My take on “Women as Outcasts In Cycling Industry”

First, go read Women as Outcasts In Cycling Industry including the comments. (As always, I’ll wait).

My disclaimer here is that I know both David and Abby and have some passing familiarity with the problems Abby has faced finding a bike that fits (or that doesn’t cause her to throw fits).

If you work around people who wear suits you’ll see very few who are wearing clothes that truly fit. Why is that? Pants legs and jacket sleeves that are too long, or extreme bagginess (Must one be able to store a family of marmosets in there? I think not.) Never mind clothes that are wrong for the person on possibly many levels. The fix for these problems is not expensive. So why?

I see lots of ill fitting bikes. Too small, too big, and less often I see people on the wrong type of bike. So why?

There’s a problem created by the need to stock products. Your local store stocks stuff. They want to sell what they stock. People want to buy stuff that’s available (I want it now!). Ordering and waiting has to have a significant payoff, and often doesn’t.

The bike industry and the clothing industry take a similar approach. They make a range of sizes heavily influenced by their “professional” work. Clothing trends follow “designer” or “couture” trends. Bike industry development is influenced by racing and the needs of the pros. And like all systems there’s some failure there. Much as most of us are not an exact and properly fitting size medium (whatever that is), we’re are also not (as a collective) small male bike racers. And yet in both cases, we enjoy pretending that we are and making some bad choices along the way.

There’s a backlash to this amongst the bike builders. It’s sometimes discussed as bike “fit”. In other cases its discussed as what you want out of the experience of riding a bike. Listen to the narration of this cool little film with Jeff Jones and Sacha White (two incredible builders). And while you can (and should) parse the difference between how a bike fits you physically and the type of bike and the influence that has on the experience of riding it the two are far more closely tied than one would think. And the “custom” bike builders can build a bike that takes into account not just the measurements of your body, but what you tell them about your riding. Assuming you’re honest in the process, you’ll most likely get a bike that “fits” not just anatomically but stylistically as well. Like I said, it’s more important than people think.

The “woman as outcasts” issue is far larger than just the bike industry. As a software developer and someone who builds teams to do that kind of work I can assure you that the software industry does a horrible job of sustaining the interest of woman drawn to technology.

So yeah, there’s fewer choices for woman in terms of cycling clothes and fewer parts choices that extend the size range, and as I mentioned above style of riding and the weight range of riders also comes into play. All of which seems to be improving at least a little bit. And the industry is at least becoming aware of the issue of fit as more of us ride. It’s not just the racer or wannabe crowds who are buying bikes. Companies are offering bikes in more sizes and trying new ideas about what makes things work (well size symmetry and head tube sizing anyway), and for many of us changing seatposts, stems, handlebars, and cranks, even within the industry limits, can produce a fit that works. But that’s the equivalent of shortening cuffs and the like… it’s not the same as having clothing or a bike made for you.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that Natalie’s Lust line size medium fits me nicely (I could be wrong, I’m kinda in the border between medium and large the irony of which is not lost on me). I wish I could try one. I’d be curious to see how a bike design that is the sum of what Natalie has found works for many of her mostly female customers feels like. Will it leave me with the hard to describe complaint I’ve heard from many of female bike friends about things “not being comfortable”? Could be a great way to gain some insight into their problems.

Anyway, I’m glad the my female bike friends are finding bikes that are comfortable for them and custom built with them in mind. One day, I hope to do the same for myself.