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

Cycling Weekly - - Focus On Women’s Bikes - Michelle Arthurs-bren­nan

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.

Bike builders

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

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