By Kate Skrainka
Get to the bottom of it. That was my goal: Once and for all, to clarify the murky, muddy waters that are women’s-specific bikes. I pored over vintage bike catalogs, read up on the mathematics of frame geometry, interviewed more than a dozen people and tested a few bikes. I heard a lot of gut feelings and a lot of pretty marketing words—and even got into a Thanksgiving-dinner argument over my findings. It seems everyone has an opinion about the validity of “women’s-specific.”
But the facts? Candid answers and hard evidence are harder to come by. I set out to find out. Even so, I may have come up short. But here’s what I know. There are few useful generalizations that can be made about women, what styles of mountain bikes we want and how best to sell bikes to us. On average, we’re shorter than men, but we’re not all short. On average, we weigh less than men, but we’re not all lightweight. On average, we are less muscular than men, particularly in our upper bodies, but we’re not all spaghetti-armed and puny. We are freeriders, downhillers, trail riders and cross-country weight weenies.
With such a diversity of body types and riding styles, can there possibly be a meaningful biological difference in bike fit? How well do women’s-specific bikes work? And for whom?
You might think that the average American woman is 5 feet 6 inches tall, maybe 5 feet 5. You’d be wrong. The average height of women in the United States is just less than 5 feet 4 inches, whereas the average height for men is just over 5 feet 9 inches, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Before 1999, few mountain bikes—and virtually no road bikes—were mass-produced for adult riders under about 5 feet 6 inches tall. More than 75 percent of women in the U.S. are under that height, and a quarter are less than 5 feet 2 inches tall. Unsurprisingly, then, many average-size women didn’t fit all that well on what passed as “small” frames. Shorter-than-average women had few options outside of full-custom bikes until women’s-specific came along.
In 1999 Trek became the first major bicycle manufacturer to design, produce and market a line of road, mountain and city bikes for women, under the trademark Women’s Specific Design (WSD). Other manufacturers followed suit not long after. It’s been written that these bikes were pink and other “feminine” colors, but that gets overplayed. A look through some vintage Trek catalogs revealed models in a respectable blue with white and red accents.
While the earliest women’s-specific bikes filled a gaping void in the market for women who weren’t man-sized, there was little else to cheer about. The bikes were, by and large, outfitted with lower-end parts, heavy and overbuilt. There were no high-end, race-ready machines for women who wanted a performance product but didn’t fit on a “men’s” bike. Little consideration was given to who the rider of these bikes might be other than “a woman.” Even so, the increasing availability of smaller sizes played a crucial role in getting more women out on the trails.
Regardless of manufacturer, mountain bikes with women’s-specific geometry have historically featured proportionally shorter top tubes, steeper seat angles and often a taller head-tube stack. These combined characteristics result in a more upright riding position. There’s a prevailing notion that the cockpit of such a bike is smaller when compared to men’s bikes. That’s sometimes the case, but depending on what else happens to the head angle and such, the reach can lengthen even if the top tube shortens.
Perhaps not coincidentally, all of that is pretty much what happens when you scale down a road bike to sizes under about 54 cm—sizes that fit the majority of women. At the time, mountain bike geometry was much more heavily influenced by road bikes than it is now—think 71 degree head angles and 120 mm stems. And this geometry—particularly the shorter top tube—was vaguely claimed to better suit “typical” female body proportions.
But what’s “typical”? It’s still often said that women have proportionally shorter torsos and longer legs than men. Reps from Trek, Liv and Specialized admitted to me that their engineers had perhaps assumed this in the past. But as they gathered fit data over the years, they found no evidence that this is true—even as a broad generalization.
Sex aside, many cyclists still believe that a rider with the short-torso/long-leg body type will feel more comfortable on a frame with women’s-specific geometry. Yet the relationship between body proportions and ideal frame geometry remains fuzzy. Things like flexibility, fitness level, past injuries, pedaling technique and even the number of times one has given birth all factor into achieving a comfortable bike fit and a powerful riding position.
Around 2009, companies offering women’s-specific bikes shifted away from treating women as an undifferentiated category. In the last two years especially, women’s-specific mountain bikes with high-end spec, carbon frames and longer amounts of travel have become less scarce, and there’s no longer much uniformity to women’s-specific geometry. Do these bikes offer real performance benefits to women?
I looked at six different companies—some that sell women’s specific bikes, and some that don’t—to see what they offer female riders. Trek and Specialized design mountain bikes with women’s specific geometry and also provide women some options built on men’s frames. Liv offers women’s-specific geometry exclusively. Pivot and Kona largely avoid the term “women’s-specific” but offer some models for hardcore riders down to about 4 feet 11 inches tall, and they are mindful that a lot of those smaller riders are women. Juliana uses platforms from parent company Santa Cruz decked out in eye-catching paint and women’s-specific build kits.
These are by no means the only bike manufacturers paying attention to women, but they provide some good examples of what’s on offer for gals looking to shred some singletrack—whether or not they’re also looking to show off their feminine side while they’re at it.
TREK: TWO KINDS OF WOMEN’S-SPECIFIC
Trek uses a women’s-specific geometry on its models aimed at entry-level and intermediate female mountain bikers. The Lush is its women’s-specific trail bike, a 27.5 aimed at riders for whom a feeling of confidence and control—not big air—leaves them grinning. Amanda Schulze, women’s business manager at Trek, said that WSD geometry isn’t about body proportions so much as a fit preference.
“That comes from legit research,” Schulze said. “We go out and watch people and ride.” She explained that the more upright position of the Lush takes pressure off the shoulders and neck, helps the rider see up the trail better and still allows the rider to get low when needed without being committed to that position all the time. It features ultra-low standover, ostensibly for confidence, and a higher leverage ratio to improve the likelihood that lighter riders will get full travel from the rear shock.
I tested the top-of-the-line carbon-fiber version at a demo day in Tucson, Arizona, in December. According to Trek, I should be on the 14-inch size because I’m 5 feet tall. Unfortunately, I had to test the 15.5-inch size since the smaller one wasn’t stocked on the demo van. This is a problem across the industry. These days, manufacturers produce a lot more options for us mighty mites, but a frustrating number of local bike shops and demo vans still fail to stock the smallest sizes. Shop employees I spoke with in Tucson and Phoenix said they fear being stuck with merchandise that won’t sell.
