National Forum on Women and Biking, Tuesday the 10th

I recently went to the National Bike Summit/National Forum on Women and Biking.

Tuesday the 10th was the National Forum on Women and Biking.  There were a lot of women!  And a lot of passionate activists.  And a lot of upcycled crafts (the”exhibit hall” was actually the hallway between conference rooms, which I thought was much more effective than the traditional style.  On Tuesday, this included the Women Bike pop-up shop, with vendors like Recycle a Bicycle and Elly Blue publishing.  There were a lot of upcycled bike part jewelry pieces, but also things like books and clothes.  It was very cool).

The opening plenary was:

A Case Study in Leadership: How Mentorship and Bold Leadership is growing the mission of Tulsa Hub

with Ren Barger, Tulsa Hub CEO and Barbara Bannon, Tulsa Hub Board Immediate Past President, President of Human Resource Investments

Ren Barger uses bikes to fight poverty, and is passionate advocate for bikes as vehicles of empowerment and community change.  She founded Tulsa Hub, which takes earn-a-bike programs to a whole new level, expanding the target demographic and educational aspects.

Barbara Bannon is a consultant on organizational structure.  She worked with Ren Barger to take her “start-up” nonprofit, and build a healthy workplace culture.  Bannon is nearing retirement, and picks her projects selectively.  She wanted to work with Barger because of her vision, passion, and because she was a risk-taker.

They worked to create  a “working board” (versus a “policy board”), with a culture of service and participatory leadership.  The organization had a small staff, so everyone needed to pitch in.  Lessons learned included:

  • Ask for help if needed
  • There’s only way out and that’s through
  • Awareness precedes choice – figure out how you’re contributing to an unhealthy organization and stop it!
  • Be what you want to attract
  • Find the right people
  • If you want to create a certain environment, you have to work to create by providing feedback, guidance, and correction

An unhealthy organization is characterized by low trust, fear, and infighting.  A healthy organization requires that you recruit the right people, create a solid organization structure, and specific bylaws.

Looking forward to the bikes + libraries presentation I would do on Wednesday, I considered the parallels between the Tulsa Hub story and what libraries provide.  Aside from the lessons about entrepreneurial leadership, which are echoed in some of the changes taking place in today’s libraries (and could do a lot of good in some of our more staid and change-averse libraries), Tulsa Hub’s vision of bikes as fighting poverty is consistent with libraries’ work to provide free resources that really help improve people’s circumstances.

The breakout session I went to was:

The Future of the Women’s Market: Product and Marketing Plans from the Industry
How is the bike industry responding to the call to get more women on bikes? Hear from women leading the industry in the development of women’s product and developing the marketing plans that will entice more women to participate in bicycling.

  • Elysa Walk, Giant Bicycle Inc.
  • Lauren Smith, Specialized
  • Maria Bousted, Po Campo
  • Jody Koch, SRAM

Elyssa Walk introduced the talk with some general discussion about the state of bicycling and marketing.  She described some results from the recent People for Bikes Rider Participation Survey: 87%  of women and 88% of men who are not current riders have at least ridden a bike at some point in their lives.  Of adults who rode in the last year 44% are women and 56% are men. 42% of those women ride “frequently” (25+ days per year) and 49% of men.  People biking for social and shopping opportunities represents a larger percentage than people commuting to work.

Current marketing for bicycling is often some version of pain/pain face, which women don’t respond to.  Men and women are different and need different marketing.

I found it interesting that while the Women’s Forum did have a focus on diversity, this presentation opened with such a traditional view of men and women as discrete opposites.  For example, Walk showed a fruit bouquet and a pizza-and-beer bouquet, as a humorous example of the difference in what men and women might want.  But frankly, I’m a woman, and now I really want a pizza and beer bouquet.

Giant bicycle Inc has created the Liv brand, which are women’s bikes.  They are designed for women in fit, form and function (based on biology such as women being stronger in legs and using those rather than arm strength). As part of the marketing for this line, they created an ambassador program.  Ambassadors are 80 women who work in shops, run rides, hold clinics, work with personal networks, and use social media to promote the Liv line.  In return they get swag and other stuff.  Women need to be marketed to in a more social way, this addresses that.  They also created a “Liv certified dealer” status.  These dealers are certified when they attain a certain number of points on a checklist – having things like clean bathrooms, dressing room, female staff members, displays of women’s items, etc.  They are added to a list of women friendly stores and given additional PR incentives.  Liv also does demos and ride camps (where people learn skills, etc.).  Has celebrity spokespeople.  Can’t afford ads (Shape magazine costs $250,000) , but can give editors a cycling experience – media camp where they learn about cycling.  Sponsors Tour de Pink – breast cancer ride.  The Today show rode the ride and then did an 8 minute segment on it.  Then they pull it all together on social media – 35,000 followers on FB.  Strategy is to engage not push.  Lastly, they employ women.

