Real Women

Having worked in advertising a bit, I was intrigued by the ongoing debate about the representation of gender in bicycle advertising. At first, I was inclined to be offended too. But then, as I was watching the cyclists in my neighborhood, I realized something: the media really has us women figured out!

For example, I saw this very cute woman with a bike downtown:

Real Women

Specialized did some solid market research because I actually stumbled on a couple of Bike Nurses offering cycling men a hand!

Real Women

Of course, the lady cyclists out on the town were very stylish.

Real Women

But, of course, it’s not all about the clothes.

Real Women

Which sure makes laundry and getting ready in the morning so much easier.


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  • David September 27, 2012   Reply →

    I worked single parent daddy hours in a local bike shop for over 10 years as a mechanic. A salesman who was pushing (Pimping) a line of California Cruiser Bikes was handing out calenders of the bikes. The bikes would be in the foreground with these very customized cars from the 1950’s and 60’s in the back ground and yes, there was a very scantily clad, nothing to the imagination woman draped over or straddling the bike(s).
    The guy handed me one and I asked him how I would explain such a calendar to my two (then) little girls.

    I handed the calendar back to him and but my boss started carrying that line of bikes. I have to note that none of the calendars were on display in the store.

  • Peter Lütken September 27, 2012   Reply →

    Pane 3: Shouldn’t bespectacled girl’s other pant leg berolled up? Unless she’s riding a bike with a southpaw drivetrain or if this is some weird Bostonian bike fashion that has yet to reach across the pond to Norway. :)

    As always: a great read. Wrote a long comment on my feelings on the subject, but it all looked sorta bland next to your cartoon.

    • Kevin September 27, 2012  

      Huh??? My chain is on the right as well. Her right pant leg is rolled up. Is your chain on the left?? Although it does sort of appear that hers is on the left.

    • Peter Lütken September 28, 2012  

      I have now cleaned my glasses and all is well :)

    • Chreese October 13, 2012  

      It works if she rides backwards like the girl in the first drawing.

  • Charlie September 27, 2012   Reply →

    While it does make me a little uneasy that companies are using sex to sell bicycles, to a certain extent I’m actually quite happy about it. For years we were told that cars are sexy, and attractive people drive cars. Now we are seeing marketers sells us that bikes are sexy and attractive people ride bikes. It’s not a bad problem to have given that historically bikes, especially in the media, have been shown to only be ridden by losers and social misfits who can’t afford a car or couldn’t get a driver’s license.

    • t-honks September 27, 2012  

      Yeah, but the “sexy” people in these ads aren’t ever RIDING bikes. They generally seem to just be standing near or over them.

    • John Murphy September 27, 2012  

      You calling Mario Cipollini unsexy? Paola Pezzo?

  • John Romeo Alpha September 27, 2012   Reply →

    It’s all about target market I suppose. Men have buy buttons which are assumed to be easily pressed by a scantily clad woman straddling a superlight racing bike, a double hit of affect heuristic. I, for one, am also offended by the tacit assumptions of that ploy: superlight racing bikes turn me off completely.

  • Megan September 27, 2012   Reply →

    I read some of those articles last week on the representation on gender in advertising and agree: F’d up!

    But I’ll have to disagree with you on some of these other criticisms. Yeah, people should be able to bike in regular clothes and women shouldn’t be expected to be ‘dressed up.’ But ‘regular’ clothes is defined differently for different people and different occasions. Sure, I’ll ride my bike in jeans. I’ll also ride my bike in a short skirt and outrageous heels when I’m headed out for a night on the town on a Friday. (Beats walking in heels!) And yeah, maybe I’ll take my dutch bike out for a spin in a dress because hey, I happen to be wearing a dress and I can pile a crapload of stuff on the back when I go to the market.

    Why not embrace the diversity and keep your criticisms on the media?

  • Ian Brett Cooper September 27, 2012   Reply →

    Sadly, the ‘I contribute visually to a more aesthetically pleasing urban landscape’ meme seems to be taking over cycling advocacy these days. I hope, one day, that it goes back to being about the right to ride bikes instead of being about urban chic and traffic calming. When did cycling advocacy start to be all about cityscapes and automobiles anyway?

    • Megan September 28, 2012  

      When we wanted more than just spandex-clad sportsters to ride bikes.

      More bikes = healthier communities, people and planet = Making biking safe and normal for everyone, including grandmas and kids

    • Ian Brett Cooper October 2, 2012  

      I’ve never worn spandex, I rarely cycle over 10mph. I’ve been cycling slowly in regular clothes since 1970. I dislike the sport cyclist mentality as much as anyone, but that doesn’t mean I embrace the Hippie ‘cycling can save the world if only we shove unprepared people onto bikes’ mentality.

      Cycling can never be safe for everyone when so-called ‘cycling advocates’ scorn research that tells us that riding on the road is safer than riding in pretty colored bike lanes which invite unsafe passes, right hooks, and which result in your ‘grandmas and kids’ (who usually have no idea of the rules of the road or even how to balance on their bikes) making the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of the fantasy ‘cycling event horizon’ that these advocates look forward to.

