Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Racial and Gender Diversity In Leadership Means Better Product & Higher Profit

I originally began writing this piece for publication by during their March, 2017 coverage of women in the bike world as part of International Women's Day and their accompanying articles. Due to personal issues and issues with reaching different sources for expert opinions, I blew through my deadline and it was never published upon completion. I do, however, feel that this adds important points and data to the current bike industry narratives around the value of an emerging female market, and am publishing it here for free for the open use of the bike industry at large. If you'd like to use excerpts of this article or would like more documentation on sourcing, please cite proper ownership of this work or contact me for more information.

When we look at the biggest threats to mountain biking and cycling as a whole, some of the biggest challenges that immediately stand out tend to be growth, sustainable economics, investment potential and retention rate. There are panels, round tables, lectures and even entire weekend conferences structured around addressing these challenges inside of the bike industry; with the source of these issue constantly being debated, much of the industry focus often deals with putting out the fires that spring up. From retailers to bike parks and manufacturers to media, these problems are pervasive and demand immediate attention to stem the bleeding.

The bike industry has seen waves of growth and recess but our roughly $6B annual valuation has varied little over the last two decades. In twenty years, despite the progressions in technology and accessibility, our industry growth has stagnated. According to the National Bike Dealer's Association 2015 Industry Report (and the NSGA - National Sporting Goods Association), more Americans rode bikes in 1995 than they do now and that number has almost halved in the last two decades. From nearly 60 million riders in 1995 to 36 million in 2015, the data is a stark picture: the bike industry is splitting a smaller pie into more pieces than it can support.

Growth patterns show decreased use and annual rider numbers since 1995.

Between online bike dealers, Independent bike retailers and direct-to-consumer sales, increased players in the retail game has led to more availability of bikes as well as a wider selection to choose from, and all of that completely ignores the value of the used-bike sales market. With so much convenience and supply, why has the demand decreased? In a world where action-sports is a multi-billion dollar annual industry, why are bicycles falling so short? In fact, why does the bike industry continue to hover around the 1973 high-mark annual unit sales number of 15.2 million? In 2015, we were slightly above the forty-year-old measurement at 17.4 million bikes sold in the US, but over the course of forty years, that doesn't seem like a commensurate amount of growth.

Comparatively, the US population has skyrocketed from 211.91 million in 1973 (the same year as our 15.2M record) to 323.58 million in 2017. That doesn't bode well. But it's easy to get lost in sales numbers. We see huge changes in population growth, in sports spending growth, in the value of mainstream presence and the appearance of bicycles in media, but we're not seeing significant growth inside of cycling on many levels. There are many avenues we could walk down trying to find the one cause of stagnancy in cycling, but seeing the lack of growth as a symptom of a larger and entirely different issue might be more effective.

Outside of the burdens of the US national cultural change and the advent of electronic entertainment, the bike industry has largely failed to capitalize on demographic engagement outside of the middle-aged white male rider. Until as recently as 2014 when 'women's specific' became the norm for manufacturers desperate to see any growth, the average viewer would have been hard pressed to find a female presence in cycling let alone racial representation. From visibility in pro races to equal representation in boardrooms, the lack of diversity inside of the bike industry is stunning. One could argue that it's even whiter, more affluent and more male than even golf when we look at the participation rates. According to The League Of American Bicyclists' 2013 "The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity" report, white people made 53% of all commuter trips in the US in 2010. Even worse than that are USA Cycling's participation numbers: only 16% of USAC license holders are female. 83% of the user base is male. The problem with that? It's not representative of the actual presence of women in cycling, nor does it address the racial disparity.

According to a People For Bikes 2015 study, the gap isn't that big: "We found that 104 million people—a third of the population—rode a bicycle last year and of those, 45 million (43%) were women compared to 59 million men (57%). Our findings revealed less of a gender gap than the 2009 National Household Travel Survey which (using a different methodology) found that just 24% of bicycle trips were made by women." The People For Bikes study goes on to say that 95% of women ride for recreation.

