Monday, June 22, 2015

What Women Want

Glitter Boots is what we want. Can we get some SPDs on these already?!

Dear Bike Industry,

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I am a woman (yes, I'm teasing).

As a woman, I ride bikes. I climb mountains. I ski down them, float rivers, run trails, surf waves and weather storms. I twist, I turn, I sweat and I fight. Shockingly, this is very similar to a man who does the same thing. Interestingly enough, it is identical to a man. 

But it seems that the bike industry (and the outdoor industry in general) feels as though I somehow put less stress on my gear and equipment, despite the obvious signs that I'm as destructive as a teething puppy with a closet full of fancy shoes. 

Now, don't get me wrong: it's not like I intentionally put my bike or skis or other outdoor gear at risk of unreasonable damage. I don't try to see how far I can push equipment and then complain. What I do is use my stuff. I use it for the intended purposes and I generally buy quality products from good companies. Is it cheap? Never. But I do use it. And because I twist, climb, sweat and function like a human who enjoys pushing her limits, I often end up testing the limits of the products I buy. 

My problem? The limits of my 'women-specific' gear are often more tenuous than those of my 'unisex' or 'mens-specific' stuff. And that's disappointing, especially when I can hold up two pair of mountain biking shorts from the same company and same line and even the same model name, yet the shorts have different features because one happens to be female-specific. Why should only the men's shorts have taped seams and waterproof zippers? Why do the men's shorts/bags/pants/jackets have more pockets or storage space or waterproofing or breathability? That just doesn't seem logical to me. It's not like I sweat less or when I fall into a river/off a cliff/into a hole I get less wet, scratched, dirty or hurt.  

They say "if you build it, they will come" and clearly, 'they' were right: we have built a womens' industry and the women have shown up. In spades. In hordes. In fact, the female demographic is the fastest-growing segment in MTB. Companies cannot keep up. We spend a lot of money, too... So why the resistance? Why the patronizing, reluctant styles? Why the low cuts and the half-assed fabrics?

Some of us just want Transformers Jerseys

... While others prefer their unicorn pants.

Just as there is no 'average male cyclist', there is no 'average female cyclist'. There are beginner cyclists, mountain bikers, dirt jumpers, XC riders and downhill riders, and there are intermediate riders, expert riders and pro riders. There are STRAVAssholes, there are timid riders. There are diggers and there are destroyers... Of EVERY gender. Why don't we make clothing lines and equipment based around that?! We make bike parts based around technical equipment needs... There are all levels of components and technology based around level of need, so why does it seem so difficult to do that with everything else? For example, a beginner line of sorts: some pockets, durable as hell, but inexpensive. Functional, but not top-of-the-line. As this rider (male or female; two models in a few different colors) figures out what they need, they'll upgrade. An intermediate line would be dependable, stylish, and functional. Taped seams, reinforced crotch, some sturdy pockets with quality zippers that won't break on impact as this rider grows and progresses. Men's and women's styles, a few different colors in both. An expert line: high end pieces in quality fabrics with waterproofing, durability, lightweight, hidden vents, pockets, the works. A wider range or activity-specific pieces, with identical tech features for men and women, but different cuts for body shapes. A few different styles. 

Is it complex? Well, sure. A lot of the most beautiful things are complex. But does it have to be insane? No. If you're going to do something, why not do it right?

Instead of hiring one woman for a single company to vote in on what she feels that women want, why not ask around? Why not consult a few? Offer them a stake in it, offer them credit. Hell, right now, there are people who throw all sorts of creative property at brands that completely ignore it. Some of it is really, really good. Women give ideas based on what they want -- ultimately, my thoughts are going to be self serving because humans are inherently selfish. While I might really want to represent women from a different demographic, all I can do is guess at what they need. I will never accurately be able to portray small, petite women. Why? Because I'm not one. But guess what? That's okay! I'm 5 foot 8 inches and damn proud of it, but I know that my body type doesn't reflect every single other female body out there. My brain and riding style don't either, but what I can do is accurately predict what women like myself do need... Sometimes.

No one woman can definitively say what another woman wants. Not in life, not in bikes and certainly not in what to wear. As often as I forget that, it still holds true; it's not for me to judge or to declare. So what's a company to do then?! Well, first of all, we need to stop treating women as cookie cutter products and actually focus on what sells: purpose-built products that are created for individuals rather than those chosen by default stereotype that supposedly represents a large, dynamic demographic. Like my smart friend Ian said: "It's a lot of work to [try to] appeal to "women" only to realize that you appeal to 3% of women..." He's a really smart fella.

Making quality, hard-hitting gear for women no longer qualifies as 'catering'. What it is happens to be is smart business. It's efficient. It's friendly. It's inclusive, sure. But it's an investment in the future of female riders; imagine what she would do if she knew her gear would put up with most anything.

Not only would hiring a wider range of female voices result in better selling product (and less waste or close-out), but it would create a distinctly female industry presence at races, company events, tradeshows, and in all levels of the sport. It would, essentially, accomplish a lot of what we've been trying to do for women for the last 15 years. The audience is there, the market is there, the money is there, and now we're just a few steps away from TOTAL WORLD DOMINATION. I'm kidding. But you know where I'm going with this... And it's not such a bad thought, is it?

