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Four takeaways from Pro Walk/Pro Bike and Women's Cycling Summit (from someone who wasn't there)

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on September 18th, 2012 at 11:07 am

Elly Blue debuted a test for determining
whether bike ads are sexist. This one wouldn't pass.

I didn't make it to the big Pro Walk/Pro Bike advocacy conference and the National Women's Bicycling Summit that were down in Long Beach last week; but I did follow it closely via Twitter and other outlets. From all the news and opinions I've read, four things stood out. I share them below in case you missed them too.

Mark Gorton's calls for radical reform
Mark Gorton, the web entrepreneur and financier behind Limewire, Streetsblog, and Streetfilms, gave a keynote that brought the house down. Gorton has recently launched a global initiative dubbed "Rethinking the Automobile" and his speech certainly seemed to meet that goal. Channeling one of his inspirations, former Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, Gorton exclaimed, "Birds fly, fish swim, people walk," and he added that making it impossible to walk in our cities is a "human rights violation." Cities have become so auto-centric that Gorton believes, "We have crushed the ability of children to move about their own world." To thwart the dominance and negative impacts of cars in cities, he suggested that, "We should not be building any new automobile infrastructure."

How can we push for such dramatic change? "We [people] are the majority. Cars don't vote," Gorton said. He also called for a new campaign to change the way people think about transportation.

For more on Gorton, and to follow his work, check out RethinkTheAuto.org.

Cycle Chic Fashion Show created a buzz (and it wasn't good)
As many bike conferences and large events tend to have these days, the National Women's Bicycling Summit held at Pro Walk/Pro Bike included a bike fashion show. Unfortunately, from what I've heard, the Cycle Chic Fashion Show seemed to have had too much chic and not enough cycle. Karen Brooks, editor of Bicycle Times magazine summed up the feelings I've heard from several people:

Unfortunately, this was the one jarring note of the event—after hearing so many powerful messages of empowerment for women and girls, we were presented with a show that seemed to go for the typical shock-value sex appeal of runway fashion. Gold body paint and a bikini for riding a bike? Really? Especially when the guy models were in full-length pants and jackets (and actually riding, not walking)? I talked about it with other attendees afterward, both female and male, and we agreed that it was disappointing.

Check the fashion show as captured by Streetfilms here.

Emily Finch in her own words
Portland resident Emily Finch, whose story about giving up her SUV and toting her six kids around on a bakfiets has garnered worldwide attention, was one of the main speakers at the Women's Cycling Summit. New to public speaking and to all the fame her story has attracted, she opeted to share a video presentation that told her story in her own words. From what I can gather, it was very well-received. Watch it below...

Elly Blue debuted her "Is this thing sexist?" test
Another memorable part of the Women's Summit was Elly Blue's take on how gender stereotypes play out in bike-related advertisements. Elly is known for her smart, outside-the-box take on cycling issues and her "Bike test" is just that. She's drilled down this sometimes thorny issue into a succinct test made up of three criteria that can be applied to ads, promotional videos, and so on...

1. Are women present or represented at all?
2. Are the women presented as active subjects rather than passive objects?
3. If the gender were reversed, would the meaning stay more or less unchanged? (Or would the image become hilarious?)

Read more about Elly's thinking behind the test on her Taking the Lane blog.
——

Did you attend Pro Walk/Pro Bike or the Women's Cycling Summit? I'd love to hear your impressions and highlights...

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Comments
  • Joe September 18, 2012 at 11:13 am

    One takeaway from someone who was there: streets should be considered places. There was a strong theme of "placemaking," which should come as no surprise as the conference was run by Project for Public Spaces. Many of the sessions I attended and conversations I had were loosely based around this theme.

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  • NW Biker September 18, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Two only loosely connected comments on the "fashion show" part of the article:

    First, I was briefly hoping that with the focus on women in the cycling summit, someone somewhere who makes cycling clothing would realize that not all cyclists are stick figures. What kind of message does it send when an XL jersey is a size 12? The message I get is that my t-shirt will do just fine, thank you.

    Second, I'd like to say that I'm surprised that the women models in the fashion show were as you described, but I'm not. It would be nice in the 21st century if women weren't still being treated as decorations, rather than human beings. But even pro cycling events follow the same ol' same ol' with identically dressed pairs of window dressing young women on the podium at award time, entirely too often giving the winner the two-sided smooch while the cyclist looks as if he'd rather be anywhere else.

    Off my soapbox.

    Good article, despite my ranting. :-)

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    • Andrew K September 18, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      + 1!

      My wife gets frustrated by this a lot. She loves to ride as much as I do and we commute together daily. She is not a stick figure. She has hips and a chest and curves and there is very little bike clothing being marketed (and by extension sold...) to people with her body type.

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      • NW Biker September 18, 2012 at 3:24 pm

        Andrew, I know just how she feels. I was able to find good quality cycling shorts/pants on the Team Estrogen website. But I, too, have hips and a chest, and getting anything for the top that fits is out of the question. It almost makes me want to start making cycle wear for what seems to me to be a completely neglected market.

