The Bike Industry is Sick and Hiring More Women Won't Fix It

Over the past few weeks there have been a few articles highlighting the need for better inclusivity for women in order to help grow the industry. First, there was Amanda Batty who left PinkBike as a writer after being bullied and not supported by her employer. Then, the League of American Bicyclists released a Women Bike report, “Bike Shops for Everyone: Strategies for Making Bike Retail More Welcoming to Women.” Quickly behind the Bike League, People for Bikes released new research on Women’s participation. Finally, Molly with Bicycling Magazine wrote a piece on how bike shops can be more friendly to women.

Over the past 5-10 years the focus of getting more women riding has spurred a lot of new product, brands and a great amount of debate within the inner circles of the industry if women really need a special product. As a woman that has essentially grown up in the bike industry, I really hope that the industry will catch up with the times and start to understand the larger problems that are keeping the industry from growing. These same problems will also keep turning women away.

In no particular order, here is my personal take on why the industry is sick and only getting worse. These thoughts come from running bike shops, working on the vendor side, and being an outside rep for 370 dealers in the Southeast.

Why is the Industry Broken?

1. There is No Barrier for Entry or Standard of Training

Finding a job in a bike shop isn’t hard if you like bikes and present yourself well you can find a job at one of the 5,000 bike shops in the US. As one works up in their shop career or decide to work for brands or distribution some experience comes into play but there isn’t an available degree, school or class regime that you can take to “learn bikes” outside of simply putting in time.

Due to this lack of infrastructure there is no standardization of training. Some folks will go to mechanics school such as UBI but if that is your only experience as a mechanic you probably won’t land a job in a shop right away as these schools do not teach real-life situations. There isn’t a class you can take in high school unless you are lucky to have a community shop. There is also no training provided by a hierarchy of the trade commission. If you aren’t a shop that carries Trek, Specialized or Giant than you don’t have much chance to teach your employees (or yourself) valuable skills like bike fitting, sales techniques, or basic accounting functions. Some brands such as QBP, and Mann University, have identified this and are trying to help but it isn’t standard or a requirement.

We have bike shop employees learning under fire and representing that shop to the customers that walk in the door. If they are lucky enough to work at a shop that has their own training protocol they are lucky, but unfortunately the employees often look at this training as “corporate” and not valuable. Most shop general managers or service managers are there due to Peter Principle and not due to having managerial experience or skills.

2. Lack of Training

This lack of training (and education) breeds lack of basic business understanding. Employees are doing their best with little guidance, and typically when a customer is unhappy you will only know from a negative Yelp review. Many, if not most, bike shops are being run on super tight budgets with low profit margins because the owners, buyers and managers don’t understand where they could be saving money, where they shouldn’t be spending it and how to maximize their bottom line.

3. Low Average Pay

Low-profit margins mean low average pay. Low average pay within an industry that requires a lot of knowledge within tech and product. Shop and brand employees are often quizzed by customers who have been researching the heck out of product online. There are tech events hosted by brands like SRAM, Park, and Shimano to keep industry employees knowledgeable on the product. We have employees working off hours (10-7, including weekends) that must know as much as possible on the niches of bikes their shops carry, including competing brands, making between $11-16 an hour, typically without any benefits other than a discount.

4. Product First Mentality

The industry has shoved product education down these underpaid adults throats but we haven’t taught them about business, about building a brand, about selling or making a community. There are multiple events during the year like Interbike and Sea Otter where brands and shops ship their employees to drink the latest Kool-Aid, but we are serving them a product that will be phased out in 6 months and not knowledge that will help any customer that walks in your door.

How Do We Fix The Bicycle Industry?

1. We teach bike shops how to run as a business. This includes marketing, sales, and data.

2. Once bike shops are running as businesses (and not passion fueled shells simply sitting in the black every year) we can pay people, and give them benefits so they don’t leave for another industry.

3. Start training with the basics.
 Any large retail company trains their employees first on customer service, standard processes like working the register, store layout, and then product. Why? Product revolves every 6 weeks, being a good human does not.

4. NBDA needs to standardize this basic training
. Provide it online at no costs to your members.

5. Shops require this training before an employee sets foot near a customer
. Stop hiring 16-year-old high schoolers to help sell kids bikes their first day on the job. Parents will continue to look at bikes as toys if we don’t teach them otherwise.

