20 Women to Watch: Part 1

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For me, the best part of Interbike doesn’t happen on the tradeshow floor. In fact, it has nothing to do with next year’s cutting-edge products, apparel or bicycles — but everything to do with the future of the bike industry. Each year, the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition showcases current and upcoming leaders during its annual awards and keynote. Last month, the room was packed for the 2013 event — and for good reason.

This week, Women Bike is spotlighting the winners — and nominees — for OIWC’s bike industry awards to reveal the female leaders who are changing the face of bicycling.

Elysa Walk, General Manager, Giant Bicycles USA
At this year’s OIWC event, Walk gave the keynote presentation, challenging the false paradigms of the bike industry with compelling data on the importance and potential economic impact of female riders. Click here to see here to see her 5 Myths. As one of the highest ranking women in the bike world, Walk knows what she’s talking about. After 10 years in telecommunications, Walk joined the bicycle industry in 2004 and stepped up to General Manager for Giant USA in 2007. Since then, she’s not only grown the company by 40% overall, but launched Giant’s women’s specific brand, Liv/giant, and pioneered an innovative female ambassador program to engage more riders at the local level. “A friend inspired me to start cycling, and I think that women have such powerful relationships with their friends and enjoy riding together in non-competitive, fun adventures,” Walk says. “With the ambassador program, we want to support those local ladies who are key influencers for bicycling in their community. We’re giving them tools and incentives to structure women’s group rides, maintenance clinics, ladies nights — because we want to get more women on bikes.” Beyond mentoring women in her company, Walk has been a trailblazer for women across the industry, serving in key board positions for Bikes Belong (the industry advocacy group) and the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association.  

Anna Schwinn, Lead Engineer, Quality Bicycle Products
First Ascent Award Winner
Anna Schwinn is currently the Lead Engineer at Quality Bike Parts. Recognized for her bike engineering talents, Anna is equally known as a compulsive recruiter of women and men into all aspects of cycling. For the past five years, Anna has matched her passion for track, road and cross with her degree in mechanical engineering to the benefit of cyclists across genres. First designing for Zipp, Anna also worked with Whisky Parts Co, Foundry Cycles and Civia Cyles, before taking on the role of Lead Engineer at All-City Cycles. Designing frames, components and dropouts for the urban, track, road and cross. Anna is a natural born leader and innovator and is poised to revolutionize what “women’s specific” means in terms of product development in cycling. Beyond the nuts and bolts of engineering, Anna has been a voice for women at QBP, providing visionary leadership to her fellow woman coworkers and encouraging the active recruitment and inclusion of women within the company. Founder of Project Vivian, Anna leads a group of diverse individuals to cultivate and improve the landscape for women within cycling.

Tori Bortman, Gracie’s Wrench, Founder/Owner
Pioneering Woman Award nominee
“Gracie’s Wrench developed from a mutual love of bicycles and sharing. Part of feeling confident to depend on cycling for my transportation and my early income as a messenger began with overcoming my intimidation of the machine. It was bigger than me, seemed to have more parts, and worked like magic. At least until something went wrong. Then it—and I—didn’t work at all. From the start it was considerably easier to build muscle, reflexes and balance than it was to find someone—anyone—who would take the time to show me the inner workings of bicycle mechanics. Climbing hills was nothing compared to struggling with egotistical mechanics who hoarded knowledge. Worse yet were those who were nice enough and tried to be helpful but told me with a shrug after taking something out of my hands to do it for me that I “just kinda gotta do it” or “read a book” to learn. I thought then and am sure now that there is a better way. Gracie’s Wrench is my answer. My programs reflect on an era when folks lived by the DIY (Do It Yourself) credo because it made good sense and maybe they had to, not because it was trendy. A time when something new was special, to be valued and taken care of because there wasn’t another to be bought off the shelf at the store. Over the past six years I’ve had the pleasure of teaching for The Center for Appropriate Transport, the Community Cycling Center, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, North Portland Bikeworks, Bike Gallery and the City of Portland. Through these programs and my own courses and clinics I’ve learned the importance of individual attention, small class size, the experience gained from putting the tools in my students hands, as well as the invaluable sense of ownership and accomplishment in actually doing it with your own hands on your own bike.”

Susi Wunsch, Velojoy, Founder
Pioneering Woman Award nominee
For Susi Wunsch, the love of bikes started in spin classes in New York City. Before long, cranking the pedals in the name of fitness took her to the roads, training for Olympic distance triathlons. Soon the Manhattan resident saw a transformation on her local streets, as well. “In 2010, I discovered the protected bike lane on Ninth Avenue,” she says. “To me, it signaled the city’s commitment to making a place for cyclists on our streets, and it made me feel safer. I’ve been happily using my bicycle for daily transportation ever since.” Wunsch didn’t just join the ranks in the bike lanes – she became an evangelist for cycling lifestyle, launching velojoy.com, a site dedicated to attracting more people to riding bicycles by demystifying and celebrating the joys of two-wheeled transportation. “What gets lost sometimes in the discussion about bicycling is what’s most elemental: the fun and freedom of it,” she says. “Making cycling a part of everyday life is what Velojoy is about.”

Lauren Hefferon, Ciclismo Classico, Director
Pioneering Woman Award nominee
Lauren Hefferon is Ciclismo’s founder and CEB (Chief Executive Biker). Her love of biking dates back to her active childhood in Keene, New Hampshire. After damaging her knee downhill skiing in high school, she began to really immerse herself in the wonderful world of cycling and realized that the sport had the potential to open up many other doors. “I used the bike as a way to know my world better,” she says. “Little by little it brought me confidence and a sense of accomplishment.” After graduating from Cornell University with a degree in anthropology, Lauren studied fine arts in Florence and began a life journey that began by cycling over 35,000 miles across Europe. She founded Ciclismo Classico in 1988, realizing a dream of combining her passion for cycling with her love for Italy. Her first tour had five women on it; the second had eight. As Ciclismo expanded, Lauren began offering trips to destinations no one else was doing in Italy, such as Puglia, the Piedmont, and Sardinia. By 2000 Ciclismo was well and firmly established as a leader in bike tours to Italy. Since then the company has maintainted its focus on Italy while expanding into other destinations throughout Europe and beyond. In the future, Lauren envisions adding even more destinations, as well as more thematic trips, while continuing to share the joys of bicycle touring with as many travelers as possible.

Stay tuned for five more women to watch tomorrow!