Manufacturers could do a better job of equipping their demo vans with at least one extra-small model. For the love of short people! We won’t buy what we can’t try, so just put the tiny bikes on the van please.
I also rode a Top Fuel 9.8 SL, which in the smallest size is a 27.5, per Trek’s Smart Wheel Size system. Although it was the same frame size as the Lush, it actually fit pretty well. Trek doesn’t do different geometry for bikes aimed at more advanced female riders.
Schulze said, “You don’t see a real difference in how women ride at that level and how men ride at that level.” The performance-minded WSD models use the same frames as the men’s versions and add some feminine styling: a women’s-specific saddle, different paint colors, smaller-diameter grips and WSD suspension tuning. There’s nothing particularly sex-specific about suspension tuning, other than women tend to be lighter than men. Even when sag is correctly set, those under about 135 pounds can be held back by a stock tune in a way that others aren’t. (Heavier girls can now cheer.)
Anthony Diaz of Diaz Suspension Designs said suspension valving has a huge effect on how easily a rider can maneuver a bike. If the stock tuning were to be too light, most people would bottom out their fork like a 250-pounder, so stock bikes are typically tuned for the assumed weight and riding style of the average male rider. This leaves lighter riders unable to pop out of corners or charge descents, because even with compression damping fully open, it’s too stiff. The average weight for women is more than 30 pounds less than the average for men, so it makes sense that women’s-specific mountain bikes would have a different tune.
When I asked Schulze if the WSD tune was based on an assumed lighter rider, she said that Trek gets input from female testers from 100-plus pounds to “not lightweight” and that the company works closely with Fox and RockShox to develop parameters for each bike.
SPECIALIZED: MORE THAN GEOMETRY
Specialized offers women’s-specific mountain bikes in most off-road categories, from $10,000 race thoroughbreds like the S-Works Era to the Hellga fat bike. It’s hard to put a finger on how its women’s geometry differs from the men’s other than proportionally shorter top tubes and more stand-over clearance.
I asked their team of women’s product managers about the rationale for a shorter reach, since we now know that the short-torso/long-leg thing is a myth. They told me that Specialized has analyzed some 40,000 bike fits from consumers fitted at certified Body Geometry and Retul fitters around the globe. The data shows a shorter reach is a common preference among women. Women tend to sit farther back on the saddle and have a shorter “wingspan” than men, both of which correlate to a shorter reach. But, they said, a dialed reach isn’t as important on a mountain bike as on a road bike. “It’s not all about the geometry,” said Amy Nelson, one of two women’s MTB product managers. “You have to think of the bike as a whole system.”
The Specialized team said that women of all sizes and experience levels may prefer their women’s platforms for the lower stand-over, a lighter tune on the suspension and size-specific components—reducing the potential need to swap bars, stem, cranks or saddle. The team acknowledged that the sex-specific labels on their bikes shouldn’t be viewed too rigidly. Some men prefer the plush feel and light weight of the women’s Era or the extra stand-over on the Hellga, for example. “I think it’s very open and people should choose based on what they feel most comfortable on,” said Stephanie Kaplan, women’s road product manager.
New for 2016, the Rhyme represents a different approach for Specialized. This was based on demand from female riders with a more aggressive riding style. The Rhyme uses the same chassis as the men’s Stumpjumper, but features a lighter suspension tune and size-specific components found on all Specialized women’s mountain bikes. Notably—unlike the Stumpjumper—the Rhyme is available in an extra-small size to fi t riders down to 4 feet 11 inches tall. It’s offered in two wheel sizes: 27.5 and Specialized’s 27.5plus wheel size, the 6Fattie.
LIV: NOT JUST A GOOD LOOKING PAINT JOB
Giant launched Liv as a standalone brand for women in mid-2014. Liv’s headquarters is in Taiwan, and the brand reflects a global culture and demographic. A YouTube video of the kickoff event at Eurobike shows multi-time world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot saying “I like pink.” (Don’t judge. Maybe Ferrand-Prévot does like pink.) Abby Santurbane, global category manager at Liv, said their bikes target women who differ from Giant’s ridership in their goals, the influences in their lives and how much they ride.
Santurbane said Liv designs bikes “from the ground up” to fit the majority of women. Giant has its own proprietary anthropometric database, which is the starting point for frame design. Liv maximizes fit and comfort by keeping the rider centered over the bottom bracket, making the most of her (or his) natural strengths. The mountain bikes are all 27.5 and have seat angles around 73 degrees, notably slacker than most women’s-specific bikes. They also have proportionally shorter top tubes, slightly taller head tubes and shorter reach measurements compared to similar Giant models.
I asked Santurbane about Liv’s approach to suspension and she said, “People may disagree, but we don’t do suspension tunes by weight.” Rather, they do them based on how the bike will be ridden—cross-country, trail or all-mountain for example.
Selene Yeager, better known as Bicycling magazine’s Fit Chick, had a plausible explanation about all this. She’s got a no-bullshit East Coast vibe and has tested tons of bikes. Although she doesn’t consider herself an expert on sex-differentiated bike fit, she’s written about it in her most recent book, “The Bicycling Big Book of Cycling for Women.”
Her take? There is legitimacy to the concept of women’s-specific as a fit preference. Some women—and men—don’t fit all that well on men’s bikes because of their size, weight distribution and riding style. Yeager reminded me that, in addition to the average height and weight differences between men and women, a woman’s center of gravity is lower than a man’s, and, in general, women “are not as upper-body muscular. That’s a fact. So pushing a bike into the corners, having your weight over the front wheel, distributing your weight is more of a challenge if your weight is not distributed in a way that the bike is built to react.”
Based on what I’ve heard, read and experienced, I’m willing to buy this. It doesn’t sit well with a lot of folks, but to deny that some people don’t fit optimally on a typical bike is to deny reality for them. Riders of different sizes don’t necessarily have the same experience on the same bike, (which is why Dirt Rag prints the height and weight of the rider along with the size tested in every review).
