Dear sirs [and I mean sirs] in the cycling industry,
I am a 26 year old female law student who is in love with bicycles. I commute to school in all kinds of weather, sweat it out on the rollers in the winter, and ride outdoors every chance I get. I’ve grown accustomed to the sweaty rides, messy hair, and the image in the mirror when I manage to squeeze myself into Lycra. Arguments could be made that I’ve completely let myself go. However, like most women, I still want to look good while I’m pushing those pedals.
When I got wind of Rapha’s new women’s line, a [male] source told me that it was “only” going to be a pair of shorts, a jersey, and a jacket.
“Only?,” I responded, “at least they’re making some women’s stuff!”
I think he shrugged in response, or possibly nodded. I was excited, and couldn’t see why my source expected me to be disappointed at the limited nature of the new line. What I failed to realize then was that my own statement was an admission that, since I’ve started cycling, I’ve gotten far too used to selling myself short.
In an industry where most of the consumers are male, it’s not surprising that women are asked to take a backseat. I understand market demand and enough economic concepts to realize that asking every bicycle company to devote half of their resources into development of women’s specific gear/bicycles/accessories borders on the insane. But there’s a big middle that you guys are missing here, and I’m pretty sure the women are getting restless.
Take a look at Competitive Cyclist [a site I frequent because I know they only carry quality products]. There are 7 jackets/vests listed for women, under 5 brands. Compare that to the 35 jackets/vests listed for men, under 10 brands. At 39 for men vs. 29 for women, the split for short-sleeved jerseys is marginally better; but the latter also includes 9 sleeve-less jerseys. Sure, tank tops are great for hot summer rides, but you can’t legally race without sleeves.
Yes, there are brands like Terry and Luna Gear who only cater to women, and that’s great. But just because I’m a girl, doesn’t mean I want to always look like one when I’m drenched in sweat and struggling. Besides, how am I supposed to be taken somewhat seriously with flowers festooned on my back, chest, and shoulders? It’s bad enough when the only [road] bike that comes in my size also includes some terrible vector graphics of hibiscuses...why do I have to be forced to wear the same print all over my body?
Given this dearth of women’s cycling gear without the pink, the too-bright colors, or the rounded standing collars that make me look like a linebacker, I’m prone to jumping up and down happily when any company decides to produce some stuff for the fairer sex. But when you compare the options available to men, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the industry has consistently thrown us [women] a bone, with the mild expectation that we should be happy with whatever meager offerings we get.
And you know what? That’s insulting. It’s insulting that I’m expected to be happy with it, and it’s insulting that I’ve come to accept this as a given. I’m far from unique; there must be hundreds [if not thousands] of women out there who love to ride, who will eagerly open their wallets for gear that flatters but doesn’t simultaneously dumb down, that looks sharp but affords all the technical aspects the guys get in at least 10 different forms. And you are - for the most part - ignoring us.
That said, I’ll probably drop a pretty penny on some Castelli gear later this week, and resist the temptation to forcibly adopt running gear to work on the bike [but with Lululemon around, it’s hard to resist]. But, it did take me two weeks to find a jersey I think I might be happy with, and there’s no guarantee that other women aren’t just giving up. Or worse, settling for being content with something that should be expected of good cycling gear.
Female cyclists are a tough bunch. But being human [and female], we sell ourselves short in too many other areas of our lives; we shouldn’t have to do the same every time we get dressed for a bike ride.
Give us the credit we’re due. You may be surprised at what it might do for you, too.