      If cycling advocates were a bit more focused on real (not fantasy) cycling safety, a bit less enamored with bicycle facilities that have been proven to be less safe than the road, and a bit less obsessed with increasing bicycle mode share no matter what the cost in injuries or lives, I might be a bit less cynical about their motives.

      More bikes do indeed mean a better world. The ends are good. It’s the means to those ends I have a problem with, because the means have a tendency to supplant the ends. And in this case, the means are questionable to say the least.

    • dr2chase October 11, 2012  

      Oh come on, we tried that Effective stuff for 30 years, and got effectively nobody on bikes. The goal is what the Dutch have — and they have the stats to prove that it works better than anything else. Cycling advocates don’t want some fantasy, they want what those people over there have already — ride shares typically greater than 1/3, sometimes greater than 1/2, and safe cycling for all those people, including kids and grannies riding bikes without helmets (and not just some self-selected tiny fraction of the population).

      Even with the half-assed infrastructure we deploy here (and I agree, door lanes are an abomination), the per-cyclist accident rate in NYC is falling as they add more infrastructure and more cyclists.

  • Steve R. September 27, 2012   Reply →

    A fun strip as usual, with a lot of truth behind it, but now I feel guilty for just being a guy!

  • Wendy September 27, 2012   Reply →

    LOVE IT!!! As usual.

  • YungFalbz September 27, 2012   Reply →

    My first thought after reading this was, “I love this f#$%ing post.” And then I thought that I shouldn’t write f#@$ing – it’s just not ladylike. Oh, and after looking at the new Sheila Moon catalogue yesterday, I vomited in my mouth a little – although I am a little tired of black bike shorts, high heels and tennis rackets with psuedo-bike gear? Great post!

  • Ethan Fleming September 27, 2012   Reply →

    Really great one. Yet in a disturbing but humorous way it is true.

  • Ryan Surface September 27, 2012   Reply →

    Hey don’t make the real bike lady look so frumpy -she’s hot! Oh and where are those bike nurses stationed? Great strip..errr I mean comic

  • ladyfleur September 27, 2012   Reply →

    I with Megan on this one. Don’t confuse women who choose to ride in skirts and heels with sexist images of women in the media and the provocative statements by a man who’s challenging our assumptions about what’s appropriate bike wear.

    I wear dresses and heels most days when I ride to work and I know there are plenty of people who think I’m dressed inappropriately. How do I know? Because they tell me to my face. I even had a local female advocate tell me I was making the rest of them look bad. She wasn’t kidding. She didn’t approve.

    If they assume I don’t know how to ride too, well, they’re dead wrong. I can do cyclocross dismounts/remounts in a skirt…on a tandem…and I have proof.

  • Melissa September 27, 2012   Reply →

    This reminds me of when I was 11 and I asked my mom if I could start shaving my armpits.
    She said, “But I thought you were liberated?”

    @Megan & @Ladyfleur, I’ll be honored when my little blog is recognized as media and thus worthy of criticism. The haters can bring it, in the meantime, we can dress how we like.

  • Jessie September 27, 2012   Reply →

    I like going on bike dates to dinner and dancing with my boyfriend; “slutty” microdress, super high heels, the whole nine yards. But what I like best is when someone calls me out on it; I always challenge them to a race. I haven’t lost yet, because I ride for work, for fun, for exercise, long distance… you name it, and I’m always racing cars on solo rides, I can’t help it.

    I like to think of it as doing my part to challenge stereotypes and be a powerful, functional AND sexy woman. But actually, I just get evilly gleeful at the resulting facial expressions.

  • JJ September 28, 2012   Reply →

    Love it!! Nice illustration of the debate.

    Think from your previous posts it is quite clear that you cycle in whatever works for you at the time. I personally take the images as illustration of how the media can portray women in cycling and what that message says – rather than a stab at anyone who cycles in heels to work. For me, I’ll stick to my road shoes and change into heels at work.

    @ladyfleur – love the tandem video.

  • Lizzy September 28, 2012   Reply →

    I am still offended. If men were dressed provocatively on a bike or car, it would look ridiculous. To me when a woman is presented this way it is demeaning to my sex – like they are being used as an object to attract men. Most or all bike shop owners are men, and men still ride more bikes than women, so I assume that is the targeted market – not women.

    • mabsf September 29, 2012  

      Men dressing provocatively riding bikes? Reminds me of the Spandex crowd… As a female in bike shop I have to deal with a few pleasant but mostly not so pleasant examples of tight clothing.
      As Elly in her presentation I am not happy of the male gaze in bike advertising, but I also ride in heels and skirts when I like without feeling demeaned… it’s my choice.
      What it boils down to is that we as women need to make the Bike industry realize that women are viable market – so dear sisters, stop balking on spending $600.00 on your transportation when you don’t think twice spending $300.00 on a pair of shoes (and yes, this is written with a wink in my eye!)

  • JJ September 28, 2012   Reply →

    Case in point: Great cause……. but…. errrr…. maybe there are cleats on those heels??

  • Steve September 28, 2012   Reply →

    What corner is the women in Pane 4 on, I have been looking for a new place to bike, and you know, like i ride a bike…

  • bostonperson whohasbike September 28, 2012   Reply →

    there’s also sexy men on bikes:

    which also appeals to the male audience.

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