PIVOT: RIDER SIZE-SPECIFIC
I’m not flying the women’s-specific flag just yet, though. Many smaller and midsize companies offer extended sizing without using the “women’s-specific” designation. Pivot Cycles, owned by Chris Cocalis, offers several models in sizes to fi t riders from 4 feet 11 to more than 6 feet 4 inches tall. Cocalis is mindful of who rides the smallest of those: “We call it rider-size-specific geometry. It just so happens that the majority of riders under 5 feet 5 inches are women, and so that’s who we design the smaller bikes for, but we also build great bikes for women over 5 feet 5 inches.”
Cocalis emailed me a detailed description of how Pivot designs each frame size to perform optimally for the intended-size rider. Among other things, engineers tweak the head and seat angles to keep the smaller bikes maneuverable yet stable. The goal is always to keep the rider “centered in a way that is optimal for cornering, climbing and aggressive technical descending.” All of that, plus size-specific carbon layups, helps ensure that riders of all sizes experience the same ride quality.
“Some of our smallest female athletes lay down incredible power, so we need to make every size a world-class performer,” Cocalis added. When it comes to suspension, Cocalis also mentioned that, in the last couple of years, Fox has changed up its air-spring system to better suit a wider range of rider weights. “It used to have a negative spring that would pull the fork down shorter, and the forks would lose about an inch in length and travel. This was not great for smaller riders. The new forks have a self-regulating negative air spring, as do the rear shocks, so the negative spring is perfect for any air setting and therefore any weight rider.”
KONA: ENDURO FOR ALL
Although Kona has long been kind of a “dude” brand, it has lately listened to its sponsored female athletes and female staff, which has paid off in some new options for women and smaller, lighter riders in general. In 2015 Kona offered the Process 134 SE, which we tested in issue #184. It’s built on the same platform as the well-received Process models but in an extra-small size and its own build kit to accommodate riders under 5 feet 4 inches tall.
Angi Weston, one of Kona’s sales reps, said, “It isn’t just women who benefit from smaller bikes; teenagers and short men do too. This approach also shows that we acknowledge female customers are just as particular as male customers and want attractive, but not necessarily ‘girly,’ colors, modern spec—like dropper posts, wide bars and short stems—and ripping good geometry.”
For 2016, Kona is offering both the Process 134 and 134 DL in an extra-small size, giving shorter riders more than one price point to choose from.
JULIANA: SISTERS OF THE SHRED
Some female riders are looking for something that goes beyond fit or even attractive styling. Back in 1999, Juliana started as a single Santa Cruz model developed with racing legend Juli Furtado. Launched as a separate brand for women in 2013, it now boasts six models. Each one is based off an existing Santa Cruz platform, the only differences being a women’s-specific saddle, narrower-width handlebars, smaller-diameter grips and some snappier colors.
Katie Zaffke, Juliana’s brand manager, said, “Our physical differences aren’t actually so different [that women need unique geometry].” Changing up the touch-point components and offering smaller sizes and lower stand-over take care of the differences that do matter, in her estimation. Juliana does not alter suspension tuning, but Zaffke said, “Suspension tunes for Santa Cruz are a light tune in general.”
For 2016, Juliana will add an extra-small size to the Furtado, (aka the 5-inch-travel Santa Cruz 5010 and Juliana’s most popular model). This is the only one available in that size, so it’s a welcome addition for the very smallest of shredders.
Zaffke said that what hardcore female mountain bikers really want and need is a sense of community and “their own thing, their own brand, their own identity.” This approach resonates with a lot of women. For years many women have been buying men’s bikes and swapping out the various bits to suit, so why not give them build kits that are more likely to be size-appropriate in an off-the-shelf package and their own good-looking colors?
IS IT RIGHT?
The professional female racers I spoke with were universally skeptical of the women’s-specific designation. They said it was important to select components carefully, depending on what works best for the type of riding you do and your size, without regard for labels. You can study geometry charts and read product reviews, but there’s no substitute for knowledge gained through experience and some trial and error. They recommended demoing lots of bikes to get a feel for the different geometries and bike styles and speaking up if something doesn’t seem right. A good demo person will swap a stem or adjust suspension so you can make an accurate assessment of a bike.
The need among women for a sense of community and inclusion isn’t in dispute. Yet there are economic forces at work here too. Maybe sex isn’t the best way to segment the market, but it’s a simple solution to a complex problem: how to fit wonderfully diverse humans onto bicycles so they can fling themselves through space. There’s a lot we don’t know about how a human and a bicycle fit together, especially when you add suspension and different wheel sizes to the mix.
We need to make our voices heard by manufacturers, local bike shops and each other. We all want bikes that work for the size that we are, for the bodies that we have. A good bike should feel natural and handle intuitively; that’s true for everyone. In the end, what you think of women’s-specific bikes will probably depend more on what your own experience and gut tell you than on what anyone else says.
A friend of mine has two mountain bikes. She’s about average height for a woman, lean, a phenomenal athlete. She loves both her bikes, she says, but the women’s-specific one “just fits me and balances really well.” She doesn’t think it’s better, but she doesn’t think it’s worse, either. When you get to the bottom of it, which bike she picks has more to do with the day of the week and the trail she’s riding than someone else’s label.
This feature was originally published in Dirt Rag #189
The Juliana-SRAM pro women’s mountain bike team is picking up its 2016 season at the Enduro World Series this weekend in Corral, Chile. Here’s a look back at all the great riding and racing from 2015.
Photo: Sven MartinTweet Print
Photos: Josh Sawyer and Emily Walley
A community is a village, a town or a city, but a sense of community is not defined by proximity. It’s the nurse and the lawyer, the photographer, designer and the park ranger; it’s the social media specialist, the bike shop salesperson and the mom all pursuing a common goal.
A few years ago Jessica Klodnicki, Bell Helmet’s executive vice president and general manager, found herself standing alone at a bike shop. She’d expected to join a scheduled group mountain bike ride but no one else showed up. Ultimately, she made her connection, but the experience wasn’t what she’d hoped for. As a relatively new rider, she was looking for a group ride that was committed, organized and fun; she was seeking community.
If you mountain bike, you’ve likely heard a friend say, “I really want to start mountain biking, but…”
Fill in the blank: I don’t have a bike; I can’t afford a bike; my bike doesn’t fit; I don’t know what to look for in a bike; I don’t know the trails; I don’t have anyone at my level to ride with; I’m afraid to join a ride. And so on. These are huge hurdles associated with mountain biking. Whether the reason is social, economic or psychological, the barriers seem to be just a little bit bigger for women.
