Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Risky Business of Attracting Women

Bikes Belong Poster, Interbike
On my way to Interbike registration yesterday, I walked by the Bikes Belong booth as they were setting up their new poster. I snapped a picture, uploaded it to Twitter, and received a flurry of hilarious reactions - ranging from "Where does she keep her keys?" to "Find Cipo and reshoot the scene!" 

Of course this is a reference to Elly Blue's "Is this thing sexist?" bike test. Modeled after the Bechdel Test for women in movies, the bike test asks: 
1. Are women present or represented at all?
2. Are the women presented as active subjects rather than passive objects?, and
3. If the gender were reversed, would the meaning stay more or less unchanged? (Or would the image become hilarious?)
Showing a woman pedaling a bicycle, the poster passes points 1 and 2. Assessing point 3 is trickier. Of course a poster of an identically dressed male would look ridiculous, but that's taking it too literally. What about a young male dressed in tight-tight cutoff shorts, a plaid shirt flapping open in the breeze, and a pained, sexy expression on his strategically unshaven face? I'd consider that the equivalent, in which case the meaning would indeed remain unchanged. So I say the Bikes Belong poster passes.

Still, images of women cycling in dresses and heels seem prone to rubbing us the wrong way. It is hard to describe what brings about the sense of unease, especially for those of us who actually wear dresses and heels on a bike. Often it boils down to subtle things: A coy facial expression, an unnatural posture, a too-conveniently billowing skirt... Point is, from a marketing perspective, images designed to attract women to cycling seem inherently risky. Too sporty or gender-neutral, and they can be read as "there is no place for femininity on the bike." Too feminine and they can be read as gendered, objectifying, or downright pornographic. The line between attracting women and offending them is blurry. 

Felt, New Roadbike Colours
And while the sphere of roadcycling seems far removed from transportational advocacy, the same basic theme arises - see, for instance, Bike Shop Girl's "The Bike Industry Needs More Women Like Liz Hatch". When speaking to Felt Bicycles later in the day, the question of colour and graphics came up as well. When I commented on the dark violet hue of Felt's new women's road model, the representative explained how difficult it is to develop a colour scheme for women's lines of bikes. On the one hand, there is now a great deal of criticism hurled at anything pink, pastel or flowery. On the other hand, gender-neutral colour schemes don't sell as well. Women want something feminine, but not too feminine. They do not want a caricature of "girl bike," but they do want it distinguished from the men's models. I have heard exactly the same thing from the manufacturers of athletic cycling clothing. There is now almost a stigma to producing a women's jersey with any trace of the colour pink or flowers on it. Yet there is demand for feminine styles. Designers have to get a lot more creative these days in coming up with those styles; hitting just the right note is tricky.

LAB, Interbike
Still, I believe the bicycle industry will keep trying. With women referred to as the "indicator species" for the success of transportational cycling and with the push for more women in cycling as a sport, the pressure is coming from all directions. As both manufacturers and activists struggle to figure out how exactly to market to women, we are likely to see some interesting results in the years to come. 

61 comments:

  1. I had a mixed reaction to the bike belong poster when I saw it yesterday and am glad you helped me find language to articulate why. Excellent post.

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  2. Given that "marketing to women" assumes one set of values and aesthetics based upon chromosomes I think the convo is misguided. They are different ad campaigns designed to appeal to different people within "women".

    Shame some "bloggists" have to raise a ruckus over adverts with the term "sexist" when I see cougars, artificially enhanced everyone, value-less gold-diggers rampant in this country. Yes, historically-quoted images like the one above are shocking. Puh-lease puritans who dress in Pollyanna clothing and do naked bike rides.

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    1. Your first paragraph actually makes a very good point. The notion of "marketing to women" assumes a single unified consumer block that simply doesn't exist. As with men, different women want different things and like all companies, the bike industry will have to do a better job understanding, making products for, and marketing to them.

      Unfortunately, your second paragraph is somewhat incoherent other than to give the general impression that you feel "gold diggers" are a huge nationwide problem and using women primarily as sexual objects in advertising should not be criticized.

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    2. I got no problem with sex, sex used in adverts, nudity, etc.

      Nor do I have a particular prob with fake breasts.

      I'm just not gonna be breaking bread with a person who is ersatz, s'all.

