Women represent a crucial majority for the future of biking. According to the 2012 American Bicyclist Survey, 60 percent of bicycle owners aged 18-27 are women, and in 2012 alone, women reported that they planned to spend nearly $2 billion on bike products. In New York City, the number of women bicycling is increasing faster than the number of male riders, but male riders continue to outnumber female cyclists three to one. This gender imbalance is a national issue and one of the many reasons bike leaders and advocates from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C. on Monday to attend the National Women’s Bicycling Forum, the kick-off event for the National Bike Summit. Participants of the forum, titled “Women Mean Business,” sought to better understand this imbalance, and how the bicycle industry — especially local bike shops — influence how women participate in bicycling.
Bike shops have great potential to serve as spaces that encourage bicycling for people of all ages, abilities and genders, but many consumers — especially women, bicycle beginners, or those who spin outside the world of spandex-clad competitive biking — feel intimidated or even discriminated against by some shops. In a panel titled “The Bike Shop Barrier: Making Bike Retail More Welcoming to Women,” panelists focused on how the gender gap is pronounced in the bike retail and repair industry, and they concluded that cycling’s gender gap can be tackled in two ways: creating local bike shop environments that are welcoming to all types of riders, and bridging the gap between bike retail and bike advocacy.
Some shops have made conscious efforts to make their shops more inclusive by integrating gendered merchandise and creating a fun environment. Zack Stender of San Francisco’s Huckleberry Bicycles noted that primarily catering to the competitive racing crowd is a bike retailer misstep that “perpetuates intimidation in shops when there’s footage of racing playing on the overhead TV,” he said. “At Huckleberry, we have a station where you can play Tetris. It’s fun and everyone likes it.”
Local bike shops can play a significant role in the national bike movement by engaging in bicycle advocacy, and some have already begun to do so. South Dakota’s Sioux River Bicycles and Fitness partnered up with their community’s Safe Routes to School efforts. In Georgia, advocates from Georgia Bikes teamed up with community members and a local bike shop owner to testify in favor of a Complete Streets policy, focusing on the economic impacts of bad bicycling laws. Other shops, like Tucson’s BICAS, Chicago’s West Town Bikes, Austin’s Bicycle Sport Shop, Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Bike Works, Portland’s Clever Cycles and New York City’s Recycle-A-Bicycle are activating more diversity and engaging new riders by organizing programs like women and trans repair nights, youth internships and recycled bike swaps.
Partnerships between bike shops and bicycle advocacy are a win-win for both bike retailers and local communities. According to a Bikes Belong survey report, “Retailers and Advocacy,” 64 percent of bike retailers reported that “bicycle advocacy helps our shops sell more bikes and accessories,” and 84 percent said that “bicycle advocacy helps create a bike-friendly community.” The long-term success of local shops is tied directly to safe streets, bike-positivity and a wide range of riders on the road.
Closing keynote speaker and NYCDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan reflected on the days when riding a bike in New York City was referred to as “surfing the beast,” but she believes safety in numbers is the key to generating more cycling, closing the gender gap and promoting diversity on our bike lanes.