Five Ways to Get More Women On Mountain Bikes
And not by hiring female staff or selling pink socks
First, I need to preface this by saying that I live in a place where women generally dominate the cycling scene. I’m lucky to live somewhere where women get outside and shred, and where women riders are supported by our community and our shops. But I know that I live in the anomaly that is the “Bend Bubble”. Also please know that I’ve been mostly a mountain biker since the mid-1990s, so my perspective comes from the dirt world.
I recently read an article from Bike Magazine that Trek is trying to get more women into cycling (and into buying their products, of course.) There’s big talk in the bike industry about “how to get more women on bikes and into bike shops” and “how to appeal to the female cyclist”. The industry is declining, and for some reason it feels that women buyers might hold the golden ticket to higher profits.
Ideas always include things like having more women work in the shops, or providing more soft goods for women. Or supporting women’s ambassador programs that encourage peers to get out and ride, like the article suggests. All these things are just fine and should be happening throughout the industry, but I’m not sure we’re looking at the whole picture.
What if we looked at it differently? Women are not cycling not because we don’t have pretty color options or because we can’t find a lady in the shop to talk to. We aren’t getting into cycling because it just isn’t that welcoming to us. Like many other activities, it is a male-dominated activity. That is okay. But we can do better.
It starts with you. Yeah, you. It starts with every single guy that I meet on the trail. Not too long ago, I was chasing my husband on a trail, and every dude I passed said, “Good job, you’re right behind him!” and “You’re almost there!” Seriously? After this happened a few times on the same ride, I stopped and asked Chris if this ever happened to him when he was on a ride with his buddies. Do oncoming riders comment on your riding? Nope. Never. Look guys, when we’re out there riding, just treat us like normal riders. We’ll try our best to be our best. Okay, cool? We good?
We need time. I, like many women, feel like we carry the weight of everything. We are professionals, heads of households, moms, wives, cooks, cleaners, and everything else in between. If I ask my mom-friends what their biggest challenge is – it is time. Biking takes time, especially mountain biking because it typically involves a little more gear preparation and it often involves driving to a trailhead before even getting on the bike. Do yourself a favor and don’t compare cycling to running or yoga (I do both, reluctantly.) Running takes very little time. Most would agree that a 45-minute run feels like adequate exercise and good dose of outside. Yoga – that also takes time, but it is a set time frame. You know, you go to a yoga class for an hour, then you’re done. Cycling takes longer and there is a longer learning curve. Give us some time to learn and pursue cycling.
Brands and media need to change up. Brands and cycling media portray cycling as a dude dominated activity. And I get it. Dudes ride, so dudes buy things. So the media needs to appeal to dudes so they buy more things. Advertising dollars need to be put into messages with the highest return. It’s a simple business equation. But when I go to a website or flip through a magazine, I don’t see ME in there, therefore I wonder if I belong. Please make a better effort to include women in your imagery and stories.
Gear and clothing is seriously lacking. Bike companies, you continue to undermine our success when you pull quality women’s bikes off your product line. Trek, why did you dump the women’s specific high-end carbon Lush and move to the “smaller sizes” of the Fuel EX? Do you realize that the average height of females is 5’4”? That’s average. So for someone like me, at 5’0”, I’ve determined I have exactly two full suspension mountain bike options for 2017. Two. And sorry Trek, but you aren’t one of them. (I will plug for Pivot and Yeti, as they seem to be the only brands that carry a model that suits my needs and comes close to fitting my small frame.) Oh, and be sure to trim those handlebars down when you build small bikes. I’ve got some wide shoulders, but I’m not a linebacker. But I do have a big butt and strong thighs. Duh. I’m a mountain biker! Please understand this when designing clothing and gear for us.
We need to build a cohesive culture. Despite all my dreams for changing the way we think about women on bikes, all I really want is equality. I have a guy friend who wants to improve his mountain biking skills, but he can’t find any skills clinics for guys. Like, literally, the only classes and clinics are women-only. This isn’t fair either. Much like corporate boardrooms and male-dominated workplaces, we need to build an inclusive culture that doesn’t always separate us. We need to stop saying “dude ride” or “ladies ride” and just get past that divide. We all ride.
I’d love to hear thoughts from men and women on this – please be respectful and intelligent, thanks!