Stop selling shit bikes to women

bike-dress-flowered-girl-hair-pretty-Favim.com-44483Step back. This is a bit of a rant.

I have been working at the bike shop for almost a year now, and here is a true fact: I have seen many couples come in to buy bikes together, and not once — not ONCE! — have I seen a couple leave with a pair of bikes, where the woman’s bike cost substantially more than the man’s. I’ve seen lots of men ride out on fine $1,000 road bikes or high-end hybrids, while the partner chooses a mid-range hybrid, or worse—a clunky “retro” upright or a step-thru ladybike. In the case of couples I can only assume this is because a) the woman’s needs are assumed to be less budgetable than the man’s, and b) the man would feel emasculated to ride on a lesser bike than his partner. I’m waiting for a better explanation, but I haven’t heard one yet.

I am sick of seeing women buy shit bikes. I refuse to cooperate in selling women bikes that will not serve their needs, enhance their mobility, or contribute to their liberation.

What I hate most are the ladybikes. You know, those dainty upright beasts with the fat cushy seats and back-swept handlebars, or the funky steel 3-speeds. They look cute, weigh a ton, and ride like a tank up even the most gradual hill. They’re great on the seawall (or arguably in Amsterdam), but try riding one across Vancouver. No matter which direction you go, you will hit a sizeable hill at some point, and find yourself standing up on the pedals or pushing that ox up the grade. The geometry does not allow for efficient pedalling. Try riding one more than a few kilometres. Try fitting one out with front and rear panniers, or towing a trailer behind. Like high-heeled shoes they are designed to look pretty and slow you down.

I know I’m gonna get a lot of blowback for this, so let me say this: step-thru bikes aren’t always ridiculous. I have gladly sold them to customers when they are in fact the right choice. They work well for people with hip problems who cannot lift a leg over a crossbar – although in general, women have proportionally longer legs than men, so if anyone should be riding the step-thrus it is the guys. Most “leg over crossbar” problems are simply  due to unfamiliarity with riding a bike, and the rider soon gets the knack of it. But in the case of physical hip problems a step-thru can be the right solution.

Step-thrus can be good for people with major back or neck issues, although almost any style of bike can be comfortable if it is well-fitted. If a person has lower-back problems, a bolt-upright bike can cause compression and pain in the lumbar on longer rides.

Step-thrus do make it possible to ride in a long slim skirt, which you can’t do on a crossbar. However, you can ride a regular bike comfortably in a short dress or a loose skirt — I do it all the time. (Btw that whick-whick-whick! you are hearing is the sound of Amelia Bloomer turning over in her grave).

I think step-thus are best as entry-level bikes for women who are so intimidated that only a femmy bike will entice them onto the saddle. Late-learners, elderly women, fashion victims or the terminally timid. They are fine for people who really and truly aspire to nothing more than an occasional leisure cruise on the seawall (oh and don’t forget, you will need to buy a special attachment to put that bike on the car rack to drive it to Stanley Park). If regular bicycles are too scary for them, let them ride step-thrus. Maybe one day they will run up against the limitations of their ride and then they will graduate to a better bike. Or maybe that bike will always serve them well. Anyway, better a step-thru than no bike at all, so whatever gets a reluctant rider onto a bike is ok by me.

As for fashion, as I tell my customers — yes, it matters. You should fall in love with your bike and physical attraction is a factor. When you gaze at your bike,your heart should beat a little faster. Don’t get a colour you hate. Go ahead and accessorize. Decorate! Your bike should look hot and you should feel like you look hot on your bike. But a pretty bike that is a pain to ride won’t look good rusting in your basement.

I love my shop, and we do make a real effort to respect all the clientele. We have probably the highest percentage of women customers of any shop in the city, aside from the one female-focused store. But it still makes me crazy when male sales staff automatically default to selling women cheap, heavy bikes. It is so easy for many women to take the bait and fall for the pretty and comforting bike over the useful and comfortable bike. I have noticed that I am complicit in this tendency. I will tend to steer women toward the less expensive bikes and men to the upper range, knowing that it is easy to upsell men and downsell women. Ladybikes are an easy sell. We can do better.

When a woman enters the shop who seems fit and confident, and she says that is looking for urban transportation with a view to other possibilities, I will always at the very least ask her to test-ride a more powerful “performance” hybrid and compare it to an upright step-thru. If she rides the bikes around the block, up and down the hill, and then prefers the step-thru—fine, so be it. I will do everything I can to assist her with the choice she has made.

If a woman is open to a better, more powerful bike, I will gently try to guide her toward a bike that will fulfill her needs and take her farther than she might have imagined. I have had women thank me sincerely for pushing them a little and opening their eyes.

Women have mostly been taught from birth that we are weak, limited, and incapable. We have been convinced that our needs are not so important, and that we should not “waste” money on our deeper and more empowering desires. We have bought the story that it is more important to look cute than to be strong and self-sufficient. As a pedlar of pedals and an agent of liberation, I refuse to be part of that story.

53 Responses to “Stop selling shit bikes to women”

  1. Lovely Bicycle! Says:

    Interesting perspective, and I agree regarding the male/female purchasing disparity seen in bike shops. The woman’s bike is so often an afterthought.

    As far as ladybikes, I have been in a position to test ride literally dozens over the past 4 years, and there have been huge differences between them. Some are much faster than they look, even up considerable hills. Others are scandalously inefficient. Step-through construction notwithstanding, the geometry of such bikes varies hugely, as does frame material and component quality. Ultimately I feel it is about finding a good match for the individual rider.

  2. TachitoTec (@TachitoTec) Says:

    Upright position in cycling is an heritage from horseriding. It was considered “distinguished” among early dandy bikers. I agree it gives some elegant touch, not only in A’dam, but it’s defenitely not the most efficient way to ride a bike. Old-fashioned uprights have another advantage: not being subject to much tech-frenzy “innovations” they’re more reliable and easy to repair.

