I remember one of my earliest experiences of going to a bike shop. It was a busy shop, with bikes and accessories everywhere, and staff members running around serving the constant flow of customers. Just about everyone else in there was male, and there was little that felt familiar or welcoming to me as a woman. For starters no one had actually welcomed me to the shop. I felt completely out of place. So I turned around and high-tailed it out of there.
That was about ten years ago, and thankfully things have changed since then. The growing popularity of cycling means that bike shops are now more geared up to meet the needs of a wider range of cyclists - including women - with a wider range of knowledge and interests.
Despite this, going into a bike shop can still be an intimidating experience, particularly if you’re new to cycling. We offer some tips on how to get the best out of your bike shop experience.
Are they female-friendly?
If finding a bike shop that will understand your specific needs is important, you can try one of the growing number of female-friendly bike shops.
Belinda Scott, of Bella Velo, based in Surbiton, Surrey, says: "The benefit of having a female-specific shop is that everything is for women. There's more choice. You don't have to just make do with a men's small size, which can happen in other bike shops." As a result, Belinda says: "Some people see Bella Velo as a sanctuary. We have a core of customers who come to our events, and who pop in to the shop just to say hello."
The big chains are getting in on the act too. Halfords has just announced a partnership with Breeze, the women’s cycling network, and they’ve also committed to upping the proportion of female-specific gear in their newly launched Cycle Republic stores - starting with 30% in the St Margaret Street store.
Evans Cycles has started running women's evenings offering advice on clothing, coaching and bike set-up and maintenance. Lydia Szymczyk, Merchandising Manager at Evans Cycles says: "We had feedback that our stores are intimidating to women, so we started running these events so women could meet the staff in their local store, learn something and feel more comfortable returning in the future. We have 50 of these events planned for 2015."
Arm yourself with the basics
You don’t have to be a bike expert to get the best out of your bike shop experience, but knowing the basics before you go in can help you to feel more confident. "It helps if customers have done a little bit of research before they come in," says Belinda. "What do they want to use the bike for, what's their budget, that sort of thing. That way we can help them to find the best bike for them."
Belinda says you shouldn't feel bad if you have to ask for help fixing things on your bike. "We have lots of guys coming in asking us to fix their puncture, so it's not gender specific! It's not that women can't do these things, more that we just haven't had the opportunity to learn."
Don’t be afraid to ask
If you’re worried about asking questions in a bike shop - maybe you don’t want to reveal your ignorance, or you think you won’t be taken seriously - don’t be.
Belinda says: "I've had people come in with a list of questions, which I think is great. Take a friend with you if it gives you more confidence. Remember that you've gone to the shop for help, and if they can't give you that help, you can go elsewhere."
Sarah Pain, Category Marketing Manager at online shop Wiggle says: "We absolutely encourage customers to ask us questions if they need help with anything. We have a really great customer service team at Wiggle (both guys and girls) who are experts in their field. They are all sport-mad themselves, and we have training sessions for key product launches so they really can comment on the kit that people are asking about."
If you’ve had a bad experience in a shop - maybe their customer service wasn’t up to scratch, or they didn’t stock the product you were looking for - then let them know.
"We constantly encourage feedback from all of our customers at Wiggle and we actually judge our performance on their opinion of us," says Sarah. "We only sell products that we recommend, so if something isn’t up to scratch then we will reconsider it! We know that issues with product sizing (be it bikes or clothing) particularly resonate with our female customers, so we are trying hard to ensure that size charts are up to scratch."
Don’t just keep your feedback for when things go wrong. Bike shops like to know when they’ve got it right, too, so if you’ve had a great experience let them know!