As you know, it can sometimes be a little tough or discouraging being a woman in the cycling world. Recently I went kind of crazy-go-nuts in an All Hail The Black Market facebook comment thread regarding this matter. You should go read the whole thread to get a feel for how frustrating it can be to be a girl in a male-dominated sport.
How often do you hear from guys that they wish there were more women cyclists? All the damn time! As a woman I definitely wish I had more same-sex partners to ride with. While it’s nice to sign a piece of paper to post on the internet, it’s even more important to actually take action.
Here are some ways I’ve thought up for YOU to help bring more women into the cycling world!
Basically, all these points boil down to treat women like normal people instead of marginalizing them, and be welcoming and inviting. I do not claim to know everything. I am a woman, but I am very different from other women, so not everything written below will apply to all women. These suggestions are, however, based on my real world experiences, and are just a few ideas I’ve thought of that can maybe jump start some ideas of your own.
If you are a normal dude:
- Invite a woman to go ride bicycles with you. It’s that easy! Go read the tips I wrote about how to get your wife stoked on bikes and apply these to when you are riding with any women. Do not charge out the door trying to impress her with how well you climb hills. Hang out with her, ride at her pace, and say encouraging things to her if she is not confident with herself.
- Don’t assume that all the women you ride with will be slower or weaker than you. There are a hundreds of women out there who are stronger than you are, and being condescending about having to wait for the girl before a ride even starts super sucks. Even when the girl is faster or more skilled than you and shows you up later, constantly having to hear negative things brings emotional levels down, so quit it.
- If you are in a recreational group ride, talk to any women who are out riding with you. Make sure they don’t get dropped if it’s a no-drop ride (yes, this happens). Make the women feel welcomed and not like they are a burden.
- I, for one, truly appreciate being treated like just another guy when I show up to group rides. Instead of pointing out that the girls are girls, just treat them like normal people. It’s amazing how far this will go.
- Quit saying “for a girl”. Woah, that was a totally rad jump, for a girl! You really kicked ass in that alley cat, for a girl! Just say the first part. Then it’s a real compliment instead of a compliment that is brought down with negativity regarding being female.
- If you take a girl to a bike shop for her to buy/try things for herself, let her do the talking. It is SO common for me to see the male walk into the shop and talk to the employees about what the girl he is with wants. Let the girl say what she wants. If you’re at a shop worth a damn, they’re not going to lead her astray and she’ll leave feeling empowered instead of like she just had to go along with what you said.
- Volunteer at events that are specifically for women, or where women are equally as welcomed as the men are. If you see there aren’t any women-specific events in your area, make one! Anyone can organize a no-drop, female-friendly group ride. Just drop the machismo and be welcoming and friendly.
- Write letters/emails to the appropriate agencies saying you’d like to see equal coverage of women’s cycling events and/or equal pay in women’s fields.
If you are a normal girl:
Of course you can do some of the things mentioned above regardless of your gender. If you are a woman, these also apply to you:
- Get out and ride! The more women on the streets, the more welcoming it is for women who are thinking about starting to ride. If a woman in a mini-van is looking for a new way to get around, or a new hobby, or whatever, she is much more likely to go actually buy a bike if she sees other women out on the road that she can relate to. If a woman in a car sees you commuting to work every day because you are on the same schedule, she may think “She can do it, so can I!”
- Go hang out in the bike shops. Then when that woman comes in to buy a bicycle, she can feel like she’s not the odd one out. Let’s face it, most bike shops don’t have female employees and it can be alienating to walk in and feel different from everyone else.
- Join a women’s club and go to the rides. If the women’s groups in your area don’t have anyone showing up to the rides, they’ll stop having them, and it’ll be harder for new women to find people to ride with. If there are only a few people coming to regular rides, it can be hard to plan out larger events that can draw in new people. If there is not a women’s club in your area that you can relate to, start your own!
- Invite another girl to go ride with you! Nothing is more confidence building than finding someone who is actually at your skill level to ride with. And let’s face it, riding with another girl is different from riding with the guys. I love seeing my girlfriends’ cycling abilities grow.
