We just got back from Interbike. An industry trade show that showcases it’s new products to retailers and the media. I have been attending Interbike since 2005. First as an entrepreneur, then as a small bike shop owner and this year to represent Velo Mom and the Axel Project.
The purpose of Interbike is to showcase gear. And it’s in Vegas. While I understand the purpose of being in Vegas and I understand the need for businesses to showcase their gear I feel the bike industry and advocates rarely address the deeper meaning and purpose of cycling.
The Soul of Cycling
This year there was a lot of buzz over Women Bike. Women Bike is initiative by the League of American Bicyclists to get more women cycling. They recently published a report on women and the cycling industry. They have collected a lot of statistics and linked them to economic impact. At Interbike there were a lot of tweets and talk about the failure, and sometimes the success, of the bike industry in meeting the needs of women. The Women Bike initiative appears to be more focused on commuting and the importance of trying to make bike commuting appeal to and be practical for women. A very worthwhile mission.
During Interbike Women Bike sent out a series of reference and comparisons to the yoga, fitness, running and women’s cycling. It’s clear the cycling world is way behind when it comes to keeping up.
— Women Bike (@WomenBike) September 19, 2013
Which got me thinking outside the box of gear, statistics, numbers, industry. What do yoga and running ‘promote’ better to women than cycling? The Spiritual, soul searching, healing almost medicine-like aspect of the sport. A quick Google search on why women run gave me dozens of emotional articles on how running has transformed people. For both men and women. There are no gear articles that appear. Here is an excerpt from a recent Runner’s World post: “For me, my daily run is my medication. It’s my way of feeling like myself. It’s the running that helps me function as a human being in society, and the lessons I’ve learned from all my workouts. It’s given me confidence in my career, in my relationships, and in my self-identity.
Search ‘why women bike.’ You’ll find on one very inspirational short piece – the rest are about gear. The inspirational stories are out there; we just need to tell them, market them, encourage them.
Let’s encourage more women to aspire to a life on two wheels, to be wooed by the passion and freedom. – Ann DeOtte Kaufman of Iva Jean
Search on why anyone (men or women) do yoga and the search is filled with people talking about the physical and emotional benefits of a yoga practice.
It really offers me solace, a place to go in and just to be – Colleen Saidman
So when I saw the tweet below at Interbike I thought – wow the bike industry has a long way to go before even thinking about Lululemon. It’s not about just creating products or retail environments. It’s about selling the lifestyle of cycling – outside the cycling world. The physical and transportation aspects are obvious, but what about the mental and emotional benefits?
Sure we can tell a mom that she can save a few dollars and burn a few calories by biking to the market with her kids. But what if we told her this story:
Because we cyclists are self-propelled we cannot live in numbness to our bodies or to the rest of our environment. We know how we feel when we’re working hard or riding fast, whether we’re exhausted, cold, thirsty, on-fire, full of life; we live with a deep creaturely awareness of ourselves. We are also in touch with our physical surroundings. We know where the earth sinks and rises, where she’s rough or smooth or where the air is salty. We know the feeling of rain or snow on our skin. We know what it’s like to have the cold wind tear through us, or to have the heat smother us. Cyclists have no choice but to understand themselves as an interconnected part of the living, breathing creation, riding on the very breath of the holy. = Emelie Smith via Momentum magazine.
We can continue to promote road and mountain biking as a something you do for fitness. Or we can start talking about how vigorous exercise can be as effective as some antidepressants. It helps with depression, anxiety, grief and – unlike meds – it starts to work right away. Cycling at a level that raises your heart rate offers an immediate mood boost and is often followed by a brighter outlook on life.
So where can the bike industry start?
My Top 3 Ideas:
Expanded Women’s Clubs and Ambassador Programs: I feel for the bike industry when it comes to creating women’s gear. I think they have done a tremendous job at trying to deliver women’s products in a down economy. All three major brands (Trek, Specialized, and Giant) have specific gear for women and while walking the floor at Interbike almost every manufacturer seems to at least be trying to appeal to ‘the women’s market’ with women’s products. It seems they can’t win though.
What would help is an emotional connection to women (and men) outside the bike world. Ambassador’s that represent more of the average population. And ambassador’s that will write authentically about their lives on the bike, share and support your brand- not just ride your bike.
I’m amazed by the amount of free gear and pro deals bike companies give local racers – and for what in return? Most of these racers don’t promote the brand outside of riding the bike in a 50 mile radius where they are only seen by other racers that also want pro deals. And as a former bike shop owner I will attest to the fact that it is taking business away from local shops. If you go outside the industry and get someone new hooked on cycling you are growing your base and not taking business away from local shops – because they weren’t there in the first place.
All bike brands (focused on both men and women) would be smart to look outside our tiny cycling world and find true ambassadors that will help spread the word about the benefits of cycling to those outside the ‘inner circle.’
Bike brands and bike shops can also help support more non-competitive bike clubs like this one in Boulder.
Expanded Event Coverage: Want to grow the women’s market? Show up where women are. And hint- it’s not Sea Otter or the Fruita Fat Tire Festival. Take a bike demo fleet to a women’s 5k race. Get women who don’t ride on the seat of a bike and show them how much fun it is! Heck, send someone to BlogHer and see if you can get cycling into the conversation of health and fitness. Just get outside the tiny bike world or you’ll just keep spinning your wheels.
Create an inclusive social media platform for Advocacy: A few years ago I approached IMBA about writing consistent posts on their blog (for free) about family cycling. After several emails and phone calls I finally got a response from the Communications Director. ” No thanks, but good idea I will have some women in our office that are Moms write some.” Okay, my ego took a blow but I thought at least I opened their eyes. Well, I never did see any consistent posts about family cycling. If your blog hasn’t been updated in three months maybe you should let your grassroots advocates have a voice.
A few weeks before Interbike I reached out to Women Bike to see how I could help spread their message. Again, no response. I tried, and tried and tried. Finally I got a response but was never able to connect. It should not be this hard.
Advocates don’t have to be insiders like a sorority. If someone wants to help spread your message, let them! If you can’t let them into your ‘circle’ create a grassroots program or communications protocol that acknowledges their support while helping you spread the message.
Here is a great example by the Sierra Club. They have a section on their website to highlight Grassroot Advocates. There you will find a simple platform where average, but very passionate people, can support the Sierra Club’s mission and goals.
That’s all for now.