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New shop on Williams Ave, ‘Gladys Bikes’, caters to women

Posted by on October 4th, 2013 at 10:35 am

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Leah Benson, owner of Gladys Bikes.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland has a new bike shop. But before you react with, “Really? Another one!?”, keep in mind that unlike any other shop in Portland, Gladys Bikes (Facebook) at 3808 N Williams caters specifically to women.

The shop is the work of 30-year old north Portland resident Leah Benson. I stopped by yesterday to check out the space and learn more about her.

A native of Wisconsin, Benson moved to Portland five years ago. She previously worked for Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., a non-profit that provides education and advocacy for women going into non-traditional employment (mostly building and construction trades). Benson has also been an active volunteer with the Community Cycling Center.

While she’s ridden her bike her entire life (“I grew up in the middle of nowhere, so I had to ride my bike if I wanted to do anything,” she said) and started biking to work in her early 20s, it wasn’t until she moved to Portland that biking became a larger part of her life. “This is such an easy city to become immersed in bicycles,” she said, “it became not just something I did to get from point A to point B, but so much an integral part of my life.”

“Sometimes it’s nice to be able to walk in and say, ‘Oh, there actually is something that relates to me and fits my body already’.”
— Leah Benson

As she got more into cycling, she felt like something was missing during trips to her local bike shop. “It just never felt like there was a place for me,” is how she put it. Then one night, while talking with some friends (“To be honest, were griping a bit”) she recalled that, “I was like, ‘Man, I just wish there was a women’s specific bike shop!’ and I thought, you know what, I like new challenges and this is something that’s important to me. I’m going to give it a try.”

One-and-a-half years later she opened Gladys Bikes.

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The shop is in the HUB Building on N. Williams Avenue, which is also where female bike entrepreneurs Natalie Ramsland of Sweetpea Bicycles and Jude Gerace of Sugar Wheel Works are located.

“It’s really hard to strike a balance between being honest about the female experience and not just making blanket statements and stereotypes about what it means to be a woman who rides a bike.”
— Leah Benson

The space is small, and for now at least, it’s sparsely populated with products. Benson says she’s on a month-to-month lease and she wants to start small, grow into the space over time, and then eventually move into a larger location. That strategy makes sense, since a bike shop that caters to women is a new concept in Portland.

“In a lot of ways it’s an experiment,” Benson shared, “Looking to figure out a way to cater to a fairly wide swath of women and do it in a way that’s successful. It’s really hard to strike a balance between being honest about the female experience and not just making blanket statements and stereotypes about what it means to be a woman who rides a bike — or just putting a big pink flower out and saying, ‘You’ll all identify with this, so come on in!’”

Benson says she offers women a “semi-custom experience” and that one of the main services she provides is fitting women to their bikes and then offering the accessories and components that “make sense for them.” In a loft above the service area, bike builder Natalie Ramsland will offer custom bike fits. “The idea being that it shouldn’t be something that you have to have a lot of money for or feel like you’re a racer to have a bike that fits you — whether you’re riding a 20-year-old bike or something brand new.”

Fit isn’t something that’s necessarily more important for women, Benson explained, but, “It’s gotten wrong more often for women.”

In addition to helping women get comfortable, Benson’s selection of products also caters to her mission. The first thing I noticed in the shop was the expansive selection of saddles. Gladys Bike customers will find a dozen to choose from. While many shops will carry just a few saddles that work well for women, Benson believes that it’s important to have an expansive selection.

“All bike shops are always very willing to special order things that relate to women,” says Benson, “But sometimes it’s nice to be able to walk in and say, ‘Oh, there actually is something that relates to me and fits my body already’.”

Along with a great saddle selection, Benson also carries as assortment of fashionable Cleverhood rain ponchos and an assortment of essentials including: lights from Portland Design Works; Nutcase helmets; cycling caps from Double Darn; panniers, backpacks, and bags from North St. and Po Campo; and all the other Portland riding essentials. The shop doesn’t carry a bike brand yet, but Benson says she might offer Papillionaire, a line of vintage Dutch style city bikes from Australia.

And there’s a mirror on the wall with a hand-written sign that says, “You look perfect.”

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That’s nice to hear. Thank you!

