Photo by Andrew Schwartz
Skirts on Bikes RideMore than 100 participants took part in the Skirts on Bikes ride in NYC in late June, 2011. The ride was organized as a response to an incident where a cyclist was harassed for riding in a skirt on New York’s streets earlier that year.
This article was originally presented as a speech on a Media and Marketing panel at the National Women's Bicycling Summit in Long Beach, CA in September 2012.
If we want more women to ride bikes then we must create effective marketing campaigns that speak to women.
First and foremost, women often don’t feel safe because there is a lack of a complete, separated bike networks and a lack of lower and enforced speed limits. However, there is also a lack of women-centric marketing and merchandising when it comes to selling the “cycling lifestyle” to American women.
So what is the best way to sell cycling for transportation to women?
The most important thing in creating a successful marketing campaign is understanding and addressing the fact that women need to see themselves in the context of what they are looking at, and we first need to acknowledge and understand that this is different for everyone. Imagery is key! Messaging in any marketing campaign should be that cycling is Safe, Diverse, Accessible and Fun.
For some, that means seeing a photo of a woman biking in heels, for others it’s biking with children, for some it’s a woman wearing a helmet, for others it’s not. Some of us are young, some of us are not so young.
The most important part is that the imagery that we use to sell cycling is diverse (women are not all the same) and that it promotes the idea that cycling is safe (or at least can be) and that it’s diverse, accessible and fun! Messaging cannot be pigeon holed into one camp or the other, or we will not reach everyone.
So who is selling cycling lifestyle to women?
Let’s start with who is not: the big brands of the bicycle industry. Here are 5 big “bicycle industry” brands and the home pages of their websites: Trek, Giant, Specialized, Shimano & Raleigh. What message are we getting? This message is that cycling is a sport for men. The messaging does not say that cycling is for women and that cycling is a means of transportation.
Women-specific marketing campaigns created by the bike industry are not reaching the masses and the mainstream. But they should.
Professionally, I have spent the past five years advising the bike industry that:
1. Cycling for transportation is actually a thing
2. If they want more women to engage in cycling for transportation and buy their products they have to start speaking to us
Here is an example of what doesn’t work: Abus (ad on left), Lazer. These ads sell cycling as dangerous, and this will not get more women riding bikes.
Luckily, there have been new companies entering the bike industry over the past few years that understand this. Most notably is Public Bikes. Based in San Francisco, Public not only has created a beautiful and appealing online marketplace, but they make their products easy to use and assemble for those that do not know how to put together a bike, nor want to go into a bike shop.
So how can the bike industry help get more women riding bikes for transportation?
The bike industry needs to step up their game and devote more money to marketing the cycling lifestyle to women. If they want to sell their product to women, they must create marketing campaigns and strategies that do so.
If the bike industry as a whole is not selling the cycling lifestyle to women and to the mass market, than who is?
Also of note is the growing scene of women’s lifestyle bike blogs that help encourage more women to ride bikes by leading by example, like Velojoy, Let’s Go Ride a Bike and Cycle Chic. These blogs are doing more for marketing cycling lifestyle to women than the entire bike industry is.
In addition to marketing cycling as transportation the other realm that needs attention and consideration is merchandising. It is one thing for the bike industry to create products that are used by women already embracing the cycling lifestyle, it is another to have places to buy these products. And let’s face it, a lot of women (though not all) enjoy shopping.
Many women that do not already ride a bike will get nothing out of walking into a typical bike shop. These shops have a lot of similar characteristics; they are greasy, have un-friendly and un-approachable staff, they do not speak well to the bike curious customer and their show floor often features nothing but high-end racing and mountain bikes.
Luckily, this is changing. Thanks to the next generation of retails shops, women finally have some options.
Great retail spaces that have great products to sell and have friendly and approachable staff are popping up across the US and are helping encourage more women to ride.
Some great examples include: Huckleberry Bike Shop in San Francisco, Clever Cycles in Portland, Hudson Urban Bicycles and Adeline Adeline in New York City, Hub and BeSpoke in Seattle, and Pedal Chic in South Carolina.
This trend needs to continue, because it’s working.
We can’t be afraid to sell the sexiness of cycling in our marketing campaigns and merchandising displays. Just like transportation cycling cannot be an afterthought to sports, women cannot and should not be an afterthought to merchandising and marketing campaigns.
If we want more women to ride bikes we need to spend money on marketing the cycling lifestyle, specifically to all different kinds of women.
We can all help sell cycling to women by continuing to do it ourselves and encourage others to join us, one woman at a time. Because unlike mass marketing campaigns, being a positive roll model costs nothing, and there is no method of getting women on bikes more powerful than holding your friend’s hand and helping her get on a bike, on the road, for the very first time.