If you are a woman who spends time on the Internet, you know that misogyny is alive and well. And while you expect to see gut-twistingly sexist remarks on 4Chan or spewing from Twitter trolls, you don’t really expect to find them active on the website of a bicycle manufacturer.
Which is why women cyclists across the country all thought the following write-up was a joke when they clicked on Superior Bikes’ website:
(I reached out to Superior Bikes via phone and email. My email went unanswered, and my phone call was unmanageable given the language difference, though a female employee did confirm that the company does exist and its website is real.)
“I think the fact that so many of us thought it was a joke was a good thing. I think it shows that we as an industry are past that,” says Stephanie Kaplan, women’s product manager for Specialized Bicycle Components. “I think we’ve really reached a point in the industry where women’s voices are being heard.”
In the United States, that’s mostly true. There are more high-end performance bike options for women now than ever. But that must not be the case in the Czech Republic. Either that or Google Translate was overtaken by an MRA (that’s men’s rights advocate, for those of you who have not had the pleasure of being harassed online recently) the day Superior Bicycles plugged in its marketing copy.
“Our MODO models [the name the company uses for its women’s bikes] offer a mix of balanced qualities which make them the perfect match for all women looking for safe, easy to ride and, of course, stylish bikes with natural handling,” boasts the company’s new write-up. (They changed the language shown above after it caused an uproar on Twitter earlier this month.) The lineup includes nine models, with every single model having a splash of pink or purple somewhere on it.
While the words themselves are grating, the company’s offerings speak even louder. There’s not a single women’s road bike. And sorry ladies, but you’re just not ready for carbon fiber—or more than 100 millimeters of travel.
Of course, not every girl wants to shred, and that’s fine. “Actually, in some ways I sort of am a little bit like the rider they’re talking about,” says Kaplan. “But I think we’re really sensitive to it because of our past.”
The bike industry hasn’t always treated women as equal citizens. Just last year, PinkBike, a major bike review website, ran a piece that compared a bike to a girlfriend who will do anything after a few too many shots. That line has since been removed, but it sat on the site for almost nine months before being flagged as inappropriate.
For almost two decades, women’s products were either dumbed-down versions of men’s bikes or men’s bikes in Easter egg colors with inflated price tags. Add in the fact that, duh, we’re women, so we’re sensitive by nature (sarcasm font), and it’s easy to see why Superior Bikes’ website really made American women cyclists bristle.
To be fair, Superior Bikes is located in the Czech Republic, which is culturally distinct from the United States. Dr. Blanka Knotkova-Capkova, who teaches gender and cultural studies at the Metropolitan University of Prague and Charles University, says that for a number of reasons, feminism has been slow to catch on in her country, and advertising is one sector of the economy that has stayed stubbornly sexist. However, she sees the beginnings of a movement to a more gender-egalitarian society. “Discussions on feminism have grown, gender studies have become a part of the academy, and the opinions are slowly changing,” she says.
Dr. Knotkova-Capkova also says that Czech women are enthusiastic participants and fans of sports of all types. The country has produced some top pro female bike racers, so clearly there is interest in owning a bike that offers more than a safe, secure ride.
It is true that sales of entry-level women’s bikes far surpass those of higher-end bikes for most bike companies, and perhaps that’s what Superior Bikes is trying to tap into. There are women who will never, ever race or catch big air, just as there are men who will never do these things either. But even though some men will only ever redline as they chase down the women who pass them on the bike path, Superior isn’t marketing its men’s bikes with language about how easy they are to get on and off.
Ultimately, what Superior Bikes is doing isn’t just annoying. It’s shortsighted. Kaplan says Specialized has seen double-digit growth in sales of its high-end women’s bikes in the past few years. “We’ve had a lot of women who got into the sport a few years ago, and now they’re coming back and saying, ‘I am riding enough that I deserve that DI-II bike. I deserve those carbon wheels.’”
According to a report from the League of American Bicyclists, women spent $2.3 billion on bikes and equipment in 2011. Furthermore, from 2003 to 2012, the number of women riding bikes grew by 20 percent while the number of men riding bikes fell by half a percentage point.
Sure, these stats are for the United States, not the Czech Republic, but going hard and getting dirty have no geopolitical boundaries. The thrill of hitting a PR or nailing an obstacle on the trail for the first time is universal, and our sisters in the Czech Republic deserve to have the tools to go as hard and as fast as they want—gender stereotypes be damned.