A bike shop that caters explicitly to women is new to Portland, but Benson is part of a growing national “Women Bike” movement. Since it became an official focus on the League of American Bicyclists at the 2012 National Bike Summit, the effort to get more women interested in cycling has gained considerable momentum. Women Bike is now a full-fledged program and campaign for the League and female business owners and advocacy leaders are emerging all over the U.S. bike advocacy sphere.

“My gut says that we’ll see more and more successful shops like this as the women bike movement grows.”
— Elly Blue, publisher and author

Like Pedal Chic in Greenville, South Carolina and The Unlikely Cyclist in Costa Mesa, California, Gladys Bikes joins a growing list of bike shops for women. According to author, publisher, columnist and feminist commentator Elly Blue, “All three are basically regular bike shops that have the baseline assumption that the standard customer is female; as opposed to most local bike shops that tacitly assume a male audience.”

Blue sees nothing short of a cultural trend in the making. “My gut says that we’ll see more and more successful shops like this as the women bike movement grows… and it’s really refreshing to see that Portland’s ahead of the curve on this.”

Benson says she’s not surprised to see the women bike movement has caught fire. For her part, Benson sees her role as simply bringing people together. “This women bike thing is something a lot of women have been talking about for so long. Shops try their hardest, but sometimes just aren’t comfortable places to go into… the atmosphere just doesn’t feel inclusive.”

As for whether or not men will feel comfortable at Gladys Bikes, Benson laughs, saying that’s a question she hears a lot. “The answer is, it’s just as comfortable of a place for men. In fact, half the people that have walked in so far have been men. My goal is to welcome everyone, but explicitly make sure this is going to be a comfortable place for women that hopefully has the things that they need.”

— Gladys Bikes is located at 3808 N. Williams Ave, Suite 132 (behind Cha! Cha! Cha!). You can meet Leah and learn more about the shop at an event she’s hosting on October 17th. The name of the event is, “Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Your Bike (But Were Afraid To Ask)” will kick off a monthly discussion group where attendees will write down their burning bike-related questions on anonymous notecards and they’ll be answered by experts. Visit the Facebook event page for more info.

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Comments
  • Esther October 4, 2013 at 10:50 am

    SO AWESOME!!! Thank you, Leah. Portland has needed this for a long time. Looking forward to dropping in and spending some cash, and spreading the word. :-) :-)

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  • Erinne October 4, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I’m so excited to check this new shop out!

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  • Adrienne October 4, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I know where I’m going shopping for a saddle!
    Thank you for creating this shop!

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  • Mabsf October 4, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Congrats, Leah… All the best…

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  • Steve B October 4, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Very excited Gladys is open. An absolute game changer for Portland. Leah rocks!

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  • 9watts October 4, 2013 at 11:36 am

    “It just never felt like there was a place for me,”

    I’d like to hear a little more about this. Just to understand what the dimensions of bike shop experiences that are gendered, could be gendered, shouldn’t be gendered, are.

    Thanks.

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    • JV October 4, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      This is something that I hear VERY often from women co-workers of mine, especially as the office geared up for last month’s Bike Commute Challenge. There does seem to be something intimidating for many women about making bike-related consumer choices in many local bike stores. Perhaps it is the attitude of technical proficiency and jargon that seems to pervade the industry? It is hard for me to relate to, since I see bike shops as basically a toy store (albeit with some expensive toys I can’t always afford). Though I like to think that my favorite shops for used parts (CCC and CityBikes) do a better job of catering to all people. I agree a further exploration of the gender dynamics of bike shops is necessary. What specific aspects about the atmosphere of most bike shops make them feel “not inclusive”?

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    • Lynne October 4, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      That expansive selection of women’s saddles speaks volumes to this question. It is really nice to go into a shop and put your hands on something, rather than asking for it to be special ordered, and then you feel like you have to keep it, even if it doesn’t work out.

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  • pdxpaul October 4, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Mazeltov! Leah! I’ll stop in to say hi to you and Brian soon!

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  • Rob October 4, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Are the pumpkin cupcakes free?

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  • AndyC of Linnton October 4, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Pretty amazing to me it took this long for a female-centric shop in Portland, but then I’m amazed as well that it’s one of only of three in the nation! That’s nuts!
    Best of luck, this is so good for Portland.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 4, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      Hey AndyC,

      Sorry if it wasn’t clear in the post, but there are certainly many more than just 3 woman-owned bike shops in the USA. Even here in Portland we’ve got Black Bird Bicycle Repair, Clever Cycles (co-owned), NoPo BikeWorks (co-owned), and Portland Bicycle Studio just to name a few that have women owners. And online there’s Team Estrogen based in Hillsboro.

