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 â€” not ONCE! â€” 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 worseâ€”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 â€“ 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 simplyÂ 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 â€” 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 â€” 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-thruâ€”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.