6. Sponsors and advertisers hold your magazines, bloggers and athletes accountable. If an article is released that talks shit about women in the auto world, even in an off-hand remark, do you not think there will be hell to pay?

7. Grow up. Don’t show up to work smelling like beer. Keep your bathrooms clean. Brands keep it classy at demos. If your employer pays for you to go to Interbike don’t be so drunk that you don’t remember anything.

8. Be human and respectful. When a customer’s bike is wrecked and they are heartbroken, please don’t be a jerk about it. If someone is stoked about their first $750 mountain bike, give them a high five and recommend a couple of your favorite beginner trails. Stop talking down to each other. There is absolutely nothing to gain by proving others wrong or showing that you know more than them. You don’t earn a bonus, and you may have just turned someone off from biking.

We Aren’t a Hobby

In conclusion, I would also like to ask that we stop comparing ourselves to golf, or some other hobby. I would love to compare us to the auto industry. Not only because bikes are transportation but because cars aren’t so different. They requires sales, service and have a lot of variations in models. What is different is the training. To work in a car dealer you go through intensive training for both sales and service. My favorite part of comparing the bike industry to auto? You don’t see cars designed only for women.

Next Steps

Are you in the industry, or a consumer? Does any of the above ring true to you in your experiences? Tell us about them.

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  • Katherine

    I am loving this discussion, but am a little disappointed that it’s descended so much into a BRAIN-style argument about pricing and competition with online retailers. That stuff is certainly an issue, but I get the feeling that BSG’s point here is about people and professionalism, not pricing (though, yes, I do realize it affects salaries). But I’d like to throw my hat in the ring for one of the softer things that I believe, anecdotaly, makes a big difference.

    And that is: Be a member of the community. If you don’t want people to use your knowledge then buy online, give people a reason to value your LBS beyond just being a “store.” Riding a bike is largely about the experience. When I just need parts and don’t have time to chit-chat, I’ll run into Performance for the best deal on rim tape. When I happen to have an extra 6-pack on me and can’t for the life of me get the shifting working smoothly on my old, 8-speed commuter, I’m headed to my favorite LBS where they’ll let me sit back in the shop and teach me what they’re doing.

    What I’m saying is, give people a reason to want to support you as an important local business because they want and need you there. Consider vocally supporting local advocacy organizations; hosting rides/clinics/events/trail workdays for a wide range of people (think beyond the wannabe pro crusher ride up the mountain); and being present at existing, in-town events. Tonight, I’m attending a talk being given by a local framebuilder at a bike shop I normally wouldn’t visit, but will now be exposed to. A few weeks ago, I went to a women’s night at a different LBS. Only one staffer was needed to let us in and lock up later; they allowed the women’s MTB group to use the space, but it also gave us a chance to explore the shop and I now have it in my mind as “women-friendly.”


  • Dan (@chickenfried234)

    From my perspective as a consumer, things are great. I have plenty of options to spend my dough. My last truly bad retail bike experience was twenty years ago at a curmudgeonly old school roadie hole in the wall. Just never went back.

    It’s funny seeing mike at chain reaction posting. ~decade ago when I wanted a road bike I went to his shop. I didn’t end up buying from him. They didn’t have anything in my size and price range, just higher or lower. But i still remember how nicely he treated me.

  • Glittertroll

    I am a 23 year old female identifying person who works in a BMX shop. I came from a customer service and managing background prior to working at this bike shop. Cycling was an avid hobbie before and now is literally my life. I definitely thinks he general air of unprofessionalism in this industry extends from small shops all the way to distributors suppliers etc. I would have been fired on the spot at previous jobs for the types of actions my coworkers and owner get away with. Yes that’s prt of the reason I love his industry, but at the same time becoming more well rounded and inclusive can only strengthen the cycling industry in my (and few other boys cluber’s) opinion.

    I put in more hours at the shop then any of the other employee (all male ages 18-35) and have more years of customer service experience as well yet suggestions to make the shop better from marketing to ending the inappropriate sexist attitudes towards women customers and riders when it’s appropriate to share them get me comments like “stop being so stuck up” and “ok mom.”