  3. cycler Says:

    While I completely agree with you that there’s a systemic bias towards women riding/ being sold less expensive bikes than men, I think that your hate for the step through is excessive.

    I started bike commuting when I was 16 on a diamond frame, but I never really loved riding my bike on a daily basis until I bought a step through single speed when I lived in Milan Italy. Since then, I’ve become car free, and meet almost all my household’s needs with what I can carry on one of my stable of step through bikes.
    I’m fit, confident, self sufficient and perfectly happy to go a little slower and push a little harder up a hill if it means that I can ride to my professional job in a skirt and heels, pick up a giant load of groceries on the way home and sit in a comfortable upright position where I can easily see traffic around me. There’s a reason that classic Raleighs (and their modern knockoffs) still populate the streets of my town- they don’t demand special clothes or effort, they just fit into people’s lives with a minimum of fuss.

    Again, I completely agree with you that women are an underserved market in the bike industry, and that as a class, “women’s” bikes are not given the attention or specifications they should. However, I don’t think that diamond frames for all is necessarily the answer.

  4. Pistil Pete Says:

    “But a pretty bike that is a pain to ride won’t look good rusting in your basement.”
    Holy Moroni,ain’t it the truth!I’m so over people,male and female,buying shit because they can’t face reality.A bike costs money,both to buy and to maintain.If you ride it you will wear things out.
    The whole “Girls bike” thing makes me crazy as well.Sorry sister,you have to spend a grand,minimum, to ride a real bike.Yes bike shops are complicit in this but it’s up to customer as well,do your homework and face facts.And any male companion who won’t pony up for a real bike for her is setting them both up for disappointment…How are you going to ride together when she’s on a pretend bike?Anyhow sisters ,single or couple you are the one who suffers so take charge!And I’ll see ya out there….

  5. Sionan Says:

    WOW! What great recognitions vocalized!

  6. Chi-trekker Says:

    I don’t know, it may be more complicated. My sweet wife bought the bike she wanted, a step- through. It was pretty, yes, functional, I suppose, for her, but it was what she wanted. I couldn’t even get her to even use toe cages, just flat pedal, and she complained up the hills. I so wanted her to ride with me but it never worked out. And maybe that’s the point, she never really wanted to ride, so the details of fit form and function never became an issue of thought. Kind of like when I listen to music. I like to have a fine high fidelity sound system where the music and details are clear and interesting, but she is happy with a cheap tinny wumpy plastic box, monotone almost, it seems to me, but she is happy with that. In contrast she has her own areas of study and detail that don’t interest me much, … so be it. She can garden all day. I quickly get a back ache and feel like I should be riding. I don’t know about the interactions of bike vendors and male/female customers, but maybe it’s more ok than not, and maybe men are just more geeky bike-wise, and women geeky in other important ways. My wife is happy with her bike, so I am happy with it too.

  7. Babybat Says:

    Hmmm. You make a good point about the tendency of some bike shops to sell ‘ladybikes’ over really listening to customers about what they want, but I really think your hate for stepthroughs is a bit OTT.

    I have two bikes – a $200 classic steel stepthrough ‘ladybike’, and a $2k tourer. The stepthrough easily gets the most use because it’s comfortable to ride to work every day, I can leave it locked up outside all day without worrying about it, and the upright position makes it easier for me to see and be seen in traffic. It’s only got 5 gears and it’s not easy to get out of the saddle and climb uphill, but I’ve done 40 mile rides on it without even getting a sore bum. I may not be the fastest, but I can put in a fair turn of speed. It’s a city bike, it’s been designed for riding in town and it does that really well.

    I think women do get a raw deal in some bike shops from staff not listening to what they’re asking for, but assuming that they want a ladybike because they’re a beginner or they don’t really understand bikes is just as patronising. Not everyone wants to ‘graduate’ to a different style of bike, so why not stock some good quality utility bikes and let the customer test ride and reach her own decision?

  8. Lola Granola Says:

    Good job, Carmen!

  9. Erik Griswold Says:

    A reminder that Hub Gears are available in more than just 3-speeds now. And they are great for dealing with stop signs since you can shift while not in motion.

  10. Tim Says:

    Just echoing other sentiments. Here’s more of your predicted blowback.

    You started with a good premise – why should women have cheaper bikes by default?

    And then quickly disappeared off into anti-step-through dogma.

    The wife has a good quality diamond frame hybrid (more expensive than mine). Rides it round town, likes it. But in Copenhagen we both rented step-through frames, mine with the child seat for the small person. Mainly because they were the only bikes available but it seemed appropriate. They were old and a bit rickety but despite this the wife loved it and now wants one. I can also see the benefits. I’m not ready to swap but if I end up with a bit more money and storage space and can justify an extra bike any time soon there’s something civilized about sitting up. I commute in my work clothes rather than lycra…

    Do you seriously think everyone in the two major cycling capitals of Copenhagen and Amsterdam knows less about cycling than you and is doing it wrong? Or is there something special about the cities which makes them different? Because if it’s the latter, considering how many more cyclists they have maybe we should change our cities and all get step-throughs instead of just resigning ourselves to being sport cyclists?

    Also, I love cycling as a way of getting around. I love the sensation of cycling and it’s been my primary mode of transport for years, but my “bike should look hot”? Seriously? It’s a practical tool to do a job. I want it to run efficiently, smoothly and reliably but looking good has nothing to do with that. In fact I do want to be able to leave it places without worrying it will be stolen. I love the internet, but I don’t feel any need to buy a sexy looking computer. I get that the aesthetic is important to you and that’s all fine, but don’t assume that’s the most important thing for everyone.

