experience was something of a wake up call for me. Before I was hired, I’d certainly given at least passing consideration to gender politics in the cycling world. But I’d never really thought about the ways in which the experience of female customers in bike shops is linked to the presence of female shop staff, and how that impacts to way shops hire and train their employees.
For many women, no matter how comfortable they are on a bike, a shop with an all male staff might not be the most comfortable environment. Those male employees can be the nicest, most helpful guys on Earth, but they’re still going to look like a roomful of bros at first glance.
Of course, this isn’t a fair judgment. But gender stereotyping is a two-way street. Just as male shop workers often still hold onto false assumptions about female customers, so too do female customers hold false assumptions about male shop workers. As a result, many women worry that they won’t be taken seriously at a bike shop staffed entirely by men.
To have women on staff is an easy way for a shop to dispel the image of the No Girls Club. And so the token girl at the register or on the sales floor has become a staple at many shops. This isn’t to say that all female shop workers have only been hired as some part of bike industry affirmative action. There’s no shortage of women who are knowledgeable and excited about bikes working in the retail side of the industry. I think it is important to acknowledge that these women are often playing a dual role in shops—both the job they were hired for and the job of girl-ambassador, proving to other female cyclists that the shop is a welcoming place for women.
This puts a certain amount of unwanted pressure on female shop employees, but ultimately I think it’s a good thing. Instead of fighting tooth and nail for the right to work alongside men as mechanics, sales persons, etc., as women have had to do in so many arenas, the doors to the bike shop are being opened for us. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy for those who choose to go inside. Misogyny and gender-based misconceptions still thrive in many bike shops. For women who are up for the challenge, it’s a golden opportunity.
Name: Amanda Sundvor
City: Portland, OR
Shop: 21st Ave Bicycles
Experience: 4 years
I prefer working on bikes, I’m not much of a salesperson. I like to get dirty. I got into this in my twenties, kind of late. A friend of mine gave me a bike, I never had a bike as a kid. I got instantly obsessed and have never stopped. I started working for a Kozy’s Cyclery in Chicago before moving to Portland. They were hiring for a bike builder. I was honest with them and told them I didn’t know how to do stuff on bikes but I knew what a derailleur was. They were like, “Cool, you know what a derailleur is!” and hired me. I think it helped that I was girl, and they were willing to help me learn. I built twenty bikes a day for a while before becoming a mechanic. I just knew I wanted to be a bike mechanic even before I started working on bikes.
I think there was a lot more macho attitude in Chicago. I’d see it everyday I worked out there, not so much in Portland. When guys would come for help and speak to me they’d act like they knew what they were talking about, especially when they came in with their girlfriends. There is a big difference between the two cities.
Photo by Jose Sandoval