A Woman's Place is in the Bike Shop
By Leyna Krow
I spent last summer working at one of the largest bike shops in Seattle. On the first day of my training, my manager sat me and two other new hires down to watch a video on sales and customer service. The video showed two shop workers—one male, one female—acting out different situations one might encounter when trying to sell a bicycle. Then, after each scene, they would review with one another the technique they had just implemented. In one such scene, the male employee was working with a female customer who admitted she knew little about bikes and asked if maybe a female staff person could help her instead, as she’d feel more comfortable working with another woman. The employee agreed. Afterward, he asked his colleague to explain why the customer didn’t want to work with him. She told him, “When a woman goes into a bike shop, she feels the same way you would if you went into a fabric store—pretty out of place.”
When I heard the woman say this, I thought it totally absurd and totally backwards. And I laughed out loud. But I quickly realized no one else in the room was laughing with me.
I share this story for two reasons. First, because it illustrates a misconception that is so wrong, it’s laughable. To suggest that women feel the same way about riding bikes that men feel about sewing plays to the most base kind of gender stereotyping—that bikes are boy’s toys and therefore something women don’t have knowledge of. This is to say nothing of the equally offensive implication that a man has no place choosing fabrics and stitching himself up a dapper outfit.
In recent years, cycling has become an incredibly popular sport for women, so much so that here in the Pacific Northwest, it seems like of every two people I see on a bike, one is female. There are women’s cycling clubs all across the country and women’s racing teams at numerous universities. Basically, there are a lot of women out there who take riding seriously. As one such woman, I know way more about bikes than I do about fabric.
Another reason I share this story is that as funny and wrong-headed as the employee in the video’s fabric store comparison is, there’s a little bit of sideways truth to it. Unfortunately many female cyclists, including those knowledgeable about the sport and its equipment, do feel uncomfortable in bike shops. Even though cycling is as much a woman’s sport as it is a man’s, the bike shop is still very much a man’s world.
Name: Jen Featheringill
City: Portland, OR
Shop Name: Bike Central
Experience: 10+ years
After college I moved to Portland from Birmingham AL. One of my roommates was a bike messenger and I wanted to ride too so I had my old mountain bike shipped to me. I used it to commute around town and then got a job as a bike messenger for three years. I did some crits around the same time but really liked track racing. I started working part-time at the shop and eventually went full-time and quit being a messenger. Making the transition from messenger to bike shop was easy. I started going faster when I stopped being a messenger.
I think that having a female working behind the counter is good because customers, men and women, are less intimidated by women than men. Sometimes girls just want another girl to show them a cycling outfit.
There is an element of macho attitude in bike shops, but we don’t see it here much because it’s a smaller shop. Customers will sometimes call and ask for the service manager when they hear my voice. People that come in the shop that don’t know me will gravitate to my coworker Dean for help—it’s okay, I don’t let it bother me. If something is beyond my ability or knowledge, I have no problem letting him handle it.
Photo by JOSE SANDOVAL