  11. carmen Says:

    I sent this question to Tim, but the email doesn’t seem to reach him:

    Thanks very much for your comment Tim, I am appreciating the lively and informed feedback this post is generating! I’m glad you came to appreciate the step-through in Copenhagen. But I have a question: since style is not important to you and step-thrus are so comfortable and practical for both you and “the wife”, why aren’t you ready to swap in your commuter bike for an upright right now?

    Same question to Chi-Trekker: if a step-thru is good enough for your sweet wife (which from the sounds of it is rusting in the garden shed), why isn’t it good enough for you?

  12. Chi-trekker Says:

    Actually Carmen, it is. A step-through is good enough for me. I have four bikes: a fancy drop bar road bike, a “touring” bike, a step-through set up to carry groceries etc, and a mountain bike. I live ten miles from the nearest grocery store with some killer hills in between. Which one gets used the most? The step through. I so enjoy the dismount when I can just slip my leg through and don’t have to try to swing it over the groceries. I also pull a trailer with dogs or whatever. After that the touring bike, on which I carry my fiddle and ukulele to music sessions, then the mountain bike, and lastly the road bike, which I seem to only ride for I don’t even know what. I bought it because I briefly had the money and though I should have one, because it’s light and pretty, and it is a joy to ride, but I can’t do much work with it, and don’t have a lot of time to just plain ride without a destination. I also bought spandex but hate it and never wear it. I have fit the bikes with clip pedals which are excellent. I follow all traffic rules. Sadly my wife’s bike gets no use, but it is in the bedroom where we can at least gaze at it and it will never rust. I truly love all bikes. I think they are all beautiful.

  13. Robin Says:

    From one shop lady to another…

    Well written post, but I don’t agree entirely. It’s not always the easy thing to accept, but sometimes the customer does know what they want. Sometimes we’re really helpful when we guide a commuter away from a mountain bike or encourage them to add a rack, but if ladies like riding upright, help them find the best way to do just that.

    I will completely agree that ladies are unwilling to send as much money as guys. If we valued bikes likes guys do, I bet the manufactures would provide more well made lowstep options. Do I have one myself? No, because when I started working at my shop 7 years ago all the guys told me I had to get a fitness hybrid. In the last several years, I’ve been swapping out my bars and changing the seat to my body more upright and happy. I’m just too practical to buy a new bike when my old one still gets me there (which is an odd thing in the bike industry!)

    Thanks for making me think about this!

  14. carmen Says:

    I am really appreciating all these thoughtful posts – thank you all, keep em coming!

    But to be honest I did not anticipate my post being received as a full-on diatribe against step-thru bikes. As I said, they have their uses, and if a women really wants one I am happy to help her with that.

    What I object to is when women express a desire for a “comfortable” bike (and to my mind comfort is always #1 priority in a bike of any kind), they are automatically shunted toward low-end, low-cost bikes of limited application. At the very least, we pedal peddlers need to explain to customers both the advantages and the limitations of any bike, and to try to direct them to a bike which will make their riding experience both pleasurable and empowering.

    Women don’t need step-thrus, or commuter hybrids, or racing bikes. We need a range of informed options.

  15. Heather Says:

    Go, Carmen, go!
    My beautiful 18-year-old Marin still makes my heart go pit-a-pat. Other than a house, it has been the most expensive purchase of my life, and worth every penny. I have ridden it in the Prairies, the Kootenays, in Vancouver, and here on Lasqueti and it performs like a champ. I had to switch the handlebars after an accident screwed up my shoulders, so it is now more of an upright ride, but that’s as ladylike as I’ll get. No step-throughs for me.

  16. Marian Says:

    Just a response to the person who was wondering about what’s different about Amsterdam or Copenhagen. NO HILLS. I’m from Holland, and I grew up “commuting” to school on my 3-speed heavy-duty bike every day. My mom used to carry three small kids plus groceries on hers. Those bikes are perfect for the terrain, and for how they are used there. They are piled against each other, they’re out in rough weather all day every day, and, in Amsterdam, get stolen with high frequency.

    Now I live in NJ, and I got a sporty Cannondale bike with tons of speeds. I use them all, since it’s very hilly here. I also have to carry it up stairs so it has to be lighter. I bike for sport now rather than to get somewhere. So, they all have their place and function.

    As for the big bucks spent on the man’s bike and not the woman’s, I agree, and I see the same with cars in 2-car households. Thanks for calling it out.

  17. Clarity Jones Says:

    I love my cheap (free) step through cruiser as you well know. The love affair is deep and cannot be replicated with my old but once expensive hybrid. I hear you but never underestimate the sheer pleasure of the cruiser! BTW women have a lot of power in their legs, and I can take that no-speed beauty up quite a few steep hills, and the descent, on a fat cushioned cruiser, that just can’t be beat!

  18. Jonas Johnson Says:

    I’m guilty of buying my girlfriend a cheap shitty bike only because it was her first one and I wasn’t sure how she’d take to biking with me. I’m proud to say she’s taken to it like a duck to water and has completely outgrown the old bike. We ride a lot of trails and country roads but never hills because her bike can’t manage them. Do you have any reccomendations?

  19. Jenny Says:

    As fellow woman cyclist, I think a lot of presumptions were made with this blog post. I had ‘shit’ bikes when I started because I couldn’t afford anything better that was brand-new when I was younger. Over time, as I learned what I wanted through buying a series of used bikes, I went custom. Now I have 4 custom bikes – including a mixte – and have a bigger stable of bicycles than my husband.

    Fortunately, when I was living in NYC, I was never condescended towards the predominantly male staff at the shops I frequented. Perhaps a heavy, mixte bike that the customer deems stylish and fits within the budget is completely fine. Not every cycling couple in the world is going to have the same needs and wants, and one year in a bike shop doesn’t equal a world of knowledge.

