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Editorial: My year as a woman in a city of bikes

Posted by on January 12th, 2010 at 10:01 am

But even here in Portland, particularly in parts of the bike scene with a strong connection with sports and business, assumptions about gender often remain unquestioned.

February: I am asked to volunteer on a committee for a bicycle organization “because we need more women.” The person who invites me says that he had been frantically calling every woman he knows in the bike scene, and explains that at this point, expertise matters less than gender.

April: A local bike shop opens a new women’s section. I attend the grand opening and am one of only a few women present. The section has a separate entrance and features house and home decor and a selection of pastel hybrid bikes.

August: I email an acquaintance to tell him it isn’t okay to call other commenters “pussies.” He responds angrily. “Are you really that prudish? Seems like you’re just picking on me. Do you have some sort of problem with me?” he asks. Jonathan reads this and is surprised. “I don’t think he would have reacted that way if I’d been the one to tell him that.”

What do these incidents have in common? They’re only a few selected highlights from my education in the past year about what it means to be a woman in what is very much a man’s world.

The gender imbalance in bicycling — at least, in the numbers — was brought into the spotlight this year by a Scientific American article that found that men’s cycling trips outnumbered women’s two or three to one. In Portland, according to a leaked report about the 2009 bike counts, 31% of riders were identified as female.

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The resulting discourse focuses primarily on why so few women choose to ride, concluding that the primary factors are safety concerns — read, greater fearfulness — and image consciousness. More astute observers have pointed out that the majority of errands and kid-toting, even in households with two working partners, falls to women, leading to limited transportation choices.

A very good sign-1-2.jpg

Use of this photo on BikePortland
as a harbinger of spring in 2008
rubbed some readers the wrong way.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Less discussed is the experience that women have not just as individuals riding, but participating — and in leadership roles — in the broader world of bicycling: as employees or customers in shops, at races, in the industry, in advocacy, and in conversations on the road, on the internet, and over coffee and beer.

True, it’s growing less and less common for someone to find I’ve arrived by bike and be shocked — am I not worried about my safety alone out there at night? But even here in Portland, particularly in parts of the bike scene with a strong connection with sports and business, assumptions about gender often remain unquestioned.

It wasn’t meant to be this way.

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” -Susan B Anthony, 1896

Barb Grover, who until recently worked in marketing and outreach for a local bike shop, said in a comment on (of all places) my Facebook wall:

“That the bike industry is so male-dominated is ironic in a way, considering the role the bicycle played in liberating women. I for one am grateful for the path laid by those rebellous, split-skirt wearing, escort-shunning women of the 1890s but wonder how that momentum was lost in the following century to the extent that bicycling and bike biz become so male-dominated?”

Sexism is often portrayed as a fairly straightforward dynamic of men acting while women remain passive and oblivious. But it’s rarely so simple. Grover added:

“I’ve seen the sexism doled out by women too – I’ve experienced women assuming I didn’t know much about bikes because of my gender- not too recently, or here in P-town, but it happened oft enough when I worked bike retail in the burbs.”

The phenomenon of internalized power imbalances is hardly confined to gender, as I have reason to contemplate daily while riding around town.

Even if you can’t relate to the grimace-inducing experience of having a bike shop employee explain to you, unasked and with exaggerated patience, the difference between a presta and schrader valve, you’ve probably been at some point demeaned, belittled, and brushed aside by virtue of being on two wheels.

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on the parallel between two systems where ingrained entitlement leads people to not simply be unaware of their power but to exercise it at the expense of others.

Consider the experience of riding on the streets — yes, even in Portland. You relax as you’re waved through one intersection with a smile; a hundred feet later someone accelerates past you inches away screaming obscenities out the window. Whenever you take the lane, you’re told to get off the road; meanwhile the media, police, and the courts tell you that you have no right to mobility or personal safety unless you behave like you’re driving a car. Worse, these mixed messages and double standards are as likely to be upheld by allies as others.

Feminism is farther along than this — at least that’s what I’ve always thought.

But this past year as a blog writer and editor covering the bike world I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on the parallel between two systems where ingrained entitlement leads people to not simply be unaware of their power but to exercise it at the expense of others.

