There’s been a lot of attention on women in the bike industry lately, so we decided to take a look at one area that’s taking the lead when it comes to leveling the playing field: recreational mountain biking. Girls and women currently only make up about 20% of mountain bikers*, however, programs like Little Bellas and NICA along with the help of local bike shops are working to change that and improve gender parity.
Be the Shop You Wish to See in the World
As programs like Little Bellas and NICA continue to gain a foothold in the mountain bike community, more girls and their families will need bikes, accessories, tools, and mechanical know-how to help them on their journey. Here are suggestions from coaches, volunteers, and riders, along with some ways shops have already gotten involved.
Get the Gear
To get started, be mindful about stocking the kind of gear young riders require, at reasonable price points. Each rider will have different needs and desires (remember, not all girls want or need to ride women’s-specific bikes!), so it’s crucial that your staff is up-to-date on the latest options for kids and teenagers. Making sure that kids are on a bike that fits and works well can have a huge impact on if they stick with the sport or not and is often a top priority for coaches and ride leaders.
“When there’s an equipment failure, that can be a lost kid. If they’re on the wrong size bike, or wheels, they get frustrated fast. It’s helpful for shops to educate themselves on kids’ product so that, when girls visit the shop, employees know what kind of bike they should try,” explains Little Bellas co-founder Sabra Davison.
One way to get kids and families familiar with the bikes you stock is to bring a small demo fleet to team practices. That way, riders can try out a handful of options, and determine what they like best. As an added bonus, you’ll get a chance to chat with coaches and parents about what your shop has to offer in terms of maintenance packages, and prices.
Beyond inventory choices and product knowledge, one of the simplest ways to get involved with local youth teams and organizations is to create a welcoming and encouraging environment for kids and families. Bike shops can be intimidated for folks who are new to the sport, but especially so for young girls getting into a sport that’s dominated by boys.
This can be as simple as operating as a distribution hub for team/organization jerseys, stocking socks and helmets in your local team’s colors, or taking extra time to explain mountain biking basics to new riders and their families. At the end of the day, make sure that your staff understands the value of building relationships with kids involved in these organizations.
“Our shop has supported us by acquiring the things we need at a decent price point and helping us to educate our kids. They also make our team family feel at home at their shop. We joke that our local shop is basically the show Cheers, ‘where everyone knows your name’,” says Whitney Pogue, head coach of the Corner Canyon mountain bike team in the Utah High School League.
Tighten the Bolts
So, you’ve gotten to know your local mountain bike team and you’ve outfitted their riders with a slew of great bikes. Now what?
One word: maintenance. For any rider who’s new to the sport, bike maintenance cannot be understated or undersold.
Pogue explains, “One of the most beneficial things that our local bike shop has done is host clinics on basic bike maintenance. It’s presumed that people know what to do with their bike when something goes wrong, but a lot of people don’t.”
Washburn NICA coach Tonja Sahaydak adds, “The Washburn team does a weekend camp at the Cuyuna Lake Mountain Bike Trails. Charlie’s Tangletown Bike Shop gives us a bin of tubes, chains, and other common parts to take with. If we have a mechanical issue, we can use whatever we need from the box and just pay the shop once we get back from the trip.”
When they’re equipped with the right tools and knowledge, kids gain problem-solving skills, confidence, and learn the mechanics of how bikes work. For those times when a rider drops her chain during a race, or gets a flat at practice when a coach isn’t around, having this independence is worth its weight in gold.
Building a Better Industry
Your involvement with a local youth bike team or organization doesn’t have to be limited to sales and service. Among organizations like Little Bellas and NICA, you’ll find the next generation of riders, customers, bike shop employees, and outdoor industry professionals.
“I think there’s a huge opportunity for bike shops to have internships or volunteer opportunities for kids,” says NICA parent Krista Post. “Actually, several of the graduating seniors on the Washburn team are pursuing outdoor education or bike-related careers and activities. A couple have even been involved in coaching. It definitely has the potential to be a lifelong passion.”
Hangar 15 Bicycles, which has four Utah locations, is one shop that goes the extra step to actively hire more young women, introducing them to the bike industry.
“Several of the girls on the team work at the local bike shop. The owner of the bike shop rides with the team and has hired several of the students who show an interest in working in the industry,” says Pogue.