Inspiring change: women in the cycling industry
Female cyclists are among our greatest Olympians but their successes are merely the most visible aspect of a general trend. It’s time we saluted the progress made by women in other areas of the cycling industry
omen working in the cycling industry have long been outnumbered — but with the overall picture swinging in the direction of equality, times are changing.
This spring British Cycling announced a 45 per cent increase in the number of women holding race licences between 2013 and 2017. Also this year, Human Race absorbed their women-only Cycletta sportives into their main events — the number of beginners had dropped from 75 to 21 per cent since 2011.
Female riders are no longer standing on the fringes of the riding community; they’re thoroughly involved and that’s true in the industry world too.
“As the sport continues to grow in popularity for women, so will the focus and improvement on products and services. More women will begin to see a career in the cycling industry as a legitimate path,” says founder of women’s clothing brand Queen of the Mountains, Alicia Bamford.
That’s not to say all women working in the bike trade are new faces — but the long-standing legends of the business are now a lot less lonely.
Isla Rowntree founded Islabikes back in 2006 because “children’s bikes were pretty poor at the time”.
Now at the forefront of the UK children’s bike market, Islabikes kits kids out with everything from balance to cyclo-cross and road bikes.
It’s not always been easy, but Rowntree says: “My personality doesn’t tend to dwell on difficulties, I just look for ways around them and forget them once they have passed.
“I recognise that aspects of our industry have been unattractive for many women and we are putting a lot of effort into addressing this at Islabikes.
“I don’t really think of myself as having a career — it’s all about the bikes and the people who ride them. I work with the things I love.”
Also in the business of creating objects of desire is Caren Hartley. With a background in fine art and sculpture building, she now does something very different with metal.
“I was spending a lot of time riding a bike and the cycling industry was so friendly, a major contrast [to art]. I found out people were making custom bikes and a tiny light bulb appeared,” she says.
After working alongside other frame builders to accumulate knowledge, she founded Hartley Cycles, and was featured in the Design Museum as an icon of bicycle innovation in 2015.
“I was one of the first women building frames in the UK, and it was this big news story. In a way it made it easier for me to get started, but it did mean people were kind of diminishing how much I did as a frame builder.
“People at shows would ask, ‘Who does your welding?’ — I doubt they’d ask that of any male builders. But I get less of that now — the more women in the industry, the less abnormal it becomes.”
Gap in the market
Adeline O’moreau is in the early days of setting up her own custom bike brand, Mercredi bikes. A Belgian-born cross racer, she took a 10-day course at the Bicycle Academy in Somerset because the existing market proved to be “so full of compromises”.
“If you have to adapt your body to your bike rather than the other way round — particularly if you’re small — it doesn’t make sense. I knew this was an issue but had no idea of the measure of it until I got on the bike I built,” O’moreau adds.
“Before [doing the course] I never would have got a custom bike. I thought it was way too expensive and not an accessible thing. So I decided to make more bikes for people like me — without completely breaking the bank.”
She doesn’t feel that her gender has affected her experience: “Most people who do the course have not had previous experience — the people who are there are there because they love riding their bikes. Gender in that experience doesn’t matter at all.”
Hartley’s name now adorns her own range of frames