I’ve learned that nobody likes to be called out. Especially by a woman.

I emailed a representative of a cycling apparel company to tell him I did not like the sexist and homophobic comments he had made at a public event. “It’s cycling,” he responded, “so if you don’t like the off-color, I think you might have far bigger issues than with the ones you have with me.”

It’s true — one of the rewards of calling out sexism is that people often respond by airing their prejudices and stating things pretty much exactly as they are.

Each time we publish a story that touches on gender (or race, for that matter), a collective scream of confused anguish reverberates. A representative range of responses figure large among the eighty comments on a story on this site back in 2007 about a group that was forming to address gender inequality in the bike world.

Similarly, I know there will be commentary on this post that well illustrate my points here. But I’d like to ask all skeptics to honestly examine yourselves and what you see around you before responding.


For more on issues of being a woman in the bike world, read Heidi Swift’s post (and resulting discussion) from last week: Ladies: Are bike shops *still* failing us?]

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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michael downes
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michael downes

Elly,

Excellent commentary! Thank you.

Mark
Guest

Hear, hear. Well reasoned and insightful writing about a subject that most of us would assume doesn’t exist. It would be easy to believe that using a bicycle for fun, commuting or sport crosses all bounds with no regard to gender, but it clearly isn’t so based upon experience reported here. Well done, Ms. Blue.

Dave
Guest

Thanks, Elly, for a really thoughtful post. I agree that this is a really complicated issue, and one that a lot of people simply don’t understand exists at all.

I think all of what you mentioned goes into it, and probably a score of other issues as well. The biking industry in the U.S. having become entirely focused on the pursuit of sport (which is essentially the pursuit of dominance), it probably isn’t surprising that this unbalanced relationship has developed, and that a lot of people simply aren’t aware of it.

It is often propagated by those it oppresses as well (oppression often is) – as you mentioned, by carrying certain assumptions themselves, or feeling the need to sort of become “hard core” to be accepted or legitimate. Kind of a means of self-preservation (like going helmet-nazi when the real problem is the crazy drivers).

But the simple fact is, it’s something that needs to change, simply because people deserve to be treated as people, not stereotypes or categories or statistics or objects.

Thanks for writing this, even though you’re risking a lot of lash-back. Please feel free to speak your mind, you do it respectfully and you have particular insight in this area, and that’s good for all of us.

Justa
Guest
Justa

Thanks for bringing this up. I’m looking forward to any discussion that ensues as a result. Nice job!

Angela V-C
Guest

Thanks for this great post. I particularly like the parallels you draw between sexism and car-centric behavior. A lot of women on bikes, including myself, don’t really participate much in “bike culture” in part because we don’t feel welcome.

Sonia Connolly
Guest

Thank you for writing and posting this! Thank you for being out front in the Portland bike scene, encountering the sexism, and challenging it at the same time.

It’s a relief to see this openly addressed.

I’m curious what prompted the use of an admittedly problematic photo to go with this article, since it wasn’t addressed in the text.

PS: The 2007 “story” link isn’t working for me.

melissalion
Guest

I’m a woman cyclist. I ride with my 4yo son in a bike trailer to do my errands. It’s my only source of exercise, and I appreciate it.

I get nervous on the streets because I see people cut me off far more brazenly than they do others because they think I’m slow with the trailer. I probably am. But it’s twice as scary when I have my son with me. I wish people would simply wait the five extra seconds than take advantage of a slow cyclist.

I’ve also had some particularly scary run-ins with motorists who are very vocal about my being in the street. On streets without bike lanes. Never mind that I’m in my rights, but screaming obscenities at me while I have my kid in a trailer, well, that’s scary.

There is a very supportive Mama Bicycling culture on Twitter, but yes, the rest of the world needs to get caught up with women on bicycles.

Loved that quote by Susan B Anthony.

are
Guest

“Feminism is farther along than this — at least that’s what I’ve always thought.”

both the feminist and the anti-racist energies have long since been co-opted by the consumerist capitalist hegemony, which has sold the idea that the objectives of these movements have already been accomplished, nothing to see here, go on about your business. while it may be true that “you’ve come a long way, baby,” there is still a very long way to go, but complacency has set in, and if anything we are losing ground.

