In nearly a decade of riding bicycles, the number of women’s specific bike products I have bought can probably be listed on two hands. Gloves, padded shorts, shoes and base layers. But it was never a natural decision to walk into the bike shop and head straight to the women’s section.
Starting out in mountain biking, I spent years in small men’s BMX gloves, undershorts with a pad designed for a somewhat different anatomical shape, and jerseys that were baggy around the waist and tight around the hips. It wasn’t until I ventured out on a commuter hybrid in London that I realised that if I was going to be truly comfortable on the bike, the ill-fitting sale items were going to have to go. My first ride out in a sleek pair of Pearl Izumi women’s winter gloves, a Helly Hansen wool base layer, and a pair of Mavic road shorts with a women’s shaped pad and expanding tummy section (glamorous, I know), was a whole new world of comfort.
So why, after being converted to the wonderful world of clothes that actually fit, did I hesitate from diving in head first into the world of women’s specific? Rewind six years and picture this. Specalized have just brought out their SX Trail ’07 in a distressed, gritty brown. Every second sponsored rider is wearing camouflage shorts and jersey, and I was dying for a pair of Green camou Sun MTX rims. I wanted camouflage gloves, shorts, and shoe laces. I wanted Lime green T-shirts to match my Kona Stinky, and a mud-brown hoody to match it by the end of the day. Hard to picture in today’s sea of pristine fluorescent and stealth black, but at the time, looking grubby was the height of cool. Of course this massive trend would be available to both sexes, or at least in a women’s cut jersey or short? Well, no.
Google ‘women’s bike jersey’ now, and check it out. About 80% will come in the four definitive women’s colours. Pink – varying shades, lilac, baby blue, and turquoise. Add a swirly flower motif and there you have it: essence of woman. This timeless colour palette was all that was available to me years ago, and still dominates today. So, not being able to bare showing up to the trails looking like an amateur, I gave up and dealt with the men’s range. Discomfort was a price I was willing to pay to look awesome.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to be feminine. In my days working in a chain bike store in London I could be seen fitting your light set with, quote, ‘Dolly Parton pink’ nails. Despite being told straight out by a co-worker that no one would take me seriously in a bike shop looking like that, I felt it important in a testosterone filled industry to assert my femininity in small ways. It was my way of proving a point. Yeah, that’s right, the mudguard that baffled you just got bolted back together by a girl.
And so, I can sympathise with the male design teams who put together the token womens ranges. Riding bikes is a male dominated sport, and women don’t want to stop being female the moment they hit the saddle. The designer’s mentality is this: By riding in lilac and magenta, ladies can enjoy a bicycle ride without the very real threat of forgetting that they are female in the process. And it is true that some ladies love the pink. Just last week I sent a white and pink bike out the door complete with matching jacket and helmet.
But these designers are forgetting a key interest among women: Fashion. I like, anyone else, want to look up to date, and pink isn’t always en vogue. Six years ago it was earth brown and moss green, but finding anything in these colours in a women’s cut was near impossible.
I know fashion isn’t everything, and it it’s not all about simply looking cool. I, like so many women I speak to, want to be taken seriously. Take a look at the colour of any womens pro team kit, and you’ll find the only riders out there in pink are the men riding for Lampre. Boys want to look like the pros, so why aren’t we girls allowed? I find it infuriating that even a top end Castelli pair of knicks or jersey will be stealth black, but the piping or writing is magenta. Especially annoying considering Castelli is one of the few brands who have taken the initiative to appoint a female designer. This really shows in the excellent cut and fit, so why, after going to all the effort or proving to the consumer that they take ladies product seriously, spoil it with a shot of Barbie?
It’s undeniable that times ARE changing for female cyclists. In the wake of a killer year for cycling, record numbers of girls are getting out on two wheels. For the first time, female cyclists are household names here in the UK. Victoria Pendleton CBE, who aside from her inspirational track cycling career, is encouraging women to get into the sport with an accessible range of laides bikes. Joanna Rowsell MBE and Laura Trott OBE will inspire a generation of young girls to dream big. Emma Poole and Nicole Cooke are making headlines with statements highlighting the issues in what is undeniably one of the most sexist sports. Combined with a record breaking Tour de France, a killer Olympics, and the nopublicictyisbadpublicity of Lance-Gate, people have never been talking about cycling more.
As the sport grows, a greater demand across the sexes for product is allowing a number of boutique brands to flourish. It’s fantastic to see brands like Loeka.com offer women a range of different, current styles and colours for on and off the bike. It was a step too far for these guys to design a logo without a pink flower in it, but then there will always be girls who just plain like pink. Newly emerged Velovixen.com are doing a fantastic job of providing women with much needed variety, and the Ana Nichoola range went down a storm at the London Bike Show.
Now is the time for women to speak out about what they want out of their sport. Soon we will be stocking our spring/summer women’s range here at Joyride Cycles, and a simple black and white Nalini jersey will be a key player. Ladies, what is it YOU want to see on the walls of your local bike store?