Overall message: in order to market to women, Liv engages women.  You can push men, but not women.

Specialized What we know: Word of mouth is more important for marketing to women (men = print and product reviews).  Women are social – they go on line for a brand experience, not quick information.  They don’t click on ads.  Stories are important. (***library tie-in***)

Women want to be independent yet connected to others. 71% of women think how brands portray women and girls is important, more than 50% use that as a purchasing criteria.

Strategies: #YourRideYourRules, Ambassadors, Women’s ride day – May 31, targeted website, partnerships with other brands (Lululemon for Bike + Yoga events), with professional cyclists and grassroots teams, with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.

Po Campo bags – founded, owned and designed by a woman.  Bike commuter who needed a bag that looked more professional.  She needs to make sure that there are women (people like her) that she can continue to sell bags to year after year.  So she works to encourage women to bike commute and ride for transportation. Women on a Roll survey from the League of Bicyclists ID’s barriers to riding: comfort, convenience, consumer products, confidence, community.  Po Campo marketing addresses these barriers.  For example, they ran a Braid bar, where you can get your hair braided so you can wear it under a helmet and not get helmet hair.  They have a series of How-to videos, such as how to fold your suit jacket and not get wrinkles, which Po Campo bags go with the bike share

A lot of the things Po Campo is addressing here are things I want libraries to address – how-tos and info that’s probably not in a book.

Their marketing aims to show how bicycling fits into the customer’s life.  They had a pop-up shop in West Elm.

Partnerships – MS society, sent kids to the youth bike summit, Bikeshare programs, world bicycle relief, new Non-profit initiative which partners with non-profits and donates a part of sales to the NP.

She also talked about wishing that bike shops were more like other shops, instead of a just a bunch of parts on pegs.  She wanted a more inviting shopping experience, and made the point that traditional shops can be intimidating or unwelcoming for certain people.

SRAM makes all of the parts you can put on a bike other than the frame.  Parts built to go on any bike.  Founder had small hands, and wanted parts that would work for him.  Turns out, that’s also good for women.  Parts are adjustable so they can be personalized – adjustable sizing.  Starting to include women in bike ads.  Marketing focused on integrating women into business.  Creating ride experiences for women riders – rides, camps, etc.  Not about racing, just a safe space to learn and socialize.  Sponsoring women’s racing too.  Women’s bike mechanic scholarship. Advocates for better infrastructure.  World Bike Relief – educational empowerment for women.  Educate a girl and you educate a community.

Normalize, don’t necessarily need to feature.  Just including women in bike ads is a step forward.

There were two lunchtime talks:

Women Ride: New Numbers
A new national survey provides insight into riding by women: how many ride, how often, types of riding and some top concerns. Commissioned by PeopleForBikes to set a national baseline on biking participation, the information deepens our understanding of our challenges and opportunities, and will help us tell better stories.

  • Martha Roskowski, People for Bikes

People for Bikes surveyed 16,000 adults, who also spoke for 9,000 children.  They determined that 104 million Americans rode a bike in the last year (that’s 1/3 of all Americans).  45 million were women, and 42 million of those rode for recreation – a smaller number rode for transportation.  Most were riding for social reasons.  More than 50% of all wanted to ride a bike more often.  Women were more likely to be infrequent riders.  Very few people feel safer riding now than they did 5 years ago.  People with children ride bikes more frequently than those without. 48% of US adults do not have a working bike.

The conference in general, and this talk in particular, made me rethink my ideas of who bikes and why.  Bicycling is strongly associated with racing and bike commuters, but women are riding for fun and to socialize.  Bike events should be social events.  Community engagement and community building are increasingly important  concepts in my professional life – here is another instance.

There is also a lot of room for providing access to working bikes.  In libraries, this could take the shape of bike clinics, making room for Bikeshare programs, and even creating bike libraries, where people could check out a bike.   

Advocacy Through A Gender Lens
When we advocate for bicycling through a gender lens, does it lead to big ideas or does it limit our thinking? Hear from women working to get more women on bikes on how and when to use gender to amplify your advocacy efforts.

This panel talk was moderated by Barb Chamberlain.  She advised people to “stay with the ride” even if the talk made us comfortable or got difficult.

  • ID people by the pronoun they prefer
  • If you hear “everyone is welcome” do you feel as welcome as “women-only space” or “women’s voices are prioritized”?
  • Rio-Jill Contreras talked about creating an event for gender queer youth of color who were bike mechanics.  Despite the specificity of the demographic, people attended, and it created a little paradise for people who are in almost every other space, an “other”
  • Be intentional about the inclusion of trans* and gender queer folks
  • Intersectionality: “People ask if I identify as a woman or an African-American. When I look in the mirror, I see both. Every time.”–Odessa Philip.  She went on to talk about how she emphasized different aspects of her identity depending on context, but how her identity was a constant.
  • The bike is a tool for connecting folks
  • Clitoral Mass

I have recently been on the fence about women-only events.  This talk reinforced the idea that this space can be very valuable, and a little paradise for people who need it.

