The day after I got back from NYC, I attended the National Women’s Bicycling Forum, part of the National Bicycle Summit. It was exciting to be part of any sort of bike event, but even better that it was women-focused. Getting women on bikes is a big challenge anywhere, even here in the DC metro area, where so many people bike. Although I occasionally see women on bikes, it’s mostly men in spandex (yes, the MAMIL we always read about!), especially on the bike trails.
The National Women’s Bicycling Forum, sponsored by The League of American Bicyclists, had some powerhouse speakers, namely Georgena Terry, of Terry Bicycles, Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, and New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn. The breakout sessions also had some presenters whom I’ve known about from the Internet and Twitter stalking following, such as Robin Bylenga of Pedal Chic, in Greenville, SC, Susan Otcenas of TeamEstrogen.com, and Martina Fahrner of Clever Cycles in Portland, OR. The pop-up shop offered great opportunities to meet women and cycle chic companies I’ve followed and known about, like Elly Blue, Bird Industries, Cleverhood, Vespertine, GiveLoveCycle, Po Campo, Iva Jean, and Nutcase. I admit that half the attraction to going was to see some of these product lines in person!
The most interesting takeaway in terms of why we were there was that the message itself is mixed. Georgena Terry mentioned that she thinks women who ride bikes want to be treated like men, not as something special (I forget her exact quote and it was sort of an off-remark, not a strong point). But then in the panel titled “The Bike Shop Barrier,” the presenters all talked about how to make their bike shops more inviting to women – special treatment. So which is it? Although listening to Robin Blyenga of Pedal Chic talk about her crystal chandeliers in her women’s bike shop, and Zack Stender of Huckleberry Bicycles talk about the wood floor and custom tables for product made me want to shop there – they both have that boutique look that we, I confess, swoon for. Martina Fahrner of Clever Cycles suggested we think of bike mechanics as “computer geeks without the fortune” – they have the same attributes as computer geeks – detail oriented, focused, etc. Kind of a brilliant comparison, I think! And one panelist said that women respond to ads that inspire them and show them the goals they want to achieve, contrary to men who like the aggressive competitive ads. So I guess the question is, how to balance the line between our own unique motivations and interests, and moving away from being a “niche” market and mainstream?
But part of that niche market was why I was at the event – I wanted to shop! I had seen the vendor list ahead of time, and planned on getting the Vespertine skinny belt, which I’ve worn everyday so far. On a whim I grabbed one of the cute reflective flower bracelets as well – so cute! I admired Cleverhood‘s fantastic capes (I totally want one of these!), and then we got into a long conversation about fabric and designing and suppliers, which was very exciting for me, especially having just returned from fabric shopping in New York. I love talking shop with other designers! I have to confess, I was flattered by the attention my dress gained. A few women even came up to me because they recognized it from my blog or someplace else. I wish I could decide if I want to make a business out of it. If only I could find a company to just hire me to design and shop fabric!
The whole day gave me much to think about, and then, as I was leaving, there was one more thing – the other vendors were setting up for the beginning of the National Bicycle Summit, which was kicking off that evening. I was a bit insulted that they weren’t there all day, so that we could have seen them as well. I was especially interested in the bicycle counter, and would have liked to have more information on that. Did the League think we women wouldn’t be interested in the more “serious” stuff? That we’d only want to see the clothing and fun helmets and the jewelry? Here we were, once again being treated as a niche market, catered to in a different way. And who’s to say that there weren’t women at the Summit who might have wanted to buy a Cleverhood cape or a GiveLoveCycle bag or bracelet?
Perhaps I should be grateful that there is a Women’s Forum at all, and shouldn’t grouse about the way women who bike are treated. We are a diverse group, possibly more diverse than men, and have our own needs and desires, I admit. But that doesn’t mean that we need everything dumbed down, pink, sparkly, and girlie. If women really do mean business, (and we do!), then treat us with proper respect, show us the benefit of the doubt, and give us everything!