How to get more Women on Bikes

IMG_0636 We just got back from Interbike. An industry trade show that showcases it’s new products to retailers and the media. I have been attending Interbike since 2005. First as an entrepreneur, then as a small bike shop owner and this year to represent Velo Mom and the Axel Project.

The purpose of Interbike is to showcase gear. And it’s in Vegas.  While I understand the purpose of being in Vegas and I understand the need for businesses to showcase their gear I feel the bike industry and advocates rarely address the deeper meaning and purpose of cycling.

The Soul of Cycling

This year there was a lot of buzz over Women Bike. Women Bike is initiative by the League of American Bicyclists to get more women cycling. They recently published a report on women and the cycling industry. They have collected a lot of statistics and linked them to economic impact.  At Interbike there were a lot of tweets and talk about the failure, and sometimes the success, of the bike industry in meeting the needs of women.  The Women Bike initiative appears to be more focused on commuting and the importance of trying to make bike commuting appeal to and be practical for women. A very worthwhile mission.

During Interbike Women Bike sent out a series of reference and comparisons to the yoga, fitness, running and women’s cycling. It’s clear the cycling world is way behind when it comes to keeping up.

 

Which got me thinking outside the box of gear, statistics, numbers, industry. What do yoga and running ‘promote’ better to women than cycling? The Spiritual, soul searching, healing almost medicine-like aspect of the sport. A quick Google search on why women run gave me dozens of emotional articles on how running has transformed people. For both men and women. There are no gear articles that appear.  Here is an excerpt from a recent Runner’s World post:  “For me, my daily run is my medication. It’s my way of feeling like myself. It’s the running that helps me function as a human being in society, and the lessons I’ve learned from all my workouts. It’s given me confidence in my career, in my relationships, and in my self-identity.

Search ‘why women bike.’  You’ll find on one very inspirational short piece – the rest are about gear. The inspirational stories are out there; we just need to tell them, market them, encourage them.

Let’s encourage more women to aspire to a life on two wheels, to be wooed by the passion and freedom.  – Ann DeOtte Kaufman of Iva Jean

Search on why anyone (men or women) do yoga and the search is filled with people talking about the physical and emotional benefits of a yoga practice.

It really offers me solace, a place to go in and just to be – Colleen Saidman

So when I saw the tweet below at Interbike I thought – wow the bike industry has a long way to go before even thinking about Lululemon. It’s not about just creating products or retail environments. It’s about selling the lifestyle of cycling – outside the cycling world. The physical and transportation aspects are obvious, but what about the mental and emotional benefits?

Sure we can tell a mom that she can save a few dollars and burn a few calories by biking to the market with her kids. But what if we told her this story:

Because we cyclists are self-propelled we cannot live in numbness to our bodies or to the rest of our environment. We know how we feel when we’re working hard or riding fast, whether we’re exhausted, cold, thirsty, on-fire, full of life; we live with a deep creaturely awareness of ourselves. We are also in touch with our physical surroundings. We know where the earth sinks and rises, where she’s rough or smooth or where the air is salty. We know the feeling of rain or snow on our skin. We know what it’s like to have the cold wind tear through us, or to have the heat smother us. Cyclists have no choice but to understand themselves as an interconnected part of the living, breathing creation, riding on the very breath of the holy. = Emelie Smith via Momentum magazine.

We can continue to promote road and mountain biking as a something you do for fitness. Or we can start talking about how vigorous exercise can be as effective as some antidepressants. It helps with depression, anxiety, grief and – unlike meds – it starts to work right away. Cycling at a level that raises your heart rate offers an immediate mood boost and is often followed by a brighter outlook on life.

So where can the bike industry start?

My Top 3 Ideas:

Expanded Women’s Clubs and Ambassador Programs: I feel for the bike industry when it comes to creating women’s gear. I think they have done a tremendous job at trying to deliver women’s products in a down economy. All three major brands (Trek, Specialized, and Giant) have specific gear for women and while walking the floor at Interbike almost every manufacturer seems to at least be trying to appeal to  ‘the women’s market’ with women’s products. It seems they can’t win though.