To mitigate some of these challenges and grow the sport of mountain biking among women, Bell Helmets has implemented the Joy Ride Ambassador Program. Historically, Bell has been perceived as a masculine company, but Joy Ride aims to open doors to the female consumer.
The program is motivated by and modeled after Girls Rock, a Santa Cruz all-women’s mountain bike group founded by Klodnicki not long after that lonely morning at the bike shop. With her tireless dedication and passion for the sport, an eager following of burgeoning and advanced female riders, and the support of the ever-present Santa Cruz bike industry, Girls Rock has grown from merely four women to 400 since the spring of 2014.
“It showed us that there was a real need for women of all levels, everything from beginner to advanced to come together and have the opportunity to ride,” said Klodnicki.
I spent this past weekend observing the Joy Ride kickoff with Bell’s Ambassadors and had the pleasure of meeting many of the Girls Rock members at social events. There was a unanimous wave of excited chatter about what has developed from four ladies in a parking lot.
As an outsider, I could see and hear the joy throughout the room. Girls Rock was certainly born out of desire and drive. Perhaps Klodnicki’s personal hurdles are what gives this program its energy. She wanted someone to ride with; she assumed other women did as well and she made it happen.
The Joy Ride Ambassador Program
With the support of Bell, eight women from Nashville, Tennessee, to Edmonton, Alberta, will build a community of female mountain bikers within their respective locations. Each ambassador is expected to offer a regular all-women’s mountain bike ride every month for one year. Bell wants to expand this program in the future, but it wanted to “start small.”
Inevitably, challenges will present themselves for each of these women and limiting the group size allows the company to be connected, involved and supportive throughout the ambassador process, seeing that each of these women succeed in their programs.
Bell received over 200 applications for the Joy Ride Ambassador Program, many hailing from epic ride destinations, but opted to move forward with some less-traveled locations. “We really wanted to find spots where there was opportunity,” said Klodnicki.
While Bell had several bike companies offer to sponsor the Joy Ride program, it declined, wanting to be flexible and keep doors open to all of the bike industry. Essentially, Bell chose not to team up with anyone so it could team up with everyone. Each of the Joy Ride Ambassadors is encouraged to do the same in her own community.
Ibis, Blackburn, Camelbak, Giro and Luna Bar all provided generous support for the kickoff weekend. While Bell certainly wants strong brand recognition at each Joy Ride event—the ambassadors have all received Joy Ride helmets, apparel and pop-up tents—the ladies were encouraged to seek support from everyone they know, including friends involved in other ambassador programs. It’s important to Bell that the Joy Ride program is all-encompassing.
The name “Joy Ride” and the associated apparel is the result of surveying 750 women about why they ride, their style preferences, wants and needs. Bell heard the word “joy” repeatedly throughout the process. You’ll notice that while the apparel has a feminine quality, it tastefully stands out from much of what you see for women. With the Joy Ride gear, Bell was striving for “purpose built while being aesthetically beautiful.”
The Joy Ride program is focused on the four following pillars:
1. Obsessed with dirt
2. Welcoming and inclusive
3. Fun! (and sometimes educational)
4. Organized, but flexible
Bell is providing a “prescriptive tool kit” for the ambassadors which included a vast array of suggestions for building a community: pre- and post-ride activities; educational programs; partnering with local shops, brands and businesses; giveaways; social media accounts; trail etiquette; volunteers and role assignments; ride levels and more.
Klodnicki emphasized the importance of the ambassadors dividing the women into self-identified ride levels. The ability to challenge yourself is present when you ride with others at a similar or slightly more advanced level than oneself. It’s the “if she can ride it, I can ride it” philosophy. I’ve personally found this beneficial to my own growth as a mountain biker.
Ultimately, these eight women must tailor their programs to fit into their respective communities. Terrain, weather, personalities, riding level and personal preferences will all be factors of how these programs evolve.
From frigid cold to unbearable heat to moisture, the fourth pillar: “organized, but flexible,” may be the biggest challenge for some of the ambassadors. For instance, after three weeks of 70 degrees and sunshine, Bell hadn’t expected a weekend of heavy rain and high wind. We spent the first day in Santa Cruz having a blast on the new Ibis Mojo 3 in a steady drizzle, but riding on day two was out of the question.
Meet the Joy Ride Ambassadors
A 20-year age gap spans the youngest and eldest ambassador. Through their diverse careers and backgrounds, they represent a small cross-section of the U.S. and Canada. While they have some connections, most of these women do not have a background in the bike industry. Perhaps this makes them a better fit for the ambassador role. A few of the ambassadors have already held their first Joy Ride and they were stoked to share their successes.
Isabelle Jacques, North Vancouver, BC: Isabelle raced mountain bikes as a kid, but was always training with boys. It wasn’t until a few years ago that she started riding with women and that’s when she saw her riding skills really progress. She’s a certified Professional Mountain Bike Instructor and enjoys sharing riding strengths with friends, i.e. swapping downhill techniques for cross country skills. “I find that this program is almost something I’ve been waiting for … let’s just get out there and have a good time.”
Samantha Jones, Kansas City, MO: When returning to her hometown of Kansas City, Sam was the only woman at the Lawrence MTB Club weekly rides. She started a Thursday night women’s ride, and the ride grew to 16 people before winter.
Nina Karpoff, Edmonton, AB: As a resident of Edmonton, Alberta, Nina’s mountain bike rides are currently challenged by cold temperatures and unfavorable trail conditions, but she left the Joy Ride weekend feeling prepared. In addition to being a skilled rider, she’s also a talented photographer. Be sure to follow her on Instagram.
Amber Krueger, Madison, WI: Amber lives 15 minutes from singletrack, but she expressed that Madison needed the Joy Ride program to encourage women to explore the area’s trails. She completed her inaugural Joy Ride event in February with a seasonally appropriate fat bike ride. Seventy women gathered at the Quarry Ridge trailhead for coffee and doughnuts before hitting the trails on Surly demo bikes. The trail offered a short loop for all riding abilities. As a representative of the midwest, Amber is one of the ambassadors that will be challenged by cold and wet trail conditions. As a Wisconsin native, I can appreciate the brisk, negative-8 degree event but Amber thoughtfully combatted the cold with a heated tent and a bonfire.
