With the growing popularity of cycling amongst the women, the spotlight has been turned on local bike shops, and their efforts- or lack thereof - to be female friendly.
Not too long ago, the average bike shop would have a largely male dominated layout with the ever so small and limited women's selection tucked away in the gloomy corner - or in a cardboard box behind the counter from my experience!
But times are changing, however slowly, and local bike shops and brands are realising the potential in our loud minority. The days of trawling through the kid's section for small enough jerseys, and sifting through the dark recesses of a store for those bib shorts are soon to be a memory.
Commonly, a bike shop is a beginners first port of call for seeking hands-on advice and assistance for beginning a life on two wheels. However, many bike shops have developed a social stigma for being nothing more than a boys club, making it a somewhat intimidating environment for newcomers who have novice, and delicate questions.
Launched in October 2015 by professional cyclist Marianne Vos and her dedicated team of ambassadors, Strongher sets out to promote, encourage and support women in riding. Earlier this year Strongher launched a campaign to recognise "female friendly" bike shops by checking them against their Shero guidelines. If a store meets the requirements, they are added to a worldwide Strongher database, and provided with a stamp of approval from the women's cycling organisation.
As a Strongher Ambassador myself, and after assessing local bike store, Alf Jones Cycles, I went along to award them with their seal of approval. But what exactly makes a female friendly store?
Selection of Women's Kit
It goes without saying that the first stop to becoming a female friendly bike shop is to have a decent selection of women's bikes, kit and accessories. By this, we mean a selection of road, mountain and commuter cycling wear with a variety of brands, and the bikes to match.
All the clothes, shoes and accessories should be presented together to make it easier to find that full outfit, and get your colour coordinating powers dialled in.
Alf Jones Cycles dedicates over a third of their shop floor to women's specific items. With another third for the men's, and the remaining area for components and tools. The layout of the women's selection is clear, easy to find and well stocked, so there's no fishing around for that elusive size you can never find.
Try Before You Buy
If you're going to be investing money in new cycling kit, and especially a bike, it's important to try it out first.
Female friendly bike stores should have lockable changing rooms with mirrors both inside and out. Exactly as you would expect from a high street clothing store, rather than a cardboard box with an ill-fitting curtain which always leaves peeping gaps at each side.
Many bike stores will offer a bike test around the car parking area, or a little further afield so you can really get a feel for the bike of your dreams.
Women's Specific Advice
Having a great selection of women's specific products isn't enough though. You need to know what you're looking for, and what's suitable for your needs.
Having an educated shop team who know their way around a saddle goes a long way. Male or female, all staff members should be up to date on women's products and understand the needs that female cyclists have. Whether it's about bike fitting, saddle discomfort or general advice about cycling, staff should be able to help with all aspects of women's cycling.
Even having a female or two on the team of staff can go a long way for creating an equal and welcoming environment. For Alf Jones Cycles, they have and 1:3 ratio of females to male on staff, all with excellent knowledge of women's cycling, kit, components and maintenance.
Mull It Over
It's not mandatory, but having a cosy little café goes far in a cycling shop, especially when there are tasty home-made treats on offer.
Feeling a little indecisive about a bike purchase? Then have a cuppa and think it over in store and chat with a member of staff, or a friend, for the deciding vote. A coffee spot is ideal for those who are cycling through and need a rest stop, and perfect for those unwilling shoppers who get dragged around by their cycle mad friends.
Alf Jones Cycles support local riding groups who frequently stop in for a cuppa and essential maintenance whilst out on their rides. The warm environment is welcoming to drop by, even if you're not shopping for anything.
If a bike shop really wants to earn the brownie points, then hosting women's rides and maintenance classes are a great bonus.
Whether it's a road journey or off-road adventure, hosting women's rides are a great way to get to know their female community, learn from experiences and pick up tips to better their shop.
In Wrexham, Alf Jones Cycles hosted a brilliant demo day alongside Juliana Bicycles which took 20+ women across North Wales' stunning natural trails. Their plan is to host more social rides in the local area, along with maintenance evenings and VIP nights.
In a Nutshell...
There's a number of things a bike shop can do for them to be considered a female friendly store. It's not just the selection of the products on offer, but the attitude of the store towards women's cycling.
It's great to see times are changing and gender specific cycling is levelling out both on the bike, and off the bike.
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