      I see more flesh exposed on this blog than that chica in the top poster.

      I think the msg. here is if you are drop-dead gorgeous don't wear anything but a burlap sack.

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    3. For the record, I don't dislike this particular poster. Got one of their bags with this picture (they are handing them out in the front lobby, for anyone here who wants one); will be using it for grocery shopping. Other skirt & heels images - it just really depends on the picture. Some I like, others not so much.

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  3. I think part of the complication in "hitting the right note" is that nobody can agree if a bike is a toy, transportation, or a fashion accessory. The criteria are different for all. I don't see women driving exclusively pink cars with flowers on them. I think one place to start would be to offer a bike design that is just more... tasteful. I think a lot of women would very much prefer something to look "nice" and well considered than for it to look "girly." And red, black and yellow with garish logos is not anyone's idea of "nice."

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    1. You're absolutely right, 12:37. Some of us simply don't want comic-book graphics and color schemes. We want bikes and clothing that appeal to our sensibilities as grown-up human beings who happen to be female.

      I've come to realize that "girly" and "feminine" aren't quite the same thing. Many of us want the latter, but not necessarily the former.

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  4. As far as bike colors go, my wife was looking fora bike at a Trek Store in KC and was frustrated that girl's bikes didn't come in colors she as a girl considers girlie. Pink, Purple, patterns, etc. Eventually she bought an FX that was a light shade of blue, but ultimately she kept asking me why don't they make girls bikes in girl girls. I'd love to know the real answer to that. Can you imagine if clothing stores made 99% of women's clothing to mimic male clothing? Can we stop pretending every girl that rides a bike is out to prove there is no difference between the genders?

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  5. Please share with us your insights. Why did you initially buy bikes and then why did you replace them with others? What do you think now vs. when you started this blog? How would you attract women to cycling?

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  6. I saw some of the discussion about whether that poster passes the "bike test" and my gut feeling is that it does.
    However I think that it's hard to articulate what the equivalent outfit for a man would be. Would it be a man in a slimly tailored suit? Is that "sexy? Or is a suit a symbol of power and respectability? Would it be your example of short shorts and an open shirt, or in our society does that send a different message?

    It's so difficult to define what's attractive in our society, and there's a big gender/sexual orientation gap in the correlation of tight or revealing clothes to "sexyness" Maybe a solution when trying to create an image which would pass the test with flying colors would be to make images of men and women together, dressed in clothing that "goes together"
    i.e. men and women both in full kit, men and women in casual clothes, men and women dressed up in office appropriate clothes..

    To the larger question of marketing clothes/ color schemes to women, I think that the biggest thing is for women to have options, which I'm not sure they're getting now. Some women want flowers on their clothes, others don't. Some women are smaller, some are larger, and we have a wide variety of curviness. Clothes that are "athletically cut" are not flattering on a lot of women. Heck, I think that some "athletically cut" clothes are not flattering on a lot of very athletic women- I'm imagining the Williams sisters trying to fit into anything from the north face.

    It's a bit of a chicken and egg problem though for manufacturers. Women are a diverse market (as are men) but when they treat women as a "niche" they want a formula, and they're unwilling to commit to a larger variety of products when they're not sure how large the market is.

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    1. I want your last paragraph trumpeted from the rooftops.

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  7. I put that "pained, sexy expression" on a man and I see this face: http://thecount.com/wp-content/uploads/PeeWeeBike.jpg

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  8. I think with a slightly different interpretation of #3, this is a sexist ad. Even if the man has an open shirt and unshaven face, he's not wearing things that actually hinder him having a positive and safe experience on a bike. As far as I'm concerned, high heels only exist to painfully distort women's bodies into some male fantasy and that keep them from running away from a predator. That flowing skirt on a bike? Nice enough if you can keep it out of your gears. And no helmet -- better a cracked skull than a bad hair day, I guess.

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    1. I think it's sexist, too, because of the "male gaze" perspective of it. This is not the way most women actually cycle (or even could, probably); it's the straight male fantasy of how a woman could look hot on a bike.

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    2. The jury is out on whether helmets make cycling safer (I think it does, but others disagree) and as the cycle in question has a chain guard and hub gears there should be no problem with getting the skirt caught.Largely agree about the high heels on a bike, but one does see them.

      I have a 20 year old who is doing Computer Science in London and her choice of cycle is the Pashley Poppy in Pink. Declared 'Chick Bike of the Year' by one female blogger. The dealer told us that there is a North/South divide on the colour in the UK. Women in the South (where I believe the chattering classes chatter more) prefer the Poppy in Pastel Blue while up North Pink is the preference. As we are from Yorkshire, her choice seems to have fallen in line with this.

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    3. Have you ever seen one of the Cycle Chic blogs, this one in particular: http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com? Women, "girls", ride in the outfits shown there because they like it, not because they are forced to by their menfolk.

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    4. It sometimes starts early, too: http://schlijper.nl/120927-01-theo-van-goghpark.photo

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  9. Hot Stuff Comin' Through!

    Seriously, athletic shoe manufacturers seem to have solved the female color problem.

    Also, both men and women are objects and need to accept their object natures. Women can and do do this more readily, powerfully, and profitably than men because female objectification is more socially acceptable. When a man openly displays himself as an object he is ridiculed for being less than masculine. Think of the idea of male fashion models. Contrary to popular feminist discourse, most women enjoy indulging their object natures although I can see how it could at times interfere with their development and agency as subjects. It has not always been this way. English men of the Victorian era were peacocks, as were others throughout the Baroque era, for example. Being a man today is, in comparison, kind of a drag (no pun intended).

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  10. Can we stop pretending every girl that rides a bike is out to prove there is no difference between the genders?

    Good point, Hough.

    When I built up a new Soma mixte for my wife last year, she was disappointed it didn't come in more "feminine" colors. She clearly wanted it to be distinctly as a woman's bike, yet consistent with Velouria's statement, she didn't want it *too* feminine, either. Which is to say, pink and powder puffy would have been out of the question. The only options were white and graphite, and she chose the more masculine graphite. But had it been offered in an interesting lavender or some other pale tone, she might have gone with that instead.

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    1. I was turned off the buena vista because at the time it was only in white. White or graphite, no thanks. Soma's other bikes come in various colours, why not the buena vista? I would certainly not want pink, but just what the diamond frame bikes were offered in. Also, the buena vista is tange infinity while most of Soma's bikes are prestige. There is no reason why a mixte has to be made with heavier tubing. That in itself is sexist to assume women won't know the difference between infinity and prestige.

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    2. As much as I hate to admidt it, the orange and blue of the VO mixte wasn't feminine enough for me either. Soft colours are a great way to be feminine with out it looking like the target market is my three year old who wants hot pink. Lavender (esp metallic) soft greens or pale blues would be nice. I think that this is something that Bobbin does well.

      I know this is pots and not bikes, but this gal did a nice job of explaining how colour options impact her perception of the product. And as much as this is kind of silly, I would be happy with a bike in pretty much any of the Le Creuset colours

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  11. I have a hot pink beach cruiser with cherries all over it; can't get girlier than that! Yet I can be girly for some things and not for others, and perhaps many women are the same way. Some will want girly colour bikes and others more neutral.

    I think the main point that a commentator made is that women want overall nice design. I my opinion the big stickers compagnies put on their bicycles are not appealing. And perhaps consider more "round" shape for the frame. If I take cars as a reference, the Twingo by Renault in France was one of the first modern "round" cars and was a hit with women, not so much for the colours, but for the "unagressive" shape.

    As for the clothes again, I don't think it is a question about colour, but more the fit. Women have breasts and some have muffin tops and they have a choice to either cycle in their regular clothes, or if they do it as a sport, wear tight shorts or pants and tight shirts. This is all good if you want to do the Tour de France, but if you want to ride a few miles with friends, will the clothes really impact your time that much?

    It may seem trivial and stupid (and perhaps I'm totally wrong) but I do believe these are questions manufacturers should ask themselves.

    Bicycling does not have to either be a casual way to commute or a sport, it can be something in between.

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  12. Well, I for one reject the idea that all male cyclists want a "masculine" colored bike (black or gray) and all female cyclists want a brightly colored one. My (male) partner has a navy blue bike (that he doesn't much care for), a metallic green one, and an orange one (these are custom, so he chose these colors himself). When I (female) bought a bike recently, I chose the most comfortable one, which happened to be blue (though the comfort is why I chose it, not the color).