Karina Magrath, Coeur d’ Alene, ID: Karina is Professional Mountain Bike Instructor certified. She was accustomed to large women’s riding groups when she lived in Seattle, but the percentage of women on her Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, group rides was small. She’s looking forward to her August Joy Ride camping event at Farragut State Park, in Athel, Idaho. Women will ride from the campground to trails that offer opportunities for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders. She’s already received 100 RSVPs.
Veronique Pardee, Tucson, AZ: It’s been over a year since Veronique and a fellow cyclist started the program In Session. The group was inspired by the Trek Dirt Series and developed from the realization that she hadn’t spent much time “sessioning” trail sections and features. She had up to 13 women at the rides and as they neared its anniversary, she wondered how it would grow. At Veronique’s first Joy Ride event, she gathered 55 women. She was really focused on the social aspect of this ride, so she shuttled people out and back from a local brewery where they were offered $1 post-ride beers.
Missy Petty, Knoxville, TN: Missy is a sponsored racer. Her home city of Knoxville won the Bell Built grant in 2015, and the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club is using the funds to build a gravity trail at Urban Wilderness. The location already has up to 40 miles of trail and this challenging terrain will offer Missy’s Joy Ride group trail access for all skill levels only a few minutes from the city.
Kendall Ryan, Richmond, VA: Kendall learned to ride from Luna Chicks, an all-women’s team, and she’s convinced that’s why she’s had such a positive riding experience. Richmond was the recipient of a Bell Built grant in 2014 for the Richmond Regional Ride Center, and they’re continuing to expand on this trail network of beginner and intermediate friendly trails.
Why do we need programs like Joy Ride?
The Joy Ride Ambassador program provides a sense of camaraderie and community. It fosters motivation, builds relationships and keeps people moving, but there’s more.
To get a little perspective on how the Joy Ride program would affect mountain bike advocacy at large, I spoke with Laurel Harkness, IMBA Region Director for Northern California. Laurel has been riding since 1987, but it was three years before she rode with another woman. For her, it’s inspiring to see a program like this and it’s a great gathering place for stories that she can retell at a later date. She also sees tremendous value in terms of hierarchy of engagement. It’s where beginners start.
“I see this demographic as being very important and untapped,” said Harkness. As a veteran mountain biker and a single mom of two kids who also ride, she represents a less-publicized demographic at land manager meetings and seeks to help change preconceived notions of who a mountain biker is. Her son rides to find the next best fishing spot and her daughter goes out seeking a great photo spot. Currently, IMBA memberships are 80-percent male and 20-percent female. Harkness would love to see that level out. A program like Joy Ride is the springboard.
Congratulations to this amazing group of women that will inspire, promote and grow women’s rides in their communities. These eight women are planting the seed for a future of ambassadors across the nation and, hopefully, across the world. Follow all these ladies on Instagram, check out their ride pages on Facebook, and be sure to attend a Joy Ride if you’re in their area.
Become an advocate for all women’s rides by helping Bell build a map. Drop a pin so you can connect with women across the U.S. and Canada; host a ride, find a leader, build a community.
Female mountain bikers, take note: There is only one week left to apply to be a Bell Helmets Joy Ride ambassador! If you are excited about welcoming more women into mountain biking and wouldn’t mind doing it with significant support from one of the sport’s most recognizable brands, get your application in by November 1.
The Joy Ride program is modeled off of Girls Rock, a successful women’s mountain bike group in Santa Cruz, California. The group’s monthly rides—with options for all levels—average 80 participants. Girls Rock also features opportunities to demo bikes and attend both skills sessions and maintenance clinics.
Bell’s vice president and general manager, Jessica Klodnicki, is one of the Girls Rock founders. “We would like to get representatives from five cities spread across the country in towns where there is a vibrant mountain biking scene, but perhaps a need for a more supportive women’s group to foster riders of all levels,” she said. “We are looking for women who are passionate about mountain biking, organized and connected in their communities, but they don’t have to be incredible mountain bikers.”
According to Klodnicki, the Bell Joy Ride helmet collection for women was developed utilizing feedback from 750 women about their cycling needs, as well as a desire to offer feminine—but not girly—aesthetics.
“We [at Bell] wanted to do more than build products. We wanted to play a role in getting more women riding,” she said. “We wanted to bring that joy that we feel out on the trails to more women.”
Applications will be accepted through November 1. Five ambassadors will be selected by the end of the year, then invited to “Joy Ride Camp” in Bell’s home of Santa Cruz, California, to receive training and swag for use in hosting local mountain bike rides and events.
“THE LINE” is a new documentary film series set to debut in January 2016 featuring female athletes who excel in adventure sports. The first in the three-part series will highlight female mountain bikers, Kat Sweet, Inga Beck and 13-year-old phenom McKenna Merten. They are featured riding the trails around Lake Tahoe, California, and telling stories of what inspires them and how they progressed to be advanced riders.
“The film series allows female athletes to voice their stories and inspire other women while exploring action sports in depth,” said director and concept creator, Casey Kohlhoff.
An avid mountain biker himself, Kohlhoff chose MTB for the first installment of “THE LINE” because, “during my research on female mountain bike riders, I wasn’t finding films that highlighted women,” he said.
THE LINE series will also feature short documentaries about female skiers and rock climbers later in 2016. Preview the mountain bike series.
From Twelve One Productions:
The line is where the athlete begins, turns and wants to go. She chooses. She controls the line, navigates it, negotiates obstacles and pushes her performance to progress to the next level of her sport. Each episode is a monument to her dedication, progression, adventure and human spirit. Her creativity is only bounded by her imagination and THE LINE.Tweet Print
Allow me to set a scene for you: It has been a long and arduous journey for women in cycling, from those who work with bicycles for a living to those who simply find joy when riding them. For decades, we haven’t been seen as equals or deserving of either employment or representation because we don’t measure up or shred hard enough or constitute a large-enough market. Still, those of us with decades-old passions for cycling, myself included, found avenues and bicycles and gear and just did what we loved, which was to ride.