What would help is an emotional connection to women (and men) outside the bike world. Ambassador’s that represent more of the average population. And ambassador’s that will write authentically about their lives on the bike, share and support your brand- not just ride your bike.

I’m amazed by the amount of free gear and pro deals bike companies give local racers – and for what in return? Most of these racers don’t promote the brand outside of riding the bike in a 50 mile radius where they are only seen by other racers that also want pro deals. And as a former bike shop owner I will attest to the fact that it is taking business away from local shops. If you go outside the industry and get someone new hooked on cycling you are growing your base and not taking business away from local shops – because they weren’t there in the first place.

All bike brands (focused on both men and women) would be smart to look outside our tiny cycling world and find true ambassadors that will help spread the word about the benefits of cycling to those outside the ‘inner circle.’

Bike brands and bike shops can also help support more non-competitive bike clubs like this one in Boulder.

Expanded Event Coverage: Want to grow the women’s market? Show up where women are. And hint- it’s not Sea Otter or the Fruita Fat Tire Festival. Take a bike demo fleet to a women’s 5k race. Get women who don’t ride on the seat of a bike and show them how much fun it is! Heck, send someone to BlogHer and see if you can get cycling into the conversation of health and fitness. Just get outside the tiny bike world or you’ll just keep spinning your wheels.

Create an inclusive social media platform for Advocacy: A few years ago I approached IMBA about writing consistent posts on their blog (for free) about family cycling. After several emails and phone calls I finally got a response from the Communications Director. ” No thanks, but good idea I will have some women in our office that are Moms write some.” Okay, my ego took a blow but I thought at least I opened their eyes. Well, I never did see any consistent posts about family cycling. If your blog hasn’t been updated in three months maybe you should let your grassroots advocates have a voice.

A few weeks before Interbike I reached out to Women Bike to see how I could help spread their message. Again, no response. I tried, and tried and tried. Finally I got a response but was never able to connect. It should not be this hard.

Advocates don’t have to be insiders like a sorority. If someone wants to help spread your message, let them! If you can’t let them into your ‘circle’ create a grassroots program or communications protocol that acknowledges their support while helping you spread the message.

Here is a great example by the Sierra Club. They have a section on their website to highlight Grassroot Advocates.  There you will find a simple platform where average, but very passionate people, can support the Sierra Club’s mission and goals.

That’s all for now.

Comments

  1. Patty says

    Brilliant and oh so true. Females don’t usually start as gearheads. They come into things from an emotional/spiritual standpoint. Specialized has started a female ambassador program this year and has been doing videos that are more “lifestyle” Why I Bike pieces. We have a long way to go but I will definitely recenter my thought process around emotions & feelings not gear, from now on.

    Thanks!!

    • says

      Patty, I will have to check out those videos. The bike brands and bike shops have done a lot to focus on women in the past 5 years and I think that should be recognized. But yet cycling doesn’t seem to connect with people at the same level as running, yoga, even skiing. I didn’t mention it here but I think skiing is popular because it’s a family sport. There is a huge focus on quality kid’s gear and marketing the family experience. Hopefully with more ski areas opening trails and lifts in the summer they will encourage more families to rent bikes and try it out. Historically those trails and lifts are geared for the downhill crowd.

  2. Sarah says

    I love this! Thank you for trying so hard and being out there talking about this. I desperately want to get into cycling and found your blog last week by googling mom cycling blog. I was looking for blogs because I have had a hard time finding an entree into the sport. There’s a million “couch to 5k” running training plans out there, but I hate running! And I love cycling, I just need some structure and a training plan for a little motivation. BUT I can’t even figure out what the equivalent of a 5k would be (ie entry level race) or find any such events. I’m so glad I found Velo Mom! Thanks for your enthusiasm in broadening the sport!

    • says

      Sarah, So glad you are interested in cycling and thanks for mentioning the training plans. I agree that there isn’t much out there for entry level riders when it comes to training plans and it is one of the things I have been thinking about developing and posting on Velo Mom or in a book. Most of the training plans and coaching services for cycling are expensive, or based on needing expensive equipment like a power meter or VO2 testing etc…But on the event side there are a fair number of rides available around the country. I have a few listed under Women’s Events. I would aim for 25-35 miles for your first event. That would be similar to a 5k. I’ll think more about training plan resources and let you know if I come up with anything.

  3. says

    Well thought out. I am so put off by the current attempts to engage more women. They are clumsy and off the mark. Your approach ideas make sense. I think women also will respond to getting introduced to cycling as a) fun, b) healthy for you and for the planet, c) practical, d) making you strong, mentally, spiritually, and physically, e) a way to build or find community. I think more people (regardless of gender) will be drawn to cycling when it’s truly safer. We can legislate 3 and 4 foot rules, ban texting while driving, etc but laws alone don’t change behavior. That’s where we need advocacy for prioritizing a percent of transportation funds for cycling infrastructure and social messaging aimed at creating a different set of values and beliefs about driving, cycling and road sharing.

    • says

      Nancy, great ideas. And I agree with the need to focus on transportation and safety. I have been hearing about so many car/bike fatalities in the past few months. It’s just disgusting and sad because I agree a lot of drivers think their car is a toy and they want to show the cyclist they own the road. We need more social campaigns that those bike riders are actually Moms, Dads, sons, daughters, your doctor, your kid’s school teacher etc…instead of it being cars vs. bikes. And cyclists could also use more tips on how to ride safely. Colorado has had some recent campaigns lately. We have an organization called Bicycle Colorado that works well with local government, media and schools. We also have the three foot rule and while I realize not every driver even knows about it the ones that should (bus drivers, police, gov’t trucks) are the worst offenders.

  4. ubrayj02 says

    The idea to write a family cycling blog is a great one! I am a dad who uses a bike to cart my kid to school and back nearly every day and I would love to let people know how non-insane it is to do this on a daily basis – as well as read stories about things going not-so-well on the daily commute.

  5. Linnea says

    I love your ideas for expanded event coverage. Bike demos at 5Ks and reaching out at BlogHer are fantastic ideas. I’m bummed that you haven’t gotten more traction reaching out to folks like IMBA, but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying!

    For what it’s worth, there are a few “mommy bloggers” who I read regularly who do put in plugs for bicycles (Cup of Jo, NieNie Dialogues) — which reinforces your point that venues like BlogHer and Alt Summit would be great for promoting bicycling.

    P.S. Found your blog via bikeshopgirl.com.

  6. Stacey says

    There is one bike shop in my city that sells a recumbent trike. Three in my state. I have a local I use for repairs, and I have bought 4 other bikes there. I am looking for a fifth and a sixth this year, and I am not sure I am going back to this same shop. I, as a woman, as a mom, feel like I have a responsibility to my girls to expose them to sports, healthy choices, and positive attitudes. A macho bike shop may be fine for some, but my health is contingent upon me riding, and I felt belittled during a trip into the store. It was the owner, so I am not sure his attitude will be different any other time I go. I made a choice of a recumbent trike due to health reasons. I LOVE MY TRIKE. My choice should not be chalked up to being “a woman” and choosing “a pansy trike” or a “turtle bike” because I “could not hack it.”

    I have to say that as an advocate for bikes, bike safety, and family health issues that I have not found a shop that is just knowledgeable and not macho. I had a bad experience the first attempt to buy my trike. Spending the amount of money I spent, I can ask any question I want. I asked a question to see if he knew what he was talking about after he did not answer some other questions. Sadly, he was misinformed, or just lied. The questions he did not answer, he simply deflected them as frivolous. I never did figure the first guy out, I only know that the woman that helped me listened to what I wanted, suggested the correct accessories to go with my trike, and earned me as a customer for life. All the guy did was creep my daughter out. She is 19, and he was overly flirtatious bordering on inappropriate. Why do men think they need to do that to sell to her? Her money is the same as the guy that they talk normal with. We came in for two bikes, and a trike. We do not need a date.

    • says

      It still boggles my mind that these shops are out there. From the inside I can say shops have a lot of access to the latest retail trends and best practices (which have focused a lot on diversity in the last few years) through Interbike and other bike-related retail groups and publications like NBDA so there are no excuses.

      But it got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a section on my blog (or really if someone else wants to do this or already is) where customers nominate a shop in their area based on 5 objective criteria. And then when others visit they can come back and rate that shop based on their experience. Kind of like TripAdvisor for bike shops. I know there is already Yelp and other rating services out there but it’s sometimes hard to tell where the feedback is coming from. Maybe even limit it to feedback from women.

