The pros & cons of women specific bike shops
I was having lunch with a friend last week and the topic of women specific bike shops came up, as she is a competitive cyclist and triathlete too. We both really like the idea, but we were also a bit on the fence about the concept as a whole and how the pros stack up against the cons. On the one hand, women's cycling is growing rapidly and represents a significant part of the market share (awesome, right?!). On the other hand, we want equality and having bike shops cater equally for men and women could arguably be a part of that too...
One thing is clear...
the bike industry needs to better cater for women
And bike shops have a big role to play in that, whether they are women specific ones or otherwise.
The goal of women specific bike shops it typically to provide a comfortable, supportive and friendly environment, without sacrificing quality service and expert advice. That is totally awesome, but shouldn't all shops be that, for all cyclists, regardless of their gender, ability level, age, the amount of money they wish to spend, etc? Here are some pros and cons, just to get the conversation going!
Its sometimes hard to find women specific accessories and clothing in bike shops. Even if the store has good stock and range of women's helmets, shoes, saddles, clothing, etc, it is often mixed with everything else or hidden in a small section at the back of the shop. Bike shops, take note - A visible women's area is much appreciate so we don't have to guess if something is women specific or not... A women specific bike shop can make things a lot easier!
Women specific bike shops often carry women specific brands that are sometimes hard to find, or offer a wider range of choice to female cyclists. As an example, I really wanted to get a particular kit that was either available online, or through a women specific bike shop in my area. I went to that particular shop because I wanted to make sure the fit was right before I spent quite a bit of money on a high end cycling kit - super helpful.
I have had (too) many discussions with women who walked into bike shops ready to spend their money, knowing what they want and need, only to end up feeling belittled by someone at the shop. That happened to me at a bike shop too, and I work with bikes and cyclists for a living! I promise I'll share the story with you guys one of these days - it's a good one. As a side note: this is an issue that indicates a bigger problem around customer service in the bike industry. Many women also find bike shops to be intimidating and women specific bike shops often put women at ease, which encourages them to get more involved and learn more about cycling in an environment that is more open and inviting.
Will it work well if the shop has commuter bikes, mountain bikes, entry level bikes, high end bike, etc all under one roof? Even if they are all women specific design, it could potentially be confusing to some. Is there enough of a market share for specialized women specific bike shops that cater to female road cyclists, or female mountain bike riders, for example?
Sometimes the modifications that need to be done to a bike for the best fit are the same for women as they are for smaller men, so there isn't always a need for women to be riding women design bikes. In addition, some unisex accessories work well for women too - For example, I use the Shimano Sphyre shoes, which are the top Shimano shoe model. They are not women specific shoes and they fit me better than any other women design shoe I have ever tried/used.
I think women specific bike shops are a great idea, and while I will be a customer for some things, it will not replace my regular bike shop. I do wish my LBS of choice had more women clothing choices and a better women's area though! I will circle back to the beginning and state that as a starting point, the bike industry needs to better cater for women as a whole, and bike shops have a big role to play in that. I would love to see more women work at bike shops, whether they are women specific shops or not, as a way to welcome more women into the sport.
Are there women specific bike shops in your area? What is your experience with women specific bike shops? I would love to hear some thoughts, as every women has a different experience...