Meanwhile, what we longed for was to be seen as “cyclists,” not as objects. All we really wanted was for bike shops and bike companies to acknowledge our existence even a little bit. Interested in women shopping with you? Be nice; it’s that simple. I don’t need to be treated like a princess or given wine when I walk in your door. I only request that you not be a dick to me.
Apparently, this is still sometimes too much to ask. It’s Interbike week and we were greeted yesterday morning with the news that official attendee bags had been stuffed with socks featuring the backsides of two women in barely there bikini bottoms. Interbike has since offered an apology (see below) and explained that the socks were shipped per a sponsor agreement and the attendee bags were stuffed by volunteers. (As of Tuesday afternoon, Interbike removed the socks from the remaining bags.)
It doesn’t really matter who is or was responsible for filling thousands of goodie bags with socks that are demeaning and exclusionary. What matters is their association with the bike industry’s biggest trade show. What matters is that someone, somewhere, thought that it was acceptable to officially represent the bicycle industry’s biggest, most “professional” event with a revealing graphic of butt cheeks, and that sucks. All one has to do is look around the Interbike show floor and realize this isn’t a bro-only industry anymore.
Prior to “sockgate,” I was on a high about my beloved bicycle industry. I just came from five years at the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) where I worked with a staff that is one-third female. In my tenure there, I had the privilege of getting to know the coaches of several rapidly growing women’s mountain bike clinics, the tireless female leaders of mountain bike advocacy groups across the U.S. and the participants of women-only mountain bike races. I was also beginning to notice more companies including women prominently in their print advertising.
Hell, I was just discussing my appreciation for the lack of scantily clad booth babes at this year’s Outdoor Demo, something I saw en masse in 2010—the last time I attended Interbike.
Considering the many good things happening for women in cycling, ass socks might seem like a small thing. But under the bright lights of what Interbike is—an event intended to help grow and expand this industry—ass socks are indicative of a pervasive misogynistic attitude that is continually excused and refuses to go away.
I spoke to industry veteran and marketing manager for Pivot Cycles, Carla Hukee, about this. “It’s not that this is just a one-time incident; rather it’s the fifteen-hundredth time something like this has happened,” she said. “These incidents are coming at us in a steady stream.” Hukee also pointed out that Pivot employs several women, which is a significant reason she is proud to be working there.
Exclusionary, demeaning marketing moves (beyond this one instance) need to be called for the bullshit that they are and that is why Pivot’s female staff was more than willing to gather at Outdoor Demo for the featured photo. They are proud of their professional status in the bicycle industry and wanted to show you that it’s not just men working on behalf of your favorite brands.
Interbike—to its credit—is making a significant effort this year to promote and recognize women in cycling. Interbike is hosting an indoor space called “The Women’s Collective” which I hope will be well attended and taken seriously. In conjunction with organizations like PeopleForBikes and the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition, attendees can choose from multiple panels, seminars and product line presentations (some of which we will report back on). The collective will also serve as a conversational space for women and men to discuss and learn about the state of the women’s cycling market.
But the socks also run counter to Interbike’s own 10-point “Manifesto,” which was published with the intent to “begin to take action toward a more sustainable future and a prosperous industry.” The document came into being following Interbike’s January 2015 Independent Bicycle Dealer Summit and specifically calls out women as one the the “greatest opportunities” for the future of the bicycle industry.
Should none of this move you emotionally, perhaps take a dispassionate economic view of the situation: 46 percent of outdoor participants are females (Outdoor Industry Association); 24 percent of all bicycle trips in the U.S. are made by women; and the number of “enthusiast” women cyclists (the most active) increased by 8 percent from 2000 to 2010.
(Source: PeopleForBikes participation statistics )
Simply put, if you don’t want to alienate a growing segment of your buyers, don’t scoff at the idea of purposeful inclusion and thoughtful marketing. Don’t shun a little good taste for the sake of a cheap laugh. Yes, we are in Las Vegas, a city in a state that has pockets of legalized prostitution. Does that make ass socks acceptable? Absolutely not. Just because you are forced to attend a family gathering with your racist uncle doesn’t mean you can suddenly turn on your black friend and demean him in front of others.
In remarkably timely fashion, the current issue of Dirt Rag—our first “personality” issue—comes out today at Interbike and features professional downhill and enduro mountain bike racer Amanda Batty on the cover. Her interview is a no-holds-barred discussion of the sexism, misogyny and double standards often found in cycling and its media.
Over the years, Dirt Rag has learned much about what our readers expect, prefer and appreciate, and we’re pretty damn proud that they seem to be a level-headed, fun-loving bunch interested in shredding, imbibing and adventuring with male and female friends alike, not bothering to spend time objectifying women.
But in the year 2015, the Dirt Rag staff shouldn’t suddenly feel like outliers that the cover of our latest issue features a woman riding a mountain bike on a technical trail. It shouldn’t have to be seen as “taking a stand.”
I can claim no credit for the current Dirt Rag issue, but I’m immensely proud of my colleagues for taking it on. Before I showed up, the small editorial team steering Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times was fully fueled by testosterone but, clearly, it did not matter.
You should not need to have women around to view them—and support them—as riders rather than figures to be objectified.
In addition to this, please read what Christina Julian wrote on the Surly Bikes blog about this issue, especially if you still don’t think objectification of women constitutes a real problem for the bicycle industry. Julian is Surly’s marketing manager and her piece is personal, honest and compelling.
Here is what Interbike had to say:
Official post on the Interbike Facebook page:
“There was an unfortunate incident with socks in our OutDoor Demo bags. It was part of a sponsorship and the bags were stuffed by a third party organization. This was a mistake and is not how Interbike rolls. We have removed the socks from the bags and apologize.”
Comment from Justin Gottlieb, Director of Communications and PR for Interbike (found on a Facebook discussion feed):
“… We in no way meant to offend anyone and are sensitive to the issue at hand. We are researching the situation right now to see what happened, but it seems as though a 3rd party received and packed the socks in the bags without our review. Had we seen them, we would have never let them in the bags. We apologize for the mistake, and are pulling them out of all bags as we speak. Let me know if you have any other questions.”