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  • Ted Buehler October 4, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Excellent — welcome to the neighborhood!

    Ted Buehler
    Boise Neighborhood Association board member

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  • Chris Sanderson October 4, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    This looks like a really cool shop! I am looking forward to checking it out for myself!

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  • Gram October 4, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    I encourage everyone to stop by, not just because it is a nice shop, but also because there are free home made baked goods there every day!

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  • daisy October 4, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I’m so excited for this new shop in my neighborhood!

    One of my frustrations with the industry is that it can be really man-centric, as if men are the default. Take, for example, the website listing the categories in the Cross Crusade (http://www.crosscrusade.com/series.html): we have Category A and Women A, Category B and Women B, Beginners and Beginner Women. And I’m not even talking about how payouts are less for women.

    When I walk into a bike shop full of clothing, the stuff for women is in the small corner, often noticeable by the copious amounts of pink. Some people say that this is the market, but it’s not. So many women are bike commuters, yet at Bike Gallery in Hollywood last week they told me that they stocked only one brand (Endura) of wome’s cycling rain pants. (I have to admit I was glad to see the sale rack stuffed with a lot of the frilly, girly stuff.)

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    • wsbob October 6, 2013 at 12:05 am

      “…When I walk into a bike shop full of clothing, the stuff for women is in the small corner, often noticeable by the copious amounts of pink. …” daisy

      Too bad there isn’t a picture or two of clothes being sold in this new store, besides the black t-shirts…so we’d have some idea of what in the way of colors, textures, designs, styles, etc, you or the owner feels women are looking for in clothing. I notice the picture of the owner, shows her wearing a lavender hat…nice!

      And…she’s wearing a dress too…double-nice…that, with tights underneath, looks like it could work out for biking. Dark navy blue color…kind of sedate, but o.k. .

      One of the pics show panniers (top shelf) in some interesting, muted colors. None I find myself getting very excited about, but maybe some women would.

      Looks cool, the way the hi-vis bibs (sorry if that’s not what they are.) are hanging on hooks under a shelf.

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      • Leah October 6, 2013 at 6:05 pm

        As we’re *just* getting up and running, we don’t yet have a full selection of apparel, which is why there weren’t any photos. We’ll be getting clothes in over the course of the next few weeks and I’ll be sure to upload photos to our Facebook page as things arrive. In the meantime, feel free to email me anytime at hello@gladysbikes.com with thoughts you have on the type of apparel you’d like to see in the shop. Thanks much!

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        • wsbob October 6, 2013 at 11:49 pm

          Leah…thanks for welcoming suggestions about what clothes may be of interest to women coming into your store!…but I think you’re going to get better suggestions from the girls than I could probably come up with. Especially from those with lots of experience riding in different kinds of clothes.

          Whatever the girls want to wear when riding is good, as long as they’re comfortable, happy, and the expression on their faces and movement of their bodies says it’s working well for them. Be able to help accomplish that, and you’ll do well.

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  • stasia October 4, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Oh my gosh! So excited about this!

    Re: the genderedness from above, daisy has it totally right. It’s not necessarily that bike shops are intimidating for women (at least, not usually:), it’s that it’s so lame to walk into a shop where there are two hundred pairs of shoes….and then have exactly three women’s options. And then walk over to find some gloves, scope the whole copious rack…and find about one women’s option. Etc. It’s the invisible normalizing of male.

    Even with the best of intentions, most stores with any sort of sports equipment have that sort of ratio. So I’m way beyond psyched for Gladys bikes. Awesome!! :)

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    • daisy October 4, 2013 at 4:38 pm

      “It’s the invisible normalizing of male.”
      Yes, this exactly!

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  • A.JamesNeel October 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Really excited about Gladys. Looking forward to benefitting from their expertise in options for female riders, and especially to shopping without the intimidation, assumptions and mansplaining I’ve encountered elsewhere. What works for men doesn’t necessarily work for women both in biking gear and in the way you’re treated when you walk into a shop. I wish her much success!

