience? If not, why not?

Tea Table

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2013 in Issues & Infrastructure, Women & Bikes

 

Part 4: Five Things I Knew About Women & Bikes*

*But was afraid to write about without before I had data to back me up. This is part four of the series.

Two weeks ago 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 confidence based on my personal experience.

What I knew about CONFIDENCE: Women LOVE taking skills classes, both on and off the bike.

Dirt Series Liebrecht San Jose 2009

Some Statistics from the Women on a Roll report:

  • 58% of women vs 81% of men said they are “very confident” riding a bicycle.
  • 26% of American women say learning more about bicycling skills would encourage them to ride more.
  • In a survey of six cities, 29% of women vs 83% of men said they could fix a flat tire and only 3% of women (vs. 34% of men) said they could fix any problem.

My Personal Experience: Before I got into bicycling, I was a ballroom and salsa dancer with a four-night-a-week dance habit. I think I was making up for lost time for the ballet, tap and jazz dance lessons I didn’t have as a little girl. When your parents have five daughters, dance lessons don’t easily fit into the budget.

What I learned from ballroom dance is that to do it well you need to start with good instruction, you need to practice regularly, you need to push beyond yourself beyond your comfort zone occasionally, and you’re never to skilled for classes. Oh, and if it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong.

All that applies to the bicycling as well. When I got my first adult bike at 30 years old, my friends taught me the basics: downshift before you need to, keep a high cadence and spin up the climbs, look through the corners on twisty descents and get your butt out of the saddle on loose dirt downhills. That got me through a lot.

As I got more into the sport I turned to clinics in cyclocross, road racing, and mountain bike skills. The first time I did a cyclocross remount I was so excited snuck out of class to call Dick, and I burst into happy tears after successfully riding over my first log at the Dirt Series. I took their mountain bike clinics three years in a row, and mastered the teeter-totter my friend Yvonne is tackling in the photo above. There’s always more to learn and having pros assist can have your confidence growing by leaps and bounds.

Beginner Girl Riders Crop

But the thing about learning skills, especially for women and girls, is that people have to do it when they’re ready for it. A few years ago I had the pleasure of assisting the NorCal High School Cycling League at their winter mountain bike training camp. I was assigned a group of girls with the least experience. By the end of the skills session Coach Julie had inspired them to trust their bikes and their balance to ride over a 6″ high rock.

But on the trail ride they struggled on the gnarly wet singletrack and we could tell we were losing them. So we rerouted them on an adventure exploring Tamarancho’s “forbidden” fire roads and the smiles returned, thank goodness. No matter what potential and enthusiasm these girls might have had when they signed up, they were unlikely to keep mountain biking (much less race) if they didn’t have fun on their first trail rides.

Bike skills don’t stop with bike handling. Learning to change a tire is a rite of passage to earn your cyclist badge. The unwritten rule among road racers is that you should be able to fix your own flat in less than 10 minutes. Take longer and you’ll have some ‘splaining to do. Then there’s fixing a dropped chain, adjusting a derailleur, repairing a broken chain and more. So many things a cyclist is expected to know.

Changing Road Tire 2

The Impact: Not everyone who loves riding bikes loves working on them. In particular, I’ve found that most women learn the minimum to get by and let the pro mechanics handle the rest. Why shouldn’t they? Most drivers don’t change flat tires, they call for roadside assistance. But bicycling isn’t mainstream like driving, and people who aren’t interested in working on bikes often don’t feel like real cyclists. And that’s a lot of women.

The silliest part of that is that flats (the most common mechanical problem) aren’t even that common with wider city and mountain bike tires. I’ve only had one flat in three years of daily commuting and I was able to get home easily on light rail. Replacing a flat on a rear wheel with a Nexus hub isn’t so easy.

In contrast, my road bike tires are delicate flowers that go flat as soon as the pavement gets wet. Shards of glass or wires from steel-belted car tires stick to the them and work their way through the tread. Lightweight tires may be faster, but they’re not so durable. At least they’re relatively easy to change.

The lesson with regard to women’s preference for formal instruction is simple: offer skills classes and women will come, even experienced riders. Especially if the class is targeted for women and led by female instructors. Why are women only classes particularly enticing? The answer will come in the next post in this series.

How did you learn skills on the bike? Formal instruction or from friends only? What about repairing your bike? Is it something you enjoy or would you rather have someone else take care of it?

Cyclocross Skills

Top photo courtesy of Dirt Series mountain bike camps. San Jose 2009, Liebrecht.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Issues & Infrastructure, Women & Bikes

 

Hats On for a Rolling Ladies Tea Party

What happens when you invite ladies who love bikes to a garden party on a warm summer day? Laughter, stories, advice and new friends. Cucumber sandwiches, macaroons, cookies and fruit. Nicely hot tea poured from real tea pots in tea cups of all shapes, sizes and styles, just like the women who rode to the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto for the Ladies Tea & Bike Social I hosted Saturday with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

Did I mention hats? From floppy cloth to prim straw, plus gloves and even a parasol for dramatic flair.

Monica Portrait Fun

I was a little nervous before the event. Would the 15 women who RSVP’d show up? Since few knew each other did we need a game to get the party started? Would the tea, prepared at home, stay hot in the insulated pitcher I MacGyvered? And would I be able to squeeze it all in my little trailer and ride without dumping it over? I didn’t weigh the load but I’m guessing 60-70 pounds. Eleven quarts of tea and water is not light!

My fears were for naught. Twenty women arrived for the tea and a few more stopped in for a quick visit. Nine women rode to the garden with me and my little trailer and escorted me back home afterward. Cheryl kept riding past her house. I guess she wasn’t ready for the party to end. The happy faces are evident in the bike portraits.

Tea Table

My great-aunt always said that food tastes better when you eat with a sterling silver fork. Maybe that’s why I don’t like paper plates and cups, especially at parties. I didn’t plan for the party to be low waste per se, but since we used cloth tablecloths, ceramic tea pots and cups, and leftover reusable plates, the waste was little more than paper napkins and some packaging from the snacks. The party’s “green-ness” went beyond the fact that almost all of us arrived by bike, transit and walking. All because ladies prefer real tea cups and linens.

The number one question at the end of the event was the same one I got from women who couldn’t attend: when will you do it again? I can’t say today when exactly it will be, but this party is sure to be the first in a series of grand affairs. Hang tight, sign up on the SVBC mailing list and follow this blog for the next party invitation.

Ladies, are there group rides or other activities for women in your area? What kinds of themes or other special focuses do they have? What makes them fun (or not)?

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Posted by on August 18, 2013 in Around Town, Women & Bikes

 

Part 3: Five Things I Knew About Women & Bikes*

*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.

Steph Buys a Bike

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.

YMK Jerseys

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.

Stuffed Pockets

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?

Shoes

 
27 Comments

Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Issues & Infrastructure, Women & Bikes

 
 
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