Cover story from issue #187
Words by Chris Milucky
Photos by John Shafer
Amanda Batty gained a degree of notoriety earlier this year, not because of her race results as a professional downhill and enduro racer but because she abruptly resigned from a position as an online columnist due to sexism, double standards and misogyny often found within our industry and its media.
As a supporter of women’s rights and equality in a male-dominated sport, she was appalled by the disrespectful feedback, lack of respect and outright verbal attacks she received for standing up for herself and women in general. Amanda considers herself outspoken and opinionated, yet she’s also funny, clever and smart. While some may say she’s a man-hating feminist, she doesn’t want to wear that label: she considers herself the voice of equality for all individuals and a spokeswoman for mutual respect amongst everyone in our sport.
Shortly after her announcement, I took a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, to unlock some of these misogynistic mysteries and see what Amanda had to say about her current situation and that of the bike industry in general when it comes to equality. Her heart was still black and blue from the breakup, and it showed during this candid and insightful interview where nothing was held back.
CHRIS MILUCKY: Are you a feminist?
AMANDA BATTY: A feminist? Sure, if you want to label it. I prefer “humanist” or even “sane,” but sure, let’s call me a feminist. But if I am, can we say that I’m probably the most liberal, wide-open feminist on earth? I don’t usually like to describe myself as a feminist because I don’t subscribe to a lot of the modern exclusions that mainstream feminism seems to be all about, and I also dislike compartmentalization.
Don’t miss the rest of this interview. Pick up a copy of the Dirt Rag personality issue from one of our partner bike shops.Tweet Print
It’s the end of an era. The Aptos Post Office Jumps and the accompanying pump track in Aptos, California, are being razed in February. Earning notoriety for their death-defying vert doubles and the local kids that have grown up with these jumps—both the jumps and kids are now internationally-known entities.
While on Saturday, February 14, the jumps will be over-run with riders celebrating the last weekend of the jumps, Ride On! has collaborated with Harlot Bike Wear to create a positive environment for women of all ages and abilities to ride the Aptos pump track on Sunday, February 15. The good-bye ladies’ day will include a Skilz Sesh with raffle prizes, demo bikes from Trail Head Cyclery and other support from Zoic, Petal Power, El Salchichero and Dirty Jane.
Ride On! hosted a Ladies’ Demo Day with Bicycle Fabrications on January 11. An impromptu break-away of gals focused on skill-building. Andrea Wayte, worked on her wheel lifts, then progressed to a manual, and said that “this is the best coaching ever!”
Volunteers Natacha Navarro, Jennifer Joy and Katelyn Praly spent the day helping the women dial in their lines. “It’s really good to see women out here. It’s rare for more than one or two women to be seen at any pump track, so I’m really having fun today,” Navarro said.
To RSVP for the Ladies Last Hurrah on February 15, please go to the Facebook events page.
All photos by Becky Irene Photography
Here’s some background on the Aptos jumps from the Santa Cruz Sentinel.Tweet Print
The Stan’s NoTubes Elite Women’s Team is heading into its fifth year and has announced its roster for 2015, including eight returning riders and two new signings.
“We will be participating in a variety of races across the country and the world, and we’ll be leading ladies’ riding clinics at many of the races which we attend.” said Sarah Kaufmann, one of the team’s managers.
New signings strengthen line-up
US Mountain Bike Marathon National Champion Rose Hughes Grant, above, is joining the Stan’s NoTubes Elite Women’s Team. The Kalispell, Montana resident and mother of a 20-month-old daughter was also sixth at the 2014 US Cross Country National Championships.
Under 23 development rider Emily Shields, above, of Advance, North Carolina, will also wear the colors of the Stan’s NoTubes Elite Women’s Team in 2015. Shields won the under-25 women’s category at the seven-day Trans-Sylvania Epic Mountain Bike Stage Race and finished fifth in the under-23 category at the US Cross Country National Championships.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Rose to the team and to have the opportunity to mentor Emily and see her develop into a top racer,” said Kaufmann.
Returning team members include Vicki Barclay, Nina Baum, Mical Dyck, Shannon Gibson, Sue Haywood, Kaufmann, Kathy Sherwin and Jennifer Smith.
Smith won the Firecracker 50 while Barclay is the reigning US Singlespeed National Champion. Haywood was the runner-up at the US Super D National Championships while Baum, riding with Sonya Looney, claimed victory in the Brazil Ride stage race. Smith and Baum placed second and third respectively at the Leadville 100.
Team members range in age from 21 to 48.
Under new management
While the Stan’s NoTubes Elite Women’s Team was founded by Shannon Gibson, it is under new management for 2015 by Femme First Racing, LLC, which is owned and managed by three members of the team: Baum, Smith and Kaufmann.
As in previous years, the Stan’s NoTubes Elite Women’s Team will compete primarily in elite mountain bike cross country, endurance and stage races, but its riders will also make appearances in select enduro mountain bike races. It will target races that promote and value women’s cycling.
The team will make its 2015 debut at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. It will also be represented at Sea Otter, Whiskey 50, Trans-Sylvania Epic, Grand Junction Off Road, BC Bike Race, US Cross Country and Marathon Nationals, Go Pro Games, Beti Bike Bash, North American World Cups, Leadville, Park City Point 2 Point and Tour of the White Mountains.
2015 Stan’s NoTubes Elite Women’s Team Roster
- Vicki Barclay – State College, Pennsylvania
- Nina Baum – Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Mical Dyck – Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
- Shannon Gibson – Durango, Colorado
- Rose Grant – Kalispell, Montana
- Sue Haywood – Davis, West Virginia
- Sarah Kaufmann – Salt Lake City, Utah
- Kathy Sherwin – Heber City, Utah
- Emily Shields – Advance, North Carolina
- Jennifer Smith – Gunnison, Colorado
By Joh Rathbun. Photos courtesy of Jessica Klodnicki.
Still in its infancy, the Girls Rock ride, organized by Jessica Klodnicki, general manager and executive vice president of Bell and Blackburn, hosted its monthly ride at Ibis Cycles last month. More than 70 women showed up to take advantage of the free Ibis demo fleet and to ride with international superstar Anne-Caroline Chausson.
The day started at Ibis Cycles headquarters in Santa Cruz, California. It was overwhelming to see the warehouse overrun with women.