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  • Hugh Johnson October 5, 2013 at 7:40 am

    I wonder why there are not more minority owned and run bike shops for people of color?

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    • wsbob October 6, 2013 at 10:41 pm

      Hugh…share any thoughts you may have about what a bike shop for people of color would be, that bike shops without such a specific focus may not be meeting.

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  • Alicia Crain October 5, 2013 at 10:18 am

    ¡Felicidades, Leah! It’s about damn time. Way to take the initiative.

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  • Nick October 5, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    First off, I welcome Gladys Bikes to the market. At the end of the day, more shops trying harder to get (and keep) women riding is a great thing. That said, women should know how difficult it is for many of the smaller stores that are trying hard to stock good product for women. In an industry where the staff of stores is predominantly male it can be a daunting task for buyers to “get it right” when it comes to women’s cycling gear. Women, if you’re in a store that you like and they don’t stock something you need (or don’t like what they have), please speak up. Good retail outfits don’t operate in a vacuum and feedback (even when somewhat negative) is important.
    Of course a rebuttal to this would be that there should be more women working in stores to help out, which is certainly true, but until half the staff at most stores is female then shops need your feedback. This kind of information will not only impact what you see stocked, it may help to better the selection of women’s cycling goods on the market. Believe it or not, this feedback makes its way to cycling manufacturers, many of whom look to Portland an indicator marketplace and actively solicit opinions from the bike retail industry here.
    Thanks,
    Male Bike Shop Clothing and Accessory Buyer

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    • Lynne F October 7, 2013 at 6:13 pm

      What a co-worker of mine who used to be a buyer for accessories for a bookshop did – he brought a female co-worker to the trade show, and sent her down the booths of stuff. And paid real close attention to what she looked at.

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  • Leah October 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks for all the support everyone and for the great article, Jonathan! I’m looking forward to seeing y’all in the shop.

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  • Barbara Kilts October 6, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Are you carrying the SweetSpot skirts? They’re a nice girly, but useful accessory and locally made! Marilyn of Coventry Cycles has them at her shop.

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    • Leah October 6, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      I’m not currently carrying them, but will definitely look into them. Thanks for the tip!

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  • steph routh October 6, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    This is so exciting. Leah, way to go! Can’t wait to check out the store with my Mom (and her cooking club?)

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  • Brian October 7, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I had the pleasure of meeting Leah at the NWTA Trail Fest party at Velo Cult. After that brief meeting I could already tell that she will be very successful. I am going to share this article on my FB page to help spread the word.

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  • Jessica Roberts October 7, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    OK, I must be blind, but I made a special trip to check out Gladys over the weekend and I couldn’t find it anywhere. It’s in the 3808 building that has Ristretto and Tasty & Sons, right? I sure thought I looked at every sign and every door and I couldn’t find it; I also checked that building’s north side. What did I miss?

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    • KJ October 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm

      Did you go inside the building? I find this building confusing myself. But there is an interior hall way with business inside you can’d see from the street.

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  • Garcia October 7, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I’m a woman who bikes everywhere and also races frequently. I wouldn’t say that any bike shop has “intimidated” me in the least; the problem is more that they, as a rule, fail to carry a selection of bikes and accessories which are appropriate for me. Before I joined my team and started almost exclusively frequenting our sponsor shop (which does a great job of getting whatever we need for us, by the way), I went to at least 4 different shops trying to find a performance road bike for racing. I had done my homework, knew what I wanted, and had specific models I wanted to test ride. 3 of the 4 shops actually tried to down-sell me, saying, well I don’t think that’s really the one you want, what about this cheaper, non-performance model? I felt like they were just NOT listening to me at all. Seriously, when someone asks to try out one of your highest priced models, why on earth would you try to sell them a commuter bike? This is not a problem my husband has ever had.
    I think the bigger issue with catering to women who bike is the tendency to generalize us. I race, I want a performance bike, I will bring it in for service a lot. But I also commute, run errands, and need clothes that are appropriate for being out in public after riding (ie, not the spandex I wear on training rides). We women, just like men., are not monolithic, so carrying 2 saddles, 3 pairs of shoes, and some pink gloves are not going to cut it. Kudos to Leah for providing a hub for women’s gear, I hope you have great success and can help change the conversation about women riding in this town!

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