Tony Fuentes
Guest

Unfortunately your experiences are hardly unique to “the bike world”. Just as we are not living in a post-racial society, we are not living in a post-gender society…

But we will get there.

BTW – I couldn’t get the link in to the 2007 story to work.

anonymous male commenter
Guest
anonymous male commenter

Something that makes me a little uncomfortable is all the “cycle chic” business – yes it’s great that attractive people ride bikes in normal clothes – but is always women, and the bloggers are men, and it feels a little like a kind of “acceptable sexism” to continually objectify women in order to promote bicycling (much like “burlesque” has become a respectable alternative to strip bars!).

Craig
Guest
Craig

That is right on the button. I also think some of the women (and I could name a bunch) in Portland who have adopted and promoted a bike lifestyle and who have advocated so effectively for bikes and transportation alternatives for many years have really set the gold standard for community leadership. Keep it up.

Susan Donovan
Guest
Susan Donovan

There is another reason why women don’t bike as much as men and it is related to the split in the world of bike between those who bike by choice and those who bike because they cannot afford a car or public transit. If you are poor going places by bike has this extra stigma. Strangely, it is reveres for the middle class and rich who, when they *choose* to bike, as seems as doing a good deed. This group of people is mostly white men and right now it’s the group that is leading most of these initiatives for better biking infrastructure. To be poor and on a bike has this extra social stigma of not being able to get “better” alternatives. Women have lower incomes than men, so like some minorities this will apply. Women face harsh criticism if they transport their kids by bike as one mother I know was called reckless for taking her kids 3/4ths of a mile to school in a boxbike in Manhattan.

I have family members who are more working class and they seem to regard my biking as “elitist slumming” –and I have to stop and think: is it? Would I still be able to do this if I had two jobs? Kids? etc. I don’t know.

We do so little to accommodate cyclists that if you have little money or less political or social power taking extra risks and being seen as an ‘outsider’ seems less worth it. You already are an outsider– why isolate yourself more by rejecting the core American value “love thy car” to take on what often becomes an unsupported political statement rather than a means of transportation?

I have had a boss who wondered if I was “stable enough to teach high school students” if I “rode a bike around like that” — I wonder if she would have said the same to to a man. Maybe. But most teachers are women anyway– like many jobs filled mostly by women there is a moral dimension to the work– and expectation of purity and stability. Iconoclastic roles as “daring innovators” are more open to men. There is more of a place for men to be “that wired bike guy” than for women.

Not that I’ll let it stop me from trying. But yeah– lets be open bout how this is really working!

Jackattak
Guest
Jackattak

Excellent article, Elly! As the husband of a “grrrl” I can say that I hear my fair share of these types of issues (to which, of course, I agree wholeheartedly with absolutely zero argument, mostly out of fear of getting kicked in the junk…j/k honey I love you and agree with you because YOU’RE RIGHT). 😉

patrickz
Guest
patrickz

Thanks Elly;
most of what I would have said is already in the comments, so I’ll keep on reading and learning.
Happy riding.

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

on the other hand, I know ladies who repeatedly rip the legs off of their male counterparts in many races all season long, in all disciplines…..know more about bike parts, fit, geometry, branding, industry standards, and training than I, or my friends, ever will…

different viewpoints for different conclusions.

MeghanH
Guest
MeghanH

Maybe I’m insulated from the sexism around the “bike community” by my choices. I don’t compete in any races (road or cross). I participate in a few organized rides (Worst Day, Reach the Beach, not many others). I mostly just use my bike to get to work and get home, and occasionally use it for self-inflicted pain on the odd weekend.

This may explain why I don’t often see or hear the overtly sexist comments and attitudes you describe, Elly.

It is probably true that the high-end competitive world of bike racing/merchandising is testosterone-heavy and ignores women. But who are those people anyway? I have no connection with them, any more than I connect with a pro football team…

I do notice one gap — bike shops I’ve visited here carry little or no women’s casual and commuting bike clothing. But that’s why I buy stuff from Terry.com…

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

One of the things I noticed about my Mom’s bike is that the brakes and shifting levers are huge compared to her hands. I wonder why the manufacturers failed to consider smaller components for small adult bikes.

