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
My good friend, and contributor here- Sarai Snyder– recently wrote an excellent Guest Editorial in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRaIN) in the February 1st issue. I liked it so much, and felt it valuable enough, that I reached out to both Sarai and BRaIN for permission to run the full editorial here. There are many great points in the piece, many things I have felt and said for years, but I lack the genuine credibility on the topic that Sarai has.
We, the cycling industry, have done so little to really grow and support women in cycling- historically speaking. It IS getting better, and more women are holding important roles within the industry (which is a long overdue trend), but there is so much more to be done… and Sarai’s piece does a lot to help explain how easy some of those steps can be. It’s not just about the products, which we’ve done a reasonably good job of creating. There’s more to it, as Sarai points out.
With the industry in desperate need of growth and “new” consumers, women are an important part of our collective futures… so if you didn’t read the editorial in BRaIN, please give it a read now.
How to create a female following… and why you should care.
Women are the fastest-growing segment in the cycling market. More and more are hopping on bikes everyday, but retailers sometimes find it difficult to connect with female customers. By creating a comfortable environment for women to shop, learn and advance as cyclists, your business can become a natural hub for women who ride bikes. Surprisingly, that might not be as hard as you think.
Here are a few tips on how to create, develop and maintain a loyal female following:
1. Get to know the female cyclist. Much more than just another rider, women are a huge asset in building a strong cycling community. Women are more socially and locally aware. As natural communicators, we like to build communities focused around our passions in personal networks and online, sharing stories and empowering one another toward our greatest goals. For these reasons, female cyclists are rarely created individually, but in groups of two or more. One new female customer can mean several, making us an extremely valuable market to reach. Women are motivated to have a positive community impact and therefore likely to get involved in local events and advocacy—another great reason to encourage more female ridership.
2. Make a connection. A good relationship with a female customer starts by making a connection. Recognize that women are not the opposite of men. As cyclists, we want the same things: great bikes, gear, places to ride and people to ride with. Women who ride bikes are just as diverse as their male counterparts in bike needs and interests. Finding that commonality is the first opportunity to turn a casual female shopper into a loyal customer. It starts with having a conversation and asking questions. As with each person that walks in the door, getting to know what sort of rider they are, their goals and challenges, you can meet them where they are and take them where they want to go.
3. Build community. Since women are socially motivated, having a healthy community in and around your shop is essential. Women’s nights have been hugely successful at many shops. These events provide an exclusive opportunity to get women in the door, introduce products and provide education. Lessons on flat repair and drivetrain cleaning are basic, necessary skills that all cyclists need to know. Many women have had less exposure to tools and often are not expected to be as mechanically adept as men. So offering education in a non-threatening environment is highly productive. Once women learn some basic skills they will feel more comfortable at more inclusive cycling events and rides. Women’s nights also provide the opportunity to meet and find riding partners. Following it up with a regular group ride is an excellent way to keep the momentum going, making your shop a gathering place for female cyclists. As friendships develop, so will your community.
4. Have at least one female on staff. Seeing another female in the shop will make a woman more at ease the moment she walks in the door. A female employee is also invaluable in bringing balance and diversity to your business. Additionally, her observations can lead to candid conversations on improving shop etiquette, especially when dealing with female customers. If you find it challenging to hire a female employee, consider searching out a woman to be your ambassador in the community, assist with events, lead group rides and be a sounding board for effectively reaching out locally. These women are usually thrilled to assist in making purchasing decisions for women’s-specific gear and bikes.
5. Lastly, have women’s gear on the sales floor. For many shops this is a chicken or egg scenario. Which comes first, stocking women’s gear or having more women ready to buy? This can be a fine balancing act, but taking care to grow the community and the gear offerings equally over time is a winning combination. Loyal customers who feel well supported and respected are often willing to wait for special orders. Reaching female customers is only marginally related to the products you carry.
As mothers, teachers and caregivers, women have the greatest influence on future generations. Attracting and developing more female riders is our opportunity to push cycling into the mainstream, thus leading to safer, stronger cycling communities. Improving the bicycle retail experience for women is essential for causing this shift and ensuring the sustainability of the industry we all know and love.
