Inclusivity In The Bike Industry

UCI World Champs Women's Road Cycling Race 2019

Improving, but a long way to go

The bike industry is a sprawling complex of both old school and thoroughly contemporary cultures centered around the pursuit of speed on two wheels.

OK, maybe speed isn’t always the objective, but it sounds cool, right? So let’s roll with it.

Anyway, as the years gradually pass, so too does the traditionally European-male-centric focus of the industry, a focus that has lingered, much like an unpleasant aftertaste, for far too long.

That isn’t to say that the images of grit, determination, and beauty forged by the hardmen of l’eroica-era cycling are something to forget — no, quite the contrary. Those images serve a dual purpose of reminding us of the sport’s history, while also providing a reference point for how far the industry has come when we gaze around at the myriad faces, ages, and genders encapsulating cycling today.

Now, the limits on who rides, where they ride, and who can contribute to the industry-side of cycling are disappearing, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still much work to be done. As well noted on this article from Patagonia by Matt Coté on Nicole Formosa and BIKE magazine. The readership gave a hard and loud pushback when the publication began to include new voices and articles on inclusivity. Says Formosa:

"If this is our audience, we have so much work to do … Anyone who thinks mountain biking doesn’t have an inclusivity problem needs to read that thread.”

tour de france feminin 1986 Rene Boulay

Above: René Boulay, Hautes-Alpes Col De L'Izoard Tour de France Feminin, 1986

Top Photo: UCI World Champs, Women's Road Cycling Race 2019 by Matt Nobel

Women still underrepresented

It’s 2020, and most cycling media websites now include sections covering professional women’s races, events, and team news. Sometimes these updates are rolled into the main feed along with the latest Peter Sagan tidbit, but more often than not, there are separate sections attending to men and women.

While just a few years ago such sections didn’t exist at all, and only the most significant women’s races were covered (you know, like the Olympics), it’s still worth noting that coverage of women's races didn't really exist until very recently.

The fossilized divisions in race coverage highlight the play between men and women in the cycling industry at large — women are accepted and normalized to an extent, but are still considered separately from men. This leads one to speculate on how much women are considered hiring quotas rather than genuine, and valuable, contributors to the industry.

Take the ongoing gender pay gap between male and female pro cyclists for example. Men’s WorldTour team budgets average $16 million, while women’s teams average $200,000. With a lack of prime time women’s cycling events such as a Tour de France equivalent, sponsorship opportunities are low.

So is pay. Today, women on WorldTour teams make a minimum salary of 15,000 euros, half the amount for men at the same level.

Cyclists of color don't fare much better. There are only five Black cyclists in the men’s WorldTour, which consists of 543 riders across 19 teams— that’s less than 1 per cent.

Tour de France Feminin 1955

Above: The very first women's Tour de France on September 28, 1955.

However, there are some rays of hope. That minimum salary level is due to equal men's by 2023. ASO, the organizer of the Tour de France, is also putting plans for a women’s version of the race back on the table for the first time since 1950, when the first and only women’s version of the race was held.

Outside of pro cycling, women have been making big moves, shaking up the industry, its tastes, and motivating each other to get out on two wheels and ride.

Cycling apparel atelier Machines For Freedom is one such example, having taken women’s cycling equipment from foot-note and elevating it something special, technical, and even superior to male kit counterparts.

In 2013, after being unable to find cycling kit that made her feel and look good, Jenn Kriske founded MFF with kits built upon years of women’s bike fit data. Her move was timely for not only the business' fortunes (MFF was acquired by Specialized in 2018), but also for spurring an industry-wide movement toward making women's cycling clothing at a high level.

Even as recently as 2018, and as cited by Jenn in an interview at the time, ...only 3 percent of venture capital goes to women-led businesses

However, according to Inc., the real % is even less. Other female-founded cycling startups, like the one run by yours truly, make up a tiny slice of the overall industry — but our power is growing.

A long skinny pocket might be the perfect spot to keep a tampon. Or a pen. Or lip balm. Or a tire lever. Whatever.

Tour de Fierce Wallet with tampon

Cycling startups & diversity

Smaller outfits herald the formation of a new era in cycling. Take a look at Tenspeed Hero for a great example of what Cycling 2.0 looks like — everyone is there, it's a roving, global party on two wheels.

Most interesting of all is that independent brands like Tenspeed Hero don't stoke divisions by being exclusively committed to one gender or another — instead, the lines are completely blurred to the point that even their sponsored teams overlap, with men & women both photographed together.

The importance of smaller brands coming through with the natural inclusivity can't be overstated — what we do on a smaller scale eventually gets noticed and forms trends. Those trends attract greater attention, momentum, and eventually push the bigger fish, like Rapha, to pay attention. (For the record, charging a fee to be a part of your semi-exclusive club is NOT inclusive.)

Education

Ultimately it's on you to help create a bike community where everyone feels welcome. The folx at Better Bike Share are doing a great job to help build equitable mobility systems in low-income and BIPOC communities. Think safe and affordable bike sharing!

Look at the sources where you acquire your information and make an effort to find voices outside of mainstream media. We think it's important to diversify your feed and disrupt the status-quo. Cyclist Zine has some great resources and if you are too lazy to click through, you can start with Black Girls Do Bike and WTF Bike Explorers. Also, BikeRumor has some additional links.

Post note

In researching this article we came across a very nice article written by Katherine Moore for BikeRadar. If you doubt there is a diversity problem in cycling, just read the comments section. We've got work to do!