Cycling’s Litmus Test

Momentum’s mission is to make cycling accessible to everyone. A big part of that mission involves extending an olive branch to women and families, mainly because there are too few of them behind the handlebars.

During a “Selling to Women Seminar,” I recently attended at Interbike 2010, four panelists: Pam Kruse, owner of Village Biking & Fitness; Elayne Fowler, marketing director of Electra Bicycle Co.; Jeff Selzer, general manager of Palo Alto Bicycles; and Leigh Carter, a senior account executive at Quality Bicycle Products, discussed how bike shop owners and employees can make women feel more welcome. The seminar room was packed with a 60-40 split of women to men, about 12 to 15 percent of whom were bicycle dealers. It was an impressive turnout, but as one panelist later pointed out, the topic of conversation has been kicked to death – it’s time for action.

Despite the fact that women make 85 percent of all consumer buying decisions in the United States, seminar moderator Diane Lees, who owns Hubbub Custom Bicycles in Chesterland, OH, said many shop owners don’t recognize the different needs of their female clientele. The same goes for hiring women. Women make up only 12 to 15 percent of employees in the bike industry, according to Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition regional communities representative Paula McConnell. Said Selzer: “We’re starved for women in this industry.”

The ratio of female to male cyclists in the bike lane is similarly out of balance. At least twice as many men cycle compared to women in the US. In contrast, 55 percent of cyclists in the Netherlands are women, 49 percent in Germany. Infrastructure plays a key role, along with the perception that cycling is a safe, a healthy and an accessible mode of transportation for everyone, including families. Encouragement also goes a long way.

As the panel of experts at the “Selling to Women Seminar” pointed out, bike shops and their employees should learn to market to women, if they aren’t already. They can employ new approaches to attract female clientele to their stores, such as running basic bike maintenance workshops for women that are taught by a female mechanic and organizing social women-only rides led by women. They can also carry women-specific bikes and accessories – bearing in mind that women like to “shop” and so need to have a selection of products to choose from. Beyond these basic approaches, as Lees put it: “Want to know one way to find out what women want and need? Ask them.”

Getting more women on bikes benefits us all. A survey conducted by the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycling Professionals in the spring of 2010 found that women often shy away from cycling because of safety concerns, such as distracted drivers and a lack of cycling infrastructure. The Women’s Cycling Survey report, published in September of this year, notes that “women from large cities were most receptive to the addition of bike lanes as a means to start/ increase their cycling.” In other words, the better the infrastructure, the more likely it is that women in urban environments will bike. The more women bike, the more they will shop for bicycles and accessories, and demand products that fit their riding style and preferences.

In this issue, we reflect on some of the major events that have shaped cycling culture in North America over the past year. The images on the following pages, including the bike lane photo on page 29, demonstrate how close we are to having multimodal urban centers. The litmus test to determine the success of this movement will boil down to how many of the new converts to transportation cycling are women.

Originally published in the Nov/ Dec 2010 issue of Momentum Magazine and on momentummag.com.

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