Women at Interbike: A Misadventure in Misconceptions
Interbike 2013 was my 11th visit to that oasis in the desert. Presumably, it’s the same oasis where everything that you’ve wished for appears like a genie from a bottle. And while that may be the case for your average technophile or e-bike enthusiast, as a female, Interbike only has a few moments to celebrate women in the sport.
I had the same experiences that I’ve had for a decade. I walk into the emptiest booth on the floor and am completely ignored. I’ll quickly mention that I’m not exactly invisible. At 5’10″, I’m not a wispy anything. In years past, unless I had a burning question, I typically just moved on. This year, I had to talk more than any time before, and as a result, I definitely came away with more than one observation and opinion.
Now, I’m not a feminist that walks around insisting that women shouldn’t be booth babes, and I don’t really have a poor opinion on the various iterations of Vegas “dancers,” but I do think that there’s a time and a place. In other words, it’s all about being appropriate. It’s no secret that cycling has long been a male-dominated activity, let alone industry. And while it might have previously seemed appropriate for women to be a fixture at Interbike, it now only serves to prove that a product can’t draw attention on its own. A little flesh never hurts. I get it. However, cycling is at a tipping point.
Professional women worldwide have called for a women’s Tour, and so far have over 94,000 signatures on the petition. The professional female cyclists in the US have formed the Women’s Cycling Association to further women in cycling, while USA Cycling also has a Women’s Committee. And did I mention that women now tip the scales with retail buying power? Well, there you go. Is there a chance that the male-dominated world of cycling is finally listening? Is it possible that vendors realize that with more female buyers and women-owned shops, the real way to attract women is to hire them? After seeing more women engaging potential buyers in intelligent, product-driven conversation, than scantily clad models, dare I say “yes?” But the bigger question is: Are companies able to understand what women are actually looking for?
Realistically, I know that trying to decipher the women’s market is about as simple as deciding which of the terrible remaining B-movies at the rental box is better. Even women don’t know what the women’s market really is. I spoke with several women, from owners to reps, and there’s zero consensus: “Women are more likely to shop online to avoid having to deal with uninformed bike employees, but they need to be given the info and tools to do so.” “Women prefer the one-on-one contact of a shop.” “Women want clothing that’s bright, fun, and colorful. They won’t wear the cool, classy, and wool-covered jersey because it’s grey.” “Women don’t want pink.” “Women want pink.” These are all statements that I heard at Interbike from women. There are as many versions as there are vendors, even among companies that are owned and operated by women.
I’m beginning to think we, as females, are doing something of a disservice to fellow female cyclists. Everything is okay, but nothing is perfect. And oddly enough, it seems like “whatever vendors ain’t got is what women want.” So, why not ask questions and make suggestions? When did women become so scared to voice their opinion?
Interbike was definitely lower key this year. It seemed to lack the usual Vegas vibe, and gladly, there were more women and there less skin. The industry may never be able to fully understand or embrace what women want, but then again I don’t either. What I do know is that if someone came up with women’s cycling shorts that had a wide range of a waist sizes, a similar mix of thigh sizes, and both semi and form-fitting fabrication, no matter what the color, women would embrace them. Throw a removable skort into the mix, and you have a million dollar product. Is anyone listening?