I love my “job” here as the Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser! I get to “work” with some of my favorite people on the planet, some of the sharpest minds I know, and just genuinely good people. A perfect example of that is our newest contributor, who happens to also be a good friend of mine (though she can be a troublemaker- “she started it”)- Sarai Snyder. Sarai is one of the most genuinely passionate advocates I have ever encountered in cycling, but when it comes to women in cycling, I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody more passionate, or knowledgeable. That’s high praise indeed, given the exemplary women I know in this world of cycling. And, I’d be willing to bet that all the other women I know, would agree with my assessment.
Sarai is genuinely one of my favorite people in the world of cycling, and on that same precious list outside of the context of cycling. She’s kinda the ginger-haired, freckled little sister I never had. And if she doesn’t stop touching my stuff and get out of my room, I’m gonna yank her pigtails!
As is the tradition here, I’ll let Sarai cover her own intro… if for no other reason than the fact I absolutely LOVE making all of my contributors talk about themselves in the third person voice.
Growing up in the hills of Kentucky, rolling around on bicycles meant riding on anything other than paved roads and cement sidewalks. At the age of 10, with her younger sister Tamar by her side, Sarai would bomb down steep hillsides and launch off homemade jumps.
Several years later, on her new-to-her Barracuda, she found that mountain biking was what she was born to do. Some say, in 1994, when she went out for her first mountain bike ride, she never really came back.
In 2005, Sarai became intimately involved with one of her local bike shops and soon took on the role of manager. The shop noticed an immediate shift. The number of women showing up for group rides and making purchases grew substantially.
Seeing the importance of community involvement in building the local cycling culture, Sarai started working with local advocacy organizations and later co-founded Queen City Bike, now Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s non-profit cycling advocacy organization. With an education in fine art, Sarai felt she had finally found a practical application for her creative skills, bringing a fresh perspective to actively encouraging more cyclists.
Taking the knowledge and experience she gained in Kentucky, Sarai moved to Boulder, Colorado where she founded Girl Bike Love. Recognizing the need for a larger women’s cycling community, the mission of Girl Bike Love is “to educate and empower women in cycling”. With such a simple mission, the online community has grown beautifully, connecting women all around the world.
With the support of this passionate group of followers, in the spring of 2012, CycloFemme – A Global Women’s Cycling Day was launched. In just 9 short weeks, 163 rides were registered in 14 countries. In 2013 those numbers grew to 229 rides in 31 countries.
Sarai loves every aspect of cycling and is constantly challenged to decide which discipline she loves most. Outside of running Girl Bike Love and CycloFemme, Sarai spends most of her time consulting for cycling companies, writing, and riding.
Perfect! Third person… I love it.
Now it’s time to prove just how damn smart she is.
We, as an industry, need to read these words and really chew on them and digest them. There IS a Revolution, and it IS here now; how are WE going to be a part of it? If you’re on the outside looking in and trying to “figure this out”, you could learn a lot by getting involved and listening. LISTENING. Small word, big concept.
While most of the cycling industry spent their time at Interbike ogling fresh lines and paint schemes, fumbling new gadgets, trading stories with old friends, searching out the next best happy hour, and hand counting the number of consumers they personally witnessed on day three, a notable revolution was taking place in a cozy little corner of the showroom floor with comfy couches, pillows, velvet stools and gasp – WOMEN.
Throughout the three day show the Women’s Lounge hosted by the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition (OIWC) was abuzz with momentum.
Women from all over the industry came together in quiet little game changing meetings while most others quietly strolled on by.
As the cycling industry continues it’s pursuit of “What Women Want” they largely fail to ask, listen, watch and learn from the very demographic they are trying to reach. Most will read this article, snicker and point fingers.
We all know it’s true. Many will say “We are being innovative, we listen, we like women, look here, we have an entire line of amazing women’s products”.
And while amazing products are much appreciated, this is exactly when it becomes clear who is missing the boat.
The answer to attracting the female consumer is only marginally related to product. Women are not the opposite of men. Women are riders, cyclists, mountain bikers, roadies, commuters, huckers, bmxers, fixies, pros, messengers, bike tourers, and track racers just as men are. Our gender does not change the fact that as such we want bikes and gear that fit well, function flawlessly, look good and make us feel even better. We want great places to ride, great bike shops and mechanics to care for our bikes, and great events and races to participate in.
Above all, as women, we want to be supported and acknowledged as equals, not physically the same, but as riders, racers, consumers and leaders. In turn, we use our buying power and our social influence to vote for the companies that are doing just that.