  20. Lucy Says:

    I hear you. Don’t even get me started on the disparity of cycle clothing….

    Want a TdF jersey? Tough shit, men only. Found a really nice looking bib short? Oh it’s male specific chamois. I’m sick of it. it I would say manufacturers create clothing weighted 70-30 to men. There just isn’t the range. Boils my blood.

  21. Tony Says:

    Is it sad that, although I’m a fairly avid cyclist and a guy, I really love step-throughs around town? They feel way faster getting on and off over and over again.

  22. Lisa Says:

    What I find part of the problem is that many women (my sister included) won’t spend the money on quality because they don’t feel it’s justified. Others want a particular colour regardless of the features.

  23. stevejust Says:

    I bought my wife a “man’s” roadbike because she hates the color schemes of bikes geared toward women. No step through for her. It has an AL frame and a mix of Tiagra/105 and pretty nice wheels all things considered. But I have CF and dura ace, so we certainly fall into the rubric of your screed. But I ride my roadbike thousands and thousands of miles a year. My wife, maybe… maybe puts on 1,500 at best. If she rode the road more, she’d have a bike more commensurate with the amount of riding she does. She has never taken her mountain bike off the road because she’s too scared (which is fine), whereas I ride down mountains at high rates of speed every chance I get. I’d love it if she had a requirement for a better bike. But I don’t think buying her a bike equal to or better than mine makes any sense given the reality of that situation. Conversely, my wife has a $3,000 camera because she’s a professional photographer, and I have an iphone to take photos with.

  24. carmen Says:

    Hi Jonas – yes i have some suggestions! YOUR GIRLFRIEND SHOULD BUY a good light hybrid, or a roadbike if she is comfortable with drop handlebars. See: http://bicyclebuddha.org/how-to-buy-a-bike/

    I repeat, YOUR GIRLFRIEND should buy…etc…

    As opposed to, “you should buy for your girlfriend.” She’s a big girl now, and an experienced bike rider. Let her make her own decisions.

  25. niki_d Says:

    I’m with stevejust here on this one… we’re sort of similar. My husband and I recently bought new road bikes, and his was certainly more upscale (carbon fibre, Tiagra/105) than mine (aluminum and Sora). But we did it on purpose… not only does he ride at least twice as much as I do, so it makes sense for him to have a nicer ride, but I’ve got a sweet ride with ultegra at home too. I wanted my new bike more suited to touring (for instance I can now mount panniers and a rear rack) than the other ride I have. Perhaps my situation is unusual, perhaps not. But I’d prefer not to be judged on the basis of not buying as nice a bike as my husband’s, when in reality I’d been riding a nicer bike than his for years.

    Secondly, I’m kind of tired of being judged for (being a woman) riding mid-range hybirds too. I commuted to school and work on one of those puppies for years. It was the first bike for adult-sized me, and I didn’t have that much money to spend. While not the sexiest, sleekest, most efficient ride out there, I can lock it up outside my work and not worry about it being gone when I get back. I am aware that my road bike is better, but sometimes the situation calls for something that can be left unsupervised for a while. Does that make me less of a cyclist? I hope not. If you’re on a bike and it makes you happy, that’s awesome, and you shouldn’t have to catch any flack for it.

  26. Bob Says:

    Such ridiculous chip on the shoulder sexism on display here in this blog post. Then in the comments,

    Jonas : “I’m guilty of buying my girlfriend a cheap shitty bike only because it was her first one and I wasn’t sure how she’d take to biking with me”

    To which he receives the reply…

    Carmen : “I repeat, YOUR GIRLFRIEND should buy…etc… As opposed to, “you should buy for your girlfriend.” She’s a big girl now, and an experienced bike rider. Let her make her own decisions.”

    What utter patronising nonsense. The chap may have bought the bike as a present for his girlfriend for all you know. I moved in with my, then girlfriend, some years ago and she bought me a bike. If she’d asked the same question on here would SHE have been given the “YOUR BOYFRIEND should buy” response? Really?

    You could do to take a step back, get that chip off your shoulder and drop the sexism (including the nonsense about the step-throughs and “femmy” bikes – how about letting people decide what their requirement is before projecting your gender based prejudice onto their circumstances, desires and bike purchases).

  27. axel bushing Says:

    Recumbent two-wheeler gives best mechanical advantage and is alarmingly good on hills. No ladybike issues apart from recumbent posture.

  28. Ben Says:

    What about a mixte? Are you lumping them in with the step through?

  29. Mackenzie Says:

    I was in a bike shop last week, looking for my first new bike as an adult. I told them what I wanted, and step-through was on the list for both my bad hips and my ankle-length skirts. The skirts also added fenders (can rig up a skirt guard) and chain guard to the list. It’s ridiculous how severely wanting a chain guard limits your available options.

    I explained that the last bike I had was a hand-me-down men’s mountain bike, and I could only just barely drag it up the stairs out of my apartment building. Getting both wheels off the ground simultaneously was impossible. And hills resulted in dragging the bike onto the bus (I couldn’t lift it to put it on the bus’s bike rack).

    So the first thing they did was show me a Linus Dutchi 3 and have me check the weight with a rack in place to establish how light I needed. “Will this handle the hills in DC?” was my one worry about the 3-speed. I’ve done Pittsburgh’s hills on a single-speed, but I’m not as in shape as I was when I was 8! They hemmed and hawed, and I got worried. The 8-speed was out of my price range, so the internal gear hub plan was tossed in favor of the Public C7 (which is being shipped, so I can’t say how it is in practice yet).

