Why the cycling industry needs to pay proper attention to women.
For those who don’t know already, ‘sockgate’ came about after Interbike – a Las Vegas based bike trade show – included socks adorned with an image of g-string wearing women in its official attendees’ ‘goody bag’.
A social media war has raged as a result: on one side those – women and men - who cite it as the tip of a sexist cycling iceberg, on the other the usual round of ‘where’s your sense of humour/doesn’t offend me/where can I get a pair’ comments.
Unfortunately, Sockgate is not a one-off incident in cycling. There continues to be a pernicious use of marketing - from glamour calendars featuring pro women riders, to ads that use women’s bodies to sell bike components – that pedals the way-past-its-sell-by idea that objectifying women’s bodies in order to sell something is okay.
It’s the last thing the cycling industry needs because women are, in fact, one of its greatest opportunities for growth - and not naked, objectified women, by the way, but women who love riding bikes! ‘Those of us in the bike trade know that the longevity of our support can only happen with more women and kids on bikes,’ says industry insider Cylenaut in this excellent column..
The good news is that, according to Sport England, over half a million regular cyclists are now women – a figure that is increasing each year, and British Cycling’s strategy to influence one million more women to take up cycling by 2020 is on track too.
And let’s face it, we’re good at cycling: Pauline Ferrand Prevot, for instance, recently became the first rider – male or female - to hold the Road World championship, the CX World championship and the X-Country Mtb World championship. And the UK’s World Downhill Mountain Bike champion Rachel Atherton is the most awarded rider – male or female - in the history of the sport.
Of course you don’t have to win medals to be part of the future of cycling. Sport England report that having a sporty mum can be even more influential in encouraging young girls’ participation in sport than sporting heroes or big sporting events. In other words, we all count and we all deserve respect.
I’m proud to be a cyclist and I encourage my own daughters to ride. So the last thing I want to see when I visit my local bike shop, click on a site or open a cycling magazine are provocative images that suggest that cycling is only interested in appealing to certain men. And to those who consider it all ‘just a bit of fun’ I’d like to say that, from where I’m standing, it really isn’t.
It’s not all grim news on the marketing front though: I’m delighted to see that the Zyro Cycle Vision 2015 industry show has secured Mary Portas as the keynote speaker – invited there to impart her knowledge and tips to the bicycle trade. Oh to be a fly on the wall for that one!
Brands such as Juliana Bicycles, Trek and, of course, Velovixen, are leading the way in promoting their wares to women cyclists, building their campaigns on a message of fun and empowerment. Cleverly, they have all managed to do this without once resorting to pasting pictures of naked stud muffins all over their sites. Genius.
And to anyone who says ‘its only a pair of socks’…ultimately Sockgate is a wake up call to an industry that, for its own sake, needs to stop failing women and start respecting our role in its future. I hope they listen.
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