Women & the Cycling Press – What needs to change, what’s going well, and where are we going?
When you’re looking for information, stories, or generally just want to immerse yourself in the magnificent world of cycling, where do you go? Do you head to a website, purchase a magazine, watch a video, or listen to a podcast? And do you find that what you are reading, watching or listening to satisfies you, represents you and your experience of cycling,or is something lacking?
Total Women’s Cycling is still one of the few cycling media outlets that focuses solely on women and cycling. But there are many other outlets that cover cycling in general, whether it’s mountain biking, road cycling or commuting, or indeed all three.
Some of these are new, many of them are well established and all of them are aware that the ever-growing female cycling market needs to be catered for.
Several months ago, Canadian website NSMB (that’s North Shore Mountain Biking to you and me) published an article where they asked some of the big guns in the Canadian MTB world how they thought cycling media needed to change in the future, and there were some very interesting responses.
That got us thinking. What do the women in the bike industry in the UK think needs changing with cycling media? What could be better, what works and what doesn’t? We’ve collected their eye opening responses.
But what we’d also like to know is; what do you want to see? What do you like and dislike in other cycling media? What draws you in and inspires you, and conversely what turns you off all together. Share your comments below, and lets get us the entertaining, representative and informative media we deserve!
Natalie Justice, Project Manager of Breeze
Natalie Justice is the project manager for the highly successful Breeze program by British Cycling. Its aim is to encourage more women into, or back into, cycling, using a network of trained volunteers or Champions to lead easy, accessible rides in their local areas. Natalie’s leadership has been a key element in the projects success.
“I think representation is a difficult issue. It’s hard to get the balance between ‘any exposure is good’ and whether people are looking at the images for the right reasons. Personally I think 2012 was a real turning point in media exposure for women; we started to see more coverage celebrating athleticism, and about the women as athletes.
However this does not appeal to everyone and the coverage is still too rare. Female cyclists have only really recently been exposed in their own right, as great cyclists not just great ‘female cyclists’, which is how it should continue. Female cyclists should be talked about because of their skill and ability as great cyclists – whatever their discipline.
On a non-sporty level I think we are making waves! We are normalizing getting on a bike for women, celebrating normal, everyday role models and hopefully breaking down the barriers by using the right imagery. However we still hit the same problem on scale – we struggle to get things out to the masses across the media. That why campaigns like ‘This Girl Can’ will help, as the scale is enormous.
In a nutshell I think things are getting better, but I hope we don’t become overly thankful for this, like we should be grateful that it’s better than it was. We don’t want complacency to creep in."
Rebecca Charlton, Cycling Journalist, Editor and Author
An established name in the world of the cycling press, Rebecca Charlton is deputy editor for Cycling Active Magazine and a writer for associated Time Inc UK titles including Cycling Weekly. She is also currently covering the Revolution Series for Channel 4.
“When I first moved from women’s glossy magazines to the cycling industry I went from a female-only team to being able to count the other female writers and broadcasters on one hand.
At trade shows people would ask what I was selling, shocked when I said I was a bike racer and journalist. This has changed dramatically in the last few years and I regularly work with other firmly established female reporters.
Cycling Weekly re-launched this month with guest columnists including Sarah Storey and Katie Archibald. After complaints in the past that there isn’t enough female specific content in cycling magazines it got me thinking. People may be surprised to discover that there are as many female members of editorial staff as men and that when we write ‘bike rider’ we are not being gender specific.
Last weekend, while interviewing Lizzie Armitstead and rising talent Emily Kay for Channel 4, produced by Cyclevox, I realised, for me certainly, there’s no thought given to the gender of the interviewee. Coverage is based on performance, and stand-out riders command the attention of the viewers, male or female. With the likes of Laura Trott, Joanna Rowsell and Lizzie Armitstead consistently on the biggest podiums in the world they are firmly in the media spotlight.
The success of Team GB on the track at London 2012 raised the profile of track cycling significantly in the UK, the names Trott and Rowsell sit next to Kennaugh and Clancy with complete parity. Leading magazines like Cycling Weekly are bringing the best of women’s racing and its leading ladies to the forefront of its coverage. Times are good in this respect.
Where things do fall down is on the road side when it comes to television broadcasting. The wheels are in motion, The Women’s Tour of Britain was highly successful in every respect, from the organisation to the level of racing and secured prime time TV coverage. While there’s a long way to go there’s a hunger for equal coverage, we have the stars of the sport and I believe it can get there.