    I do have to laugh at a quip on Public’s site though: “The derailleur gearing, which requires you to shift gears while pedaling, is most common in the multispeed bikes we learned to ride on.” I have to wonder how old the person who wrote that was when they learned to ride. I’ve never seen a multispeed bike for a 4 year old. They’re all single-speed with coaster brakes. I finally outgrew mine around age 12 or 13. It wasn’t until the first time I rented a bike at a state park in my teens that I ever used a multispeed. At this point, I’ve ridden a multispeed fewer than ten times in my life.

    I’m glad you acknowledged hip problems, but I don’t appreciate then summing that up as “elderly ladies.” I’m 24 years old, and I carry a cane folded up in my bag in case my hip goes out.

    Not sure why you took a jab at wide saddles. Those just keep your butt from hurting!

  30. carmen Says:

    Hello all you wonderfully engaged bicycle people.

    I really appreciate all your thoughtful comments, whether you ‘agree’ with me or not. I admit that i have a bias against step-thrus, although if you read it again you will see that i do in fact happily help people to buy them if they are making an informed choice. The problem is that often their choice is impulsive and emotionally-based and supported by sales staff who dazzle them with a shiny red thing and a low price-tag. If a step-through is what works for you and what makes you ride your bike, then by all means get one.

    My point is simply that too often, women in particular are not given the full information or options to make an informed choice. When that happens, the bike often ends neglected in the basement, because it looked good on the shop floor but did not address their real needs.

    The one point I would like to add, is that i absolutely DO NOT encourage anyone to spend beyond their budget for snazzy stuff they do not need. Period. I certainly don’t think women should compete with men to get the most ‘status’ bike or whizz-bang components, which is a pitfall that the men are prey to (and which sales staff often leverage). I just don’t want you to pay good money for a bike you will not ride.

  31. carmen Says:

    Mackenzie, I did not say that only elderly people have hip problems – i said that step-thrus are GOOD for people with hip problems, of any age or gender.

    There are 3 reasons why if anatomy were a factor, step-thrus would be marketed to men rather than women:

    1) men have shorter legs than women (ask anyone who has done any anatomy study or life drawing)
    2) men’s hips are narrower and hip-sockets less mobile (ask any yoga teacher)
    3) men’s danglies dangle. and although falling onto the crossbar hurts, i’ve done it and ouch!, men’s danglies are way more sensitive and vulnerable.

    Of course there are exceptions and everyone’s body is different. My job is to help people find a bike that fits their body and their needs.

    BTW, sounds like you found a great bike shop there, and the staff served you well! You should write them a note of thanks.

  32. Melissa Says:

    Is the only option in this city, speed vs practicality? My husband and I both ride step through frames, while hauling 50-100lbs of children or groceries, and while neither of our bikes cost us over $1000, we are both happier with our current bikes then we’ve ever been with any bike in the past, and we’ve had them all, from road, to hybrid to mountain. The presumption that people need a bike that is lightweight and fast simply because we live in Vancouver is ridiculous. All I want to do is get from my home to the grocery store, work or my kids’ school, which makes the bike I have the perfect one for me. And for the record, I have ridden over 30kms throughout Vancouver on my upright, over many of the steeper grades, and find it EASIER than when I used to lug my ass around on my hybrid, and rarely have to stand up on my pedals to make it to the top.

    Yes, I agree, if someone is looking to train or tour, then a fast lightweight bike makes sense, but for city commuting, there’s no reason to spend a fortune on a bike regardless of gender. I appreciate your gender biased frustration, but a lot of that does have to do with women looking for something practical, likely just for a small commute of joyrides on the seawall, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  33. Alex Says:

    “I can only assume this is because a) the woman’s needs are assumed to be less budgetable than the man’s, and b) the man would feel emasculated to ride on a lesser bike than his partner.”

    If those are the _only_ two reasons you can muster it seems a bias is getting in the way of your brainstorming skills.

    Did you talk to any of the couples a few months after purchase? Were they happy with their purchases? The right bike is the bike that suits the application and leaves the customer happy not the style of bike you happen to enjoy most. You might be an advanced rider, but not everyone is, not everyone desires to be one, and not everyone is as in love with cycling as you.

    I hope you channel your passion into helping customers get the right bike, because if you do, I think there will be a lot of happy customers.

  34. niki_d Says:

    Hi again Carmen,

    Your article is certainly generating a lot of discussion. As you say, the bike to buy is the one that fits your needs. I can say that I wrote in because of this part of your first paragraph:

    “In the case of couples I can only assume this is because a) the woman’s needs are assumed to be less budgetable than the man’s, and b) the man would feel emasculated to ride on a lesser bike than his partner. I’m waiting for a better explanation, but I haven’t heard one yet.”

    I just wanted to point out that your assumption is a little bit unfair. Do you really believe that the man gets to spend more money on his bicycle because his needs are more important? I imagine there are other factors in play, riding habits being probably most major. I was simply trying to show you an explanation as to why I bought a “lesser bike” than my partner, since you wanted a better explanation than outright sexism.

    All the best and happy riding!

  35. Wendy Says:

    Hi Carmen, thanks for the “rant” I have had five bikes over my adult years and I would agree that male bike sales personnel (for the most part) do not take women seriously when buying a bike. I would also like to extend that to bike designers. Being just over 5’1 my biggest challenge has been to find bike that fits my small frame. I have entered bike shops alone and been ignored or gone back to the store with my new bike and told that I was imagining problems that were not there (only to find someone else who found the same problem). The down sloping top tube is ideal for women who are fearful of that slip of the seat accident rather than the step through design. I also find it amazing that when a couple enter a shop the male staff gravite to the man and I found that discussions about the bike can exclude the woman. I would encourage women to take another woman cyclist (one who knows her bike styles and components0 along with her when thinking about purchasing a bike. I would also encourage bike shops to hire more women.