Then I went to:

Building the Movement: Constructing a plan for Women Bike Advocacy in Your Community
How do we increase women ridership? Women working in women specific encouragement initiatives from across the nation will share lessons learned, and how to design effective encouragement initiatives driven by results.

  • Kim Foltz, City of Boston
  • Nelle Pierson, Washington Area Bicyclist Association
  • Amy George, Women & Bicycles Richmond
  • Lesly Jones, Black Women Bike D.C
  •  Tyler Frisbee, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition | Women Bike SF
  • Casey Ashenhurst, WE Bike NYC

WE Bike NYC is volunteer led and run.  A lot of their work is to find leaders in the community

35% of bikers in Boston are women is not as positive of a message as “everyday, more and more women are biking.”  Programs included a women’s bike riding festival – rebranding this year as bike and bites.  Subsidized Bikeshare members.

Ride Richmond/Women and Bicycles Richmond sponsored a women’s cycling summit.  Jump in where you are then ask for help.  Leverage your loudness – share other people’s events with your network.  Safe space in a familiar place (use popular places  to drum up participation). Celebrate the weird – ride to a donut shop (donut crawl, ride of shame), ride to look at tacky Christmas lights.

Women BikeSF (6 months old) – 34% of SF bikers are women, and 40% of SFBC members are bikers, in the Netherlands, 55% of regular bikers are women – women are the indicator species of safe biking.  Gals with Gears – women’s bike group.  Ibike initiative.  Women respond to protected bike lanes more than men, but infrastructure isn’t enough.  Women want community support and a social structure.  So, the Women Bike SF initiative kick off happened out of the SFBC office, with a social hour.  Found that women wanted a program that was bikes plus social.  Asked, “would you like to lead something in this initiative?”  They said yes, and these events are member driven. Coffee rides with social aspect, once a month with about 30 people.

Bike mentor programs.

Event-based fundraising can be successful.  One way to get around not having money is to have an all volunteer organization.  Women-run businesses  are a good target.  Have a specific ask – I need $300 for jerseys is better than I need $1000 for women in bicycling.  Breweries need to give away some stuff for the tax break.

Finally, the closing plenary was:

Our Biking Connections
Outdoor Afro is a social community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, birding, fishing, gardening, skiing — and more! Join CEO and Founder Rue Mapp as she shares her own experience biking, African American historical perspectives,  and the many ways and existing opportunities we have today to get more people involved in leading the bicycle movement.

  • Rue Mapp, Outdoor Afro

Mapp talked about her background and experiences with nature, emphasizing its transformative and healing effects.  She also talked about her experiences showing up to nature events and being the only African American present (when she found the Oakland Yellowjackets, it was a wonderful experience).  Mapp used her early adoption of social networking sites to form groups that reached out to other African Americans interested in connecting with and in the outdoors.  Some things that jumped out at me:

  • Lake Merritt is the US’ first wildlife refuge – this lake is in the center of Oakland, a predominately African American city.  It is heavily used for recreation.
  • Trust your feet
  • Nature is a powerful teacher
  • You don’t need special gear to experience nature – just go.
  • Red, Bike & Green: The city is the destination
  • Trail riding as an answer to food deserts
  • Evaluation method:  have participants stand in a circle, ask for one word to describe the experience
  • Connecting people to nature is connecting people to the opportunity for a lesson
  • Healthy risks
  • To connect people to nature, you need to connect into the family narrative (ex.  everybody has at least one relative that fishes)
  • Adults need wonder too – give the opportunity to play (ex. guy with banana slug in his hand)
  • You have to create a relationship to nature before you ask people to clean up nature – cleaning parties should not be people’s first experience
  • Healing hikes – Mapp is not really a “protest in the streets” kind of person.  After the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, she led healing hikes, where people could go into the wilderness and try to address the situation.
  • Show up when you’re needed and carry those movements forward
  • What is the relevance?  Is it the biking?  Or are they looking for friends?  Have a fitness goal?
  • Partnerships – plan together, don’t just invite someone in
  • Take the long view – not just what happens in a grant year.  Change takes a generation (look at smoking).

This was probably my favorite day of what was overall a very cool conference.  I heard a lot of stories from women who’d gotten involved in women’s biking because they’d gone to an event, looked around and thought, “those are cool girls I’d like to get to know.” Tuesday I spent a lot of time looking around saying to myself, “those are cool girls I’d like to get to know.”


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