Susan Donovan
Guest
Susan Donovan

Dave, I think you are right about the way sports plays in to this. You think commuting is bad– the world of sports biking is horribly sexist. Though, I think the fact that biking is all about sports in the US is not becuase sports is getting to much attention– sports are great! It’s becuase the concept of bike commuting is almost non-existent out side of a few cities– and even in those cites it is still “weird” (PS. I’m in NYC, did not mention that in my last comment.)

Susan Donovan
Guest
Susan Donovan

MeghanH, we don’t need to experience sexism to know it is there– it shows up in the numbers. *Something* is keeping women on bikes off of the street in the numbers we ought to be seeing.

Jeme
Guest
Jeme

Interestingly, when I think of the “Portland bike scene”, most of the folks that come to mind are women. Sure, there are plenty of guys hanging around, but if I were to sit and list the key players from my perspective, there would be at least as many men as women. My most trusted mechanic in Portland is a woman and there are women in dominant leadership positions in every bikey group that matters (to me).

There is some pretty sick and sad sexism out there, certainly (the women’s section at that unnamed shop horrifies me). But I would also like to point out that many of the dudes working in bike shops are just kind of arrogant pricks and they’ll try to explain the difference between schraeder and presta to me for five minutes and then stare blankly when I ask for quill pedals (“um… you mean a quill stem?”).

Chris Smith
Guest

I’m reminded of some recent testimony at Planning Commission where a developer testified that a certain category of house types “had to have garages” so wives and daughters could drive directly into the house to be safe. Apparently women would not be safe on the sidewalks in front of their homes…

Thanks for doing this post, Elly!

Kathryn Moore
Guest

We’re bike people. Every time we get on two wheels, we are telling the world we care about people, the environment and living in unison with our ideas. This is why I was always blown away by the way many male cyclists treated me in Portland – and why I still don’t understand how being off-color / status-quo has such a place (any place) in our blogs & advocacy. Interesting to me is that in Miami, where the community is smaller, women get harassed less by fellow cyclists, in my experience. Perhaps that is just a corollary to our small numbers?
If the US is ever going to make a real dent in the number of trips by car (1% doesn’t cut it), cyclists need to be encouraging to all people (including 51% of the population).
Thank you, Elly.

EB
Guest
EB

Thanks for the insights in this article. I ride in New Zealand, which is one big shrine to internal combustion, and I had always assumed that the hostility I encountered was simply the result of travelling on two wheels rather than four. Thinking about it in light of this article, though, I can see now that there is definitely a sexist component to the abuse I’ve received at times, as well as to the veiled threats expressed as concerns about my safety.

The best thing women can do is keep riding and making ourselves visible–and get more of our women friends out there on bikes.

Barney
Guest
Barney

This article is excellent, thank you for this.

I’d like to give a shout out to the bike shops that employ a good gender balance (like Citybikes) and shops that offer services for women that are actually helpful and not just pastel (such as Portland Bikeworks’ women/trans open workshop nights).

Men also need to contribute vocally to reversing the trends Elly describes. As Jonathan astutely pointed out in his August comment, some men will deny their sexism when a woman calls them out but will be deferential or even thoughtful when a man does. If you see a man in a shop or on the road behaving in a clearly sexist manner and the woman doesn’t seem comfortable or interested in addressing the matter, call out the sexist behavior and say you’re not cool with it. I’m not saying we should completely take over the dialogue from women and silence them while we men debate how messed up sexism is, I’m saying we need to participate in thoughtful and supportive ways that include all voices.

Anne Hawley
Guest

I’m a proponent of the “cycle chic” esthetic in that I ride to work in the best-looking street clothes the weather will permit, on an upright city-style bike. I’m not young or scenic, and I agree that the cycle chic movement has a disturbing “men’s gaze” quality.

But it IS true that I was put off bike-riding by the perception that I had to approach it as an athletic event, with all attendant (and very unflattering) gear, and I bought a bike again at age 53 because I saw (on the internet) that there was another way of approaching it.