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        • Tom M September 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm

          @NW Biker: my wife would love you for all the reasons you've already mentioned. Please post if you ever decide to go forward with that idea.

          For those thinking about it:
          Roughly 51% of the population are women pretty much the world round.
          Yet the majority of bike clothing is for tiny women who race.
          What percentage of women are racing waif in build at all? What's wrong with this picture? Can you say untapped market?

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  • Raleigh September 18, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Sounds like a great event. I wish that local transportation advocates would just pick a few major initiatives and fight for them. It's great to have bike boulevards expanded and similar projects but if walk and bike opportunities are going to expand in the way many envision it's probably going to take truly ambitious and specific proposals. I'm thinking something like: selected street closures in NW and other parts of the city to regain areas for walking. For biking maybe a plan to "build the big four", the NP Greenway, the east/west corridor along 84 (forget the name), a rail to trail conversion from the Sellwood bridge to downtown Lake Oswego and...

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  • 9watts September 18, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Great video, Emily!

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  • Elliot September 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Hi Jonathan, I think there might be a word or two missing from the in the second paragraph, third sentence:

    "he said walking is a 'human rights violation.'"

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  • q`Tzal September 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    If the skirts would fit with the Star Trek: Original Series 1960's wardrobe style then it is probably sexist.
    Of course that franchise has always pandered to my demographic, ridiculously so.

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  • anon1q2w3e4r5t September 18, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Ahem.....""Birds fly, fish swim, people walk + bike".

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  • jen September 18, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    And that sexist bike ad is tamer than the images made for SHIFT's recent bikini bike wash...

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  • julie September 18, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    I thought about attending the women's summit. My understanding was that it was a summit focused on bringing more women into cycling. As a minority (at work, on the trail, commuting, in advocacy, in racing, etc.) I am very interested in finding out what the barriers are to having more women in the cycling industry (all levels) as well as the other areas I mention. I began planning by looking into flights, possibly borrowing a folding bike to ride from the airport to the convention center, secured a place to stay for a night or two, and contacted the organizer of the event (communications lead for League of American Bicyclists) and that's where it ended. I never received a response. Very disappointing. Perhaps the Summit in DC next Spring is a better choice for me.

    PS--I have never seen a good bikey fashion show. Not once in 14 years of bike industry. Why do they keep doing them?!

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  • J.M. Jones September 19, 2012 at 8:17 am

    To: NW BIKER; Love to see clothes that fit actual people. Being a short, fat, balding old bike rider (guess a helmet works for the latter) I would be a customer, as well as the wife. Nothing against skinny fit folks at all, just not one of them........
    For us to attend a fashion show we would need to see clothing that WE could wear rather than what SOME can wear. Does it have to be Lycra and tight? I, for one, am not going to be wearing that, and YOU really do not want to see me doing so!

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    • q`Tzal September 19, 2012 at 10:55 am

      +5!
      Technical fabric clothing that is comfortable for larger riders.
      Levi's is not cardio gear and can cause other problems for users.

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    • Tom M September 19, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      I certainly understand and sympathize with your balding situation being among that 50% of the male population.Unfortunately helmets do not stop sunburn. You need to wear a thin cap and/or sunscreen. Just some friendly advice;)

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  • Bill E September 20, 2012 at 4:22 am

    I'll second, and second again, that the bike industry fails beyond miserably at serving real people who aren't stick figures and 5% body fat, men and women!! Just for one example, I get email blasts from places like Nau (otherwise apparently a great company), I love the clothing, then look at the sizing chart and just think "Are you bloody serious?".
    And yes please, bike industry, get off the sexploitation thing, it's damn embarrassing.

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  • Pete September 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    "the guy models were in full-length pants and jackets (and actually riding, not walking)"

    So I wasn't at the fashion show, but the video starts out with two girls riding and two guys walking bikes, all tastefully dressed and would pass Elly's test. It's a fashion show in L.A. and you're shocked that there are girls in body paint and tight clothes? Not that I'm saying that's representative of bike clothing, but there are often styles meant to be outside of the ordinary just to add interest to the show (heck, I've been in body paint in outdoors clothing shows here in the NW, and I'm not that interesting! :). Again, I wasn't there, but the film in the link certainly didn't demonstrate the level of sexism outlined in the article - in my opinion anyway (call me sexist, I don't care). The truth is often somewhere in the middle...

    Agreed on the sizes - I'm a stick and I still have problems, and my girlfriend is 6'2" and wears men's bike clothes because 1) all women's sizes ride too short for her midsection, and 2) she can't stand the patronizing girly-girl colors and graphics on just about everything she's seen. Part of the sizing issue may be a cost thing; I've made the mistake of buying cheap jerseys and they definitely use much less material than their purported sizes should.

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