      There is a 100 top bikes shop list but I can tell you that the criteria to select those has less to do with customer satisfaction and more to do with that shop’s buying power/sales rep vote.

      Just a thought.

  7. says

    Excellent post Jen! Loved reading your perspective (and solutions) around this issue. Definitely some great insight- there is so much opportunity for brands and the industry as a whole to more authentically connect with, inspire, and speak to women. One of the events I work with, Venus de Miles (http://www.venusdemiles.com), is an amazing example of rallying women & bikes. In my neighborhood there is a pack of young girls that I always see on bikes- love seeing this! I think developing stronger youth programs/opportunities could also strengthen women’s role in the sport/industry, long term. Thanks again for your great post!

  8. says

    Hi Jen! THANK YOU!! Yes, Yes, Yes! This is the tune I have been singing for a good 8 years now. While I do think we are making great progress we have so far to go! As a former pro cyclist, yoga instructor, mom and the founder/designer for My Alibi Clothing, this subject is my passion. While I totally agree that we need more authentic stories and ambassadors OUTSIDE that Interbike circle, I have found it very difficult to get anything except product reviews out of women who pedal. When I started My Alibi all I wanted was to be the new Athleta for the bike with lots of variety of styles to inspire women of all genre… still looking for that kind of funding. Frankly, it is really sad how business men perceive the market. Currently I am selling the Bloomers all over the world and empowering women to be themselves on a bike, which I believe ultimately inspires them to ride more, discover the freedom, and learn how to integrate the bike more effectively into their lifestyle. You might really like my newest published work in the ebook “the Ultimate Health Guide”, my contribution is titled “Fitting in Fitness: the integrated bike lifestyle”. feel free to connect as I am all about networking collaborative efforts to solve this riddle. Pedaling it forward!!

  9. says

    Jen,
    I think you are really on to something here. The spiritual joy of riding is so integral to the experience for most of us long-time cyclists, we may easily overlook the importance of sharing that part of the story of why we ride. For me, even after many years of mostly recreational riding, it took a big epiphany to recognize two key things before I started bicycling every day rather than only when it seemed convenient: (1) practical obstacles (switching from road bike to a townie made a big difference; using google maps to plan a route for errands) and (2) I am always in a better mood and more energetic on the days I ride versus drive. It’s the moving my body, breathing fresh air, and feeling connected to my city that make me feel so great. We need to broaden the popular image of bicycling beyond the Tour de France and hardcore bicycle messengers darting in and out of traffic. I find the stories of women of the late 1800′s being liberated through bicycling particularly inspiring. We can be free of the misery of cars, free of the mind-numbing hours of staring at electronic screens, free to truly experience the world outside!

    • says

      Karen, I know… doesn’t it feel so good every time you ride instead of drive. I live in a small town so I can’t really call myself a bike commuter but we do use our townie bikes for 90% of our errands in town. It’s all within a 1 mile radius so it’s hard to make excuses to not ride!

      And while I agree that the racer image of biking doesn’t do anything to promote everyday cycling I think there is an opportunity there. Have you heard about how the NFL is marketing to women? I recently saw a commercial that highlighted a young girl playing football and it was marketed by the NFL. I think there is a huge opportunity to capture and convert fans to everyday cyclists through professional cycling. And I think the sport is in a great place at the moment trying to rebuild their image. If you look at Europe where professional cycling is a powerhouse they have found a way to make the connection. I have no idea how but some marketing person should get on it!

      And I don’t think it’s just women that identify with a deeper side of cycling. I was recently riding with a guy that could not be more typical racer type (semi-pro, wearing a full kit on a mtb ride, former naval officer, pilot). And at the end of the ride he compared it to therapy. Talking about how it centered him and how all those other type A’s were wasting a lot of money on therapists. Sure he also liked to go fast and race but I don’t think that’s what it’s all about for most men or women.

  10. Jessica says

    Wow. You have just hit a few nails on the head for me. How can I get in touch with you about an event? I would love to talk to you about it and it may be a speaking opportunity for you, if you are interested.

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