I’ll mention another feminist issue that nobody in bike-riding wants to talk about: fat. Many women like me feel that fatness prevents them from going into a bike shop and getting fair service from a wiry 19 year old athlete, or finding a suitable bike. And it’s absolutely true that no bike apparel is available for women of size–though it’s apparently fine to be a big guy. So my wearing street clothes is partly just out of necessity. And then I decided to try and look a little nicer doing it. And now it’s a kind of cheerful “f*** you” to anyone who thinks maybe someone like me shouldn’t be on a bike.

But I am unusual.

My own experience in finally buying a bike was excellent–thank you, Katie at River City–and I was fitted with a large-framed comfort bike without any of the unease I had anticipated. But it took me TWO YEARS of thinking about it before I got up the courage, and plenty of women like me never will get there because it’s not an easy step to take.

Making bike retailing more woman-friendly (and I don’t mean just friendly to athletic, hardy women, but to women like me) won’t redress the 30/60 split in bike ridership, but it’ll help.

fredlf
Guest
fredlf

When I worked in bike shops doing sales, I was always amazed by how very early gender roles get inscribed. Six-year-olds are very vocal and concerned that they get a proper “boy’s” or “girl’s” bike, even when the only difference is the color scheme. I learned early on that even the most subtle attempt on my part to change this perception would be vigorously rebuffed, usually by both child and parent.

Bikes are like cars in that so much of a person’s identity can get wrapped up in them. They become totems.

carye bye
Guest
carye bye

Great piece Elly! I mostly hang out in the Shift-Bike Fun scene that seems fairly gender balanced these days. Your job puts you in touch with all sorts of people in relation to bikes, so you see and hear it all.

Elliott @ Austin on Two Wheels
Guest

Well said. Until the bike industry and advocacy groups realize women are the future, they’ll be stuck with flat sales and stagnant mode share numbers.

Jeme
Guest
Jeme

*sigh* I wrote “at least as many men as women” when it should obviously be “at least as many women as men”. Apologies to all. If an editor wants to fix that and delete this, I’d be grateful.

Meghan
Guest
Meghan

Susan Donovan: You are absolutely right that sexism exists, whether someone treats me personally in a sexist manner or not.

I try not to be intimidated by the obviously-much-more-athletic riders who pass me at Grand Ave & the Hawthorne Bridge each morning, but I admit they are mostly men. Just making high-traffic areas less high-pressure, more welcoming places to ride (for people of all genders and abilities) would probably get more women out and riding.

matt picio
Guest

Great starter, Elly (I say “starter” because I think there’s a lot of room to explore this topic further). Cycle Wild has been lucky, we frequently have 30-50% female participation in our events – I have to wonder if that will hold true as we become better known and draw a (hopefully) larger cross-section of society.

Our society has made great strides fighting some of the “-isms” (sexism, racism, ageism, classism) but still has a long way to go – it would be great if all of us can realize that to some extent we have pre-existing biases due to our upbringing, our environment, our choices, and our ignorance (whether willful or accidental). I believe we should strive to point it out to others, and when it’s pointed out to us, we should examine our own actions, attitudes and assumptions. There’s always opportunity to change ourselves, and create the world where we view people as individuals, and not by some arbitrary characteristic(s) shared with other members of some notional group.

DJ Jazzy S
Guest
DJ Jazzy S

Regularly I find myself waiting in the bike lane, stopped at at red light, and a male cyclist will pull up from behind and place himself, and his bike, in front of me. I have always interpreted this action as sexist and often attempt to kick his butt (with my lightning fast speed) when the light turns green. Perhaps he isn’t sexist; maybe he looks at my bike and makes a judgment his is faster. Or perhaps he was never taught manners…

beth h
Guest

Thanks for a thoughtful post, Elly.

I have to say that, as someone who’s worked in the bike industry for 15 years and who’s worked in a number of male-centric atmospheres for close to thirty, I generally don’t bother to call out, or protest, or piss and moan anymore when these sorts of things happen. (I draw the line at rape jokes, which are so unfunny that I’m still amazed whenever one is told.)

After years of working in male-centric scenes I guess more crap rolls off my back than in the past, and the fact is that change moves at an anemic snail’s pace. For me, it’s just a question of which hill I really feel willing to die on at a given moment. Gender is messy and complicated and really, really old. And it will continue to be messy long after I’m gone.