- Share your knowledge and experiences. Write an article for a magazine. Teach a fix-a-flat or repairs class or mountain bike skills clinic. Anyone can do this! If you have been riding for a while, you’ve got knowledge that others don’t have. Even to have a laid back women’s night at a bike shop where women can come together and just hang out with a glass of wine would be great! Many bike shops want to appeal to more women, so having a welcoming space where other women can gather and feel not-judged would be awesome for that. It would be nice if you could include everyone associated with the gender identity. If you think being a normal woman into bikes is hard, imagine being a trans woman. It is nice for everyone to feel welcome.
- Post up on forums if that’s your thing, or make a tumblr or blog or take inspiring pictures. A lot of cycling related places on the internet feel very male dominated (imagine that!). If the internet is your thing, make your voice heard so other women can see they’re not alone when they are just lurking and learning.
If you work at a bike shop:
- Stock bikes small enough for women. I am shopping for a new bike right now. What is the advice that everyone gives for people shopping for a new bicycle? Go try out a bunch of different bicycles until you find one that feels right to you. This is great advice if you ride a 56 cm bike like most people. Unfortunately, none of the bike shops in my area stock bicycles above entry level for small people. I understand that it’s hard to sell them, but you can’t sell a bike that you don’t have at all. It’s not fair to have to commit to purchase a special-order bike that I don’t get to ride at all before I’m committed to buying it just because I am an average sized female. I’ve done it twice, and I am not super in love with either of those bicycles.
- Stock accessories for women, in differing styles. Turns out, no two women have the same exact style. Unfortunately it seems like all the bike execs up top got together and had a conference at which it was decided that everything made for women should have pink or purple accents, and that women love swirls and flowers and butterflies on all of their clothing and accessories. What gives? Please stock a variety of things that will suit different people. I get that some women like that shit, obviously, or they wouldn’t still be making, right? But I feel like the everyday woman is looking for things more subtle.
- Be respectful. Don’t call me cupcake or sweetie or honey or baby. I am not your baby. I don’t appreciate pet names from people I don’t know.
- Don’t assume that women don’t know anything. When a new girl walks into your shop, you have no idea what information is contained in her head. If she is not brand new buying her first bike, she undoubtedly knows more about some bicycle-related something than you do.
- Have events at your shop for women. Lead group rides for women only or where women are welcomed. Have classes or gatherings like I mentioned previously.
- Hire a woman! But don’t hire a woman just because she is a woman. Hire her because she is knowledgeable and will be helpful to your female and male customers. There are very capable female wrenches out there and there are even more women with a background in sales who can maximize your profit while helping you put your female customers on bicycles that are right for them with accessories (that you stock, remember) that are right for them.
If you are anyone one else related to the bike industry:
- Think about the things you say or post online before you say them. Will what you are saying be alienating to women? Or empowering? If a woman sees what you have posted, will it make them want to ride a bicycle (or at least be neutral), or will it push them away? Elly Blue from Taking the Lane wrote the “Bike Test” which I love, which will help you determine if an image you are posting is sexist.
- If you make a product that has male and female specific versions, please make the female versions as important as the male versions. If you promote a clothing collection and then when it launches, there are no items for women, but they say it’s okay because a women’s line is launching later, that says to me that women don’t matter as much. They aren’t important enough to be included in the first launch.
- If you are an event organizer, make incentives for women to come to your events. Equal race payout is big. There are a lot of discussions about this online so I won’t touch on it here, but if you want more girls out, give us some incentive.
- If you are active in advocacy, push for more infrastructure. It’s been shown that women ride more when they feel safe, and bike lanes, and moreso car-free bike boulevards help accomplish this.
Just, overall, be nice to the girls, everyone. We really just want to be treated with respect and dignity and like actual humans. It kind of pains me to write that, because it means that there have been enough degrading experiences for me that it’s just kind of become the norm. Together, we can change this!