The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BeBoldForChange. I find myself feeling grateful for the number of bold changes that have already happened from within the cycling world. But imagine if we made a few more. Right now.
It’s not even that hard. We, as an industry and as a subculture, just need to get better at discussing, showcasing and developing the sport to better reflect things that women are already doing.
1. Lift the number of images of female riders across all cycling media and advertising material to 25 per cent
Depending on who you talk with, women’s participation in cycling ranges from 10-25%. Imagine for a second how websites, magazines, magazine covers and advertising material would look if the images shared from within the sport were representative of a healthy female participation rate.
In order for this to happen, we need more high-quality images of women cycling reflecting the various ways women ride. This means photographers who shoot photos that capture the kinds of obstacles, rides, events and experiences women seek out, and people who pay these photographers for their time in capturing these images.
Currently, if I search the Getty Images database for eight-time national champion Peta Mullens, there are a total of seven images to choose from. Seven. That’s fewer images than her total number of national championship titles.
If I search through the (almost) 3000 of Richie Porte, seven is the number of images of the BMC rider from a recent press conference at the Tour Down Under. That’s a significant and depressing difference.
2. Provide more informed conversations and support for bike fit
In 2017 the industry is moving away from ‘women’s specific’ bikes and acknowledging, along with many female riders out there, there is no specific woman or man. Instead, there’s more of a push toward gender neutral frames with modified contact points. This better reflects the majority of bikes that women ride.
Liv, the sister brand to Giant, is the obvious exception here. I’m tipping their own research and design processes will drive this debate in interesting directions too.
Imagine if, as our knowledge of bike fit increases, distributors could support shops to sell new bikes specced with the right size componentry from the get go, rather than as a post-purchase add-on or modification.
If car companies can let you choose leather seats and computer companies can let you select your hard drive size, surely we can offer more than one choice of bars, saddles, stems and suspension tunes.
I for one would be happy to wait an extra week for the bike to arrive if it was sent with my choice of size specific componentry. I’m sure most blokes would too. Bike shops who already support their customers to do this are worth their weight in gold.
3. Stop telling women we need to be more confident
Because marketing the majority of products designed for women as “increasing confidence” carries with it the massive assumption that women, as a gender, are not confident to begin with.
Here’s a thought: try marketing this new bike as super fun, compliant and fast. Or this kit as ethically made, super stylin’ and with a chamois so good you’ll want to wear it on short rides too.
4. Develop more high-end products for women
In the case of products where gender specificity does have an impact, such as shoes and some saddles, let’s see an increase in the number of brands that carry these items in a range that reach the same levels of performance, weight and materials as their men’s ranges.
Instead, what tends to happen is there are marketing messages about how good a particular product is because it’s designed around a women’s needs. Unless she wants the top of the range in which case unisex is magically better suited to her needs.
Which is it cycling industry? Are unisex shoes better than that women’s last you’ve spent all that time developing? Can you not see how this undermines our confidence in any product? (Note, not our confidence in riding, our confidence in the messages that dominate the market place.)
5. Deliver reasonable and respectful pay rates
This one’s so obvious I don’t need to say much more on the topic. But following on from better pay for women in cycling, I’d love to see a rise in the number of women working in the industry and related industries. Like cycling media for instance.
6. Promote better awareness of the needs of women who are involved in the sport at a mid-high level and those who are hooked on cycling for life
Over the last few years, there has been a big increase in visibility for women who race and for women getting into cycling for the very first time. Let’s build on that with increased recognition of the needs of women who lie between these two extremes.
Women who: 1. Make up a huge part of the total number of women on the trails, the roads, and who are largely missing from depictions of cycling on websites and in magazines. 2. Who could quickly list off the standard mods they make to any new bike. 3. Are confident. 4. Are spending a tonne of money on high-end products marketed at men. 5. Work hard inside the industry or well outside of it to afford new cycling experiences.
7. Stop talking about “cycling” and “women’s cycling” as two distinct things
While putting “women’s” in front of “cycling” has led to some huge advances over the last 20 years, it can also feel like one part apology and the other part marketing tool. The project will be a success when it’s common place to talk about all forms of cycling in more inclusive and observant ways, making every point in this article redundant. That’s the change I’m looking forward to most.