I’d much rather die on the hill of bringing about the demise of the car culture than worrying about how many X and Y chromosomes are in the room. But that’s me.

I respect your perspective and I appreciate your sharing it here.

DJ Jazzy S
Guest
DJ Jazzy S

Regularly I find myself waiting in the bike lane, stopped at at red light, and a male cyclist will pull up from behind and place himself, and his bike, in front of me. I have always interpreted this action as sexist and often attempt to kick his butt (with my lightning fast speed) when the light turns green. Perhaps he isn’t sexist; maybe he looks at my bike and makes a judgment that his is faster. Or perhaps he was never taught manners…?

Dave
Guest

@Susan Donovan: I totally agree with you – it’s not that sport is bad, but when the entire “culture” of people riding bikes is based around sport, of course the industry is going to be entirely focused on the sporting aspect, which just has a tendency to lean towards an attitude of dominance (I even feel this some from portions of the bikey crowd, being a male and entirely a transportational cyclist – I’m not a *real* cyclist).

Similarly, it’s not that all people who drive cars hate cyclists, it’s just that when the culture you are immersed in is based on driving cars, there is a tendency for a person to treat cyclists as oddballs, sub-par, outsiders, etc – whether it’s conscious or not, just because it’s the ubiquitous point of view in their frame of reference.

nathan_h
Guest
nathan_h

“Whenever you take the lane, you’re told to get off the road; meanwhile the media, police, and the courts tell you that you have no right to mobility or personal safety unless you behave just like a car.”

Thank you, I’ve never seen this put so succinctly. The usual response of road-hardened cyclists to this built-in conflict is to “assert yourself”, a self-help way of saying you should swagger out into 50 mph traffic and beat your chest in response to honking SUVs. All that just to fetch a quart of milk? It’s no wonder the American cycling participation rate is pathetically low generally, and particularly depressed among women.

On the bright side, it shows that only a small portion of humans are hell-bent on macho posturing. As we expand the opportunities for safe, healthy, and pleasant riding—things that cycling naturally is—it will not be riding a bicycle that is a fringe but the treatment of it as some kind of hazing ritual.

Susan
Guest

Elly ,

Excellent writeup. You might also take a an interesting article on the gender imbalance from a good blog.

Open Letter To Velonews

The author blasted Velonews for male-centric news and commentary. I wonder if he got a response back from them. Ofcourse, thats not saying that other publications in the stands are any better.

KJ
Guest
KJ

Great piece Elly!

I have been relatively amazed at how little sexism or gendered attitudes I have encountered in the bike fun community, I feel like this is a group that gets it for social equality… but although I never give it thought, I never get the same negative interaction my partner does while out on a bike. I wonder if it’s because I ride in a skirt or have a ‘girly’ bike? I donno.

Something small related to businesses that has bugged me, because I would but from them otherwise, is all the love Icebreaker gets for their clothing, but their advertising is AWFUL in it’s sexism. (not just for women…and subtle racism as well)http://shalottianshards.wordpress.com/2008/11/04/baaaad-icebreaker/I just can’t get past it. That’s ok, Ibex is awesome.

Esther
Guest
Esther

Excellent points. It is reasons like this that I have worked long and hard to find a mechanic that I trust who doesn’t over- or under- sell me, and acts like I am as knowledgeable (or as ignorant) as I come across in the actual knowledge & skill I evince– rather than assuming what he thinks I (don’t) know. I don’t get work done at one local shop because I had one male employee there point out the quick releases on the canti brakes on my then-new-to-me bike, look at my boyfriend who was with me, and say to him “You can explain to her what a quick release does, right?”

I do think a lot of it comes down to the typical gender discourse problems. In any ‘specialized’ field that’s based around mechanical or electronic consumer objects (think: car mechanic/classic car/lowrider cultures, high tech gadget, photography, music recording cultures) a lot of the same issues of male ‘dominance’ come into play. Hopefully cycling being on the path to being more mainstream will change that – car culture is mainstream enough that most women have opinions about types of cars they want, the image their car portrays for them, how they want to use their cars; even if the subculture is still talking about mechanics, most men & women in the mainstream talk about the big picture issues.

