Last weekend, I went to the London Bike Show. It is one of those places where it is perfectly fine to stand staring with your mouth open at a bike then slowly stretching your hand out and very lightly stroking over the top tube. It tingles in your finger tips, eyes wide, big smile. It’s ok, because you’re not alone. Plenty of other bike enthusiasts around, doing exactly the same thing. One thing is striking though 95% of them are men. Women are at the show for sure, but most of them have their better half with them. You see groups of men, but rarely groups of women.
Browsing through the show website, there was an exhibitor category labelled ‘Female friendly’. Interesting. Two of the six listed were companies by women, for women. Both in the clothing and accessories sector. The rest were established clothing brands who carried a women’s range. Now, you can split cycling into two distinct segments: accessories (including clothing) and the technical stuff (bikes, drive trains etc). And it is the technical side I had a gripe with. But it is also a great example of how times and attitudes are changing.
Last year I went to the same show. Same situation, me on my lonesome. When I stood and had an interested look at a bike, I was left alone. There were enough staff around, but not one thought to start a conversation with me. A guy walked up to another of their bikes, had a cursory look and within a short space of time was involved in a conversation. It struck me as odd, I tried it a couple of times. Same outcome.
I expected much the same treatment this year. But, I am pleased to say, it was different in some ways but much the same in others. The bigger bike brands were much the same, I am afraid to say, possibly resting on the laurels of their well-known names. However, the smaller bike brands stood out. A fine example was a small Midlands brand. I admired their carbon road model and was approached fairly swiftly. The guy talked to me about their frames, tried to find out what sort of riding I do, talked to me about bike specs, changes they’d made in the geometry of their CX bike. Refreshing.
I trundled on to one of the big tyre brands and wound up in a conversation with a Tour Series rider. There was genuine interest in my riding, some tips on the tyres to run at Flanders and most of all, encouragement when I mentioned I felt I lacked the confidence in my bike handling and for that reason had not tried bunch racing.
These are just two examples of how within a year, things have moved on. Female cycling participation is on the rise and the female market is still full of untapped potential. With women being more independent and career orientated, the spending power rests not solely with men any longer. There is still a long way to go though. I think most of it is not that companies are not interested in women riding their bikes, it seems more a case of insecurity, of how to talk about bikes to women, how to pitch the level of technical detail.
Here I can just pass on the advice from the pro rider: give it a go! Don’t be afraid. Just talk to women about bikes. They are interested and we will tell you if we don’t understand the tech language.
Surely, there is also the flip side that women don’t feel confident to talk about technical details of bikes. It’s a whole new language and they may feel intimidated talking to a man because there is this whole strange (self)perception around women and tech, so they bring their husbands and boyfriends to do the talking. Looking around the stands at the show, the staff were mostly men. When there were women, they were often more concerned with hospitality rather than talking about bikes. Again, some of the smaller brands were flying the flag. Probably because many of them are small family owned businesses where the women are invested in the business, too. It is possible that the smaller brands have more leverage in engaging women and talking to women about bikes, because of this. There’s no simple answer but it is a two way process of confidence building for both the female cyclists and the bike building industry. There’s something to mull over.
What I’d love to see is a bike company (and I don’t mean clothing and accessories) by women, for women. At the moment, I don’t know of any. If you do, let me know.
Next time I’ll answer our first #askthegoat question. Until then let me know what you think about my musings and keep asking your questions on facebook or on Twitter.
picture via pml2008