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Showing Shops that Women Mean Business

Today is the deadline for the latest round of Bicycle Friendly Business applications and already nearly 700 companies, large and small, have been designated by the League. Many of those — more than 150 — are bike shops. Inspired by the the League’s Women on a Roll report, a group of female riders in Alexandria, Va., mobilized last month to show their local shops the importance of being women-friendly, as well.

It all started last year when Jim Durham, the chair of the local Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, recognized the need to have more than one lone female on the 15-member committee. To investigate ways to get more women engaged in the Alexandria biking community, a group of 10 women came together for a “Women & Cycling Strategy Session” in September. The role of retail surfaced immediately.

“One of the issues that came to light was that many of us felt unwelcome and often intimidated in bike shops and on rides,” Tracy Krulik, of Alexandria Spokeswomen, recalls. “Two of us, Andrea Hamre and I, volunteered to begin working on a guide for how bike shops could be more welcoming to women. The timing was perfect, because the League had just released its Women on a Roll study. With that information, combined with our personal experiences in shops, we drafted a letter to bike shops.”

Dear [Alexandria Bike Shop]: We are competitive cyclists, weekend warriors, committed commuters, hipster cruisers, and parents on wheels. And one more thing: We are all women.

If you read the August 2013 report by the League of American Bicyclists on women cycling, you know that — as the title aptly states — women are on a roll. Sixty percent of bicycle owners aged 17- to 28-years-old are women and, from 2003 to 2012, the number of women and girls participating in bicycling rose 20 percent, while the number of men and boys dropped 0.5 percent. Moreover, both the City of Alexandria and the Washington Area Bicyclists Association are committed to encouraging more women to ride and helping us do so safely and happily. To be blunt: We are a rapidly growing market for you.

We see it as a win/win. We can buy our bikes, clothes, accessories, and tools from you. We can join you for group rides and take your bike maintenance classes. And you, well, you get to sell us bikes, clothes, accessories, and tools, etc. You get the idea. But there’s a problem, which the “Women on a Roll!” report says well: “Women are a powerful consumer force, but too often they do not feel welcome in bike shops or do not feel products address their desires and needs.”

That’s why we’re writing to you. As a group of women devoted to making Alexandria more bike-friendly for daughters, sisters, and moms, we thought we’d share with you what we look for in a bike shop. We appreciate when:

  • You recognize that — just like men — some of us know a lot about bikes and some of us don’t. 
  • You ask questions to understand our level of expertise, interests, and needs. 
  • You carry a diverse array of products to suit the varied needs and tastes of women riders. 
  • You offer women-only maintenance clinics and rides. (We love to ride with the guys too, but periodic events for us alone can help us meet potential riding buddies and build confidence on the bike.)
  • You stay true to your group rides’ advertised distances, routes, and pace, and that your ride leaders follow traffic rules and safe riding practices. 

We’d love to chat with you about the details and discuss ways we can partner down the road.

To start that conversation, they did more than simply mail the letters.

“At our next meeting in October, Nelle Pierson, from the Washington Area Bicycle Association, came up with idea that we make an event out of it and hand deliver the letter to each shop,” Krulik says. “We all loved that idea and set to work on pulling the ride together.”

The ride was set for May 4, with stops at five area shops. More than 20 women showed up, which proved a perfect number. “The energy was high but still manageable, and everyone had opportunities to speak with the shop owners and staff,” Krulik says.

Some of the highlights?

  • At our first stop, Bicycle Pro Shop, the manager let us know that he’s working to bring in a new line of women’s products to the shop, and plans on using the photo from our visit as a lobbying tool. 
  • Next at Spokes, Etc. some of the women talked with shop staff about the need to carry larger-sized clothes for women. As one participant said, she’s encouraged to ride her bike to lose weight, but she has trouble finding clothing that fits her to do so. 
  • When we got to Velocity bike coop, one of the riders had a squeaky pedal. So, as one would expect in their shop, her bike was mounted onto a stand, and a volunteer talked her through fixing the pedal herself. Velocity has offered to host ladies nights in the coop, where we can all work on our own bikes. 
  • Wheel Nuts had an amazing spread of food waiting for us outside the shop under a tent. They cut up a variety of different ride fuel snacks (ie Bonk Breakers and Honey Stinger Waffles) so that we could sample ride nutrition products while refueling. Highly informative and tasty!
  • Our last stop was at Big Wheel Bikes, who are eager to partner with us on some bicycle maintenance workshops in the shop. 

The event was impactful for both riders and retailers. “I wasn’t expecting to see rapid changes,” Krulik says. “But by riding to each of them, we showed the shops how important it is to us to be treated equally and for them to think of us when they stock their shelves and racks. They really listened!” 

And they left something behind for the bike shops to remember them by.

“On May 4, 2014, the Alexandria Spokeswomen and local ladies presented this plaque to [bike shop] during the Women on a Roll ride. This plaque is a token of our appreciation for [bike shop’s] support of women in the local bike community. We hope [bike shop] will continue to be a strong community presence for all.”

Learn more about the Alexandria Spokeswomen here.