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Kat Marriner : March 21st, 2010

Bike Culture

DSC_9385The Seattle BikeExpo was last weekend, and by the look of it, the bike scene is all about flashy sport gear, big organized rides, exotic tours, and power-sport-energy-nutrition-gonzo-bars. I nibbled a few bars, but I was really at the BikeExpo to attend a forum on “Bike Culture”. My general assumption was that the five panelists would talk about the integration of bikes into our modern, urban culture — the headway and the roadblocks.

The gender makeup of the panel, 4 men and 1 woman, was disheartening, even if it was an accurate representation of the cycling gender divide. It was an obvious example of how small of a voice women have in the bikiest of bike cultures — the Bike Expo. Looking around the Expo in general, you would get the impressing that to be a cyclists means suiting up in bright, shiny moisture-wicking, synthetic fibers, clicking your high-tech specialized shoes into your pedals, and riding your ultra-tricked out machine really, really fast. Sure, some cyclists do that—both men and women. Some ride for speed, endurance, endorphins and bragging rights, but that whole mentality is counter-productive to bringing bike culture into mainstream culture. What struck me about the BikeExpo in general was how little effort was made by vendors to show bikes as a way of life. Bikes were represented as a leisure/sport activity that is done on the side of life.

DSC_9209I’ve been thinking about how we get more people riding bikes as their everyday short-trip vehicle of choice and think that targeting women is a key ingredient, and the marketplace in America has neglected this segment of potential riders and shoppers. Fewer bikes are made to fit women’s bodies and the majority of the gear sold at bike shops (and BikeExpos) does not address the needs of running the quick and easy errand, but instead continues to focus on the sport rides in spandex. When the time comes that you walk out of your house and automatically ride your bike to the grocery store in your neighborhood instead of hopping into your car to get the quart of milk or bottle of wine for dinner, then we’ll have an integrated bike culture.

The panel discussion nibbled around the edges of this lack of women representation, but fortunately the lone women of the forum, Amy Walker, is the publisher and creative director of Momentum magazine. I can only imagine the charge I would get out of 5 Amy Walkers talking about how we live life — get to work, shop for new clothes, meet for lunch, run errands, get to community meetings, go to the dentist, arrive at a dinner party, take our kids to school, enjoy a date night, transport our pets to the vet — on two wheels.

Momentum magazine provides urban cyclists with the inspiration, information and resources to fully enjoy their riding experience and connect with local and global cycling communities.” So says their web site.

DSC_9125Momentum is dazzling eye candy for women like me who want my bike to be an extension of who I am and how I choose to live, shop, work, and play. Momentum does for people on bikes what Dwell magazine does for lovers of modern, urban architecture and design. It makes me want. It makes me want to consume with its ads for beautiful city-geared bicycles, stylish bike bags, and life-style spotlights on people living — and making a living — as part of the two-wheeled culture. The fashion and stories show beautiful people living a dreamy life that I want to cultivate.

Which begs the question then, if BikeExpo had a large component of bikes and bicycle accessories for women living a cycling lifestyle, would more of those weekend trail riders want to integrate cycling into regular life? Could the bike-fashion-lifestyle trend grow and entice more women on bikes, which would lead to more awareness of bike riders, better safety measures, improved bike parking, calmer traffic, and ultimately utopia?

A girl can dream… And I dream of a day that my friend Michele wants to meet me at the bakery in Ballard on her bicycle. We will wear cute shoes.

2 comments to Bike Culture

  • Thank you for a wonderful perspective on the road bike culture of speed, prestige and money so prevalent this time of year. Although I enjoy some exercise “road bike” days in lycra, my heart is in bike travel/lifestyle. Are there any bike shops in the Seattle area that cater to women? I’d love to find one… perhaps if we had a way to come together, we could speak to women on bicycling issues that interest them. Any ideas?

  • Kat Marriner

    Hi Catherine,
    I was thrilled to learn that the BikeExpo Best of Show went to the booth “Hub and Bespoke”. The actual store isn’t opened quite yet, but with its tagline “Bike Your Style”, it promises to cater to cycling as a lifestyle. It will open somewhere in Seattle this spring, I think. In Portland I stopped in a shop called Clever Cycles and it too was more like browsing a boutique with stylish, clever ideas, many appeared to be imports from Europe where they already integrate bicycles into urban life. Check out their web site.

    Otherwise, I started thinking about this void of bike accessories for real women in the real world after hearing many stories of bike shops not really addressing the needs of fitting a bicycle to a woman’s body. Salespeople are often so focused on selling sport gear that they are not always listening to the way some people want use their bike for getting around town. They are also missing an opportunity to a potentially much larger audience of people who could turn off their cars and ride bikes for the quick, simple trips around town if they had the right bike and accessories to make that easy.

    For my part to raise awareness, I try and wear every day clothes when I’m using by bike for transportation (not long training rides). I noticed college-aged students riding in skinny jeans and not-so-sensible shoes and want to take a cue from them. I used to change my clothes just to ride to the produce stand which is a mile away. I no longer do that. One big help was switching my clip-in pedals back to platforms and added a Power Grip strap so I can wear anything from Uggs (perfect for winter!) to strappy sandals.

    Look for an invitation to a women on wheels in heels dinner sometime this spring. I want to take the idea to the streets (and restaurants) and with luck, get people noticing the other gender rides a bike. We can look like we’re “stepping out” on the town instead of “suiting up” to break a sweat.

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