There is an emerging core of women in cycling that are creating strong partnerships, with great ethics, professionalism and powerful leadership. We are being innovative in our relationships, aligning with non endemic partners. We are working together to actively, strategically, and effectively attract more women to cycling.
So why does this matter to you, to your brand, to the cycling industry as a whole?
Because we have the women’s cycling market at our fingertips. And contrary to traditional marketing set forth in the industrial or marketing economies of the past, as Seth Godin suggests, “we are living in a connection economy”. Today, branding and marketing strategy hinges on the emotional connection.
By proudly supporting and investing in women’s cycling organizations, initiatives, and individuals that are directly cultivating the women’s cycling community there is a special opportunity to create lasting, authentic, emotional connections with female consumers.
The question is no longer “how do we attract more women to cycling?” but “how do we support those who are?”
Next time the opportunity arises to engage with the leaders of the women’s cycling revolution, take the time to create that emotional connection, to listen, to ask how you can show your support, and above all to say ‘thank you’.
The revolution is not about quicker shifting, cleaner cable routing, lighter, stronger, faster bikes, wheels, shoes or helmets. The revolution is not a product, the revolution is women in cycling.
Short and sweet… a lot like Sarai herself.
Are YOU… are WE… a part of the Revolution, or watching on the sidelines worrying about the restless masses? As you evaluate your marketing dollars (as I look at my own), consider the possibility that you might effect actual sales of your products/ services by supporting a growing customer base that is clamoring for your simple acknowledgement of their existence.
The current rise and fall of the Global Economy is enough to make you reach for some Dramamine. With all the volatility surrounding pricing/ costs and ever-increasing leadtimes, it is enough to make many in the cycling industry wonder about their profession. But even though nearly all indicators look really bad, things might actually prove to be better than many of us have feared.
In a slumping world economy, it is certainly very easy to fear for the worst. After all, our potential consumers have less and less money to spend- if any at all. So why should we remain optimistic for even a second? Well, the economic squeeze has begun to cause a shift in the way people think of bicycles. I thought for sure that gas prices would have to climb much higher before people began to drive less and ride bikes more, but I am pleasantly being proven wrong there. I continue to hear from retailers and read about how repair business is increasing for many shops because people are pulling old bikes down from the rafters and out of tool sheds so they can drive less. Many retailers are even having a hard time finding replacement parts for older bikes because the demand has gotten so high for them, due to repairs. Those same retailers are also reporting that some of those consumers are coming back after a short while to upgrade the old clunker for something newer, lighter, better designed for their commuting needs. This is something that I personally did not expect to happen this soon. We still don’t possess the proper infrastructure to support proper commuting, but people are braving the rough streets to save a little money, improve their health or help the environment.
Consumers, who many of us feared would no longer buy bikes when the pricing increases went into effect, do not seem to be as sticker shocked as expected. Let’s face it, they are seeing prices go up on all of the things they buy and they have seen the dollar drop value against nearly every other currency, so they have come to expect the prices for everything to go up. It doesn’t mean they are happily accepting it, nor does it mean they are making the same planned purchases… but they aren’t all storming out the door without making a purchase. On top of it, many new consumers are walking in for the first time. Commuters and city cyclists are sprouting up all over the place. I’ve heard from retailers who have seen this shift taking place in their shops, seeing many new faces for the first time. Sure, some of these new or returning cyclists need a little more educating but they are walking in on their own and without us (the industry) having to drag them in kicking and screaming.
Cycling has also become much more fashionable, with plenty of celebrity bicycle sightings and an ever-growing urban hipster bike culture, it is becoming “cool” to ride a bike for the first time in decades in the US. I’m not trying to pass judgment on whether any segment or niche in the market is some sort of passing fancy or not, people riding bikes for any reason at all is a good thing in my mind (and in the minds of many of us in the industry). I mean, when you have bikes like this one showing up in the world- you know you’ve reached a certain tipping point. Many of these consumers will come in and spend a lot of money to look cool and then vanish from the market when they hop on the “next thing”, but there will be at least a small amount of retention of these new cyclists- especially if we embrace them and share our love of cycling with them and let them develop their own… even if we don’t “get it”.
