By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly
Have you ever walked into a Portland bicycle shop and felt a little intimidated–even if you know a lot of about bikes? As someone who rides a bike once in a blue moon, I definitely fit into that category of feeling uncomfortable and out of my element. But so many people, especially women, who regularly do ride bikes also feel uneasy when entering a bike shop–they feel like they have to know the cool hand shake and all the techie bike jargon to fit in. Why do we need to “fit in” when going to a place where you’re seeking advice and bike parts?
Leah Benson (pictured above), owner of the new ‘women focused’ bicycle shop called Gladys, believes everyone should feel comfortable going into a bike shop, whether you’re a seasoned biker or novice. Benson’s been a lover of bicycles ever since she was a child in Wisconsin. It became her main mode of transportation when she moved to Portland five years ago. Now whether commuting or heading out of town, she’s constantly on her bike. Even though she’s clearly an avid and knowledgeable bicyclist, she said she was still uncomfortable going into most bike shops.
“I found them to be places where it was really easy to get ‘vibed out’–meaning that often bike shops are seen as too cool by a lot of people. Whether or not it’s the case, people do feel like they need to walk in knowing something about bikes.” Benson says. “Bike shops should be a place where you come in to learn and talk and discuss. So I decided there should be a women’s focused bike shop, a place where you’d walk in and there’d be all the sizes you want, more focused on women. One that resonates with a broader group of women.”
And that’s exactly what Gladys offers–a large variety of saddles to choose from, essential riding gear, products and accessories in the sizes that “make sense to and resonate with women”. There is also a bicycle fit studio in the upstairs loft. Owner of Sweet Pea Bicycles, Natalie Ramsland specializes in making hand-built frames for women and is the head fitter now at Gladys. Ramsland will take the exact measurements of a person’s body and build a bike to suit them.
“Most bicycles are made for a European man because bicycling primarily comes out of Europe. So that’s what the big bicycling companies measurements are based on and what they use – so most of the time bikes don’t fit women’s bodies,” Benson says.
Sugar Wheels, owned by another female entrepreneur Jude Kirstein and located just down the hall, is also working with Gladys, helping to make hand-made custom wheels for bicyclists.
“I think for a long time the thought has been that the people who kind of ‘rule’ the industry and spend the most money are men. It’s understandable that when you walk into most bike shop the thing you’re seen presented are typically male sized bike frames and more seats that are appropriate for men not women. And just everything in general caters more towards men. It’s not that bike shops are trying to be rude or sexist it’s just that they cater towards the market that comes in,” Benson shares.
But that is slowly changing. Recently the League of American Bicyclists created a new branch called Women Bike which is putting the spotlight on female bicyclists. Their mission is to “change the face of bicycling by getting more women on bikes and participating as riders, advocates and leaders to create strong communities and celebrate the joy of riding a bike.”
“The popularity of bicycling is skyrocketing nationwide and interest among women is rising, too. More than 80 percent of American women have a positive view of bicyclists and two-thirds think their community would be a better place to live if riding a bike were safer and more comfortable. Still, women are underrepresented as riders and leaders in many aspects of the bicycle movement. In 2009, women accounted for just 24 percent of bicycle trips in the U.S. It’s time for that to change.” This according to the League of American Bicyclists/Women Bike.
Gladys, Sweet Pea and Sugar Wheels are all part of this dynamic shift and evolution that’s taking place in the biking world. They’re creating spaces that offer more diverse products and making the biking community more accessible and comfortable, not just for women but for everyone interested in riding.
“By making something more friendly and accessible to women it kind of makes it safer and more comfortable for everyone. It’s taking something that’s seen as a possible uncomfortable place to be and making it a good place to be around.” Benson adds, “I talk about the female focused sex shop model as a great example. If you go into a place like She Bop in Portland what you see are a lot of women – but you also see a lot of men too. The whole idea is by making something more friendly and accessible for women it also makes it safer for everyone. I think we’re gonna see just as many men coming in here who don’t want to go into a typical repair shop.”
Gladys, Sweet Pea and Sugar Wheels are all located in the HUB building on N Williams.
Shaley Howard is a sports writer for PQ Monthly as well as an athlete, sports enthusiast, and organizer of the annual Portland Women’s 3×3 Basketball Tournament. She is also is the owner and operator of Scratch N’ Sniff Pet Care, which she considers the best job in the world.