Why it's time to see a few more female faces in our bike shops

Fiona Outdoors Bike Shops
FionaOutdoors, 17 October 2011
Chatting to a director at a leading Scottish bike chain the other day we quickly got on to the topic of women and cycling.

As you’ll know if you follow my FionaOutdoors blog, I like to write about cycling, and I love to write about the increasing number of girls on bikes. Mass participation cycling events, weekend group cycles and cycling clubs have all witnessed a growth in the numbers of women cyclists. This is a great thing to see and as I’ve waffled on endlessly about before, there is absolutely no reason why the number of women shouldn’t equal men on bikes.

In particular, the bike shop guy mentioned women who work in their chain of shops. He said that despite actively looking for women to work in their shops, as sales assistants, repair people, mechanics or whatever, there are still many, many more guys working for the co-operative than women.

Of course, cycling has traditionally been seen as more of a male sport but we know that times are changing and I hope that this then propels more women into bike shops. I don’t just say this because I think that every workplace should have an even male-female split but because I think many women would genuinely like to be served by another woman in a bike shop.

I liken this idea to the highly intimidating worlds of car sales and music gadgetry. As a woman – and I know many of my friends say the same – if you’re a woman walking into a car salesroom or a music equipment store it can so often feel as though you’re being patronised. Eg “Oh we have a car in a lovely shade of blue…” “Or this volume dial is clearly marked higher and lower, don’t you see?”

I’m not saying this is always the case and there are departments such as John Lewis where you can find sales people who talk to you as though you are an intelligent human, even if you are female!

But I think the same situation can occur in the world of bike sales. I am a confident bike and accessories buyer these days but it hasn’t always been this way. I can recall walking nervously into a bike store (I won’t name names) 10 years ago and enquiring about a commuting bike only to be immediately shown the female-specific bikes in pale blue with a basket on the front. Some women might want this type of bike but I definitely didn’t. I wanted a bike that fitted and I didn’t care about the colour or a basket. I suit male bike frames because of my body shape and I like panniers and not a basket. But there was an assumption that somehow I should buy a female-specific bike.

I’ve also gone into a bike store to ask to borrow a bike pump only to face a patronising rolling of the salesman’s eyes as he questioned why. I had a puncture, I had changed the inner tube all by myself but my bike pump wasn’t working efficiently and so I wondered if I could use their track pump. His next look said it all: What you actually fixed the puncture yourself?!

I am obviously picking out just a few examples of more patronising behaviour and in honesty I have found the majority of men in bike shops to be friendly, welcoming and helpful. But, as I said, I know a lot about bikes and my opening remarks in bike shops will give a clear indication that I know what I’m talking about and so I won’t appreciate any patronising chat.

But many women are still getting into cycling. They are not confident about what they want to buy and the type of bike and gadgetry they need. One of my friends asked me to help her buy a bike because she felt too intimidated even to walk into a bike shop herself.

But I think that if there were more women working in bike shops, selling bikes and repairing them, we might encourage even more female cyclists. It’s not a given but it might just help. I like to buy products from people who understand what I’m looking for. For example, a woman cyclist selling bike seats and bike shorts will know exactly what it feels like to own the wrong bike seat and shorts. A long-legged and long-armed woman cyclist will know that a men’s bike will suit someone of a similar stature, and not a female bike.

This isn’t to say that all women would suit a bike shop job. Like men, they should also know about – and have experience of – their products. Part of buying products is trusting in the shop and the sales person. You want them to know about the products and to understand your needs.

So, girlie cyclists, the next time you see an advert for a bike sales assistant or a trainer bike mechanic why not apply? If I were younger I’d be keen to go for such a job and I’ve often toyed with volunteering as a bike mechanic just to learn more and so I can pass on my skills.

One last thought. A few years ago a friend bought a bike and asked me to show them how to fix a puncture. My dad (as tradition has it) had taught me to do this when I was a child but this female friend said that the minute that her dad had started to show her the technique when she was aged 10 she switched off. She had no desire to get her hands dirty and ever since then she had sought out the men in her life to fix her punctures. But she found herself single and she wanted to go on longer cycles. So I showed her. Apparently I taught her how to fix a puncture in a “completely different” way. My friend said: “It’s less dirt and brute force. It’s technique and understanding. And you’re making it fun and interesting.” It could be that she was simply older and more willing to learn, but it could also be tat she valued being taught a mechanical operation by someone of the same fairer sex!

Fi Russell is better known as FionaOutdoors. She is a Scotland-based journalist, web writer and professional blogger. She has her own blog
www.fionaoutdoors.co.uk here at The Active Guide

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