My very good friend, and sometimes “boss”, Patrick Brady has recently penned a pair of posts at his wonderful website, Red Kite Prayer. He’s a smart guy, with an incredible talent for finding words that get to the heart of the topic, and in the case of the two pieces recently, they are uncomfortable topics within the broad scope of the cycling “industry.” I say “industry” because these issues impact manufacturers, media, consumers, athletes … every aspect of the business, sport, and activity of cycling.
Patrick calls out the fact that bringing these topics up is akin to touching the third rail of the subway, and he’s right. But it needs to be done. Again and again. One of my favorite musicians is Colin Newman, front man of 70/80’s punk/techno band Wire. In 1986, he released a solo album called Commercial Suicide. It’s one of my favorites. Maybe I’m playing with professional suicide (again), but it’s worth the effort to save us from ourselves.
It’s a very uncomfortable truth that sexism is alive and well in our “industry.” We’re no different than any other industry, agreed. Sexism is still rampant throughout every facet of our culture and society. Humanity has a problem with sexism. That said, that does not mean we should continue to institutionalize it or not fight against it within our little world. It’s also true that the overwhelmingly white, and male demographic of the “industry” is not unique to us. And it’s also true that as you migrate down price range, the demographic is much more diverse. But, the marketing of the sport/ lifestyle, the demographic of the industry itself, and the leadership of the sport is largely white, male, and getting older.
Let’s say we bring in new and diverse consumers to cycling. Many join our party all on their own, not because our marketing or outreach was effective. A hispanic woman buys a bike at Target, or even Wal Mart. She rides and decides she likes cycling. She then visits an IBD to see what her next step up might be. The IBD world is largely male- regardless of skin color. Maybe she picks up a magazine in the shop, and thumbs through the pages. As a woman, especially a woman of color, she is very unlikely to see anybody who resembles her. Let’s swap “hispanic female” for “black male” and the story is nearly identical. There are a few excellent examples of black men in the sport and business, but they don’t exactly make it into print ads that might help to paint a more diverse image. These examples are grossly oversimplified, but they’re still real.
We have a problem. “We”, meaning the cycling business (and especially in North America), have made a (bad) habit for decades of mostly trying to sell more bikes to an existing consumer base, especially at the upper end where nearly all of our marketing dollars are spent. The obvious problem is that those consumers are getting older, their garages are getting full, and their numbers are dwindling. If we simply look at sustainability and commercial viability- profit- it makes lots and lots of sense to do a better job of trying to grow that consumer base, while at the same time working harder to retain the ones who wander in on their own. Target and Wal Mart, as examples, get badmouthed by the IBD for many reasons (some of them accurate), but we should really be thanking them for creating new consumer opportunities for the rest of us. They are helping those of us who work in/ with the IBD network. And, you can also spread that to online retail as well. Many consumers who do not prefer IBD shopping, still wander in with boxes of parts and questions. We need to embrace each of them because they represent potential and hope.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. If I did, I’d be making lots more money. I am passionate about cycling, at all levels. I love this “industry” to my very bones. And I feel blessed to have been a part of it for so many years, and to have made the innumerable friends that I have. All of us are lucky.
We can do better. We can be better. We can be more creative. Selfishly, we have to … or “we” will be more irrelevant than we are already in danger of becoming. A less sexist, more diverse cycling world is good for us all.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
This coming week, I will be in Washington DC attending the National Bike Summit, along with my coworker Jill Hamilton (the Haro MTB Brand Manager… and one time contributor here… who might come back… no pressure…). Jill and I will be attending the summit as “sponsored guests” of Bikes Belong, serving as representatives of the cycling industry. With no sense of false modesty or “build up”, I am extremely excited about this and very honored to be going. I, along with many, many other people (way more qualified for the task than I) will be going to help further the causes of bicycle advocacy in the US. If you’ve read my posts or comments here and elsewhere, you might already know how I feel about the need for greater cycling-friendly infrastructure in this country. The industry needs the infrastructure to survive, but cycling as a whole needs it as well.
Anyway, here’s the deal; you got something you want said to the folks in DC who hold the purse strings? Then let me know and I will do my best to carry your ideas all the way to the folks who might actually be able to do something about it. I promise nothing other than the fact that I will do my best to express your comments and/ or concerns. Most people know that I am pretty darned passionate about cycling and this industry. I’m pretty sure there will be more than one occasion when I get told politely to shut the hell up… as if I can. But I want to carry your ideas as well. Sorry for the short notice on this, since I leave first thing in the morning Tuesday, but get me your comments here or directly to my email (tjackson at masibikes dot com). I will be in DC until Friday, so you have a few days to get to me before I get to them.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser