Do Women Want Custom Bicycles?

Not surprisingly, my beautiful mixte by Royal H. Cycles has been making quite a splash. People ask about the bicycle, and when I say that it was custom built the reactions are interesting. Several men (including framebuilders) have asked whether it was a gift from my husband or boyfriend - meaning, whether he was the one who ordered the frame for me, interacted with the builder, etc. Others have asked whether the framebuilder is my boyfriend. And others still have noted the amazing amount of detail for a women's frame and asked whether it was built as a NAHBS bike (show bike) - which is mostly where one would see such a mixte. When I explain that I was the one who ordered the frame, thought up the criteria for it, specified the design features, etc., all without a male intermediary, this is met with amazement. And having thought about it, I doubt this has anything to do with sexism. Rather, I think it is about statistics: According to the framebuilders I have talked with, women do not typically take the initiative to order custom hand-built bicycle frames. The more common scenario, is that a male framebuilder builds the bicycle for his female significant other, or a male bicycle lover orders it for his spouse. 

[image via mapcycles]

Thinking about that has made me wonder how women feel about handbuilt bicycles. Do they want them? Or do they perceive the process as either too daunting, or not worth the money or time it takes? 

[image via JP Weigle]

At NAHBS and other handmade bicycle shows, mixtes and step throughs have become increasingly popular over the past several years. One might even say that it is now almost de rigueur for classic framebuilders to include a mixte in their portfolio. Does this not mean that there has been an increase in demand for ladies' bikes? 

[image via Boedie Cycles]

To an extent, I am sure there has been some increase in demand (and here again we must differentiate between women ordering the bicycles versus their spouses ordering for them). But for the most part, I believe the appearance of women's bicycles at handbuilt shows is mainly symbolic - reflecting the increasing number of women cycling for transportation in American cities. 

[image via YiPsan Bicycles]

Additionally, a mixte frame is more challenging to build than a diamond frame. It involves more elaborate brazing and lugwork - giving the framebuilder the opportunity to truly show off the extent of their skills. When done right, a mixte can embody elegant design at its most stunning. 

[image via antbike]

So what about the ladies? Do they ever call up a framebuilder and order a bike for themselves? I am not saying that it never happens, and a few builders in particular (ANT, for example) seem to attract female customers. There is also the "lady framebuilder" Sweetpea, which caters specifically to women. But overall, it isn't typical. If you browse framebuilders' websites and flickr accounts that include narratives about recently made bicycles, you are more likely to find descriptions such as "this mixte was commissioned by Joe for his lovely wife Mary" than "this mixte was commissioned by Mary". Will this change as the number of female cyclists grows? I hope so! It would be fun to argue with another female about seat tube angles and lugwork. 


  1. I think price can and does play at least some kind of role in whether women order custom frames (or rather, I should say, I know it plays a role for myself). Additionally, finding a bicycle shop/owner/builder who is willing to listen patiently can be challenging as well (I've sputtered my way through a few of these situations, attempting to explain what is/isn't working for me). I don't claim to be all-knowing (certainly, I am not even close), but I think once a person has owned and used several different types of bikes, she (or he) begins to see what works and what doesn't. While I'm not always up on terminology, I realized that I know more than I think I do when having a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago. She was going to ride one of my bicycles and I mentioned something about raising the stem height and she looked perplexed. Then she stated, "I don't want to sound stupid, but what is a 'stem'?" I think it's situations like these that are opportunities to help other females learn (even if I'm not an expert), so that we can have conversations about seat tube angles in the future. I try to view it as an educational opportunity.

    Personally, I know I have no shame. When I go in a bike shop of any sort, if I don't know what something is, I ask for an explanation. Then, I know. But, I also realize that some women feel embarrassed, or don't want to ask because they think it's a 'stupid' question. I suppose I've never allowed my gender to stop me from doing anything though, nor has it prevented me from asking seemingly inane questions as they pop into my always twirling brain.

    I hope, as you do, that as time moves forward we can all continue to educate each other so that situations such as those you've been experiencing aren't the norm. I don't really see it as a gender bias, but rather as something that many women just have no interest in discovering, or they are perfectly content to have their significant other make the decisions for them. I believe that being able to make our own decisions is quite empowering though... not only that, but it also allows the individual to discover what is important to her, and not what someone told her she 'should' have.

  2. Hum, I don't know. [huge generalization coming] women seem less inclined to obsess over gear and more interested in what you do with it.
    They grab a racket a play tennis, hop on their skis and ski, or buy a bike and ride. But to nitpick every aspect of the gear you use seems rather masculine to me. (not to mention to use your gear as an excuse for your poor performance).
    Now, I realize than a custom bike can be more than that, but you need a solid amount of bike fetish to think about one.

  3. Here's what you've been looking for... Mixtes (and diamon frames) designed, built by and for a woman. Check out Natalie's "A line" mixte. I think you'd approve.

    love your blog! Marc

  4. With all the recent marketing of bikes and fashion (check out latest Anthropologie Bike outfits) I think there will be more and more women getting bikes and getting pretty bikes. And of course, I'm sure they will want custom built beautiful bikes. I also having the guys doing the ordering will change, I really think women will be the ones ordering and asking for takes time to learn all and I believe it's part of getting into bicycling. I hope that many women will learn bike specs the same way many of them know about Manolos! I simply think it's a question of time,confidence, and of course having other women leading the way is very important as it helps build confidence. You have been such an inspiration to me and I bet to many other women (I like to think of us as female bike newbies) and as I mentioned before in some of my posts, I probably won't be riding a vintage mixte and making all the mods and beautication process hadn't it been for your advice and honest opinions expressed via your blog.
    I'm certain more women will get intrigued by pretty bikes as there are more pretty bikes on the roads, and I'm sure many will want a Map bike with a La Perle chainguard, who wouldn't, right?
    I also hope more women buy by themselves their own bikes after they find out what they like, I used to found the process so intimidating but now it's really fun to do all the research, compare, contrast, check parts, components.... and again thanks to your and Meli's inspiration I have finally got a road bike and I'm really proud that I have done it by myself.

  5. Hi, I think there is an element of sexism. I've been riding since I was 3 or 4 and have been a cyclist my whole adult life. I don't think women bike any less than men do but men tend to be more into gear and things and like to talk about it. A woman might research everything on her own, base her purchases based on what she sees and what works for her. I know many women just buy any old bike and that's it, they're happy. Especially if the sales person convinces them it's a good bike. I'm a bike whore and I love real, steel, classic, built to last bicycles. Women of my bent love to look at bicycles that are beautiful, are drawn to their beauty, imagine riding them, imagine what their gross old bike would look like if they knew how to restore it etc.. Gear/knowledge stuff is also a male domain. There are not that many women on the cycling forums I frequent either. I'm a researcher and academic at heart so I always want to know EVERYTHING. And my goodness the things men say on forums. They want to get a bike for 'the little lady', they even choose the bike for their wife or girlfriend! they assume their wives aren't really into cycling so get them lame bicycles.
    And I have experienced lots of sexism in bike shops. Oh my goodness. My husband may have worked in a bike shop, but I know much more about bikes than he does. If we go into a shop, the staff talk to him, not to me. When I got my surly lht the guy kept saying how I was 'little' I had little hands so couldn't use cantilever brakes, my feet are so tiny that I shouldn't use the pedals I wanted and on and on and on. He underbuilt the wheels because I am "so tiny"! Total lack of respect for my experience or the fact that I WAS BUYING THE BIKE. My husband had to come along to 'protect' me because if he wasn't there the bike shop guy was a total jerk. I am seeing more women staff in bike shops which is nice, but I wish Momentum would do an article on evil bike shop guys.
    A custom bike is a nerdy guy niche market in a way. You know-guys with toques, plaid shirts and beards... Women are more likely to just get a bike and work with it while men are more likely to spend many hours dreaming and talking about it with their friends forEVER. I work with some guys in their early 20's and omg. Not to say that women like myself don't dream about having a custom bike! I have serious back, shoulder and hand issues from a major car accident so I would love to have a bike built that really accommodates my physical needs as well as fits my body. In other ways custom bikes are more for women because women are more likely to be looking for a fashion statement, something to match their style, is their favourite colour, that looks as lovely as it rides....and has sparkles!
    I love the Ant loop framed roadsters. I LOVE your Royal H.
    For me money is the issue. Many small builders also have waiting lists several years long. I'm still paying off my surly lht which I regret buying but would lose money if I sell it. I actually would have been happier with a rivendell betty foy with similar frame dimensions to my raleigh 5 speed which I love to ride and fits perfectly.
    So, yes ladies, get your custom builds rolling!

  6. i'm waiting for my first custom built bike at the moment - it's being built right now by lunar cycles in london. i wouldn't know where to start building a bike myself, but getting someone else to do it for me has been great. i've picked the frame, the handlebars, the saddle, how many gears i want and the colour. it will be hard to go back to non-custom made bikes, i suspect. oh - and my husband hasn't been involved at all. will post photos on my blog when harry arrives!

  7. philippe - Oh I don't know about that. Women can obsess over the shape and texture of buckles, the precise shade of fabric, the exact height of a shoe's heels - whereas men could not care less. Many knitters - the majority of whom are female - are absolutely obsessed about yarn, discussing its various technical properties in a way that could make your head spin. Can men discuss the difference between various cuts of jeans or skirts using the technical terminology and can they recite in their sleep what impact those subtle differences in cut make on the figure? In short, I think that both men and women can have obsessive tendencies of this nature, *but* the object has to be deemed interesting or relevant enough to obsess about. And you could say that the bicycle does not currently hold that sort of relevance/interest for women.

    Marc - I know about Sweatpea Bicycles; beautiful work - but their focus on women is definitely the exception in the industry.

    Oh, and philippe again - Have a look at the Sweatpea website and notice what they call their bicycles: things like "A-Line" and "little black dress". In this manner I imagine they are trying to establish a connection between the things women do tend to obsess about (tailoring, clothing styles) and the thing they do not (bicycles)...

  8. It is a lovely bike and I would chase you down and do whatever it takes to stop you and have a good look at your bike if I saw you riding around my area, which is Sydney, Australia.
    My experience so far and I am no expert, is that there arent to many Australian women after a custom built bicycle, I believe they're happier to settle for an affordable, pretty bike, they can use on the weekends and for short errands. I think thats why they seem happier with cheap parts and heavy clunky bikes but I guess bikes just arent a mainstream form of transport here yet so theres no real point of spending 2-3 thousand on a bike.
    I hope you have many fun adventures on your sexy mixte.

  9. Hi,

    It would be interesting to know if there are any commercial frame-builders out there who are women, and to ask them what percentage of their clientèle are also women (ie: a woman actually ordering a frame for herself).

    In that environment the sexism aspects (which certainly exist in some places) may be absent and then you may get a clearer answer to your question: "Do Women Want Custom Bicycles?"

    John I

  10. Heather - I can relate to your point of view very much, including imagining everything and having the academic's need to understand. When I obsess about a bicycle, I imagine very vividly myself riding it in different situations, like a little story playing out in my head, and it's a very emotional experience. Even when I imagine highly technical things like derailleurs, it is in this context. I think men tend to focus more on the gear itself and not on the context of using it.

    As for your comments on cost and framebuilders, a few quick responses: If you like the looks of Betty Foy, I think almost anyone would be happy with its ride quality, so it is a very safe bet. As far as custom builders, one way to go is to find somebody who is reputable but fairly new on the scene, like Royal H was when I ordered my frame (over a year ago); if you can find a good builder like that, their prices are lower and waiting lists shorter. And regarding selling the Surley, I would go for it. I sold my Pashley after just over a year of ownership and of course I lost some money, but financially it was worth it. Either way, best of luck!

  11. Do I want one? Yes. Can I afford one on my paltry librarian's salary? No. End of discussion.

    I'm not willing to let these guys off the sexism hook, though. Anytime anyone assumes there's a male intermediary involved, no matter how innocent the question, there's a whiff of sexism involved, as if to suggest a "little lady" like yourself couldn't possibly be interested in custom bikes.

  12. G.E. / cecily/ on wanting a custom bike but not being able to afford it...

    It is a valid argument in theory, BUT... consider how many women there are out there who earn barely enough money to survive on, yet scrimp and save and live on ramen noodles just to afford a quality cashmere coat, "the perfect handbag," and designer shoes. Affordability is relative to how much you want something. And for most women, bicycles do not hold the same "I must sacrifice for it" cache as the other items I mentioned.

  13. i'm not so sure the statistics on custom-built bikes speaks to the numbers of women versus men cyclists, but possibly more to the fact that bicycles are vehicles and, more importantly *mechanical devices*. it's no secret that males tend to prefer immersing themselves in mechanical gadgetry, the category in which the bicycle fits pretty neatly. while not all males are categorically gadget meisters, the ones who are are the ones probably more inclined to want to have a custom-made bike. i make the distinction here on the term "gear" mentioned above: the shapes and textures of buckles, shoes, and other stuff stereotypically in the women's realm is not the same as the mechanical synergy of parts embodied in a bike.

  14. somervillain said...
    "...the fact that bicycles are ... *mechanical devices*"

    Yes, undeniably they are. But that is not their only appealing feature. One could make the argument that men choose to focus on the mechanical aspect, because that is what appeals to them most. Women, on the other hand, could be just as crazy about wanting a custom bicycle, while focusing on other aspects (comfort, aesthetics, romance, emotion, etc.). I think I am a good case in point for this argument. I am reasonably knowledgeable about bikes, but my interest in their mechanics is far outweighed by my interest in the other aspects. And I got a custom bike. And I wanted one so much, that I saved for it, sold stuff, made sacrifices, etc. The same forces that motivated me could motivate other women.

  15. I am happy to report that women ording their own custom bicycle has increased a lot. I do not have any stastics or numbers for you, but I will say that this trend is very refreshing.

    In the past I would have men ordering a bike for their sweetheart, which was a good start, but I would run into problems with actually finding out what "she" really wanted. I would keep trying to direct the conversation back to the what their partner would want to do with the bike only to get bogged down with techno talk and having him not understand about what a women might actually want in a bike.

    Over the years and much more so in the last two years it is almost exclusively women ordering their own custom bike with out any male influence [well except some from me].

    I really look forward to a more balanced bike world [and world in general]. The bicycle business has been and still is a boys club and while there has been a lot of improvement a lot more needs to be done.

    I also think having Momentum magazine writing a story about this would be a good idea. Bicycle shop owners need to know that their male employees are driving away customers. A huge untapped customer base! I hate to attach a profit motive to this issue, but that is one way to make change in the direction you want.

    I just want more balanced world with more equality in decision making and of course more people on bicycles for transportation.

  16. Gosh, I would love to have a bike built just for me, but then, I've made enough changes to my Trek 520, I have at least customized her. I visit your blog everyday and get pleasure looking at the pictures of your beautiful bikes. As my mother would say, "window shopping cost nothing."

    I could not afford a custom bike right now. I'm still up on the widow's walk waiting for my ship to come in. But even if I had the funds, I would not be able to pamper the bike or keep her safe. I lock up down on Huntington Ave. every day and am happy to come out at the end of the day, and see her still there. We are old and comfortable friends.

  17. I think this is a trend that will probably increase. Think of the increasing number of frames tailored for women, in their geometries and sizing, being offered by mass-market companies like Specialized and Jamis, and on the smaller scale by people like Georgina Terry. Clearly these businesses wouldn't be doing that unless they saw a demand in the market coming from female cyclists. If that segment of the market is doing well, then it seems that some women would take the next step to a fully custom bike.

  18. mike - That is indeed encouraging. It's hard not to notice that the number of women's bicycles on your website has increased dramatically this year, so I'd been wondering!

    Re bike shop employees... It is remarkable how many comments and emails I receive from women about off-putting behaviour of male bikeshop staff. In the interest of fairness, I will say that I personally have not been treated in this way - though I have made a couple of men visibly uncomfortable when I knew more about a product than they did.

  19. Many (most?) of the bike shops I've visited have staff that is disgustingly sexist and/or elitist. And this attitude is not just directed at women. If you're a guy and you come with an older bike, you might be snide comments implying that you're too poor to be worth their time. Or if you say you don't like the way a basket or saddle, or light looks, then they'll make an exasperated gesture and a nasty comment and stop helping you.

    Considering that dealing with bike shops is the first hurdle that many people have to overcome to start cycling, I would not be surprised if it alone is keeping many women (and men) becoming more involved in cycling (and maybe buying that custom frame one day.)

  20. I'm female. I got a custom mixte b/c of so many good reasons. I'm not an average height (the influx of commercial bikes who fit no more than 5'6" annoys me- above that, they direct you to men's bikes- I really should call them ''diamond frames,' but to be fair, there are short diamond frames and they are generally not called men's bikes). I have a zero sense of balance, more so due to my hearing impairment, so a bike that is very stable is important to me (so I wanted something that could accomodate an internal hub easily, again, a feature you do not see on many commercial bikes out there).

    I picked the builder because I know him personally and b/c he's always been very nice and has a great sense of style, despite not having built a mixte before.

    Now, I did have to consult with my male partner on some more specifics, like chainring, bottom bracket, stem posts, etc, but it wasn't terribly difficult. He's spent more time looking at parts than I have, and understands better how the bike is put together than I do. It's just a matter of time and different interests. It never really occurred to me to be that interested in parts (other than handlebars) unless I had a problem that dealt with it.

    I suspect that most women never really thought of a bike as customizable (not just from scratch), other than adding a basket or a bag. I don't think anyone has ever told them that there are many different kinds of hubs, or pedals, or styles of handlebars. I know i didn't unless I had a problem with a specific part, and it can be hard to explain the problem itself if you don't know the words or don't have the experience to pinpoint the cause of the problem.

    I'm lucky in that I can go to my partner if I have questions. Most women do not always have that option if they don't have a male partner who's interested in fixing/playing around with bikes. They can look up on the internet, or they can go to local bike shops. The problem with the latter is that the truth is, local bike shops have not historically been friendly to women- it's not just the sexism (although it is there). Most mechanics are a bit hurried, or distracted, and don't know how to explain the parts without sounding overly technical. Sometimes they're even contemptuous (has nothing to do with sexism, just with the amount of knowledge vs. lack thereof). And most bike shops do not always place a premium on aesthetics the same way Rivendell and Velo Orange (and now Adeline Adeline) do. To tell you the truth, the workings of a bicycle, while fairly simple from a distant viewpoint, is not that intuitive to anyone who hasn't tinkered.

    So the answer is, I guess, yes, women DO want custom bicycles, if they know they want one, and know what they want in a bicycle.

  21. what a topic ! to generalize wildly, I think that women have a low tolerance for the male b*llsh*t that invariably accompanies anything that seems mechanical. They grow weary of listening to some generally ill-informed male spouting off on topics he knows very little about. Much of that discussion tends to be obfuscatory (on purpose) rather than illuminating. The same occurs in all sorts of realms, such as stereo equipment...even though women have much better hearing and can actually appreciate the differences that most men obsess about. This seems to be about something deeper and psychological--male interactions (per the relevant psychology research) are largely about establishing hierarchy, and women are more concerned about connecting. There is a natural problem when a smart woman seeking to increase her knowledge encounters a male seeking mostly to establish that he is the alpha...even--or especially--when he does not have a lot of expertise to share. It is generally far easier to deal with someone truly knowledgeable, who is more likely to be humble (since knowing more makes one appreciate how little one really knows) than some punk in a bike store. So my guess is that most women just don't relish the thought of forking over $3000 to have some male ignore their input and belittle them. Which is

    (Thought of course it would be good for thoughtful male bike builders to dash that stereotype...).

  22. Number one for me is that I didn't really know that custom bikes existed. I knew road racers and other pros would get a custom bike, but it's only been about a year that I'd ever heard of other builders like you mentioned in your post.

    To echo some of the previous sentiments I would say that thinking about the mechanical parts of the bike and improving performance tends to be more common in males. When I selected my bike I certainly compared gears and other specs, but when deciding between the final two I went with looks. I wanted the bike to feel like "me".

    Besides expense, I'd say what would hold me back now is not knowing how to select a builder that is right for me and not knowing enough technichal information to be able to get what I want.

  23. I dream of a custom bike, but several things would have to change in my life first:
    1. Income. You speak of this as a question of priorities, but we're talking about several thousand dollars here. Not really an option.
    2. Living (i.e., bike housing) situation. I'm in an apartment on the third floor, with a winding staircase to get there. My husband and I each have a light racing bike upstairs, while the commuter-outfitted road bikes we ride every day live in the tiny entryway downstairs, where they take a beating from collisions with baby carriages and other bikes. Not sure where I'd put a bike that I use daily but don't want to subject to that kind of damage potential.

  24. I am a woman and I really, REALLY want a custom bicycle and have wanted one for a long time, I just can't seem to put aside the money for it and also keep changing what bicycle I want and which framebuilder to contact. Had I begun when I first wanted one, I would still be wanting another. I am not going to enter the debate on sexist issues and difficulties in communication and I will be doing all the ordering and specifications of what I want myself, with input and recommendations from the framebuilder. I have still not decided on which one I will go with, but have narrowed it down to local, probably between ANT and Circle A Cycles, though the thought of building my own frame is attractive. Of course with all the braze-ons I want now, it might be better for a pro to build it. A lovely randonneur/camping bike, in a lovely green, fill in the rest, I think your bikes are the most gorgeous combinations visually. Lovely!

  25. Velouria : Yes, that what I meant. Women tend to not care that much about mechanical items or sport gear. Not that they can't apreciate a good bike, but they don't care to waste too much time analysing it.
    Well, my wife doesn't anyway... She likes her bike, and knows why, but it's just a tool for her.
    She has the same attitude for most activities : She's a great skier, and can analyse precisely why one ne pair of skis will suit her better. But, at the end of the day, she doesn't really care and will rule the mountain, no matter what, when I will blame my gear a dozen time.
    She will go custom when it's absolutely necessary (ski boots), but for a bike ? Not a chance.

  26. must write adn run- but YES we do. I keep trying bikes and feel like while it would be $$ a custom bike would really get at what I wanted. I am short but have longer legs for my height thus a short torso. I have many wants and needs etc. I may not know a lot about bikes but I am learning and know what I do want. Sadly there are few people I feel comfortable talking about it all. I went to a shop and felt like the person a woman didn't really get it. Which is sad. Yay for custom bikes.

  27. While I admire the custom bikes I've seen here and on other sites, I can't imagine ever ordering one for a couple of reasons. Expense is the first, obviously. I don't have the budget for a custom bike. And I live in the city, in a moderately high crime area, and most of my biking is done here. I think I'd be unbearably anxious about riding (or locking up) a shiny, obviously super-desirable bicycle, both for fear of its getting stolen and for the inevitable scrapes and dings it would acquire. I also have a ridiculous, probably sentimental fondness for old things and while I love the vintage aesthetic that a lot of these bikes seem to reflect, I'd just rather have an older bike, with a history and some patina. The custom bikes seem to come the closest to a kind of old-school design purity that I'm after, but I just can't see swapping my stable of vintage rides for one "perfect" bike, as much as I enjoy admiring other people's!

  28. I am not sacrificing money on handbags or outfits. I am spending money on rent and basic survival. If it weren't for the fact that Raincity Bikes here in Vancouver was willing to work out a payment plan so I could afford a Batavus Breukelen, I'd still be riding around on my cheap Trek bike.

    I can't speak for anyone else, but my comment was meant to reflect my current reality - not anyone else's. Yet I am willing to wager that there are many other women out there who find themselves similarly situated. Heck, I'm only responsible for myself - I can only imagine the choices a single mom has to make when juggling finances.

    Of course, if your point is geared toward for well-heeled women who have a significant amount of disposable income, then that's a different story. But to just put us all under the same umbrella seems a bit harsh.

  29. To address affordability again... The point about custom bicycles being expensive is of course entirely valid. I am not suggesting that anybody should be giving up food or defaulting on their student loans to prove their love for bicycles. Rather, think of what I am saying this way: Given the same budget, a male cyclist is more likely to go for a custom bicycle than a female cyclist; it will be higher up on the list of purchasing priorities for the male cyclist. Otherwise, unless we are saying that women cyclists as a group are categorically poorer than male cyclists, we cannot use the affordability factor to explain their lesser interest.

    Oh, and here is an anecdote apropos both the affordability and the "mechanical devices" theories: I was visiting a framebuilder, won't say which one, and a couple of customers dropped by to make a payment on their frames (the frames can be paid off in several payments of a couple hundred $ each). They were both male and in their late 20s - early 30s (as am I). They made the payment in the form of crumpled $10s and $20s and laughingly described to the framebuilder the hell they were going through working overtime to afford the frames. Then they talked about specs, and it became blatantly obvious that they in fact knew relatively little about bicycles other than how to ride them and what they wanted them to look like. Point is, they were getting the bicycles because in their circle, custom bikes are cool - not because they are obsessive about mechanical objects. And they could barely afford them! I don't think this is an unusual scenario.

  30. To answer your question in part, this one does! A JP Weigle recently caught my eye zipping down the street. When I got home, I googled the name, and realized that it was a local bicycle builder with a stellar reputation. Since then, I've begun plotting the eventual acquisition of one. In the mean time, I will be able to really pin down what I want in such a bike. I already regret a few things about the bicycle I bought this summer, which was my first "nice" bike. For instance, disc brakes weren't necessary and are not a good idea for a touring bike, the black anodized handlebars are an eyesore on a bike that otherwise looks like a tribute to a "classic" bike, etc.

    I think women absolutely could become an important market for customized bikes, even if we accept the aesthetic/mechanical divide between most women and men. The bike is a supremely aesthetic object. It's more like a shaker chair than a car (which, to me looks like a modified plastic box). It could be that most current ready-made bikes are so oblivious to looks, or cater so inadeptly to women (no, pastel does not equal style! What is that black anodized handlebar doing on my "classic"-style bike! etc.), that it's nigh impossible to find an adequate "gateway" bike for the aesthetically inclined.

    It's also interesting that several people have linked their interest in bikes to their academic training. As an academic-in-training and bicycle-enthusiast-in-training, I find that bicycles very much play to my obsessive research inclinations. Perhaps obsessive research skills are necessary in order to discover that "lovely bicycles" actually do exist. It certainly took me quite a bit of research to find my bicycle, which I bought in part for its looks but which, as I noted above, still has some unnecessary but glaring aesthetic flaws.

  31. To Andy, I'm in Sydney, too. I wouldn't know where to find a good framebuilder here, particularly one that would build me a custom mixte or loop frame. There are, I think, quite a lot of custom road bikes but they are diamond frame; haven't noticed any women's bikes that look totally custom-built. I suspect good framebuilders lurk in the inner west suburbs or the eastern suburbs. I'd be delighted to work with a framebuilder to design a custom bike for myself but don't have the necessary folding stuff to make it happen. :-)

    My experience with bike shop people has been pretty good on the whole. Most of them haven't been patronising, or spoken to my husband rather than myself about what I need done on my bike.

    There's a brilliant shop down in Thirroul, Steel City Cycle Works, run by Kate, who does build her own range of classic bikes as well as import Pashley and transport bikes. However her own range isn't totally custom as far as I know; I believe she imports frames and builds them up. Kate is a gem to deal with. So, women of Sydney, if you're willing to travel south to talk to someone who is going to listen to you and not consult your man instead, head to Kate's!

  32. i still stand by my "mechanical device" theory. i think if all other things remained equal, but you swapped the "gadget" gene out of men and cloned it (via insertional mutagenesis, ha) into women, the ratio of men to women purchasing custom-made bikes would change, and more women would be buying them (we'd also see more women buying $5,000 tube amplifiers and $10,000 speakers, and we'd see more women letting the dishes stack up in the kitchen sink). granted, some men buy bikes for the same reasons as women and i think that in general, there is an overlap in the factors and desires that influence men and women in their purchases, but i think when you combine all factors that influence the average man's decision, the mechanical device factor is definitely a contributing one.

  33. It's interesting that it comes down to money, i.e. "I want a custom bike, but [financial reasons here]." I think women are less likely to make large frivolous purchases than men are, which is why (I think) men buy more expensive bikes, luxury cars, unaffordable watches, pricey audio equipment, and other toys under the general guise of "sport." It appears to me that women (of equal means) are more responsible with money.

  34. If we're talking about why some people might not want a custom bike, I think one hidden reason might be class anxiety. The idea of something "custom" makes some people squirm. These people might spend an equivalent amount of money, or just slightly less, on a production bicycle without any problem whatsoever. I think they might be kind of relieved that they don't have to engage a process that makes them feel a certain way about who they are. For men, I think whatever anxiety one might feel about getting something made can be readily displaced by retraining focus on the Mechanics and the Perfection you get when you commission something. This doesn't work so easily for women. So when you ask why don't women want custom bikes, I think this is part of it. We're taught to consume in a passive, decorative way. Yes, it's fun sometimes, but when you actually give a shit about what you're getting, it's pretty annoying to have everyone think you're only about aesthetics.

    I live in an NYC neighborhood that, perhaps because it is so godawful, still harbors actual artists and manufacturers (!) and because of that general culture pretty much everyone makes things or can make things and "making" itself is fetishized. There can be a painfully worthy Holly Hobby vibe to it but I do like that people who make things well are respected. I don't think we Americans value craft very much, as a group but to me a good carpenter is worth a zillion shitty i-bankers and I'm sorry our culture doesn't agree with me. I am a fan of bespoke anything and everything, of supporting the little guy who does it better and more specifically and who is more fun than a robot who spits out a crap weld.

    After searching exhaustively for an old mixte that works for me, I just started the process of commissioning one. I am Girl, make me bike.

  35. Until a few custom builders started picked up their torches during the 1970's, the Schwinn Paramount was the only high-quality, high-performance bike made in the US. Paramounts were made by hand in a separate area from the rest of the Schwinns, and it was possible to get a custom-built (and/or women's) Paramount.

    Two braziers worked in the Paramount shop, joining the lugs and tubes together with great precision and finesse.

    Those two braziers were women.

    Other framebuilders had women working in one way or another on the production of their bikes. Most commonly--particularly with the British builders--they painted pinstripes on lugs and panels. But some were also involved in the "heavy lifting" of bike design and production.

    Now I'm going to make a terribly sexist declaration. (I like to think I've earned that right!;-)) While men may obsess over parts and technical aspects of a bike--as I admit, I have--women are actually more detail-oriented. More precisely, I think we tend to think about not only detail, but how it will enhance our experience of riding--or aesthetically, while men tend to think more of how a part will make the bike work better. Now, if I wanted to be a bitchy feminist academic, I could say that it's because men are more likely to have the luxury of liking things (technical or otherwise) for their own sake. But I don't really want to be that sort of person, so I'll lay off the generalizations for now.

    For the record: I have three custom-built Mercians, and I dictated what I wanted in the frame. I have lots of experience, so I knew well what I wanted and could translate it. On the other hand, I gained most of that experience while living, working and cycling as a male. That didn't give me more aptitude; it simply gave me more access to the experience and knowledge I have.

  36. Neighbortease: It is empowering to commission your own bike, and riding it. It's even more empowering when you're a woman.

  37. you are not alone.

    wait till you see my frances. still waiting on josh to build the frame, eta new year 2011. then I'll be building it up on my own.

    it takes a certain obsession and then some to get to our level, Velouria, so just give the girls some time to gain their clout. for me, 10 years of loving bikes didn't get me there. Building snoball did.

  38. I think there is definitely an element of sexism to the custom bike marketplace. I know that the first few times I went into bike shops in Austin, before I knew just how to ask questions and get what I want, that I would buy what the salesman suggested, no matter how I really felt. I think the same is true with fancy bikes or custom bikes. If you are nervous, then you are not going to spend the time researching and defending your choice. That being said, I wish there were more female frame builders. In that vein, I've decided to add to my metalsmithing skills by taking a framebuilding class this summer. If you can't beat 'em....

  39. What a wonderful topic and discussion. I completely understand the cyclng-and-knitting analogy, and why bicycles might appeal to those of us who love to research the reasons for why a bicycle is going to feel or function the way it does. Bicycles offer such endless variability depending on geometry or components that it can be irresistable for those of us who always want to know "why or how" -- whether trained academic or simply intellectually curious.

    And bicycles, especially classic ones, are beautiful. Beyond the customization advantages for performance and ride quality, bicycles offer so much opportunity for artisanal touches. The form-and-function interplay is realized to an unusual degree.

    I also love Neighbourtease's "class" analysis.

    And I think the increase in cycling over all points to the lack of bicycles that meet specific needs. I've read statistics (can't find them now; I apologize) that suggest that, among new cyclists, women outnumber men. Given its legacy based on cycling as competitive sport, the industry domestically at least hasn't yet completely caught up with consumer requirements. It's getting better, but there is still a gap. Bespoke can address that need, so it is perhaps no wonder if there is an increase in interest from women for custom bicycles.

  40. Until fairly recently, of course, no one would have asked a builder for a custom mixte. Any serious cyclist, man or woman, would spend all that money on a diamond frame. Anyone interested in a step through would buy a stock loop frame bike or pick up a vintage mixte.

    Now that mixtes seem to be the new fixies, this has indeed become an option. But I still think more women who order custom frames probably get diamond frames. And men order mixtes, too. Which brings us to the whole question of what exactly is a mixte?

    Sheldon brown says it's a bike with twin top tube sloped and running with a third pair of stays to the rear dropouts. He says a variant is the single tt that then splits at the seatpost and continues to the rear drops.

    I always thought this was a bit arbitrary--since the main idea of the mixte seems to be the sloped, easier on-off top tube, why define it by the rear stays? That's because I always thought it was translating from the French as unisex or co-ed. But now I think it refers to the word in its meaning of "dual" or "joint" as in the twin tubes running from the head tube to the rear drop outs. And in fact that is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines a mixte: Designating a type of bicycle frame in which the crossbar is replaced by two thin tubes extending from the head of the steering column to either side of the rear axle. Of a bicycle: having such a frame.

    So technically half of your example don't qualify ;^)

    On a personal note, I ride a 1981 Schwinn Le Tour Tourist, which would be a mixte, except like a Riv or a JP Weigle, it has a single top tube which then splits into the third set of stays. I love the look for city riding, but I don't find the step through aspect of a mixte all that useful, at least currently. Most times I forget and swing my leg over the back of the saddle. I suspect that may change when I add a baby seat for my 11-month old this spring...


  41. I couldn't casually put my leg over the mixte bars either. It feels odd lifting it this way, perhaps I could get used to it after some practice. But I can readily imagine how women wearing long skirts have an easier time with mixte bars vs. top tube.

    I also agree that a "proper" mixte should have twin stays all the way, but Riv's Grant refuses to build it this way and other builders probably have their own reasons why they do the single/splitting top tube.

  42. a lot of talk lately about what's "proper" :-)

    in the case of custom-built frames, i think the term mixte affords certain latitude, and whether a frame builder decides to use twin lateral stays, or a single, doesn't make it less a mixte. i take the definition fairly literally: "mixed". basically a hybrid of a step-through and a diamond frame. the style of the stays, to me, falls within the discretion of aesthetic license. i doubt there can be a compelling argument made for one being significantly better than the other in terms of rigidity/integrity. however, i am firmly in the camp that states that a mixte must have the stays that continue past the downtube to the rear dropouts. otherwise, it's just a step-through.

  43. I always thought this was a bit arbitrary--since the main idea of the mixte seems to be the sloped, easier on-off top tube, why define it by the rear stays?

    Re mixte definition, it's a question of the greater frame strength, right? Not just the step-through characteristic.

    My everyday commuter bike is a mixte, and I find that I do the 'step through' when I'm wearing a skirt, but tend to throw my leg over it as I do on a diamond frame when I'm in pants.

  44. I am a woman and I would like a custom bicycle similar to yours.

    The only barrier to achieve this goal is finding a local frame builder I could trust with such a personal "capital investment." I found one in nearby Baltimore [I won't mention the name] who seems to make high quality, custom diamond frames--but no mixtes. Moreover, I was a bit turned off by the style and graphics. I believe there was some sort of photo shoot featuring women in shorts straddling tall road bikes--not my cup of tea and this deterred me from making contact.

    Lastly, I live in D.C. and many riders almost *expect* their bikes to be stolen at some point. Not sure spending the money (even though it feels worth it to me) would be the best idea given the crime in my area. I'd feel uncomfortable locking it up outside almost anywhere in this city.

  45. This is a very odd post indeed.

    Millions of people around the world ride bicycles. The most interesting of them ride a bicycle to get somewhere or do something. To meet friends, to help someone, to explore, to get to work, to participate in the larger world.

    There was a great article on (?) ecoVelo about the difference between US cycling and European cycling. In Europe they are using a bike to have fun, in the US the bike is the focus of the fun. Sort of the same work/life equation between the cultures. I know what I prefer.

    It seems to me that this blog has come a long way from posing the question "what is a reasonable, well built bike makes sense in an urban setting" to a focus on the bike as the end rather than the means to an end.

    Of course if bike parts are the most interesting thing in life, or on the top 10 list, and one wants to devote endless hours to thinking about components and it gives one joy--grand! (as long as we recognize that it is the yuppy version of Pimp My Ride). But for many other people, it just isn't what we wish to devote our lives to. And it seems that are better uses for our money and certainly better uses of our time.

  46. Anon 7:04 - I think that the different ways to look at bikes you mention are not diametrically opposed. Just because an object is practical, does not mean that it cannot be the subject of fascination to those who are interested in craft and design. Some people collect watches, stamps and typewriters - all objects that have both practical uses and aesthetic, as well as historical value. Others are interested in architecture and travel all over the world just to photograph columns, arches and various facades. Is that "bad"? Should everything that has a practical use be just for using and not for admiration? If no one was interested in the art of everyday objects, the world would be a bleaker place for all of us.

  47. this post, and the majority of the responses, is causing trauma to my feminism gland(s).

    Let's get real here: if your browser has landed here, you're a *cyclist*. If you're female but you've never been a techie cyclist, that's not your gender; that's your preference and/or history, as a cyclist. If you're male but you're here anyway, that doesn't make you "girlie"; it makes you liberated.

    If you have the cash and the actuaL need for custom work, have at it, whether you're male or female. If you have some standard proportions, not a lot of disposable income, and a modicum of vanity, please make do with an appropriate frameset and your preferred components. Please, let's not make custom bikes a girls vs boys thing. I know how things may've been historically, but let's try to make progress instead of analyzing an ugly thing...

  48. In Canada women are outstripping men as bread winners and earning more money than men so this will definitely change marketing, advertising and products in general. And somewhere along the way men stopped going to university as much so women are getting more educated. So, bike shops and builders better pay attention to this.
    But like Cecily said, for many of us, we barely get by. Many women still earning way below poverty because service industry or office jobs don't pay nearly as well as the more manly trades jobs. It isn't about doing without a cashmere coat or new boots. It's about rent and bare necessities. In BC, Vancouver especially people are paying 75% of their income on housing. I can't even finish my various bike projects or finish my main ride because I cannot afford the parts. So much as I'd like to have custom bike built, it will probably be a one day if the unspeakable happens.
    There was a great article in the Georgia Strait a month or so ago about differences in the brains of men and women which speaks volumes to the issues raised here.
    I see the same thing in the photography forums I use-male dominated beyond belief. Once in awhile there are discussions about where the women are.

  49. rob - I'll try to keep that point of view in mind next time I am asked something like "Which frame builder did your boyfriend go to?" : )

  50. somervillain said...

    a lot of talk lately about what's "proper" :-)

    and also...

    "however, i am firmly in the camp that states that a mixte must have the stays that continue past the downtube to the rear dropouts. otherwise, it's just a step-through."

    A man who likes to have his cake and eat it, too! The term mixte does suck you in, because there are a few variables. But according to your own whimsical definition-- " 'mixed'; basically a hybrid of a step-through and a diamond frame"--your requirement that it have the stays go all the way to the rear dropout makes no sense, since neither loops nor diamonds typically do that.

    I also don't know of any frame label that is related to frame "strength." For 99.5% of step through applications, the missing stays will not come into play. By the way, most builders today eschew the twin top tubes for a single to make things less labor intensive (and some believe it makes the frame less "whippy" though I don't know if this has been quantified, doubt it.)

    So, Somervillian, to get back to why I was "proper" i.e., injected the definition into the conversation. I thought mixte should be redefined also, without the requirement for the third stays. You have your own take. For many words in our language, that's how they evolve. But "mixte" is a somewhat specialized term, and by babelizing it we lose our ability to talk precisely about the subject at hand.


  51. Oh man, this conversation is a little overwhelming at this point, but I'll say that I think the comments you've been getting in real life are sexist.

    I can only speak for myself about the custom bike issue. I decided to build up a frame from Rivendell instead of getting a fully custom bike from ANT or another custom builder because: 1) I had a limited amount of money in my bike fund and 2) I felt that the Rivendell met all of my requirements for both fit and aesthetics. Incidentally, these are the same reasons my husband opted to build up a vintage Raleigh frame instead of getting a custom frame.

    Sometimes I wish I had kept saving until I had about $1,500 more in my bike account to get a fully custom, made in the USA bike, but then I remember that 4 months after buying my Riv, I was unemployed for a little while, so that never would have worked. I guess this was a case of money + needs + reality.

    Even with my Betty Foy, lots of bike guys seem surprised that I ride a Rivendell, picked the components myself and know who Grant Peterson is - not because most women don't order their own Rivendells, but because those guys have sexist ideas about women and bikes.

  52. "There was a great article on (?) ecoVelo about the difference between US cycling and European cycling. In Europe they are using a bike to have fun, in the US the bike is the focus of the fun. Sort of the same work/life equation between the cultures. I know what I prefer."

    I live in the USA and as a woman I want to tell you that in many (if not most) cities here it isn't easy to find a well made, reasonably attractive bicycle that is 1.) made for a woman and 2.) made for transportation in the city. I'd love to have a bike that I can jump on and go, but I've searched high and low in my metro area and I haven't found much. USA =/= Europe. Most people here aren't interested in bicycles as a form of transportation. For those who want to make that happen, like in my case, they have to work a bit harder to find things and educate themselves about components.

    "It seems to me that this blog has come a long way from posing the question "what is a reasonable, well built bike makes sense in an urban setting" to a focus on the bike as the end rather than the means to an end.

    Of course if bike parts are the most interesting thing in life, or on the top 10 list, and one wants to devote endless hours to thinking about components and it gives one joy--grand! (as long as we recognize that it is the yuppy version of Pimp My Ride). But for many other people, it just isn't what we wish to devote our lives to. And it seems that are better uses for our money and certainly better uses of our time."

    To each his or her own. Is it necessary to be so critical of how another person enjoys their time? I'm grateful that people have specialized hobbies and share their interests. Its helpful for people like me who want to learn and more informed decisions.

    I think maybe you are fortunate that you live in a place where one doesn't have to think about or spend lots of time on bicycles because there is a robust bicycle as transportation culture? It seems that way in many cities across Europe and of course cities like Boston, NYC, Portland, and in California state. If that's the case, you are lucky. :) Consider that those bikes are not available in many other places, especially in the USA. That is precisely why the idea of having a bicycle made has become a valid option.

  53. mark, i suppose the origin of the word "mixte" is a bit vague, but my understanding of the origin is that it meant a "mix" between a diamond frame and a loop frame. the biggest difference i see between a diamond frame and a loop frame is two-fold: a low, sloping top tube versus a straight tube, and the resulting structural compromise between the main and rear triangles. so, my interpretation of a "mix" (or compromise) between the two is to have a sloping top tube with an angle somewhere between that of a diamond frame and a loop frame, and have it extend to the dropouts, maintaining the same structural robustness of a diamond frame.

    of course, i recognize that this is just my interpretation of what "mixte" means, and that others' opinions on single tube versus parallel tubes are perfectly valid. my comment about "proper" was not aimed at your comment.

  54. For the record, I too stick with the traditional definition of mixte: a bicycle with sloped twin lateral stays or a sloped top tube that splits into stays, extending all the way to the rear dropouts. The reason I am going with this definition is not so much the logic of using that term to describe that particular frame type, but the history and context of the term. From what I understand, when the term came about it did not refer to loop frames and step throughs, but distinctly to this kind of bike. Nowadays the term frequently gets misused to signify pretty much anything that is not a diamond frame, but that does not make this (mis)usage right.

  55. Dear Fjelltronen,

    I have no problem with how someone else chooses to spend their time or their money. I did, however, find the post a bit smug: posing the question of why all the other women out there are not ordering custom bikes (when did THAT become normative?) and making comments about people's financial choices that struck me as insular at best and patronizing at worst.

  56. Anon 10:13 - It is good to read your honest reaction, and I am certainly not beyond criticism. But I hardly meant for my post to be interpreted the way you describe. By no means do I suggest that ordering custom bikes has become or should become normative. Rather, I point out that among the non-normative subset of people who do order custom bikes, the percentage of females is apparently so tiny that some men in the industry cannot even seem to process the fact that I, a female, ordered this bike and knew enough about bikes to order it. That is all; no smugness intended. As for the affordability issue, please re-read my comments. My own financial choices are ludicrous, so I have no intent to patronise or criticise anybody else's. Making observations about social trends is different from judging them. But anyhow, no sense getting worked up about bicycles and I am sure everyone can agree to disagree.

  57. Anonymous,

    Would it be a problem for you if all the women out there ordered custom bicycles? I say no, as many men do it and few people seem to question it or care that much. Plus I think women have fewer options in the market right now, so it makes sense from my point of view. If putting together a bike that is awesome and functions beautifully makes a person happy, why be negative about it? To me, *that* sounds smug.

    No entiendo... :/

  58. Having just posted my new custom bike to this group I have the following thoughts:

    I have been cycling seriously for more years then I care to count and have owned many good bikes. When considering this bike I discussed with the builder what kind of riding I wanted to do and where; how much I wanted to carry and how I wanted to carry it; wheel size, tires, handlebar type and many other details. He had ideas and suggestions and we discussed these. However, I left the actual design, such as frame angles, completely up to him.

    My own experience with women who ride a lot is that many of them DO take an interest in the details. The result, for me has been the best riding and handling bike I have ever owned.

  59. Judy - Just saw your custom Igleheart 650B Allrounder, so nice! Thank you for sharing your experience and I hope you are enjoying this bicycle!

    Fjelltronen - I just imagined swarms of women suddenly all ordering custom bicycles : ))

  60. I am still waiting for my Rivendell Custom "Mixte" with S&S Couplers, and this was 100% spec'd by me without any male intervention. I placed the initial order in May 2009, and now I have been told that the ETA is around January 2011... *sigh*

    But I am somewhat of an anomaly... Most ladies I know don't have the passion to even think about a custom frame (let alone money, patience).

  61. i totally want a custom bike someday! i am really small (4'10"), so finding the first frame i got was hard for me. a guy i was dating became a bike mechanic and via him, i learned all about different parts what i liked and didnt like from seeing his stuff and others. so i have totally revamped my first bike, made it more suitable for my needs. i hadnt really thought about getting a custom frame (thought i just had to adapt and live with what id found) until HE bought me one for my birthday one year. and now im obsessed. i love that bike soooo much. it is super tiny. i ride it all summer, abhor to put it away for winter and take out my old frame that is SO big by comparison. i used to love my surly, now my custom sized sycip is my baby and i rather detest to take out the clunky old surly by comparison.
    i have changed my mind many times over what i want for my custom bike once i am able to afford it. being that im in MN i need something that has lots of clearance for different tires, and perhaps nice fenders, if i decide on having gears, what will work and not slip in the winter (probably will stay with the fixed, but who knows) i have decided i want generator lights after many years of having my recyclable batteries and niteRider usb light give out fast thanks to the cold and that its DARK the majority of the time when im commuting in the winter: ugh. and i think i will go with disk breaks too, cleaner surfaces when dealing with slush, mud, sand, and salt from the dirty winter roads. besides, wouldnt want to mess up some nice pristine rims! :P so yeah, im saving slowly and still dreaming!
    anyhow, i didnt start obsessing until i met a guy that obsessed and gifted me with something better. once i was made aware of what was out there and what i was missing, man, do i want another custom bike someday. while i am not with the bike guy any longer, my interest in custom builds has not waned in the slightest.


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