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  13. Why is it so hard to find a WSD road bike in interesting colors? I just bought one and consider myself relatively fortunate that it's light blue and white and flower-free, but I would much prefer to have bright red or green or otherwise less "girly." Is that so much to ask?

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  14. First, they're not high heels - you should see what some of the people in my office wear. Granted, they don't ride a bike to work - but the point stands.

    Second, my wife certainly wants a bike that's feminine and pretty. Maybe not dust pink and flowery, but she's certainly after the Parisian chic look, complete with flowing dress and baguette. (Unfortunately, while my wife is certainly chic enough to carry this off, I'm a bit mean and insist we get another few months use out of the rusting Decathlon bike that appears to be made out of scaffolding.)

    Third, there's nothing wrong with accepting that men and women want different things.

    There's a post on &Bike (fair disclosure: &Bike is, well, erm, my site) by Rachel Buchan who looks at women cycling jerseys. She wants performance and fit, but she also wants feminine.

    'Nowt wrong with that.

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  15. So, after looking at your photo I clicked on the Bikes Belong website and found a more balanced, less provocative, collection of images meant to promote cycling. I'm wondering, did they make this poster? Are they trying to be provocative, or are you?

    I see Path Less Pedaled is also there and posting many images of products as well as insights about their designs. Ultimately, it seems like making cycling attractive to old, young, male, female requires a many pronged approach.

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    1. It is definitely a Bikes belong poster. I talked to them about it, and it does not seem they were trying to be provocative. They commissioned the design from an artist to resemble a retro cycling picture. They are also giving away gift bags with the same image.

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    2. now I wonder if the creators of this image are cyclists.

      http://www.thedenveregotist.com/news/local/2012/september/19/build-more-bikes-challenge-promo-poster-philosophy-communication

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  16. My first reaction to the picture of the purple bikes was "oooh - so purty," lol.

    Personally, a lot of my mixed feelings about images of women in high heels and binding underwear riding bikes come from the fear that this small part of femininity will once again become the sole definition of femininity. When it comes to cycling, the message I want to see is "this is fun and accessible and you can do it in any style you like" rather than "this is what you need to do/buy/wear to be an appealing female cyclist."

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  17. Interesting. There seems to be a consensus that bikes are indeed fashion accessories and need to come in different "colorways." I wonder, what color would a toaster have to be to get more men to buy them? another thing - in Amster-hagen, where bikes are seen as far more functional and less frivolous, neither gender seems at all concerned with bike gender. Most of the bikes are black, and men ride step-through frames as often as not. Is this issue unique to the US market?

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  18. It occurs to me that things are time- (or perhaps era-) bounded here as well. In 1980, fresh out of college, my girlfriend and I did not consider cycling (or very much else, honestly) to be gender-specific. We both dressed in jeans and t-shirts, my 10-speed was blue, hers was green (both were double-diamond frames. No big deal. I put toeclips and straps on my bike, she did the same with hers.

    Not that there wasn't sexism. I remember one night when her bike wasn't shifting properly and I grabbed my tools and walked over to fix the problem. She yelled at me to keep away, that *she* was going to fix it. Taught me a lot right there.

    I don't know, but I do suspect, that our modern approach to the gender of bicycles and bicycling has a lot to do precisely with surplus income, marketing and consumerism. In 1980, it didn't matter to us who had made the bikes; all that mattered was that they were how we got around and that they worked reliably. Today, we want the bikes to look good and work, not just reliably, but gracefully and elegantly. Ephemera like frame color (honestly) matters more because it's harder and harder to make substantive distinctions (most bikes beyond BSOs work pretty well today, and even BSOs are adequate for some things).

    I think we are, to a large extent, hooked on the idea not of what we're riding, but of "the next bike." That's where marketing comes in, and that's why colors are important...

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  19. I am female and I detest pastels and "feminine" colors. Flowers make me see red. Those colors, say weak and stereotype to me. I'd personally like to see all sizes of bikes in just really nice colors - not gender specific. BTW, Last year a local shop owner brought back a poster of a Rita Hayworth type model reclining suggestively on a bed of straw beside her bike, which was lying next to her. This was not intended for the female market.

