I recently had a conference call with Collyn Ahart of Rapha about women and cycling. Collyn had a bunch of questions for me, but it wasn’t until after our talk that I began to seriously think over what my answers could have been. The conversation got me thinking more deeply about the issues of promoting the sport amongst women and also about womens cycling fashion beyond my own consumer choices. In the days that followed, and I started looking at the history and the future of women’s involvement in cycling and women’s cycle wear.
Even though I didn’t have one- in a clear and personal illustration of the shoemaker’s children having no shoes(!) – nowadays, most girls had a first bike as a child- so there’s always that connection. Later on, in college maybe, girls don’t have access to a car and start biking again. Or later than that, a desire for greater fitness might be the inspiration that gets them onto two wheels. It is a yet to be answered question how to turn the average woman into a lifelong cyclist. Of course there are the subsets such as serious athletes for whom cycling is part of an overall regimen along with other sport(s), or environmental activists/ideological adherents that view the bicycle as a statement as well as transport.
Femininity is so individual; different women define it differently. Each woman’s attitude towards her body is also unique. A woman’s relationship with cycling depends on the how and why she got into cycling in the first place, but athleticism can involve the feeling of mastery that comes with increased fitness at any level.
Outside of cycling competitors or serious athletes of another sport who utilize cycling in their program (these women have already accepted whatever is the norm for competition wear), women of all shapes and sizes and levels of fitness need to find apparel that is appealing. They want comfort and style that suits their personal sense of style- (whatever that may be)- they want their sportswear to be something they’d want to wear and want to be seen in even when they get off the bike!
The men in their lives, gifting, travel, charity events, and friends all have the potential to introduce women to the culture of cycling. Increasingly—but still too rarely—a woman might even be introduced to riding or racing by a group of female friends. But where’s our household-name female competitive cycling star or the pop-culture-star-who bikes? Either or both of these could single-handedly make cycling “hot” to vast numbers of women and girls who are as yet unconnected to the sport. Lance Armstrong is, well, Lance Armstrong. But Kristen Armstrong, despite being an Olympian and world class athlete, is still essntially unknown to anyone outside the world of American road racing.
I’m not sure if naked bike rides or bike-porn sites are reliable indicators of things to come. In a “perfect world” (Is it almost here?) women will be knowledgeable about the role the bicycle played in the emancipation of women and how the physical demands of cycling revolutionized women’s fashion. (Shorter skirts, pants, freedom from corsets all came about as women started to ride.) Women will again embrace biking en masse. Fashion design schools would emphasize bike wear in both fashion history and current design classes and university women’s studies/gender studies programs would teach courses on the societal impact of the bicycle. Mainstream retailers will carry women’s cycling apparel to the same extent they now do yoga wear. Images of girl-on-a-bike will proliferate in advertising. Women cycling will be a familiar sight and the stuff of song as they were a century ago.