I’ll admit that this was a blog post I could not leave alone…perhaps I should. But as a previous recipient of the Iris Dixon Women’s Champion Award from Cycling Victoria I’m not hesitating to respond to what Wade Wallce, founder of Cycling Tips website, had to say on this morning’s Ella Cycling Tips website post in his article ‘Nine things I learned about launching a women’s cycling website’.
Last year winning the iris Dixon Award, and this year’s recipient’s Ella Cycling Tips
Last Sunday Ella Cycling Tips received the Cycling Victoria Iris Dixon Award for 2016 for their achievements in creating a women’s version of the Cycling Tips website in an effort to increase the awareness of women’s cycling and raise the profile of the sport. There is no doubt they have achieved much and they are to be congratulated for what they have created and what has clearly been a monumental task.
But when Wade posted ‘Nine things I learned after launching a women’s cycling website’ I was intrigued…here is a bloke writing about what he has learned about setting up a site dedicated to women! My quiet chuckles aside, I read with interest because I take this stuff seriously. I run a business, website, blog and social media dedicated to women’s cycling.
I wanted to respond, not in any effort to criticize or denigrate what Wade has to say, but to offer my perspective as a woman who runs a website dedicated to women’s cycling.
Like Wade, starting a website/business like Wheel Women has been stressful, draining, challenging and totally consuming of my life…I even gave up a design career and being paid so I could run Wheel Women full time. What the hell was I thinking! It all started when I was frustrated at the lack of information for riders like me, for the lack of gender balance I was seeing, no-one to ride with that wasn’t a club rider and experiencing a lack of interest in my custom in bike stores.
Our website front page…we have all kinds of riders at Wheel Women.
I’m a woman, so, following on from Wade’s points, I want to add my view and elaborate. Here are a few things I’ve learned about women’s cycling and how it relates to EVERYTHING I do!
Let’s get straight to Point 2 from Wade….
“However, covering women’s racing is important. Not only for equality of sport, but once you understand women’s cycling and the characters involved, it’s a completely different narrative and dynamic to men’s racing and it needs to be covered.”
Yes, women’s racing does need to be covered…for far too long women’s cycling has been the poor cousin to the men’s elite side. But for me, this isn’t just about racing.
Certainly there are brilliant stories of elite riders in the women’s racing scene. But what amazes me are the incredible stories I hear all the time from women riders I meet. Tales of endurance, perseverance, hardship, and struggles I just can’t fathom. There are also the larger than life characters, with hilarious tales and personalities that would win a million hearts. They are very ordinary, non-elite, everyday women who achieve the extraordinary.
From those who have never learned to ride, and those who are larger than life characters and those who have incredible stories to tell…
We need to be telling their stories and celebrating them….why should we be so focused on the elite end? Maybe it’s about dollars, but I can tell you, it’s pretty likely more bikes get sold to the likes of you and me than to those at the elite end, so let’s talk about us.
That group of “us” is where the industry makes it’s dollars, what keeps them going…the Mrs Averages who buy a truck load of bikes every year to keep the industry rolling…we know of 47 bikes sold to Wheel Women riders in the last year!
In Point 4 Wade states:
“The popular thing for the industry to say is “we support women’s cycling” but few are backing that statement with dollars.”
I hear this comment on a daily basis from so many well-intentioned businesses and people. Frankly it pays lip service to the very integrity of those that dedicate their lives to ensuring women stay healthy, start riding, keep riding and encourage future generations of riders.
Despite the large social media following at Wheel Women which last week reached over 80,000 people and had a phenomenal engagement rate we fail to attract sponsorship. It hasn’t been for want of trying for the last 3 years! Really!!
We speak to grass roots riders, everyday women who provide feedback telling us they are so glad they found us and happy we even exist. We know that those very women (our demographic) make the bulk of decisions about household budgets and we know the purchases they make extend well beyond cycling! It isn’t just the cycling industry that we attract, it is a bunch of companies who want our women’s dollar.
Not a week goes by where we aren’t contacted by yet another company (or charity) wanting to access our data base, speak to our followers and piggy-back and gain leverage from our data-base. As soon as I ask what is in it for us, or what will provide our riders with something really meaningful, we are generally offered a lousy 10% discount or perhaps even nothing at all…they want us for nothing.
With the exception of our friends at Specialized who have supported us with demo bikes and shoes among a few other things, they will even post and share pics of our very real riders. But we have failed to attract anyone beyond them. We are grateful for what they do to support our initiative!
