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Velo Mom: The Deeper Meaning of Biking
In 2010, Jen Charrette, an avid bicyclist and mother in Colorado, started the Velo Mom blog to showcase her family's life on two wheels. After the release of Women on a Roll, Jen got in touch, and I was excited to learn about, not just her growing online community, but her upcoming book and her astute efforts to fundamentally change the way we talk about bicycling.
The imperative to shift the conversation rang particularly true for her at Interbike: "While I understand the need for businesses to showcase their gear, I feel the bike industry and bike advocates rarely address the deeper meaning and purpose of cycling." With Jen's permission we're reposting her post-Interbike reflections on the soul of cycling and three ways the bike industry (and advocates) can start to reach outside our small biking circles.
The Soul of Cycling
This year there was a lot of buzz over Women Bike. Women Bike is initiative by the League of American Bicyclists to get more women cycling. They recently published a report on women and the cycling industry. They have collected a lot of statistics and linked them to economic impact. During Interbike, Women Bike sent out a series of reference and comparisons to the yoga, fitness, running and women’s cycling. It’s clear the cycling world is way behind when it comes to keeping up.
Which got me thinking outside the box of gear, statistics, numbers, industry. What do yoga and running "promote" better to women than cycling? The spiritual, soul searching, healing — almost medicine-like — aspect of the sport. A quick Google search on "why women run" returned dozens of emotional articles on how running has transformed people. For both men and women. There are no gear articles that appear.
Here is an excerpt from a recent Runner’s World post: “For me, my daily run is my medication. It’s my way of feeling like myself. It’s the running that helps me function as a human being in society, and the lessons I’ve learned from all my workouts. It’s given me confidence in my career, in my relationships, and in my self-identity.”
Search "why women bike." You’ll find on one very inspirational short piece — the rest are about gear. The inspirational stories are out there; we just need to tell them, market them, encourage them. "Let’s encourage more women to aspire to a life on two wheels, to be wooed by the passion and freedom," says Ann DeOtte Kaufman of Iva Jean.
Search on why anyone (men or women) do yoga and the search is filled with people talking about the physical and emotional benefits of a yoga practice. “It really offers me solace, a place to go in and just to be,” says Colleen Saidman.
So when I saw the tweet below at Interbike I thought — wow the bike industry has a long way to go before even thinking about Lululemon! It’s not about just creating products or retail environments. It’s about selling the lifestyle of cycling — outside the cycling world. The physical and transportation aspects are obvious, but what about the mental and emotional benefits?
Sure, we can tell a mom that she can save a few dollars and burn a few calories by biking to the market with her kids. But what if we told her this story:
“Because we cyclists are self-propelled we cannot live in numbness to our bodies or to the rest of our environment," says Emelie Smith in Momentum magazine. "We know how we feel when we’re working hard or riding fast, whether we’re exhausted, cold, thirsty, on-fire, full of life; we live with a deep creaturely awareness of ourselves. We are also in touch with our physical surroundings. We know where the earth sinks and rises, where she’s rough or smooth, where the air is salty. We know the feeling of rain or snow on our skin. We know what it’s like to have the cold wind tear through us, or to have the heat smother us. Cyclists have no choice but to understand themselves as an interconnected part of the living, breathing creation, riding on the very breath of the holy.” .
We can continue to promote road and mountain biking as a something you do for fitness. Or we can start talking about how vigorous exercise can be as effective as some antidepressants. It helps with depression, anxiety, grief and — unlike meds — it starts to work right away. Cycling at a level that raises your heart rate, offers an immediate mood boost and is often followed by a brighter outlook on life.
So where can the bike industry start? Here are my top three ideas:
Expanded women’s bike clubs and ambassador programs: I feel for the bike industry when it comes to creating women’s gear. I think they have done a tremendous job at trying to deliver women’s products in a down economy. All three major brands (Trek, Specialized, and Giant) have specific gear for women and while walking the floor at Interbike almost every manufacturer seems to at least be trying to appeal to "the women’s market" with women’s products. Unfortunately, it seems like they haven’t really connected with the general population, like running and yoga.
What would help is an emotional connection to women (and men) outside the bike world. Ambassador’s that represent more of the average population. And ambassador’s that will write authentically about their lives on the bike, share and support your brand — not just ride your bike.
I’m amazed by the amount of free gear and pro deals bike companies give local racers — and for what in return? Most of these racers don’t promote the brand outside of riding the bike in a 50 mile radius where they are only seen by other racers that also want pro deals. And, as a former bike shop owner, I will attest to the fact that it's taking business away from local shops. If you go outside the industry and get someone new hooked on cycling, you're growing your base and not taking business away from local shops — because they weren’t there in the first place.
All bike brands (focused on both men and women) would be smart to look outside our tiny cycling world and find true ambassadors that will help spread the word about the benefits of cycling to those outside the "inner circle." Bike brands and bike shops can also help support more non-competitive bike clubs like this one in Boulder.
Expanded event coverage: Want to grow the women’s market? Show up where women are. Hint: It’s not Sea Otter or the Fruita Fat Tire Festival. Those women already have bikes. Take a bike demo fleet to a 5K race. Get women who don’t ride on the seat of a bike and show them how much fun it is! Heck, send someone to BlogHer and see if you can get cycling into the conversations about health and fitness. Just get outside the tiny bike world or you’ll keep spinning your wheels.
Create an inclusive social media platform for advocacy: A few years ago I approached a bike advocacy group about writing consistent posts on their blog (for free) about family cycling. After several emails and phone calls I finally got a response from the Communications Director: “No thanks, but good idea, I will have some women in our office that are moms write some.” Well, I never did see any consistent posts about family cycling. If your blog hasn’t been updated in three months maybe you should let your grassroots advocates have a voice.
If someone wants to help spread your message, let them! If you can’t let them into your "circle" create a grassroots program or communications protocol that acknowledges their support while helping you spread the message. There is a great example by the Sierra Club. They have a section on their website to highlight Grassroot Advocates. There you will find a simple platform where average, but very passionate people, can support the Sierra Club’s mission and goals.