  36. Anya Says:

    A couple of years ago, I went road bike shopping with a good friend (a guy) who’s a hard core cyclist (he was my bullshit meter…) – I’d always ridden a mountain bike and this was going to be my first road bike. We went to several local bike shops looking for a road bike with a woman-specific geometry. After trying out a few at different shops (and getting a really interesting range of service), we ended the day at a shop in Kits (that shall remain nameless). When we asked the young guy who came up to help where the women-specific geometry bikes were, he countered with something along the lines of “yeah, well, they don’t really exist – and if they did, they’d have cheaper components and they’d be painted pink…” Uh, hello, young man, welcome to the 21st century … I’m not an idiot. As we left the store, my friend cocked an eyebrow at me and asked “you got that that was bullshit, yes?”. Indeed, I had. Ended up buying my bike (a super-awesome, lightweight, blue and white, Specialized Amira) elsewhere…

  37. carmen Says:

    My last word on this is this story, posted among the copious comments to this piece on Redditt. Most of the comments were negative, but it had a 76% positive approval rating, so…i know lots of you get it!

    And to ‘chickwithsticks’ who posted this comment, thank you so much – this is EXACTLY the scenario i see every day. You were so fortunate to get a good salesperson who listened to your needs, when he could have easily sold you a ‘cute’ bike you would have hated.

    The story:

    [–]chickwithsticks

    As a woman in Vancouver, I can totally relate… my boyfriend wanted us to get bikes. He got a nice one (not the highest end, mind you, but he paid about $600 or so). He rides 16km to/from work every day. He wanted me to get a bike too because he wanted to be able to go on bike rides with me.

    Anyway we went up to Comor and I was looking at the cute bikes that the author mentioned… the sales guy showed me another one, and while it seemed good, it was not what I was looking for. I knew very little about bikes, and the one he showed me wasn’t as cute as the one I had in mind. Nevertheless, we took them out for a test ride. We took them for a spin around the block, the cute one and the one he suggested. Mind you, this is at Comor on Boundary, so pretty much hills all around. I could hardly get back up the hill on the cute bike. We switched and I tried out the other bike. It was like heaven to ride (compared to the bike I’d just tried, and definitely compared to my Costco bike I had back home before!).

    I’m glad I had a great salesperson because he was really attentive to what I wanted, and what my needs actually were (since I didn’t really know). I’ve got a bad enough hill to ride up every time I want groceries, and this one takes me up it quite easily (well I still huff and puff but that’s me, not the bike).

    I took it on a 37km bike ride yesterday and it was stellar. I doubt I could have taken one of those seawall bikes on my ride around the seawall (well especially to/from the seawall). So all in all, I’m glad no one took advantage of me and tried to sell me a shit bike.

    And every time I look at my bike now, I love it more and more.

  38. Anthony Golding Says:

    What a wonderful subject to get cross about. Frankly I have gone a step too far, having a Bike Friday as my cycling tourer/trailer, and a Brompton( which has a three month waiting list) for getting into town by public transport, and more adventurous trips, as it will carry vast amounts. It’s only off road that calls for a cross bar. Pretty soon you in N. America will wake up to the electric bike , as they are very sturdy a step through is far better. You can even park it across the door and just ‘ step through’ to enter your sacred room PLG (peace,love,gratitude)

  39. Mark Says:

    I have some balance issues and find it hard nowadays (male age 57) mounting and especially unmounting my men’s bike. Step throughs sound great – better than having to give up biking!

  40. Rebecca Says:

    I just ordered a 3-speed upright-style city bike and I’m waiting for it to arrive. I am beyond excited. This will be my third bike, in addition to the mountain bike that retailed for over $1000 which I purchased for myself 18 years ago, when I worked in a bike shop myself (and which mountain bike is lovely, but has not suited my *main* biking needs, possibly ever), and a 40-year-old French 10-speed, which is lovely for speed and more than adequate (and which was given to me at a cost of $0).

    The new bike is upright, and with tax, ran a little over $700. This will be my everyday bike. I am in love with the aesthetics, but spent countless hours researching the best and worst reviews to determine if it was the right bike for me, and then test rode the same model at an LBS and fell in love. This is the first bike (including my >$1000 mountain bike) that feels like it was made just for me and is the only bike since my first coaster Huffy that really makes me feel exuberant. I am lucky enough that where I will be riding, the hills are manageable (and if not, there are alternate routes), and 3 speeds ought to be sufficient. My bike stable will shortly be 3x that of my husband’s, who rarely rides (and whose mountain bike retailed for about 2/3 of mine, same vintage, FWIW). I would love for him to fall in love with cycling again, but I do this for me. I knew what I wanted in a bike before I ever set foot in the bike shop. I specifically avoided one shop after they kept trying to steer me toward hybrids. That isn’t what I wanted, and isn’t what I ultimately purchased.

    Look, I agree that the bike industry skews chauvinistic too often. Part of that is because (at least in the USA), most bike riders are men. When I started researching city bikes, I became discouraged because there are so many people (bloggers and commenters alike) who think that any bike that costs less than $1000 isn’t worth riding (there’s one here, I noticed). I persevered and found many like-minded souls who found joy on the seat of the bike I ended up buying. This post was even more discouraging, if I’m to be frank, for it’s one thing to realize your budget cannot or will not accommodate the “best” bike; it’s another thing to be made to feel like the style of bike you have decided to buy is inherently inferior to another style. My bike is a real bike, with a designated purpose tailored to the need I’m trying to meet. Period.

    Can’t we just agree that women cyclists need to be listened to, and served well, without judging the type of ride they prefer? It doesn’t matter how fabulous the bike is if it isn’t used, and if I had been convinced to purchase the “right” bike for *someone else* (which essentially, the mountain bike is for me 90% of the time, however fabulous it is at its intended use), I wouldn’t ride it. And that would be the shittiest thing of all.