95% of women ride for recreation. Even wilder than that number is the fact that women make up 60% of bicycle owners between the ages of 18-27. SIXTY PERCENT. Women are vastly underrepresented in racing and media coverage but they're still present in cycling despite the lack of advertising and outreach prior to the womens-specific hardgoods push. The People For Bikes study has important value concerning the lack of bike industry knowledge about women on bikes, participation and buying habits, but marketing to women and minorities is one small piece of the growth pie: how much of this research will actually affect a change in leadership structure and inclusion?

People For Bikes' 2015 Infographic on Women in Cycling
Not only are women present in cycling, but they're leading the way. From female coaching programs and race teams such as SweetLines and Velocio-SRAM to charities like the World Bicycle Relief Fund and the Afghan Cycles documentary, many of the movements inside of cycling have women at the helm. The list of lady-led efforts to improve cycling as a sport is endless: media outlets like Total Women's Cycling, Ella Cycling Tips and Pretty Damned Fast continuously highlight the side of the bike industry that hasn't historically gotten as much coverage and the sheer number of female-led camps, clinics, forums, groups, races and brands should be recognized as legitimate entities inside of a growing sport that represent a valuable and vastly underserved audience. The volume and voice of these women and girls aren't just serious about riding bikes -- they're an economic force to be reckoned with. As such an integral part of both the bike industry and society at large, they deserve industry and company-wide equal representation.

But that's where the problem sits: representation. Harvard Business Review identified six basic female consumer segments but found, at large, that "Although women control spending in most categories of consumer goods, too many businesses behave as if they had no say over purchasing decisions. Companies continue to offer them poorly conceived products and services and outdated marketing narratives that promote female stereotypes." Sound familiar? It should. Women and minorities are often under-served due to lack of representation at multiple levels in the design and production process of nearly every product in the world, which leads to lackluster purchasing by women or minorities and thus often confirming existing purchasing biases. When a product is solely made by men, it's often made for men. Humans build and create around what we know, which is most often ourselves and the things familiar to us. Unfortunately, this is where implicit bias comes into play and not only inhibits the creative process, but infringes on the quality, profitability and even the safety of a product . However, when products are conceptualized, modeled, designed, studied, built and produced by a diverse range of people who reflect global population representation and wider individual needs, those products are simply more successful. Diversity doesn't just build great products, either. It makes for better companies. In February 2016, the Peterson Institute for International Economics cited "McKinsey Global Institute (2015) estimates that a scenario in which women achieved complete gender parity with men could increase global output by more than one-quarter relative to a business-as-usual scenario" in a peer-reviewed working paper entitled "Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey". PIIE also notes that the study "...results suggest that the presence of women in corporate leadership positions may improve firm performance and that the magnitudes of the correlations are not small. The largest gains are for the proportion of female executives, followed by the proportion of female board members; the presence of female CEOs has no noticeable effect on firm performance. This pattern underscores the importance of creating a pipeline of female managers and not simply getting lone women to the top."

In layman's terms, this supports evidence that companies make better products, have more inclusive marketing and that brands are simply more profitable when women and people of color are involved at every level.

On the other side of the issue, while many studies across the spectrum exist that show the positive effects of diversity within leadership, it's not always that simple: bad diversity policies can harm companies and create or worsen cultural barriers within an ecosystem. But bad diversity policies often come from boards and diversity panels that are misrepresentative of an entire organization which creates a cycle of fallout that is often contained only by curbing diversity efforts entirely rather than restructuring them. Tokenism cannot be the answer to an under-served market that's demanding equality and parity; the integration of inclusive and effective policies must be a series of steps taken willingly by organizations that are truly committed to creating growth.

When the bike industry starts to hire and listen to more women and people of color, companies will begin to avidly support female and minority athletes as equally as they support white, male athletes and when that support arrives, bike media will be forced to give an expanding and diverse audience appropriate images that represent a changing industry. Consumers buy into the things they see themselves doing: until we create an industry that welcomes and represents all riders, sustainable economic growth will elude cycling.

It takes all of us.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

10 Of The Best Bikes For Women in 2017

In response to RedBull's recent list of 2017's best womens-specific bikes, I'd like to present an ACTUAL list of great bikes for women in 2017 (not just a collection of budget-ass rigs thrown together by someone who doesn't think that equipment matters to female riders).


