Sunday, May 10, 2015

'Barbie' Bikes

I've got a bone to pick about a topic that I'd love to just kill. Right here, right now. That topic is the ever-righteous 'Barbie bike'. 

Lately, I've been hearing the term tossed around and while it's a fairly humorous analogy, the tone in which it's usually spoken is a bit unsettling. To the uninitiated, a 'Barbie' bike can include any of the following:

- Pink streamers
- Pink frame
- Pink anything
- Small, undersized cockpit/grips and/or components
- A women's saddle
- Plastic accessories or components
- Womens-specific anything
- A 'girly' look

While this isn't an exhaustive list, I hope you're beginning to see the pattern. What I don't understand is why the term is often thrown out there by a woman. What I also am confused about is why we're speaking so derogatorily about a doll that, quite frankly, gave some of us the idea that we really could be whatever the hell we wanted to be. If you think about it, the doll 'Barbie' is actually kind of a badass. She's not only an international icon, but she's been a spy, a safari guide, a doctor, a baker, a model. In fact, on the Barbie Website, it says "With more than 150 careers on her resume – spanning from registered nurse to rock star, veterinarian to aerobics instructor, pilot to police officer – Barbie doll continues to take on aspirational and culturally relevant roles while also serving as a role model and agent of change for girls. She first broke the “plastic ceiling” in the 1960s when, as an astronaut, she went to the moon… four years before Neil Armstrong.

In the 80s she took to the boardroom as “Day to Night” CEO Barbie, just as women began to break into the C-suite. And in the 90s, she ran for President, before any female candidate ever made it onto the presidential ballot." To me, that's one hell of a big deal not just for female riders, but women in general. Give me another icon that's had as much of an impact and is so culturally synonymous with 'female' than Barbie. 

So why are we associating Barbie with lesser bikes? In the Outside Magazine article entitled 'No More Barbie Gear', the writer details how the Liv Intrigue is geared towards a beginner to intermediate female rider, but how badass women really want badass bikes. What the writer fails to point out, however, is that everyone needs a bike that suits their needs. Right now, the market is wide open. We have women of all levels entering the market at such a mind-boggling speed that companies can barely manage to get a grip on what women will buy. 

So here's the million dollar question: why are we using the term 'Barbie bike' as a way to tear down other riders and their bikes? Why are we tearing other bikes down at all? Are we, in our haste to proclaim ourselves 'badasses', excluding the women who those bikes may actually work well for? In our hustle to demand more options with better components and matching price tags, are we sending a not-so-subtle message to other women that they're less 'badass' because they love their Liv? 

I see so many women just stoked to be on a bike, hanging out and pedaling around. I see so many more of them who are wildly excited to find that companies are making women-specific bikes. And yet, in outdoor media and product reviews and blog posts, I'm still seeing so much about 'Barbie bikes'. As far as I can tell, there's not much difference in those 'Barbie bikes' than the bikes I'm rocking around on. Is the cockpit smaller? Well, sure it is! Are the handlebars shorter? They might be! But why? Well... It's made differently! Does that make a Giant Glory any less of a bike than the GT Fury? I don't think so. Does it make it a 'Barbie bike', open to condescension and mockery? No, no it does not. Do my purple wheels make my bike a 'Barbie bike'? What about those grips? How about the fact that it's ridden by a woman? I would dare say that it does not. While I may like a borderline-uncomfortable fit on my DH bike, that doesn't mean that the woman who wants a new cruiser bike with less harsh geometry or entry-level components has just purchased a 'Barbie bike'. 

What it means is that, as two different riders, we each have different needs. What it means is that said rider is just a different person and wants different things from her riding. And guess what?! That's okay. If we really want bike companies to step up and start offering us what we want, we need to stop categorizing each other. We need to start looking at our fellow riders as just that: fellow riders. Not every bike is going to be made for every rider. Not every color is made for every single buyer. And not every component group, suspension platform, wheel size or any other random, polarizing item is made for everyone. 

At the end of the day, it's about rocking what makes us happy. That's why we're out here. That's why we roll out of bed at the crack of dawn before the valley has cleared of its wet fog, and that's why we climb. That's why we race out of the office to meet up with our buddies before the sun sets. It doesn't have anything to do with what bike a fellow lady shredder is on, and I can guarantee that any rider on ANY bike is here for the same damn reason: happy.