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.

Sincerely,

Me.


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: http://bikeleague.org/content/women-spend-billions-bikes