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  20. Ugh, I do NOT think the bike industry needs more women like Liz Hatch, I find her appalling. Way to take women's natural power and athleticism away and make it about sex. Truly strong and athletic girls never look "sexy" in the way that media portrays sexy, and it's just a blow to our self esteem. I hate to see cycling become yet another area for it. I love seeing real women excelling on bikes and getting recognized as athletes. Why can't THAT be the way we recognize women in a sport. It makes me so, so, so sad to see otherwise.

    @Thomas--I will NEVER accept my object nature. I am not an object, neither is any man. People are not things. You might think it's a drag that the men aren't objects the way women are, but I feel quite to the contrary. I wish my gender wasn't always on display. I don't WANT to be whistled at while riding my bicycle, and I'm certain most women agree.

    As for coloring on bicycles...I think pink should be acceptable on any bike (even a man's), and I actually really like pink color schemes. I just think most brands go overboard with the pastel colors--like light blue, and light pink. I love hot pink on a bike, though. I also like gender neutral bikes.

    I think Specialized specifically does a great job with women's color schemes. http://www.specialized.com/us/en/bikes/road#womens They also happen to fit me, personally, very well. AND they sponsor a great and strong looking women's cycling team! Seeing women like that makes me personally more interested in road cycling and in turn their products--which means their marketing is working on at least one woman. I actually always liked the look of Felt bikes, too, but for me it's more than just about color--it's about the other things a company does to appeal to me, like women's specific fitting and design elements.

    Everyone wants a bike that is reflective of their identity, whether it's masculine/feminine/sporty/casual. But for some reason we tend to otherize a woman's identity more than anything else. Like cycler said, woman are such a diverse group--companies have to make different options to cater to different women--and they just don't seem to be willing to do that yet.

    I'm not sure why more companies don't use something like Bianchi's celeste in their color scheme (maybe something a little different for branding of course)--both men and women go gaga for it! I know I do.

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    1. The flourishing market for women's cosmetics and fashion says you are wrong, Anon, and there is no way you can be "certain most women agree", not by a long shot. Be an object and accept your object nature. There is nothing wrong with it; it is just a natural fact. I am an object and so are you. So is everyone. You are not only objects for we are subjects too, but we are objects nonetheless.

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    2. Just because an athlete is female, does not mean she has a responsibility to *not* be sexy. Again, the Mario Cipollini example.

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    3. You can wear makeup and dress fashionably and still not want to be objectified.

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  21. so i guess the question is for each customer attracted to a product how many are repelled?

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  22. That poster is very very sexist. It's all cartoonish, proportions out of whack. She's all tall lithe and leggy. I am sure you know what happens to legs when they bike alot, women are especially prone to 'thunder thighs' not present on this illustration. Is she standing up and pedalling? But her feet aren't touching the pedals properly and seem to be floating. Not even looking at the road. A flirty, sexy red dress. I wear skirts and dresses, but they never billow like that, and it's always breezy and cool while biking so I usually have a sweater, hoodie or jacket on unless it is really hot. I like any other cyclist am busy concentrating on the road, not flirting with drivers as they pass in their cars. There is a trek advertisement for a new women's bike that is really sexist. Like you say, it's all in the cues. Does it look like the woman is actually riding a bike, or going somewhere on the bike with the appropriate gear?
    The whole high heels thing is a problem. Momentum magazine keeps flogging that with pictures of one of the editor's feet wearing various high heels. Some heels are okay, but honestly, is it really safe and practical? There may be shoes I can manage on a bike, but they can become unsafe, slippery etc which create a slow overly cautious ride. okay if just going to a party nearby. As regular cyclists there are many women who ride clipless, so even if they could wear a dressy outfit, they'd still be taking their shoes with them in a bag.
    There are so many versions of feminine, so many different styles regardless of sex. Bike companies should simply ask women what colours they would like to see on bikes, average them out, pick the most common and offer them as choices. I personally hate pastels and light frilly colours for my clothing.

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    1. To be fair, I think everyone's legs are different. I know plenty of cyclists with very slender legs. That said, yes it's a cartoon.

      As for practicality/safety of heels: Given that millions women in Europe and increasingly also in the US do it, I'd say yes. And the women who do it will quickly point out that it's easier to bike in heels than walk.

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    2. Heather

      Cycling does not cause bulk. Bradley Wiggins is 6'3" and weighs 150 pounds. That's what a cyclist looks like.