Erinne
Guest
Erinne

Thanks for addressing this issue. It makes me feel more sane to have other women call out this sort of behavior that I’ve also experienced.

anonymous
Guest
anonymous

Link to a related thread from the Oregonian’s Heidi Swift:

http://gritandglimmer.com/ladies-are-bike-shops-still-failing-us/

Tara McKee
Guest

I agree with you Elly. Its true, some things are changing but it continues to be an issue in the cycling world. I try to give guys the benefit of the doubt at times in the bike shop. Maybe they are shy around women? (Ok, I know one who is a real jerk) Or at one of the various bike activist meetings where a small number of guys talk down to the few women there. Century rides, triathlons, and fun cycling events are doing a good job of reaching out and including women and women’s only events extend a comfort level to some women who can be intimidated by racing against aggressive guys. Yet does anyone follow the Grand Boucle Feminine? It’s the women’s version of the Tour de France.
Finally, if we think the 30/60 ratio is lopsided with adult cyclists–what do you suppose the ratio is with teen girls vs. boys? I believe we as a cycling community need to focus on our young girls–and encourage them to be cyclists.

BURR
Guest
BURR

on the other hand, I know ladies who repeatedly rip the legs off of their male counterparts in many races all season long, in all disciplines…..know more about bike parts, fit, geometry, branding, industry standards, and training than I, or my friends, ever will…

it’s called overcompensation, and it’s what some women feel they have to do to compete in a man’s world, on men’s terms…

Justa
Guest
Justa

I think you have a valid point, BURR, but it’s a bit of a generalization. A lady can be a capable super bike-jock for reasons other than keeping up with the dudes!

Michael M.
Guest

Great piece! It’s a big topic, with lots of nuances and variations in experience depending upon where you come from or come to in the bike world, broadly defined. And even bigger when you toss in the racial divide in attitudes, toward biking and from people involved in biking. But it’s wonderful to get a little first-hand perspective from someone involved a little more deeping in bike culture & business than most of us are.

Myself, I hope I long ago abandoned any presumptions I might have made about female cyclists based only upon their gender, ever since me & my boyfriend were rescued in the Provincelands (Provincetown, MA) from mechanical failure on our rented bikes by two women cyclists who, luckily, had tools and the knowledge to use them.

are
Guest

joe rose has picked this up over on hard drive.

Ryan G.
Guest
Ryan G.

@ BURR, #42: Or it could be that they are just more knowledgable and/or better riders.

For example, I know a woman in the Mazamas who is more knowledgable than and can outclimb all but maybe 20 guys in the Pacific NW. She’s not overcompensating, she’s just one hell of a climber who loves being out in nature and who loves climbing hard.

Assuming that a woman who is a great athlete or really knows her sh!t is overcompensating seems to me to smack of just the kind of discrimination we’re talking about here.

April
Guest
April

Yay! You used the Susan B. quote! I swear to god, I choke up whenever I think of it.

I’d like to echo some people’s responses:

In the local bike fun community, especially Shift events, there is often a good gender balance. I think it’s part of why I enjoy them so much.

Only one form of racing appeals to me at all, and that’s cyclocross. And I’ve realized that part of the reason it appeals to me is that there are so many awesome women racing ‘cross in and around Portland!

The bike shops I’ve been to in Portland don’t treat me like an idiot just because I’m female, which is something I really appreciate.

On a downer: When I first started riding as transportation, a coworker asked “Aren’t you afraid to ride at night?” I told her, well, I wear a helmet, I have lights, I try and stay aware of traffic…she interrupted me to ask, “No, aren’t you afraid of being raped?” I was so surprised I just stared at her. I finally had to point out that if I wasn’t on a bicycle, I’d be walking or waiting at bus stops, and that at least on a bike I could probably get away. But the truth is, it’s just not something I’m generally worried about!

In any case: Bravo to Elly for posting this. And the commentary so far has been great!

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[…] I was alerted to this editorial on BikePortland: My Year as a Woman in a City of Bikes. Not every part of the essay resonated with me, but there were a few parts I think are definitely […]