    I feel like one thing you didn’t touch on in your (awesome) article is the day to day strain that female bike shop employees have to endure that has me looking for other employment despite loving the perks of my job. Working as a female identifying (or any person who routinely experiences societal policing) person in this very sexist cisgendered culturally homogenous industry is seriously taking years off my life. I feel like other people in the industry and in my shop want to resist any kind of organization or betterment of the same old practices and then turn around and complain about all of the problems that result like low shop retention. Change requires EDUCATION and EFFORT.

    And final rant, a personal experience that drives me crazy.

    The majority of customers and everyone else I interact with in the industry does this thing (Even the female customers) where they automatically look at the man In the store (even if it’s not an employee) to ask a technical question or ask for advice. Like hello My vagina doesn’t get caught up in the drivetrain,
    I also cycling and mechanical experience! I know that’s a mouthful(:/) but it’s my biggest complaint. I’m the second longest employee present in the store after the owner and it still happens despite working in the shop for years!

    There are so few other females in this industry for me to connect with. Holler at #glittertroll on Instagram if anyone wants to start a forum for lady cyclist /bike industry employees lol ..

  • MRMacrm

    I own a small support bike shop in southern Maine. It is not my first shop. I decided to punish myself again when the first one (a partnership) died from our constant bickering. My second effort, now 17 seasons old, has somehow beat the small retail odds and stayed open. Success measured by longevity, not by the cash I have added to my pockets.

    My story is typical I think. Tired of the role of working for someone else, I became a bike shop owner. With no business or retail experience or training, I went at it happy as if I had a brain. My education has been ugly and tough to say the least. Your critique of the industry rings so many bells, I cannot think of which mistake you point out I did not make with the exception of one or two.

    I always and still do aspire to sell my services and products as I would like to be sold to myself. I try my best to allow the customer to feel comfortable coming to my shop for their cycling needs, even if it is just advice or opinion. I have learned that women in particular want to be educated while guys generally don’t. I learned early on that bad mouthing and denigrating another product or shop does nothing but make me seem petty and mean. I also learned that there is no “best” anything or “fastest” anything when it comes to bicycle products. There are some better than others, but the differences are in the end usually slight and the quality of the product or services is based on the shop that markets and sells it.

    I could have used some serious training when I first began to wrench for my future partner. Some companies did offer help in the way of excellent sales reps, but for the most part the sales rep culture in this business is pitiful and erratic. My experience with Univega reps before Ben closed the company being the perfect example. The first Univega rep taught me how to sell. Not just his products, but products throughout our store. His notion of helping the shop to become a better retailer would translate into more sales for him and his company. He was right. The second Univega rep was useless. He was only interested in bumping up his sales to us and disallowing as many warranties as he could. He told us what we wanted. He did not ask us what we wanted. I learned quite a bit from him also.

    Anyway, did not mean to write a book. These were just some of my thoughts on your fine article.

    MRMacrm, AKA “CRUM”, owner – Crum Cycles, Springvale, Maine

  • Peter Stokey

    From a consumer point of view, I like your ideas, they ring true to me. But I would like to add that the industry and cycling magazines should stop focusing on “get fit fast”, “get lean now” (you know who I am talking about) and the extreme sport end of cycling most of us will never do (although I like to watch), lose the whole sufferfest mentality, and focus more on casual riding, riding for fun, riding to get out in nature, advocating for safe roads advocating and for separate biking infrastructure the national manufacturers and trade groups should be do national of targeted regional bike safety pubic announcements, public awareness campaigns that champion family cycling, showing cyclists having fun outdoors while advocating for cycling safety. They should be lobbying congress and states for better traffic laws and more funding for biking infrastructure. Join the growing strength of the outdoor recreation lobby and promote cycling as a hobby. By making cycling safe and fun for all (not just athletes) will help build the industry.
    A theme we should all be putting out there from the manufacturers, to the magazines, the trade groups and bike shops is cycling is low key, it is fun and healthy and by-the-way, that person you pass in your car is a father, a mother, has a child, is a doctor, fireman, has a face, and is a person…most cyclists are car drivers too, we need to de-demonize cyclists so cycling can as a way of life can safely expand across the nation.

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