Tuesday, 6 April 2010

I don't mean to be sexist but...

I was struggling over a burst inner tube in the car park at my work; I only had one tyre lever, and was making do with some teaspoons to get the tyre off the wheel. A senior manager, resplendent in lycra ambled over from his very nice custom road bike and volunteered a hand. I was mildly annoyed; not at his community-spirited overture, but because he opened the offer "I don't mean to be sexist, but you look like you could really use some help". I asked to borrow some tyre levers, and instead he took the job off me, lavishly complimenting my attempt; "You don't see many women trying this". Patching an inner tube is hardly an exotic achievement, and I have seen several people of a distinctly feminine persuasion carry it off with aplomb. I am sure this guy genuinely didn't want to come across as sexist, but by tainting an entire gender-way with my (non-girly based) clumsiness, he kind of did. Now I feel self-conscious doing repairs in public, in case I accidently shame my sex, like a Victorian matron accidentally flashing a few inches of calf.

This reflected a more general issue I've experienced as a female cyclist. Unpleasant as the heckles and shouted abuse can be, open aggro is easily identified and acted against. The errors of the well-meaning can also be off-putting; these mistakes can be made both by over-focusing on sometimes narrow ideas of feminine needs and by totally ignoring the existence of clued-up lady cyclists.

One off-the cuff example of this I found today was this bike: the Giant Chixie. It pretty much the only off the peg fixed gear/ single speed bike designed specifically for women on the UK market. The best I can say for it is that it isn't pink; otherwise, it is a messy abortion of a bike. I'm not a huge fan of chunky aluminium frames, huge riser bars or brightly coloured deep profile rims at the best of times- together they look like a toy belonging to a myopic and offensively twee child. The advertising guff witters on about running it as a "true fixed", which according to Giant means sans brakes. This is both illegal on public roads, and positively dangerous without foot retention on the pedals (not supplied with the Chixie, naturally). The name is an obvious fucking disgrace. Giant doesn't make the best looking rides, but you would expect the market to come up with at least one other fixed-gear bike for women; perhaps one that expects them to have adult tastes in both aesthetics and performance.

Another stupid example is this bike rack (heh- rack/rack!). It's meant to be a mudflap girl. The image of a bicycle chained to female objectification in metal form is fairly depressing. Adding to the miserable effect is the fact the designer was David Byrne, who is generally quite awesome, and has done a lot of bike advocacy. The project of fun bike parking was a good idea- positive, public and attention grabbing. However, this one of a dozen-odd designs just seems lazy and juvenile; almost as misguided as the New York authorities, who didn't comment on this, but vetoed another bike stand in the shape of a bottle of fortified wine, on the grounds of "poor taste". Giant porn silhouettes are installed by the NY Department of Transport; real women fade into the background. Byrne's design would have to be a hell of a lot wittier for me to let that slide.

There's sort of a point to all this- basically the points that Nan, Jess, and Una have already put across well- we need to be acknowledged as a positive and normal part of bike culture. It seems that there is as much work to be done on those who share our enthusiasm for two wheels as anyone else.


  1. Nice one! I'll be having a read of this blog regularly. I've been cycling ferociously in Birmingham for a good 18 years now and share lots of your general exasperations. I was once asked by a female presenter in a radio interview for bike week "But don't you get really big calves?" I was so gobsmacked all I could do was laugh. One of those females being their own worst enemy moments I'm afraid.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Karen. Unfortunately, I had to answer that question just yesterday to a lady in the street! If you'd like to contribute anything to the blog, please feel free to send us a message...as you can see we're just getting started and anything would be greatly appreciated!