American bike brand Specialized have been trading since 1974 and they’re now one of the giants of the cycling world.
They’ve provided bikes for a host of incredible professional cyclists, this year gaining the dual honour of supporting both male and female World Road Race Champions – Peter Sagan and Lizzie Armitstead. Both riders received custom painted S-Works versions of their bikes this year – Armitstead’s pearly white Amira gaining a great deal of love on its unveiling.
Specialized created their first women’s specific bike in 2003 – and since then their take on what exactly women need has evolved. The current approach is to use data from Retul bike fits, plus ‘motivational’ and ‘experiential’ differences to determine if a women’s frame is needed. What we like is that though the brand's thoughts on women's bikes have evolved over time, they’ve always explained the ‘why’ and they’ve always been open about their reasons and motivations.
The good news is that the brand have taken decisive steps to ensure that women who know what female cyclists want are making the decisions. Early this year they took on Vanessa Christie as their new Women’s Brand Manager – she’s there to oversee the work of even more women’s brand managers the company employs across the world – for example in the US Stephanie Kaplan looks after Women’s Road and Denise Bannert heads up Women’s MTB.
Christie comes over from a role as Marketing Manager at Timbuk2 and has been in the industry for ten years. She will be working to ensure that Specialized is always taking a joined up approach in what they do. Speaking to us about her appointment, she said: "A large part of what attracted me to Specialized is this enormous opportunity to be a female leader and agent for change within an industry that is, antiquated in some ways, and yet so bleeding edge innovative, at the same time. This is a new role for Specialized, which is exciting as well, and as I connect with the Women’s Business Leaders for Specialized across the globe, my excitement for this opportunity and the passion they have on this mission of getting more women on bikes, just becomes more and more palpable."
"A large part of what attracted me to Specialized is this enormous opportunity to be a female leader and agent for change"
She added: "I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to give a voice at the leadership level about women and cycling that will likely make people uncomfortable, push the boundaries and ideally thrust Specialized - and the industry to follow - into the 21st century and beyond. As we all know, the industry is slow moving, and ‘old guard’ still exists, but progress is happening. Every female I see on a bike inspires me in some way, and it is that inspiration, that rider, that brings me to work everyday."
Christie is proud of the brand's current offering for women - but she wants a lot more. She wants to move past 'catering for' women and into involving them - and said: "Specialized works hard to ensure women are catered for, yes, and rider insight and research is performed regularly to better understand her, what she wants, what she needs and solve her problems. When we’ll start to see real change that goes beyond “catering to" is when more women are involved in leadership positions, making key decisions, on bike products for all humans. One of my goals, as Head of Women’s Brand, is to go beyond “catering to" and into a space that Specialized will delight and f*cking surprise the current rider and future riders, to create products, a community and movement of riders that feel empowered on the bike, in the workplace, in schools and wherever else she wants to go. We’ve got some work to do."
Though bikes are obviously the key offering from the big red S, they also offer pretty much everything to go with them – from key contact points such as saddles, handlebars, grips, shoes and gloves to the gear we ride in – jerseys, bibs and shoes. From a distance it’s clear that this is a joined up approach – with helmets, shoes and gear matching the colour schemes of each annual bike parade. When you look up close and analyse, you’ll see that they’re using careful data and science to develop kit that works, all under their Body Geometry FIT umbrella.
Sponsoring a wide range of female athletes gives Specialized the opportunity to gain valuable rider feedback from women who really know their bikes. On the road side, the most obvious example is Boels-Dolmans, headed up by Yorkshire rider and World Champion Lizzie Armitstead. Off-road there’s UK rider Hannah Barnes, and in triathlon you’ll see Welsh pro Non Stanford aboard a Specialized. The brand also work with a number of national teams, supporting them in their individual goals and journey to the top.
As well as making excellent bikes, backing up their research with data and employing women to help develop their brand and products from the inside, Specialized have worked hard to develop a women’s online community – with the ‘Specialized WMN’ Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram profile. All three mediums are regularly updated, with everything from team news celebrating success from sponsored riders, to beginner information and product highlights.
We’ve always been impressed with what Specialized have to offer specifically for women, of all disciplines, and all levels of ability.