Mansplaining and other Female Experiences at the Bike Shop

My friend Katie has an old, heavy, beat up mountain bike that she rode around in college. This is that typical college bike that you probably had - recycled from your parents garage or purchased a yard-sale. It was never meant to make it beyond the college campus commutes, much less to be riding longer routes 15-years later. I’m fairly certain it weights more than her 9-year old child. Nevertheless, Katie lugged that old bike out on a gravel ride with me — although she’s stronger and faster than me, my sleek Orbea Terra made my ride much easier. By the end of the ride, I knew she had her eye on a new bike.

A few months later, I just happened to be at a bike shop that was going out of business stocking up on some gear. They are a nation-wide chain and sell some fairly good bikes so I sent Katie a text asking how tall she was and set out to find her a new road bike. After working in a bike shop known for it’s bike fitting for 2-years, I knew that she would need to be measured but was probably somewhere between a 49-51, depending on the length of her legs.

The bikes were jammed together in tight rows with the prices prominently displayed, making it almost impossible to eyeball size, much less components. A woman approached me and I explained that I was just looking for options for a friend and if there was anything left in her size and price range, then she would come up later that day. She was great - she showed me a few bikes that would work, explained some of the components and told me a bit about how long they be continuing the sale. i thanked her and shot off a few text updates to Katie before I went back to searching for the perfect pair of gloves.

A few minutes later I got a text back from Katie asking about gravel bikes so I headed over to the gravel section which was much less packed in and eyeballed a few that I thought might be her size. The problem was, I could not figure out where the heck the sizes were. They weren’t anywhere on the front of the card. I was looking around for the female sales rep when a male sales rep approached me.

All I asked for was where to find the sizes. This question led to a 5-minute mansplaining session about bike geometry and how she needed to be tall enough to stand over the bike. He proceeded to explain to me what an inseam was and how to measure it. When he finally stopped to take a breath, I mentioned that I understand the difference in height, I have an Orbea Terra that fits me but not my friend who is the same height. I have crazy long legs and she has short legs and a long torso. He asked me what size my bike was and looked at me skeptically when I said medium. (The Terra comes in sizes XS-XL rather than by number). I could tell he didn’t really believe that I knew what size my bike was…

I do realize that there was no way this man could have known that I worked for a bike shop where we did 10-15 bike fits a week or that I had written articles educating people on the value of a bike fit, but the difference in a male employee and female employee was very eye-opening.

The man immediately assumed I knew nothing so he preemptively mansplained everything.

The woman assumed that I would ask questions so she started a conversation.

This experience is not unusual. My friend, who was a fairly new cyclist but had ridden Dirty Kanza had two particularly annoying experiences.

First, as she was training for Dirty Kanza, her Di2 went out on a training ride. She took it into the shop and the owner told her it was fine. It just needed to be charged. She was a bit skeptical, because she does know how to charge a device, but she took his word for it.

It went out a second time when we were riding together. I called the bike mechanic that I trust the most and told him what was going on. He took the Di2 out and found a slightly bent wire which was keeping the Di2 from charging.

Later, when she had racked up more than 2000 miles on her bike, she went into the same bike shop because her brakes needed to be adjusted. The mechanic argued with her - telling her that she was imaging it. Her brakes were fine. Rather than taking him at his word, she trusted her own knowledge of the way her bike was supposed to feel and headed to another shop where she did indeed find that her brakes needed to be adjusted.

These may seem like silly examples but I’ve seen men walk into the same shops with concerns about their bike and be treated more seriously.

The culture is beginning to shift. More women are getting involved in the sport. More women are opening bike shops, becoming bike mechanics, and actively working to make the cycling industry more open to women but change takes time.

The best thing we as women can do is go to a shop educated. I’ll be honest. There’s a certain part of me that doesn’t want to be educated. I mean, that’s why I pay a mechanic - right?

The problem is, we end up frustrated because things come back half fixed or we’re treated like a stupid girl.

We have to take ownership of our bikes. We need to learn the basic of our bike so we can understand what is being sold to us…and by the way, when you find a great mechanic, he or she will be thrilled to help you learn.

We need to be willing to ask good questions so we can understand why we keep having that issue with our chain or why our foot goes numb halfway through a ride. Most of all, we need to learn to trust our instincts when something doesn’t seem right. Your mechanic will at most, ride your bike around a parking lot to check it out. The weird noise that you always hear when climbing probably won’t come out during his 90-second parking lot loop.

Don’t be afraid to walk away. If a bike shop isn’t going to listen to you and treat your concerns or questions with respect, it’s time to walk out and find a new bike shop.

Bike shop culture is slowly changing but it will take time. The more we stand up for ourselves and walk away when we aren’t treated well, the faster it will change. I’m fortunate to live in a big city and I’ve found a fantastic bike shop in my neighborhood. The guys who run the shop have always answered my questions, helped me learn without making me feel stupid, and support women’s teams in our local community.

If you have a great bike shop, we’d love to brag about them. Post in the comments!