But what if we had dollars behind us – goodness knows what we’d do! A website that works and I don’t have to spend hours designing or building, a business manager that can help us develop the relationships we need to manage growth and maybe even an office that is NOT the kitchen table!
I may have the BEST job in the world, but I don’t get paid for what is a full time job. Many think there are wonderful bonuses involved: free bikes, free gear, meeting important people, invites to events! Nope, I buy my own bikes and gear – it’s not free. We try to cover business costs – sometimes I dig into the savings to pay the bills. There is no financial reward for hours upon hours of hard work…we do this because we ‘support women’s cycling’! Our coaches give of their time because they ‘support women’s cycling’.
Many bike shops have offered their services enthusiastically as soon as they hear about us, companies offer ‘great products’ we can promote to our riders, many jump on our social media feeds in the hope we will tag them. Well GET this…we don’t think YOU get it! You want our dollars, but when we have finished handing over our dollars you are always gone (we’ve been fooled before)….is that supporting women’s cycling?
Damn it if the industry keep saying women are the next big growth area, then why don’t they support it. They’ve been saying this for the last 4 years since I started thinking about what Wheel Women would be (and they probably were saying it for a long time before that too). But the truth is, the industry remains blokey and male dominated and women’s cycling remains as the ‘fun little thing you girls do’ – it fails to attract the dollars it deserves!
This is not some ‘fun little thing’ I do…it is my job. Our riders are not to be bought cheaply, and their opinions are to be valued, honoured and respected….they are worth more than a lousy 10% discount. I’ve worked hard to build an award winning organsiation…if businesses, cycling or otherwise think I’ll hand over what we have for nothing, then I have failed our Members and Followers and I am no better than those who are trying to grab at our dollars or pass us off as not important. We ARE the cycling industry future!
Yes, this really is a job…and women like us are the future of supporting the cycling industry.
Sadly it seems cycling is an industry where men are still making the bulk of decisions about what we see and what money is spent. Wade mentioned the challenges of providing great photography in Point 6 of his article:
“I originally thought that if we were able to showcase the beauty of women’s cycling the same as we’re able to do with the men, then half our problem is solved. It hasn’t been that simple.”
I’d like to challenge Wade on this…okay I get that he is referring to the racing scene here and there are challenges in providing images when it is an under-represented sport to start with and shows little gender balance. But as a person who has come from the creative side of the advertising industry prior to running a cycling business, I think the industry, both media and businesses, have a lot to answer for.
I have seen so many websites and cycling groups start (sorry, Ella included) that promise much, but before long predominantly talk about the elite end, how to be like the pros, discussions about Strava and training manuals, or talk about their next big ‘hit-out’. Great…that’s an instant card to send many women running. It’s not all about racing, or elite athletes, and pretty young things….
I see images of beauty when those very women I see daily get on their bikes, ride and laugh. They come in all shapes and sizes. I would argue that there is so much more beauty out there in women’s cycling if you just look beyond the elite level…go to a rail trail, stop on a bike path, stand on a corner in the city. There are images of women’s cycling beauty worthy of snapping everywhere! Why stop at racing…please don’t discount the ordinary women who cycle and feel like heroes!
I know this side of the story only too well. At Wheel Women we are faced with a perception that our riders are not perfect enough, or young enough, or slim enough – we aren’t the glossy fabricated image that cycling glossies wish to promote. And I am serious when I tell you I have been asked to supply models “with figures most women would aspire to”…oh please, what year is it?
We see beauty in every rider…no matter what age, shape or size they are.
We are sometimes older, rounder, larger, thinner and less…well, less ‘pro’! But we don’t care; cycling is our journey and our elixir and our passion. That’s what makes the photos of our very ordinary women so beautiful!
Yes, I’ve failed at times too. I’ve missed the point and seen things not work the way I have wanted at Wheel Women, just as Wade has at Ella Cycling Tips. We are constantly on an organic journey to morph, change, recreate and try something new. There are many times I want to just stop, close the door and walk away, there have been many tears shed, several arguments with friends and family. If I shut the door and walked away…what would happen to the riders who are at the beginning of their journey. I always come back to that simple line I received from a reader:
“You are an amazing source of knowledge and inspiration!! I’m very happy you exist! What a treasure!”
I won’t walk away from that…I guess that means I’m hooked on cycling and have a fire burning in my belly a hundred times hotter than anyone Wade has ever met! Time to ride….
End Note: thank you to our riders and followers, no matter who you are…you are amazing for getting behind us!