      In my part of the world the fast rider is a lady named Leigh Thompson. Fast as in she beats all the men. She is quite photogenic and a World Champion and you can find photo galleries of her all over the webs. The first thing you'll note in her photos is she just has no visible musculature. None. And she beats all the local men. Not those in her category. All of them. I should also mention that Leigh is old enough to be V's mother.

      If you mash gears all the time you'll get big legs. If on the other hand you pedal at all correctly one of the tokens of a cyclist is long lean calves. Cycling is not caber toss. It is not WWF. Leigh Thompson is fast without muscle because she pedals beautifully. Grace and style will trump beef every time.

      If you want to be a specialist in the kilometer or in match sprinting you will likely end up with some bulk. Although there have been a lot of skinny sprinters. Otherwise when cyclists get bulky it's because they ride clumsily. And don't know where the target is.

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    3. I bike year round in skirts and heels of varying fullness and height. After 6 years of commuting in Boston, 5 since even a minor accident (which actually happened while I was clipped in), I don't think that there's anything inherently unsafe about riding a city bike in heels and skirts. I might not ride in super skinny stilettos or pencil skirts, but fortunately I don't have many of those in my closet anyway.

      Yes, I might ride faster if I clipped in and rode in kit, but I don't feel the need, especially to work. I haven't considered myself an athlete since I stopped running marathons years ago.

      I wouldn't fault anyone for what shoes they liked and felt comfortable in, on or off the bike, I'm all about choices, and I hope that advocacy organizations can be too. Sport cycling is not the only way to be a real cyclist, nor is chic cycling, nor is transportation cycling. And there are lots of people (Velouria being a prime example) who ride different bikes differently in different clothes for different purposes.
      This is hard to market to in one image, and as I believe someone posted above there are multiple images in the Bikes Belong campaign.

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    4. sigh, why is it always about looks and appearances and about the size of thighs with us women. guys want big muscular thighs to look powerful, and we want skinny ones to look good to guys. so sad. i'm a 105 lb woman btw, but i feel bad for the big sporty girls that might read some of these comments.

      i think this was a pretty good response to the representation of women at interbike: http://bicycling.com/blogs/fitchick/2012/09/18/an-open-letter-to-interbike/

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    5. Thanks for the link (here is a clickable version). This is the second time Selene Yeager and I write about the same topic from different perspectives. There are indeed bikini-clad LV style glamour girls at Interbike selling various products and bikes. The funny thing is that I've heard men here complain about it as well as women.

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  23. The coolest thing in my neck of the woods with regard to attracting women to cycling is the number of women working in bike shops. I can think of four shops within about a ten mile radius and there must be close to a dozen women (or more!) who are knowledgable, experienced and friendly now greeting customers and providing assistance. They are not all racers and have a variety of backgrounds but one thing held in common is a commitment to cycling and sharing their enthusiasm. With more women opening up shops, building bikes, designing products, and of course commuting, I think good things are coming. Of course this is not marketing but, rather, living.

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  24. I like the poster. I says to me that I don't have to change who I am and what I wear because I want to get from point A to point B on a bike. Not all people who ride bikes consider themselves athletes (or even athletic). It took me years to move from thinking that my commute would be simpler and cheaper by bike to actually purchasing a bike - because all I could see out-and-about were lycra clad roadies and that wasn't appealing to me. I ride my bike in whatever clothes and shoes I'm wearing that day, skirts or pants, heels or flats. In fact the only shoes I've ever had problems with were a pair of ballet flats with smooth soles.

    I think the poster a great point for discussion though, because it clearly appeals to some women and not others, and the bike industry should understand that not all women are the same. Some love pink, some hate pink, some are sporty and feminine and want to reflect both in their choice of bike and clothing. Good job Velouria - I think this is an important issue.

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  25. Another way to look at that poster, particularly given the type of bike portrayed, is that it says that riding a bicycle is fun and sexy and something that conventionally attractive people do while wearing conventionally fashionable clothing; as opposed to something limited to fitness freaks, scruffy-bearded hipsters, and diehard fanatics in funny-looking sport-specific superhero suits. And in a way, the spindly legs and barbie-doll proportions actually contribute to the idea that bicycling is easy and fun if even a skinny bimbo can enjoy it, where a muscle-bound amazon (or a man, for that matter) could make it look like something only some people can do.
    Yeah, she's an object. She's in an ad. People in ads are objects, there to sell you on a product or an idea or a look or whatever.

