Cross posted from GCimages. Originally posted on Oct. 12, 2012.
It’s no surprise that cycling is a male-dominated sport (or activity), and as a woman who recently took up cycling as a means of transport, leisure and lifestyle change (albeit a slow, s-l-o-w change), I’m all for getting more women and girls on the two-wheeled (or however many wheels) contraption. But biking can be intimidating, and I get that. After all what am I, but some girl sweating it out on a steel, gray/silver speckled “manly” bike, riding alongside traffic and scraping up my knees?
So what’s a city to do to get more women riding?
Women’s bike shops.
SpokesWomen founders April Lemly (Chicks on Bikes Radio) and Robin Bylenga (Pedal Chic) suggests female-specific stores would offer women cyclists, especially beginners, a more safe and comfortable environment, according to this Atlantic Cities article, and Tammy Thompson-Oreskovic (Zuzu Pedals) says appealing to women on a retail level means giving them choices:
“I’ve noticed that when men come into the store they’re perfectly fine with a palette of white, black, and red. Women want the whole rainbow. They want all the colors and the fabrics; they want choices. I think that women are more discerning by nature. We’re shoppers, we want options.”
At first glance, this sounds like a good idea. I’m not going to lie, when I have to go to the bike shop for anything, I have this dreaded feeling that I’m going to be judged—like going to the car mechanic judged. So offering a “safe space” where women can talk to other women about cycling is nice, but in some ways I find that it’s just coddling.
I don’t know about you but as a woman, I’m perfectly fine with the white, black, and red palette. After reading what seemed like a bajilliion reviews on a bajillion different bikes, and a bajillion different panniers, the last thing I want is a rainbow palette of bike gear to choose from. No. Just give me the good ol’ black bottoms with the butt padding, and a functioning, hi-visibility top so drivers can see me and I’m good. If there’s any accessorizing, it’ll be on the bike with neon handle bar tape, pedals, lights, and helmet. Flowers won’t make me go any faster, or make me any safer.
While looking good on a bike doesn’t hurt, if that’s the key basis, or selling point for women getting on a bike, then priorities aren’t right. It becomes less about the bike and its potential as a lifestyle, and more about making a profit at the expense of a legitimate lifestyle.
I shared this article on Facebook to which my buddy Christy responded:
I do have mixed feelings about the push to get women on bikes. Big companies are capitalizing on getting more women on bikes by insisting they ride a “women specific” bike. There is no such thing when you get down to it. There are narrower handlebars and female specific saddles, true. But getting more women on bikes comes down to showing women that you can do ANYTHING on a bike while wearing WHATEVER you want. I did my hair this morning, put on a cute outfit, and rode two miles to meet the work van. I didn’t have to put on stretchy pants, Just a Bern helmet and some gloves to block out the wind. With that being said, if you want to wear stretchy pants, that is totally fine. You can mountain bike, road bike, BMX, and ride your Dutchie to work. But there aren’t a lot of companies that are showing us that all of those things are possible. (bold emphasis mine)
In a subsequent response Christy added that we need more women on bikes, but women don’t realize “how easy it is to ride a bike and get exercise without trying.” It’s also a viable form of transportation that doesn’t discriminate based on gender, race, or what you’re wearing to your destination.
You don’t need “women-specific” anything. Just because they make it, doesn’t mean it’s any better or worse for women. It’s there because money can be made off it, and people will be duped into thinking they have to have it.
When you get down to it, it’s not about whether you’re wearing the “right” outfit (whatever that means) or not. It’s about the experience.
Update 10/15/2012: Here’s another article from Atlantic Cities that addresses the issue of getting more women on bikes, in a more straightforward sense.