5 Tips for the Bike Industry

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This week, Women Bike is spreading the Women Mean Business message at Interbike, the biggest bike industry event of the year. Not only does author (and Women Bike Advisory Board member) Elly Blue know a thing or two about the intersection of gender and cycling, but she’s also an expert when it comes to the economic impact of bicycling. So what’s her take on how retailers and manufacturers can increase female ridership? Here’s 5 tips for the industry from the author of the forthcoming book, Bikenomics

How can the bike industry help more women get biking?

Women want to bike — there’s no question about that. As the League’s recent Women Bike report shows:

  • 82% of American women have a positive view of bicyclists
  • Though men are adopting transportation cycling faster than women, in terms of sheer numbers of butts on bike, women’s participation is growing faster, rising by 20% from 2003 to 2012
  • Women are the new majority: 60 percent of bicycle owners aged 17-28 years old are women

But, like everyone else, women often experience barriers to bicycling. To put it in a more positive way, there are needs we often need to fulfill in order to be able to bike as much as we want. Some of these needs are different than men’s because of physical factors, others because of social factors. Many of these needs are the same as those experienced by many men, but we talk about them differently. Just like men, not all women have the same needs, wants, and bicycling dreams. 

Here are some rules of thumb for the bike industry as it strives to understand how to market to 51% of the population. 

Not all women are alike!

Some of us want to bike slowly on separated infrastructure with our kids and our groceries while wearing skirts, heels, and multiple belts. Some of us are speed demons on a mission and want the highest quality performance wear that will make us look and feel as dangerously fast as we are. Some of us are moms in heels who want racing performance wear. Some of us bristle at pink jerseys and bikes with flowers on them; some of us eagerly snap those up. Ditto with fashionable or sexy clothes and marketing. Ditto with racing kits. Ditto with beach cruisers. We’re just like men in that you can’t please us all, and you’ll look silly if you try. Understand your market segment by honing in on demographic information beyond the simple category of “women.” Your bottom line will thank you.

Forget gender—look at how we use our bikes

Bicycling habits and needs sometimes fall along gender lines, but they don’t always do so; and sometimes the way we bike is defined in part by what bikes and gear are available to us. Here are some market segments to consider instead of the tired old “normal” and “women’s” categories that we’re used to seeing in the bike industry: Fashionistas, aspiring speedsters, pub crawlers, parents, professionals, working class commuters, public transit users, long distance cycle tourists, and people who are primarily concerned about their heart health. There’s not a single one of those categories that is made up of entirely women or entirely men; and people in all of these categories are looking to invest in bikes, gear, and accessories. 

Examine your assumptions

When developing products for women, or figuring out how to better serve or attract female customers, it’s a good idea to be hyper-aware of the assumptions and attitudes you may subconsciously be bringing to the table—there are consultants and trainers in cultural sensitivity that will help you and your staff examine these hidden assumptions. Also consider who is on your staff, who is in management, who is on the board—and who’s missing? This sort of self-examination will help you avoid expensive mistakes like offering only “women’s fit” bikes to women in a segregated section of your store, or thinking that what women really want is automatic shifting, sex kitten outfits, or to never have to work on our bikes. 

Size matters

Women are not all small, just as men are not all tall. But women in the US are on average shorter than men. Bikes sold in the US are on average not sized to fit women of average or below-average height. Simply not being able to find a bike that fits—or riding bikes that are painfully ill-fitted—is such a common complaint among women riders that it’s almost funny. “Women’s fit” bikes are a start, but how about forgetting gender here as well and offering a range of sizes that’s marketed simply to people who are that size? The world of short people will breathe a great sigh of relief, and give you all their dollars. Likewise, please make plus-sized women’s technical apparel. Then do some smart media showing off what a pioneer your company is, and make bank. Thank you and you’re welcome.

Be straightforward

To be honest, it’s a little too soon and the sexism a lot of women experience from the bike industry is still a little too raw. Sorry, but it isn’t a good time for you, the bike company, to be joking about it just yet. Unless you are run by women and branded from the beginning around addressing sexism in a humorous way, take a step back and listen to the jokes women make instead of making them yourselves. Identify a problem, acknowledge it honestly, do your best to address it, and document the whole thing in a good natured, straightforward, and open manner. Sure, have fun with it — but leave the humorous references to gender stereotypes alone until you’re sure the joke won’t be on you. Just give us some bike stuff we can use, already. No funny business needed.

Read more from Elly at takingthelane.com