The end.

No. But seriously. You don't need a 'women's specific bike'. You need a 'human specific bike'. After all, a bicycle built for an elephant will probably be too large and heavy and a bicycle built for a fish is superfluous because what need would a fish have for  bicycle?

I digress.

For me personally, here are a few bikes at different price points that I love because of their features. Try one on if you like it, dismiss my opinion entirely, or shout mean things at me while throwing slushies from the chairlift. You do you, love.

2: Anything from Transition
These folks are getting the first mention simply because of their new take on the 'specific' marketing inside of MTB, but they also happen to make damn fine mountain cycles. They're also rider-owned and run, they have kickass customer service, they truly give a damn about the MTB community and... Okay, I'll stop. But really. Go. Go now.

Transition Bikes: Human Specific Design from Transition Bikes on Vimeo.

3: Anything from Pivot Cycles.  

Now, this may come as a shock to most people here, but Pivot has been making 'womens-specific' bikes longer than anyone in the market. They've also been making 'men's specific' bikes forever because they make size-specific rigs. What a novel fucking concept. Their bikes range from XS to XL and, like the Mach 6 pictured below, are hard-charging as they come. Their bikes aren't designed for the wallflower, either: Pivot's athletes range from kickass XC racer Jen Hanks to World Cup rider Emilie Siegenthaler and they've supported female racers at every level since before it was en vogue to back up marketing lip service. Pivot has consistently support efforts to get more #girlsonbikes and to create actual parity within cycling by hiring women at their Phoenix HQ, sponsoring women across the spectrum, making great bikes that fit people of all sizes, and not skimping on the build specs. That's why they made my list.

4: 2017 GT Sanction: 

GT is getting my endorsement because not only do they make kickass bikes with killer geometry, but they make (comparatively) affordable bikes as well as sponsoring female riders and hiring some really smart and rad women. Tell me that isn't a company worth supporting.  

5: Anything From Kona Bikes

Kona did away with most of their 'womens specific' category a while back and instead, opted to expand the sizing range offered to fit a better section of riders who want a good rig from a good company. Kona also supports massive amounts of lady efforts from CycloCross to the new Kona Supremes, an all-female squad in the PNW. Like Pivot, Kona's bikes come in sizes ranging from XS to XL -- enough range to fit people from 4'11" to 6'4". While different companies will have different geometries to fit different people, the Process 143 below comes in at a seriously reasonable $2699 USD with components that don't skimp on efficacy.  

6. The Evils:

With lower standover height and high-end appeal, anything from Evil comes with the ability to rule entire underworlds. Whether it's the 27.5 Insurgent or the 29 Following, these bikes are made for major fun (the type that might get you arrested). Ranging from size S to XL, they have highly-capable handling for even the most discerning lady. Evil has also hired one of my favorite lady-shredders this year, Kathy Pruitt, as their most recent addition to the staff... Between badass bikes built for people and hiring based on radness, that's enough for me.  

Image result for Evil Insurgent

7 - 10: Anything not branded 'womens specific'.

Listen: there's a huge difference between a company claiming to be 'women's specific' and a company that, instead of marketing their way into female hearts, actually earns a spot in our stand.

There are plenty of companies out there willing to tell women what we want to hear but not as many who are actually walking the walk with what they're doing behind the scenes. The list above is in no way a comprehensive or complete rundown of what the industry has to offer. It's more of a sampling of the companies out there offering actual bikes for actual people.  

While 'women's specific' bikes might make us ladies feel as though we're finally being given our (over)due, being 'given' a pre-selected and carefully controlled place in the industry isn't equality. All of the shiny pink and purple paint in the world doesn't cover up the desperate need for parity and real equality within cycling, and buying into the notion that women deserve lesser components isn't going to help us get where we need to go. Our industry needs wider sizing range for people of all sizes. This industry needs actual diversity, not just advertising efforts that try to capture the female dollar. If you want a bike, please buy based on your needs as an individual.

That's the only way we'll ever get bikes that fit.

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