“[I] was essentially a complete beginner when I arrived in Santa Cruz, so I would say I have really only been riding about two and half years,” Klodnicki said. Since she was new to the sport, with “an old, crappy bike,” she “was embarrassed to ride with some really good riders.” (a.k.a., her coworkers.) Riding “anonymously,” she met a few woman at different trailheads. Banding together, they’d talk up their rides to their buddies, and the ride grew organically from there. “I have gone from complete beginner to riding down anything that gets in my path.”
Inside, women milled about, and the social aspect of riding was undeniable. Jenna Majchrzak, head wrench for the demo fleet, hustled to adjust bikes to riders, while swag like day-glo green socks and hats adorned with the Ibis logo was handed out.
After a few words from the Ibis women, the group was then stratified into smaller groups based on skill and fitness. We had more than 20 women on the “beginnermediate” ride with Klodnicki. An easy paceline to Wilder Ranch broke up once we got to Engleman’s Loop—the first uphill of the day. As sweep I ensured that no one was left behind, and that everyone maintained a pace that they were comfortable with long-term. Danielle Ynostroza, the only person on a hardtail said throughout the ride, “I’m so happy.”
Catching up with Jessica, I asked her, for any woman looking to cultivate a ladies’ ride in their cycling community, what should she do?
“My experience shows me that there is a real demand. Just starting something up informally and sticking to a regular rhythm is where you can begin,” Klodnicki said. “We started with four and we had seventy five people today. I didn’t do anything but send out emails, organize a time and location and make sure there would be good ride leaders for different levels. It happened very organically.”
I also think women like riding with a group that is at their level. If you are a beginner, it is scary to show up to a ride not knowing who will be riding, what the route is, and if you be in over your head. On the other hand if you are an advanced rider you want to ride at that level and challenge yourself. So, a critical point is making sure people are paired up appropriately to enjoy the ride. I have some terrific female ride leaders from beginner to advanced. They have been a big part of the draw—great, enthusiastic women!
“As a mountain bike fanatic, I’m well-connected to the bicycle community. However, I was amazed at the number of women I didn’t know today,” Megan Melack, the advanced ride leader added. “It’s truly beautiful to see such a mix of riders with varied skill levels who all showed up with the sole purpose of enjoying single track in a harmonious group of strong women.”
Klodnicki followed up: “Exactly. Ibis was amazing—they had people sign up for demos in advance and Anne-Caroline Chausson is here. So, we had some really exciting reasons to show up, but I had no idea that we would have seventy five women today. Their team was terrific and made it a really fun event… I had about sixty RSVP’s so I almost panicked. I wasn’t sure how to handle that many women on the trail at the same time. We took over a whole state park that day. Thanks to the amazing help from my volunteer ride leaders, we pulled it off.”
And for women looking to break into the industry?
“Check out the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition—a great resource for women looking to break into the outdoor industry in general—including the cycling business,”Klodnicki said. “Just apply! I always wanted to work in the industry and thought it was too late in my career. It wasn’t! If you have the right skill-set for a position and a passion for the category, there are many opportunities available.”
“I’ve never ridden with this many ladies before,” said Anne-Caroline when I chatted with her post-ride. This fierce competitor had a different demeanor when dining with the ladies, humble and quiet. While exhibiting introverted qualities, she was receptive to folks approaching her, and the ladies kept her talking and laughing.
A cool day with inspiring women, on great bikes, followed by food and beers made for a great day. The next ride is Sunday, December 14 at Pogonip Park. With the skilled Coach Lorraine Blancher joining in on the ride, the only disappointment would be a deluge. For more info visit the Girls Rock Facebook Group or keep an eye on the San Jose Mountain Biking Meetup page.
Courtesy of Ruckus Composites:
(Click here and you’ll understand the cow image.)
Calling All Single (Speed) Ladies! Everyone knows SS ladies have more fun. If ya didn’t, now ya do.
And girl oh girl do we have a race to prove it. We’ve built a special course with interesting twists and turns, a few kegs of great beer, great people, and – dun dun dun – Huge payouts for the Women’s field! Gals bring your guys, but there’s no payout for guys except a super fun course and gag prizes.
Ruckus Composites is excited to announce the first annual NWSSCX race featuring a women’s single-speed category during the Corvallis Cross Classic on November 15, 2014. We have reworked the schedule a bit to have the women’s SS field race at 3:30 during the open SS field.
We have worked hard and came up with an awesome prize list that includes
- a limited edition SSCXWC frameset from Raleigh Bikes
- All-City SS hub set laced to Velocity rims by Sugar Wheel works
- Castelli’s awesome winter gear!
- Yakima racks and schwag
- PDW lights!
- a bag of Stumptown coffee for everyone woman that pre-registers for the SS field
- AND MUCH MORE
The women’s field gets all the prizes. Guys will get various gag prizes.
Registration: $20/$10 adult/junior preregistration; $25/$15 day of.
Head on over to www.nwsscx.com to register.
Several brands including SRAM, Liv, United Bicycle Institute (UBI), Quality Bicycle Products, Pedro’s, and Park Tool have joined together to offer ten scholarships for women to attend United Bicycle Institute.
Recognizing the bike industry needs to reach out to more women, these industry heavyweights have collaborated to fund a scholarship program for women. Additional support for the scholarship is provided by Nuu-Muu and the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition (OIWC).
The scholarship was created for women who are aspiring or experienced bike mechanics wishing to increase their technical knowledge and actively pursue a career in the cycling industry.
“It can be challenging for women to join the bike industry, and it will take numerous efforts to create a talent pipeline,” said Alix Magner, QBP’s Distribution Sales Manager and QBP’s scholarship program manager. “This is one step, and we’re thrilled at the level of initiative from our partners to start leading change in how women are included in our industry.”
Recipients will receive scholarships to attend UBI’s Professional Shop Repair and Operations Workshop. Lodging will be provided for those attending the Ashland, Oregon campus. Travel and other expenses are the responsibility of the recipient.
Interested parties can apply at qbp.com/womensscholarship through November 15, 2014. Applicants must be currently employed at a bike shop, at least 18 years old, a U.S. resident, and must be available to attend the February, March or April sessions. Winners will be notified via email by December 19, 2014.Tweet Print