We all need to continue to work together to secure the platform to show the public how exciting the international women’s road scene can be. I would love fans to be able to switch on a mainstream channel on a Saturday afternoon and watch women’s racing."
Sarah Pain, Marketing Manager at Wiggle
An avid mountain biker, and passionate cyclist, Sarah Pain is the category marketing manager for Wiggle, the online cycling and running superstore. Sarah has worked to ensure that the selection of products Wiggle stock for female cyclists is extensive, attractive and represent value for money. She has also worked to encourage female participation at the various mountain bike and sportive events Wiggle organize.
“I worked for a magazine in my pre-Wiggle life, so I have an inherent interest in the media. I’m also an avid reader of anything bike related, so this is a subject close to my heart. In short, I am both encouraged and disappointed by the cycling media, in equal measure.
I am greatly encouraged to see the diversity of what is covered in the cycling media at the moment. Whether you are a mountain biker, commuter, new to cycling or an experienced rider, there is something to interest you and engage you, at every level.
This diversity is brilliant to see, and cycling (and its accompanying media) should be accessible to all; there are great challenges and successes to shout about at every level, and in every discipline of the sport.
I also think that there has been a positive shift in the representation of women in cycling media over the past year or so. It used to be the case that I could read a mountain bike magazine and barely see a women in there, let alone one riding a bike! This has definitely changed.
I don’t kid myself that this is entirely due to a great new vision. The industry is being driven significantly by commercial factors; that is, women ARE riding bikes and they WANT the same opportunities as the guys. As a result of this realisation, there are more brands with female ranges, meaning more ads that are specifically speaking to women, as well as some amazing new companies producing female specific kit.
It is long overdue, and in stark contrast to the dreaded ‘shrink and pink’ that many of us remember from the not so distant past.
Despite this progress, however, I guess I still express some disappointment too. I’m disappointed that – cue hugely generalised comment – many features still don’t seem to include women. I see amazing articles on the inspirational women, who are pushing the boundaries in racing; whether it be MTB, road, track or cyclocross, which is great.
But I would also like to see more women just included in images on the normal stuff too! If I go on a club ride, or join a local MTB group, the chances are it’s going to be a mix of men and women. So why don’t we see this reflected? Why no photos of girls slogging it up huge great Alpine climbs on their road bikes? I know they are out there (I’m one of them!), so why not?
My concern is that, whilst improved, women wanting to get into this great sport are still only seeing a few images of outstanding female athletes. Inspirational, sure. But not real life. I remain concerned that until we address this and it normalises, then we risk women new to the sport picking up a magazine or looking at a website (TWC aside!), and thinking ‘this isn’t for me’.
Which is a shame; as we all know, cycling is actually for everyone."
Suze Clemitson, Author, Journalist and Guardian Contributor
An established and adept journalist and author, and one of the main voices of women’s cycling, Suze Clemitson is a voice worth listening too. Her book, 100 Tours, 100 Tales, followed each of the 100 Tour de France events, and is based on her award winning blog. She writes regularly for The Guardian,
If the name sounds particularly fresh in your memory, it’s because she wrote an excellent piece in The Guardian recently regarding the shocking image a cycle race used to advertise their event. The poster was subsequently pulled from circulation.
"To get a better women’s cycling media we first need to improve the worth of women’s cycling. We need equal prize money to give the sport equal value and a minimum wage that allows women to consider professional cycling as a viable option.
Improve the depth and talent of the women’s peloton and you have an even more compelling sport for fans, for sponsors and for the media. If men’s World Tour teams were mandated to run women’s teams and World Tour events mandated to run women’s events we might finally break the vicious circle that the media like to use as an excuse to not cover the women’s sport.
There’s a strong argument for women’s cycling being used as a test bed for innovation that can then transfer to the men’s sport – and that could and should also apply to media. Women’s cycling media has, by necessity, been very much from the grassroots with passionately informed commentators like Sarah Connolly leading the way with her integrated use of social media to provide a 360 picture of the women’s sport and her patreon website is a really interesting funding model. And of course sites like Total Women’s Cycling and Cyclingtips, who’ve just appointed a women’s cycling editor.
The drive for a better women’s cycling media will come from fans and from social media.
We also need to change the media perception of women in cycling, which is where equipment retailers and local clubs can all play their part in ‘normalising’ the idea of women on bikes. We need less fauxrage over non-issues like the Bogota Humana kit and more examination of the actual issues of the way cycling media uses images of naked women in body paint, for example.