When you're ready, you just let me know. I'll be over here in my half-sewn jersey and underwear.



EDIT: There have been a few comments that echo the sentiment of there supposedly 'not being a women's market' for selling women-specific product that fits the bill of 'adequate'. To all of you, I simply say this:

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why Superior Bikes' Apology (And Attitude) Sucks

Deep breath. Okay.

I've given myself a few days' worth of non-commentary to accurately approach this topic in the hopes of not coming off as confrontational, aggressive or... Oh, fuck it.

First off all: when one of my Twitter friends tagged me to the link to Superior's horrible PR screw up, I laughed. HARD. It was funny! I thought it was a joke. And then I realized that it wasn't. But I was still laughing. Because it was too easy. It was too clearly messed up. And then I had to show it... Because why?

1. Because irony. Because life is far too short not to enjoy the schadenfreude of being tormented for weeks about the bike industry not having a sexism problem and then finding a website that clearly states how inferior women are and how we don't need bikes that are aggressive, etc. Duh.

2. Because I laughed. Fucking HARD. And long. And then I gleefully shared it because HEY! You should look at this and laugh, too. At that point, was I really looking for another PinkGate/WWIII/BikeNerdApocalypse? No. It was just so stupid that it was laughable. Especially in light of all of the talk around whether or not the cycling industry does or doesn't have a sexism issue.

Secondly, all I will say on this topic is: I know. I just know. I feel you, my friend.

Thirdly, that apology. Oh my mother of Jesus, can we please talk about that 'apology'? Superior Bikes is sorry we got offended? Really? Because there was nothing truly offensive in their original copy and hey! It was a translation mix up! Besides! There are sooooo many women that it does apply to. How dare we be upset that we're so easily dismissed and generalized as one big chunk of flesh? Ugh. Clearly, we don't get it. 


I call bullshit. In fact, I'm calling horseshit, too. I call it all shit, because that's what it is. The original copy was dismissive, rude, sexist and nothing like the copy on the male 'Sport' line, which is nearly an identical bike. Claiming that it was a translation mix up is like me climbing into bed with someone else's husband, banging his brains out and then claiming "I thought it was my boyfriend! It was dark! We didn't communicate!" In other words, a royal fuck up.

"Dear cyclists, women!

My name is Jan Skřička and I work as a SUPERIOR bikes marketing person. It is me who's the author of the unfortunate intro text to our MODO Lady MTB bike category. After reading all the comments, I can see that many of you would like to have me torn to pieces, fired, burned in hell. And I understand it. Yet, before I'me done, I kindly ask you for some extra time to read the lines below. 

The formulation of the original text was unfortunate and contained stupid generalization. Though not formulated in a good way, the generalization was there to explain the concept of the bikes in the MODO category, not to offend women. We really took a lot of time and did our maximum when designing and developing the Lady MTB collection doing our best with the best of intentions. Same way me and my colleagues never realized that the text could be taken as offensive until the discussions started. My mistake! I take it.

What can you say and when something like this happens? Oooops!?

Now seriously:
• I sincerely apologize for the misunderstanding and the original texting.
• I have now changed the intro text to the MODO MTB Lady category and I hope that it now expresses the idea behind the concept of our MODO collection without offending any woman riding a bike.
• Thank you all who contributed in the discussions for teaching me a lesson! I have certainly learned something over the last couple of days. I hope! ;-)

Ride & have fun!

Jan Skřička
SUPERIOR Bikes, marketing"

And then suddenly, when Business Insider covered it, they issued an apology. And I tried to be polite and say "Thank you" and pass the appreciation on.

But after about six hours, I just... Couldn't do it anymore. As you can see above, it was just as half-assed, just as patronizing and just as infuriating as the original copy. Clearly, management decided that digging a whole new hole was worth the effort and left us with the oft-uttered superior little dig of 'Go ride!', but structured as "Ride & have fun!" when you confront an issue like this.

And I know that I'm supposed to be grateful they even lent us their time and deigned to issue an apology. I know that as a female professional, I should be classy and offer just a nod and positivity. But you know what? I'm not. I'm me, and this is my internet version of the middle finger to you, Superior Bikes. You can take your copy, your apology and your excuses and get lost. Because you're wrong -- dead wrong. Women are brilliant and strong and powerful and passionate and daring and even when we're ditching the bike, it's generally to go lift a car off of a baby or something (okay, maybe an exaggeration: I've never saved a baby). But even the generalization you made in the copy about women who want to just enjoy paved paths is incorrect. Why? Because my mom just wants to ride paved paths. But she does it for enjoyment, not because she's not a badass. And a lot of women are the same way -- they're not, in fact, one of two polar opposite groups that a large portion of the male bike industry would like to assign women into. Those women and this women are individuals who all want something different from their riding experience... Just like men. Why? Because women are human. And our wants and desires vary on our opinions and motivations and needs as individuals. Imagine that. 

Thanks for proving my point.