By many accounts, mountain biking lags behind other outdoor industries such as rock climbing, hiking, and camping in their outreach to female riders. Although the mountain biking industry has put many wins on the board for women “Is mountain biking a bro’s club?” is still a relevant question. We need women’s advocacy to advance the sport as a whole.
As the co-owner of Sports Garage, I love riding and ride all the time, with both men and women, but still mostly men. Often trailside conversations turn to bicycle technical specs or issues within the sport, and upon expressing my opinion, I have actually heard the response, “Yeah El, but you’re not a real girl.” So what does that make me? A “bro girl?” With two daughters and a lovely collection of heels? Some weird ego voice reminds me that on the trail, not being a “real girl” is a compliment. However, I believe the “bro girl” assumption raises an important question for the industry: What does an authentic female identity in mountain biking look like?
This question is the driving force behind the inaugural Women’s Off-Road Cycling Congress (WORCC). On October 25th, one hundred women of all experience levels will get together outside Boulder, Colorado to answer the question “What do you love, hate, and hope for in off-road cycling?” Let me pause here for a moment and address any potential male eye-rolling: This is NOT an article about a new femi-nazi mountain biking movement. This is not an argument in favor of pinkifying the industry. Women – from beginners to experts – are simply experiencing the sport differently than our male counterparts.
At Sports Garage, I have a front row seat to observe this experience. WORCC presents an opportunity to unify female voices in a constructive message to the mountain biking industry. Any time the collective voice of one particular rider group has the opportunity to move the needle for the overall betterment of the industry, I see a potential win. You can learn more about the Congress here.
So why do we need women’s advocacy? Why the collective female voice?
Welcoming New Riders
Mountain biking allows a person to get fit, explore beautiful surroundings, build community, and maybe (hopefully) get an adrenaline rush. Men outnumber women on the trail an average of 9:1. That means there are still quite a few more potential female newbies than male newbies. I believe that makes the female audience uniquely qualified to discuss how our industry breaks down barriers to entry for new riders.
Better Bike Shops
Knowing all the technical specs of your bike should not be a prerequisite to receiving good customer service. Get a bunch of lady shredders in a room with beer, and you’ll hear some pretty funny stories about visiting bike shops and service departments. I have a friend who stopped by her local bike shop for a new pair of mountain biking shoes and was redirected three times to the commuter accessories. She clarified her request by saying, “No, I just want some f*&^ing mountain biking shoes. I ride on a trail, not a sidewalk”, and then went in search of better customer service.
Women are really good customers and community builders. Sometimes funny and sometimes tragic, our experiences in bike shops can inform how to train bikes shops for better engagement with all customers.
I believe one of the key ways to impact the sport is to vertically integrate important conversations, such as the Women’s Off-Road Cycling Congress, to make sure that consumers, retailers, distributors, and manufacturers receive a consistent message. Not only a consistent message, but one that includes useful and actionable feedback.
Manufacturers who make a concerted effort to engage with women are already moving the needle by sending new cues to the marketplace about what women need and want in a bike. There are phenomenally successful brands making significant strides with branding and product development, and they have only done so through innovation. I believe the female voice can call attention to the need for continued meaningful innovation and greater consumer education to support innovation. Case in point: last week a gentleman who was shopping for his wife’s new bike asked me, “Is that really a women’s specific bike, or is that a women’s specific saddle and paint job?” Not 100% sure I nailed the answer to that one….
Our goal at Sports Garage is to create a positive experience for everyone, from experienced male and female riders to newbies. Yes, I do believe bike shops can do better than hosting ladies nights. However, I am confident that in searching for an answer to the question “What does an authentic female identity in mountain biking look like?”, the Women’s Off-Road Cycling Congress will ultimately benefit the entire industry.