    Personally, I often feel like a lot of the "women-specific" outdoor gear out there is as much dreamed up by marketing departments trying to break into a new demographic as it is actually designed to solve problems unique to women. Sometimes there may be a fine line between what really needs to be re-designed to work or fit better, what could just be made in a wider range of sizes and accomplish the same thing, and what just has a lot of pastels and girl power imagery on the hang tag. As consumers, we like to feel that companies are responding to what we want; but we don't like to feel that we're being pandered to or exploited. And sometimes that's a fine line, too.

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  26. Regarding the poster it is marketing,not documentary, it is IMO a bit silly to judge marketing on whether it is realistic or not.

    Marketing tends to objectify regardless what it is selling.
    In this case we have a ladies bicycle that they are obviously trying to market to women who would like to identify with the general idea of an attractive young woman in the poster. My impression is a single (or at least open to suggestions) woman without kids who cares what she looks like.

    A poster trying to sell a recliner chair for kids would give of a more sturdy and safe feeling (object: safe and happy kid and family), I bet they would be wearing helmets. A Rapha poster would contain exquisite suffering and so on.

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  27. Had I passed this poster, I would not even have given it a second glance. I cannot understand all the fuss. Honestly. It's girl wearing a dress on a bike, in what seems to be, in a hurry to meet a date.

    I have always respected women as equals, and it seems to me as if somebody is trying to stir a pot of nothingness into a whirlwind.

    I read this blog everyday, not because Madame Velouria is a woman, but because I am always astounded by her cycling knowledge.

    My older Goth daughter has a black/green BMX , my younger, Roxy, has a blue/silver MTB, and the wife has an old cherished PINK Raleigh Camaro, which she has bedecked with flowers.

    And my fixie is a somber Matte Black throughout... including fixtures.

    So as you can see, it is difficult to categorize people, men or women.

    Maybe I'm wrong, in which case, I apologize.

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  28. I don't understand why manufacturers always think making something feminine means making it pink!! - how about a beautiful pale blue? or duck egg? (can't go wrong with Tiffany blue!) - or lime green? - or emerald green? - or red? - I have no desire for anything in either pink or purple!!

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  29. You remind me of
    http://www.thesartorialist.com/photos/on-the-street-eva-paris/

    That website is filled with nice photos of ladies wearing chic dresses while cycling.

    I'm not that stylish, though. I still dress for the bike, partly because I don't feel very skilful and I try to minimise distractions. I should make an effort...

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  30. The picture looks like a character of you Velouria. Perhaps the artist was inspired by your blog!

    Always looking out for a ladies racer for my wife and I love this one from UK builder Chris Boardman.

    http://www.boardmanbikes.com/fi/fi_road_team_carbon.html

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  31. 360 view of the Boardman Fi team carbon I mentioned here;
    http://www.halfords.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/product_storeId_10001_catalogId_10151_productId_777743_langId_-1_categoryId_165710

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  32. I don't mind the poster that much, but what I'd really like to see in cycling promotion is representations of a greater selection of body types. People of colour, disabled people, people who aren't thin, etc. There's this pervasive idea that advertising NEEDS to be "aspirational" (which usually means thin white conventionally attractive models/actors), but there is increasing research which shows that people are more likely to purchase or act if the people in the ad are like them. Imagine the poster not only with a man in a similar pose, but perhaps someone like actor Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious"). Someone like Australian Olympian skier and cyclist Michael Milton, who has one leg. Someone aged 75 or more. Does it still make sense?

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  33. Some day, this conversation will seem incredibly silly if we, as a species, ever evolve past the point of primitive sexism.

    Re: ads depicting gals who are all wearing summer dresses, heels, and handbags: I always took these to be specifically directed at females who wanna ride around, but want to be able to do their usual thing in terms of clothing and accessories. Understandable, but a completely overused convention already. (The poster in the article above is, of course, ridiculous. But it is hardly offensive, if one can stop him/herself from needlessly jumping to conclusions.)