And I would love to see some of the ‘big interviews’ with the stars of the women’s sport in mainstream media – invariably done by men – coming from a dual perspective.
That’s not to suggest that there should be some kind of journalistic apartheid but unless we have more women’s voices in mainstream cycling media we run the risk of always seeing the women’s sport through the male gaze."
Adele Mitchell, Writer, Blogger and TWC Contributor
Adele Mitchell is an award winning blogger, journalist, mountain biker and of course regular Total Women’s Cycling contributor. She’s also an avid consumer of mountain bike media, so it aware of what’s out there, what’s changed, and what still needs work on.
"UK mountain bike media is still a ‘man’s world’. Most of the journalists are men, as are most of the readers. Most of the advertising is aimed at men too. You’d be forgiven for thinking that women don’t really ride mountain bikes, nor have any intention of spending any money on them.
However, things are a lot better than they used to be: there is much less of the ‘my missus hates my bike’ school of journalism for instance, and some editors are clearly making a conscious effort to include women riders and women specific gear reviews in their editorial mix.
How could it be improved?
While I enjoy reading about mountain biking from men’s points of view, I’d like to read about women’s experience too. So, more stories about fabulous women riders, more trail guides with women riders testing the routes, more women testing gear, and more women writing about their experience of riding bikes. There is so much ability, opinion and achievement missed just because we are women. Let’s tap into it.
One more thing – as women, we need to support the titles and sites that are starting to get it right. Click on the links, buy the magazines to read in the bath, and LET THEM KNOW when you read something you love (or be constructive about something you’d like to see done differently). The best editors will listen – right, guys?"
Chris Garrison, UK Marketing Maven for Trek Bicycles
As the marketing maven for international bike super-brand Trek Bicycles here in the UK, Chris Garrison has her fair share of experience of the cycling media. Her industry perspective is an important part of the equation. Chris deals with journalists, marketing teams, retailers and riders, and knows the ins and outs of the bike biz well.
“In my role I often get questions from publishers for my thoughts on the idea of them launching more women-focused content. Every time I see an email with this topic in the subject line, I know exactly what’s coming. This usually consists of three things: a desire to understand how much of an emphasis women’s products are to our brand (huge), a question about what types of content I’d like to see, and something along the lines of ‘Would you support this commercially?’.
My thoughts on this are pretty well-formed, after years of seeing this sort of thing play out. Or not, as is often the case when the industry isn’t willing or able to stump up the cash. Suddenly, that idea about producing more women’s content goes away. Shocking.
Most of the time when people attempt to create a women’s element to a publication, it’s written in the same style as standard articles. This assumes that women want to know the exact same things about products as men, which isn’t entirely the case.
I want to see the bike media produce content for women that takes into consideration the way women make choices about the products they buy, and tailor the information so that it’s presented accordingly. Truth be told, men don’t understand high-level technical jargon nearly as much as they pretend to, so toning down the technobabble actually works better for the vast majority of readerships.
When it’s time for me to talk about how much value I’d place on women’s content, I cringe. I hate this question. I know why it’s being asked, but it’s essentially a publication saying ‘we’ll only talk about half the population if we can make money out of it’.
That might seem like a jaded view, and I understand how the publishing side works enough to know that they need to have financial support to some degree. BUT I think making that the priority over producing the content is putting the cart before the horse, and that’s a bad choice.
We know that retailers can make more money in their store if they emphasise the women’s market. They have to assume risk in order to do this, and providing they do it well, they always capitalise on it.
So in short, I’m not going to throw money at a publication based on the promise of producing women’s content. As a woman, I clearly think that I’m worth having content made for me without requiring the industry to pay for it up front.
The cycling media should be talking about women. Now. Not later. And way more than is currently happening. Anyone who is paying attention knows that the way this sport grows and prospers into the future, is by getting more women on bikes.
It’s not simply about women’s specific publications churning out women’s specific information. It’s about ALL cycling media including women in their content. Simple."
What do you think?
From the views expressed by the women in the bike biz we questioned, it’s clear that the cycling media aren’t there yet when it comes to producing quality material that appeals to female cyclists.
What are your thoughts on the matter? What would you like to see out there? Do you agree or disagree with any of the points our commentators have made? Because one things for certain; if we don’t ask, if we don’t demand, we certainly don’t get.