Recently the Global Cycling Network’s YouTube channel did a segment on should we be fighting for the local bike shop (the Gcn show)This follows on from a recent episode of BBC 5 Lives Bespoke Weekly podcast about the joy of the Local Bike Shop (LBS). Across all of those talking about it, something struck me in their rose tinted analysis of an Aladins cave of cycling wonder that acts as a gateway for many of us. All the voices I heard were male.
I recently knocked my rear wheel out of true. Whilst I do nearly all the maintenance on the bike I built myself, myself, wheel building and truing is an art I have yet to get the hang of. So I cycled 15km across Amsterdam to a bike shop on Ijburg to have it sorted. I sat in the comfy chair in the corner of the shop while Stephen worked his magic. While he tweaked the spokes one by one we chatted.
“So you live on Ijburg?”
“No. I’m in neuiw West.”
“Yeah, but you’re my local bike shop”
“Um, there are closer bike shops to you than here”
“Yes, but you’re the first bike shop in Amsterdam that treated me like a human, not someone that got lost and wandered into the wrong shop”
It was like there was an audible click of realisation.
For many male cyclists you never experience the inherent sexism in the cycle industry. But for a woman entering a bike shop it is often not a pleasant experience. If you’re lucky enough not to be hit on by the staff, you’re unlikely to get treated as a fully valued customer. If you can get them to realise you’re not lost, and you really are a cyclist, you then have to hope that the guy you’re dealing with doesn’t think you’re a moron and tries to sell you either the wrong thing, something you don’t need, or over charge you for work you “need” done on the bike because they think you don’t know better. This is often a similar experience for women taking a car to the garage.
But even if you’re lucky enough to get passed all of that. You then find that the ladies jerseys are all in pink and they only have mediums or smalls… that the ladies specific bikes they have for you to try are a token gesture at best, and that’s before you get into the inherent female-unfriendly nature of bike sizing. (I’m 1.7m tall. This puts me 50mm below average height for men, and 100mm above average height for women. The bike I built has a size small Genesis Vagabond frame, the smallest they do. If someone who’s taller than average has to use a size small, what on earth do average height or shorter women do? But that’s a whole different rant).
We hear a lot about the allure of cheaper components and gear from online retailers like wiggle, or bike24.de, but what is overlooked here is that I can order a 11-34 cassette and a 40-28 chainset without some guy who thought I was lost when I first came in, looking down his nose, questioning, and judging me. Don’t get me wrong. We need local bike shops. They are an incredible resource we should support and cherish. But only if they value, support and cherish their customers. And that means all of their customers. Including those from minorities (if you don’t think women are a minority in cycling, I’m signed up for a sportive ride where only 8/308 riders are non male!). The relationship a rider has with their LBS is an important one, and like all relationships, it works both ways.