    I think at the heart of things the real problem is a combination of factors: 1. Bike shops and the industry skews sexist in favor of men. 2. People do not do sufficient riding or research before they shop for a bicycle.

    If a woman enters a bike shop to purchase a bicycle because someone else wants her to ride, and without any knowledge about what she needs from a bike (other than potentially finding one to be “pretty”), she is at the mercy of her shopping companion and/or the sales personnel and whatever biases they bring to the table. That’s on her as much as it is on them. Part of being the strong woman is being able to say, “I totally get what you’re saying about the speed and material of that hybrid, but I think it’s hideous and it offers features I simply don’t need, based on my own extensive research, Now let’s talk step-thrus.”

    À chacun son goût.

    Cheers and happy riding!

  41. My Ride | Dandelion Salad Says:

    [...] (And now, go read a bit of a rant about ladybikes) [...]

  42. Barb Says:

    I like your attitude BUT … I need a step through bike because I have two dodgy hips and can no longer get either of my legs over the bar. I am trying to cycle as much as I can because walking with a useless hip is too painful. All the step thrughs I’ve found are too heavy and too few gears. You seem to know what you’re talking about but I need a step through with at least 21 gears and light weight (to carry and ride up steep hills). I’d love to know what you suggest.

  43. carmen Says:

    Hey Barb, I hear you! Some people really do need step-thrus, esp. if they have hip issues, and that means you. As I clearly stated in my much-misread article (sigh).

    At The Bike Dr. (http://www.thebikedoctor.com) where I worked I sold many a Norco Rideau which is an upright step-thru, with 24 speeds, is aluminum, and relatively light (remember that your experience of ‘lightness’ will have as much to do with what kind of tires it is wearing as what the frame is made of). It sells for about $500. Check it out – it is well made and well assembled (at a reputable bike shop), and not a ‘shit bike’ if it suits your needs, which it very well might.

    The thing to know about upright ‘city comfort’ style bikes is that the geometry is just not ideal for hill-climbing, so you might still find that you end up hopping off to push it up a steep hill. And it is not ideal for long rides (I’d say more than a few kilometres) or touring. But it might just suit your needs and be an enjoyable and practical bike for you.

    I know there are lighter and higher-quality upright/step-thru bikes available, but I’m not sure which shops in Vancouver carry them, but I think you are in the UK. You will need to do some research.

    Just make sure you try out the bike, make sure it fits you and is comfortable, and don’t let someone sell you a bike just because you look cute on it. I am sure you will look cute on whatever bike makes you happy.

    Thanks for asking and for persisting – go find your ride!

  44. Gene Says:

    My girlfriend loves her Cannondale H300 with a step-thru framethat I gave her for Christmas after finding it on Craigslist for $110 (we’re both basically broke students) and she’s already added front and rear racks from my junque box along with lights, fenders, toolkit etc…the usual touring commuting jazz as she plans to start commuting to work once it warms up and we’re talking about longer trips once I’m done with school.

    I now have the entire day to play on the computer by myself because she’s off doing a 35mi ride with her daughter who rides a Giant Cypress step-through comfort bike that I bought once upon a time for parts to repair my touring bike with and then fixed up for her after she fell in love with her mom’s Cannondale. Neither of them had ever ridden real bikes before, but I can’t keep them off them now.

    Perhaps the real question is: How do I get my girlfriend back since I don’t see her any more?

  45. Jenn Says:

    Hey, wow… I used to have a Bridgestone RB-T that I kinda liked, and it was on sale for $600 bucks and served me well for what I did with it, which wasn’t much. See, it was my husband’s hobby, not mine. I’m guessing that might be the case for some of those couples you see. Just maybe. Because I really could have cared less.

    Thanks to repetitive stress injuries and nerve damage, I literally can not put pressure onto my palms while riding a bicycle, or they’ll go completely numb. So, I have to have a bike where the handlebars are high enough that I’m not putting a lot of pressure on my palms, but on the other hand, they’re not so high that my hands go numb from having them higher than my heart (or elbows).

    I also have to have an orange bike. Don’t ask me why. If I can’t find the right mix of these things in the right size frame, with a big-ayss padded seat, I am NOT going to have a bike at all. Sell that sheite and keep the economy rolling, son.

  46. Jenn Says:

    Whups. Please excuse the “son” there… I may be older now, but I can still catch a mistake. I was looking at the end of Gene’s comment where he mentioned a girlfriend and subconsciously read that as the end of your essay. Blog. You don’t need to publish either of these comments, really. It’s not important to me.

  47. Frustrated Shopper Says:

    I agree with some of your comments, but not all. *** I WANT a high end, light weight, nine speed, bike *** BUT NO ONE SEEMS TO MAKE THEM IN A STEP THROUGH FRAME — and that’s what I prefer. Period. I’d happily pay for what I want, but I’m having a heck of a time finding it. Just because I don’t feel comfortable hiking my leg up over my rear rack and panniers to get on and off my bike doesn’t make me weak or a wimp. I know my limitations. I know I’m not a teenager. Sometimes having to mount a bike like a horse just doesn’t appeal. Some of us are more prone to falling flat on our faces if we have the need to stop suddenly and aren’t oh-so-coordinated and can’t dismount gracefully with a top bar.

    I’m having hand issues from putting too much weight on them with my current bike. I need something with a more upright geometry now and the choices are so limited it’s infuriating. If I wanted a three speed tank I could select from all sorts of silly, “pretty” bikes. But I don’t live in Amsterdam or Florida. I can’t ride anywhere without hills here and I want the right gearing for the job. I don’t want pink, flowers, or big wicker baskets (although I have nothing against those options if someone else does). I think some of the bike companies need to pull their heads out of the dark place and figure out that they’re overlooking a big pool of customers.