As many of us have been screaming for years, cycling is also fun and enjoyable. Remember, in a bad economy, folks still need to have fun and others want/ need to escape their fears and worries. Riding a bike is incredibly good for that. Some of those new consumers might have been planning to buy a bigger car this year and might opt to save some money and buy a bike instead. Or, maybe, they want to escape the worry of their stock portfolio suddenly being worth less than a politician’s promises and riding a bike has popped into their heads. It has been seen in the gym/ health club world in the past; when things get tense, people want to work off their frustrations or fears by trying to get into better physical condition. For millennia, humankind has worked out frustrations, fears and anxieties by working up a sweat or taking the time to enjoy the outside world in some fashion. Cycling is an excellent vehicle for that.
When you take all the above into account and then toss in a growing global consciousness, things don’t look quite so bleak. Many people are thinking very much about the environment and fears of global warming, as well as the impacts of oil demand on sociopolitical issues across the globe. Cycling provides an excellent way to combat these concerns as well as local concerns about traffic congestion, etc. It’s an altruism, certainly, that many people say they believe in and don’t really- but altruism has also become fashionable… as it has been for countless decades.
So what does it all mean? Well, on the very surface it all means that things aren’t necessarily as bad as feared. More significantly though, I’m trying to point out that the bike industry sits poised to see growth that is actually sustainable and maintainable. I can not tell you how many conversations I had during Interbike this year about the hope many retailers felt about the future. Sure, there were many concerns about the economy, but overall the atmosphere was full of hope- much more so than recent years, by a huge amount. The cycling industry is paying better attention to the birth and growth of niche markets as well as the development of the commuting market. Nearly every bike manufacturer had a fixed gear bike and/ or a commuter bike in their line. And almost all of the clothing and accessory manufacturers had gear aimed at urban cyclists and commuters. I’ve never personally seen so much energy aimed at these segments of the market and the consumers who use the products. Hell, Interbike even put on the Urban Legend Fashion Show with the help of my friends in Canada at Momentum Magazine. When was the last time you saw or felt so much energy in this segment of the industry? I never have and I’ve been in the industry in one way or another for 26 years now.
It might not look or feel like it, as you watch the news and listen to the politicians painting a picture of doom and gloom, but the cycling industry stands on the precipice of fantastic potential if we just listen to our customers and friends. As long as we are aware of what is happening and what they are asking for- even if they don’t yet know what it is- we can bring them into our club and they will hopefully bring their friends along for the ride as well. I’m not advocating false hope or idiotic optimism beyond reality, but I do see great potential for cycling in general. The race scene will have its usual ebb and flow and I’ll be right there watching it, but the other categories of the cycling market and cycling culture are looking really primed for growth and expansion… and fun.
Let’s not lose hope too soon, even as worldwide money markets look very frightening. Things look better than expected. Even pricing concerns seem to be diminishing slightly as oil prices come down to match dropping demand and shrinking economies. Strap on your helmets; it’s an open road ahead.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person in the cycling industry who is kind of looking forward to this year’s Tour de France being over. The marquee event in the world of cycling has become the proving ground for new products and a bicycle industry marketing circus. Even companies who have no product in the event benefit from the overflow of attention given to the sport and by extension the industry itself. It’s been a great ride, in many ways, for the US cycling industry as well.
It began in earnest with Lance Armstrong’s first Tour win in 1999 and propelled Trek into the stratosphere as he reached the historic win number 7 on their bikes. But, the rest of the industry also benefited from what was frequently called “the Lance effect”. Road sales in the US alone climbed to heights never seen before and retailers rejoiced in selling more expensive and profitable road bikes. Consumers, who wanted to be like Lance, flocked to shops and paid good money for newer, lighter bikes. The industry, as a whole, was propelled and propped up by road sales.
Last year’s Tour was won by sentimental favorite Floyd Landis, giving the US an eighth consecutive Tour win in spectacular fashion. But the joy was short-lived as the news broke of Floyd failing a drug test. At this time, we all still wait to hear of the results of his arbitration hearings. In the time since the news broke, several other doping scandals have broken as well. The list is too long to go through in detail, but a pair of the highlights is the news that Ivan Basso (riding for the Trek sponsored Discovery Channel team) confessed to involvement in the Operation Puerto doping scandal and then several members of the old Telekom team (now T-Mobile and sponsored by Giant) confessed to a major doping system within the team for several years- including Bjarne Riis, who won the Tour in 1996 and now owns/ directs the CSC team that Basso rode with when his name was first linked to the Puerto case and he was not allowed to race in last year’s Tour.