    Re: bicycle color schemes. I think the problem is that cycle manufacturers don't want to put out more than one (possibly 2) color schemes for a given model. The "solution" here would be to make the WSD bike in the "normal" color (ie, whatever the men's bike looks like, which to be fair, is typically NOT a male-oriented color-scheme) and then something lavender or fuchsia with pretty flowers or Hello Kitty stickers for the cavewomen who feel that this sort of gussying-up is necessary.

    Of course, in the name of egalitarianism, they'll need to make a "macho" version of the analogous men's bike in the line. I think I'll take one in royal blue with stickers depicting construction vehicles/trucks, rather than the dark grey one with the HeMan-on-Greyskull motif.

    -Rob
    PS- Do ppl have these same conversations about automobiles? Vacuum cleaners? Blenders? A bike is a tool. Thankfully, it is one that encourages customization; folks who want their bike's aesthetics to underline their gender can certainly do that themselves with some paint, stickers, accessories, and ingenuity. To expect a bicycle manufacturer to come up with ways to help them express their identity as a human is utterly daft, and kinda sad.

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  34. The Bikes Belong poster is a perfect example of the failure of advocacy to stop "marketing" to women riders and instead concentrate on building the infrastructure that women and families need to be on the road at all.

    This poster was probably designed by the usual advocacy PR age/gender person: a man between the ages of 28 and 35 who can ride pretty much how and where he likes. Not by a dumpy middle aged woman with three kids - me- who rides to school in a city with crappy traffic and little practical 8-80 infrastructure to help me get anywhere useful.

    As much as I love to read Lovely Bike I am surprised you actually like this poster- who is it for, really? What happens to that lady when she needs to actually get somewhere like the library?

    I don't expect reality from an advertisement but this Bikes Belong poster says I'll belong if I ditch the kids, 35 pounds, and any ability to carry anything useful. It says in effect that most of us who are women living women's lives with a real woman's body don't Belong. And that is the problem with women's bike blogging and the advocacy environment in general.

    If I can only belong looking sexy in my heels, great breasts, and little dress hauling three kids to school, the bar is still too high for the average woman and that is where any real cycling culture in America ends right now.

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    1. This is precisely why I stay away from advocacy and leave it to others. I am not an advocate. But more to the point, my personal opinion of this particular poster is actually completely irrelevant to the message of this post; the whole point is how subjective these things are and what this means for those trying to market to women.

      But back to the poster: Looking at the image in its own right (and not evaluating it as effective advocacy), I personally interpret it as a tongue-in-cheek picture done in the spirit of Las Vegas kitsch. I am not offended by it. I also know that it is just one of many posters Bikes Belong makes, so I don't read it as saying "you must look like this to cycle!!"

      Looking at the poster as a piece of advocacy and listening to feedback from others at Interbike, it seems to be 50/50 love/hate (regardless of viewer's gender funny enough!). That sort of stuff is just fascinating to me - you know, how complicated we are as humans and how much nuance is involved in how we interpret things.

      But as I was saying to others at the show, the problem I personally see with this poster communicating Bikes Belong's message is that it is too old fashioned. I mean it is literally a reworking of a retro poster. But Bikes Belong is a progressive organisation and this poster seems oriented toward a quaint past, not the future.

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  35. I guess I see Bikes Belong as one of the larger and more visible advocacy groups for transportation cyclists. Why separate the image from the mission of the organization in the first place? Bikes Belong should have the wit and acumen not only to promote cycling by women with humor and whimsy, but also to use those good tools to reach the rich variety of us disinclined to ride now.

    I think the image itself is new-fashioned in terms of how we see women portrayed by advocacy groups, manufacturers and bike publications like Momentum and Bicycle Times.

    With luck we will all one day become old ladies, or with less luck we may find our ability to ride compromised by injury or illness. Transporting children can complicate using a bike as well. In Europe ugly people ride too. Though we may like to think that advocacy per se is for other kinds of riders, my hope is that we all try to work for change in our own ways as much as possible, so that the largest number of people can actually just ride. It’s hard to say how good advocacy now might impact our own ability to stay on a bike in the long run.

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  36. If they're trying to sell more bikes to men, this ad is certainly going to be a great eye-catcher for them. What many marketers fail to understand is that if you want to sell products to women, you should either depict a regular-looking but confident women, or show a sexy MAN in the image.

    - Jenny Kubicki, Marketer, Photographer, Graphic Designer, Confident Woman, Avid Cyclist.

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