    Apparently manufacturers prefer to ignore the potential market out there for quality bikes for people that either need or want an easier mount/dismount. I guess they haven’t gotten the word that the baby-boomers are getting to the point where they might need a step-through frame. Rivendell got the flick a while ago, but if you don’t want to go custom or don’t want a relatively heavy, touring bike, who else is there?

    As far as the bike shop people go, if I tell you I want a step through, don’t waste your time or mine trying to tell me I need to risk hurting myself riding the bike you think I should. If you have valid, good advice, then I’m willing to listen, but don’t push me into something I don’t want. You can tell me the disadvantages of a bike and advantages of something else, but if I’ve clearly told you what I want don’t push it.

    Yesterday I had a guy that asked me what model bike I currently had and then didn’t believe me. Apparently my model has changed a bit over the past five years and isn’t equipped the same now – no big surprise. His insistence about seeing what I rode to the shop really annoyed me. Standard “stupid woman” treatment from a male salesperson. (She can’t possibly know what equipment is on her bike – she’s a woman!) Needless to say I’m not buying anything from that moron.

    Sorry – you gave your rant alert up front. Afraid I ended up doing more of a rant than a comment too.

    If they build it, we will come. Somebody – make us a good quality step-through bike and we’ll buy it. High quality, well geared bikes shouldn’t be limited to ones with top tubes.

  48. Kristin Christoperson Says:

    I am SO GLAD I read your post on these heavy cruiser bikes. I might have bought one if it weren’t for reading your thoughtful post. I am not a bike person but my husband is. I have a bad foot that won’t allow me to do any cardio until I have major surgery so I need a bike to get around and keep up with our kids. We have two large but delayed toddlers-they can take off pretty fast on their trikes and don’t listen well-I’d like a baby phaser, set to stun, but people frown on that lol). I’m 42 and have Elhers-Danlos syndrome which means I need a bike that gives me all the mechanical advantage I can buy. I’d like to get to the point that I can pull one of the kids in a burley. I am 5’4 and have a 29-30 inch inseam. I have short arms and don’t want to be leaning forward like on a road bike. The bike needs to be light. Can you recommend a good bike for me? I’d be very, VERY grateful. All the people that work in the bike shops here are men. Thank you for reading.

  49. Jaded Says:

    I started riding bikes again after a decade+ gap. I happened to win a step thru city bike. And sure enough that is exactly the sort if bike I needed. One of the reasons I stopped riding was after a near collision on my hybrid bike. I was fine, but my work clothes got covered with grease stains that didn’t come out. Maybe that sounds minor to you, but I don’t have time to switch clothing, and I didn’t want bike clothes.

    Fast forward to 19+ years later! and I got a public c7i with chain guards, fenders and internal gears. I’ve biked in my dresses and all types of shoes. I haven’t taken a huge hill yet, but I don’t see many cyclists on the huge ones near me either. On the smaller hills I’ve managed ok, and my bike has moved m from being bike-curious to a weekend errand warrior.

    Maybe in a year or two I’ll look for 1-2x more gears to tackle the hills, but I don’t plan on racing anytime soon. A city bike to haul my stuff and wear normal clothing works for me.

    There is a big difference between the cheap cruisers and the more polished city bikes out there.

  50. Catherine Elliott Says:

    Thanks Carmen, we women look hot on fast bikes, and have a lot more fun on them too!
    Who would want to get in the way of that ?
    :)

  51. nr Says:

    i hate girl who rides bike,problem is hat my girlfriend also rides bike andd thats why i feel very irretating to my girl friend!!!!!!!!!!!

  52. hs Says:

    Please help me! I’ve been looking for a road bike to fit me at 5’1″. I had a used specialized Dolce that was stolen. It was really fun to ride and I loved the second set of brakes on the top of the drop bars; though it was not a particularly attractive bike in my opinion. This time around, I want to find a bike that has all of that and eyelits for a rear rack. Preferably something used so that I don’t end up spending a lot of money (I live in NYC and bikes eventually get stolen here no matter how well you lock it up). Recently I’ve tried a few vintage terry or terry-style bikes found on craigslist and they feel so wobbly and light-weight. Not sure if I’d get used to it. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

  53. carmen Says:

    Hi! I’m 5’0 and i know, it is very difficult to find good-fitting roadbikes for small people. You will want probably no larger than a 45cm frame. You can get brake extenders attached to pretty much any handlebar so that you can reach better. One of the wonderful things about the ongoing explosion of bike consciousness is that there is now a wide variety of bikes available to suit every need, and many companies are now making good road bikes that are not ‘racing’ bikes but are made for a wide range of uses, including commuting and touring – so they are a little more ‘relaxed’ (extended) geometry and have brazons so you can attach racks and fenders. As you say, you don’t want a ‘wobbly’ or ‘light-weight’ bike, something sturdier and possibly even in the cyclo-cross category which is gaining popularity now because people want exactly that – a slightly more rugged bike with a ‘road’ feel. I know Norco and Surly and DeVinci make such bikes but there are many on the market now under different brands so…go to a good bike shop and talk to some pros!

    As I always say, you don’t need to spend a ‘lot’ of money – but you may need to spend enough to get what you want. In a good-quality road/commuter bike you will probably spend upwards of $800 new, and of course you could get a good deal on a used one but given you size they will be hard to find.

    Re: theft – get a GOOD LOCK, lock your bike safely and well, say a little prayer and hope for the best. Once again i say…don’t get a bike you don’t like riding, or you won’t ride it. No point in that.

    Finally i’d say, there are also a lot of really nice light ‘roady’ hybrids around now – they are fun to ride with the stability of a hybrid. Take one for a spin and see how it feels. You might just find that it suits your body and needs better than a road-style bike. Or not, but i would strongly suggest giving one a try.

    Keep looking, i’m sure you will find your perfect bike. Enjoy!

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