Marketing to female cyclists; the good, the bad and the ugly

As part of our look into how the industry markets cycling products to women we’ve got our pro race commentator – Sarah Connolly – who also blogs at the ‘Unofficial Unsanctioned Women’s UCI Cycling Blog‘ along with Dan Wright, to take a look at how cycling companies showcase their kit.

I mentioned in a recent post, the Assos advert that was featured in as the topic of the Fat Cyclist ‘An open letter to Assos‘ post. The one where the woman is on her knees, adorned in spray-on, wet-look trousers and stilettos. Assos admit – in the advert – that these images have been designed for men to look at rather than for women to cycle in…

Although I promised myself to leave the marketing posts of the Unofficial Unsantioned Women’s UCI Cycling Blog to Dan from now on, I wondered maybe whether we were being too mean about Assos, and decided not to judge them on the strength of one advert alone. Guess what? It actually gets worse.

Firstly, rocking up on their front page and flicking through their slideshow, all the photos of products for men are illustrated with photos of men actually riding their bikes. Images for women’s products are illustrated by models standing or kneeling around with suggestive faces. So far, so bad. But how – I wondered – would they show off the actual clothing?

Why, like this;

In the space of a couple of images, we’ve gone from “just” porn face, to braless, to topless. At this point I wonder – just who DO they think buys their clothes? Who’ll think this is the best way to demonstrate good cycle clothing to women?

Okay, so I’ve chosen photographs that prove my point, but seriously, they’re all quite distasteful. Although they have five or six photos showcasing each item, none of them show close-up details of the products and none of them show a woman wearing them to cycle in.

Admittedly, the men’s don’t either (although they do elsewhere on the site) but in the males equivalent photos, they essentially use the same basic pose, straight on, facing the camera, accessorising with dark glasses and caps, showing what the jersey looks like in a straight-forward, non provocative fashion.

Sigh. But it’s not always like this. There are all kinds of ways to do it right, and here are three companies who have chosen to take a different route.

Vulpine is a small UK-based clothing company. Roo Paprika recommended their merino women’s jersey to me for one of my gift ideas for women’s cycling fans and women cyclist posts, and it is a beautiful jersey, I have one and I love it.

In their first year, this was Vulpine’s only product for female cyclists – they now have a fully stocked women’s range; jackets, trousers, shorts, the works – but look at how they marketed it. Different women, on their bikes, using the features of the jersey. It’s a gallery of real women, using the jersey as the desirable object, rather than showing the model as desirable to men.

I guess the idea is that if I wore the Assos jersey, men would fancy me? Dear Assos, that is not what women want when spending a lot of money on sports gear. We would like products that work, and make our ride easier and look good for US!

Well okay that’s just one product, from a small(ish) brand, so let’s have a look at Rapha.

I’ve talked about Collyn Ahart’s blogging on marketing to women, and in her slideshow presentation she mentions some work she did for Rapha. I always think I can never afford Rapha gear, so I don’t frequent their site, but for research purposes, I went and had a look.

It’s a strong start, a woman cycling on their front page, advertising their Women’s 100 rides. On their main shop page, they show the clothes without models at all, just telling us about the products.  Awesome!  No need for the excuse I’m sure Assos would use for their topless shots, that it shows off the shorts – this does exactly the same thing, but simpler, and with no implications at all.

The women’s section has, hallelujah, photos of women using the clothing, and the main photo on each item page is of the product in action. Real women, looking like they’re working hard. The other photos are up close detailed images, to tell me why these items are perfect for me. I still can’t afford them, but damn – I WANT them.

A third approach I love is that taken by Ana Nichoola.  It’s a very different style – more girly, and friendship focused.  The primary photos are of the object, then a range of pictures showing off details, and some model-esque ones. When not on their bikes, the models are having fun – and especially, thinking of Collyn’s point about how many advertisers seem to be scared of showing groups of women together, having fun with their friends.


That’s three different-sized companies, selling products to me in three different ways. On Vulpine’s website, the clothes jump out at me as beautiful and practical, all about performance, with great designs. On both Rapha’s and Ana Nichoola’s, a mix of practical and fun, showing me products I’ve never seen before, but would improve my cycling experience.  And I want all of them!

But above all, I see companies who are talking to me, showing me that they see who I am as a woman who rides her bike, and value me as a person.

Assos?  It’s like they wouldn’t even want my custom, on so many levels – they certainly aren’t thinking of me, let alone targeting me.  I have to wonder, what’s the point of bothering to make clothing if you’re not trying to sell it? A shame, as I’ve heard their cycling kit is top notch…

To read Sarah Connolly and Dan Wright wax lyrical and super-enthusiastic about women’s road racing, visit their blog at:  where this article was first published.

Their blog brims and bursts with unbridled – and often sweary – enthusiasm for women’s racing. In fact it’s sub-titled ‘A sweary blog about professional women’s cycling’ so don’t say you haven’t been warned…

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