Fast forward to the year’s Tour… as painful as that is. The riders were “forced” by the UCI to sign an anti-doping pledge before being allowed to compete in the world’s most spectacular cycling event. We were to be treated to a totally clean Tour. Heck, the riders had all pledged they wouldn’t use any doping techniques. Barely a week into the race, which had been a great race, T-Mobile rider Patrik Sinkewitz crashes out of the race, but while in the hospital news breaks that he had failed an out of competition drug test during a team camp before the race. Roughly a week later, pre-race favorite Alexander Vinokourov crashes badly and soldiers bravely on. After a few very painful days of gritting his teeth and riding through the pain, Vino pulls off a dramatic and emotional time trial win to salvage his Tour. Sadly, three days later, during the second rest day of the event and after Vino pulls off a second win, it is learned that he failed a drug test for blood doping after his dramatic stage 13 time trial win. The second test of the B sample confirmed the first test and the entire Astana team pulls out of the race in disgrace. As if this news were not enough, on stage 16, Italian rider Cristian Moreni of Cofidis (a team that suffered doping drama before in 2004 with David Millar and other riders) is pulled from the race after failing a drug test and the entire Cofidis team abandons the race with him. Later that same day, unbelievably, the yellow jersey wearing Michael Rasmussen is pulled from the race and fired by his team for lying to them about his whereabouts in the month of June when he missed doping tests by his national federation. This wasn’t his first missed test and the act of lying to his team and then being revealed to have been in Italy, rather than in Mexico as he said he was, was too much for the team sponsors to accept under the current climate. So, just days before the end of the race, the yellow jersey is out of the race in humiliation after sneaking out the back door of the team hotel.
One, two, three and then four separate scandals in one Tour. It’s clearly enough to make sponsors rethink their association with a sport that already suffers from a bad public image when it comes to doping. Many rumors have been circulating that T-Moblie and Adidas will be leaving the German T-Mobile team. Word on the local US street is that potential sponsors who were planning to enter into pro team support have already pulled the plugs on any plans that were coming together. Is a mass exodus now going to take place? Will the sport of professional cycling, as we currently know it, vanish? Will US teams suffer as much as the higher profile European teams? Will Johan Bruyneel magically find a replacement for the exiting Discovery Channel? Will the sport of professional road cycling simply whither up and blow away? It’s a very scary time for the sport. But look past the sport, will the industry take another hit as well? This year, for the first time in several years, road bike sales actually fell below the previous year’s numbers. Will this latest string of bad news deflate sales even further? Here in the US, where Lance is still the king of road cycling even in retirement, the lack of a dominant US rider has certainly created less attention with US fans.
Many of us in this industry, myself included, are huge fans of the sport as well as members of the community of manufacturers, distributors and retailers. This constant bad press leaves us defending our beloved sport to our friends, families and the folks who ultimately pay us. It’s becoming harder and harder each year to sell the top management on race team or event sponsorships. It’s becoming very difficult indeed. The question does become, just how much of this is the public, the sponsors and the bike industry going to be able to stomach before the sport implodes upon itself… for good?
The reality, as painful as it is, is that progress is being made. Cycling has arguably the toughest drug testing regime of any sport. Certainly more than sports in the US like baseball, football, basketball and hockey. It’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel or the silver lining to this all, but it is clear that a change in the sport is coming. Riders and teams are both seeing the need to combat doping- many now recognize that their livelihoods are in serious jeopardy of going away and that actual jail time is becoming a real threat. Doping is becoming less and less attractive and the dopers are being treated as pariahs. The desire to change is there- no matter how bad things look right now (which is really, really bad).
So as this year’s Tour comes to an end, I now find myself happy to see it conclude, just not for the usual reasons. I still love our sport and this industry. I’ll look forward to seeing the rest of the season conclude and I’ll probably be excited when next year’s Tour rolls around. The next few months and the next season could be pivotal- the fate of the sport and industry could be in the balance.
What are your thoughts? My fellow industry members- do we walk away or do we stand and fight? Is professional road cycling, especially on the European stage, no longer worth the expense and agony? Can our industry survive another year like this? I’d really like to know your thoughts on this.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser