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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  • oldguy September 29, 2012   Reply →

    IMO: real woman, real bike, real high-class :-) :

  • Brian September 29, 2012   Reply →

    While I think you’re totally right about those bike ads — especially the one with the nurse — I think it’s important to separate opposition to sexist objectification from opposition to fashion and public spaces where fashion works. In most US cities (even, in certain ways, Boston), we’re just starting to rebuild a culture of genuinely urban public space, and dressing for the public eye is a big part of that. For fifty years, urban biking has been something that grubby men do, amid the grime and danger of car traffic. We really, really, need to change that. So while I agree that many bike ads — like many ads, period — promote an idea of fashion that makes women feel stereotyped and demeaned, I think it’s bad to jump from there to a condemnation of a visually appealing urban landscape….just sayin’.

  • Robert September 30, 2012   Reply →


    (Nitnoid: Male/female/whatever is a reference to one’s *sex*, not gender.)

  • Erik Sandblom September 30, 2012   Reply →

    Woman in helmet says “These are my regular clothes”

    AGNNNN… Okay well I’m glad you always wear a helmet while driving a car. Be safe everyone!

  • Sam September 30, 2012   Reply →

    This issue is a tar-baby and I am very disappointed that this issue continues to gain traction amongst the bike advocates. We have people regularly dying or getting injured by our autocentric society and we’re instead wasting time attacking a made-up enemy “cycle chic”. Last I checked, the car was killing us and our cities – not the random lady on a bike or the random model who does paid gigs for magazine spreads.

    There are plenty of women who dress well and dress to be admired by men. They revel in male attention. I don’t identify with this group, but many of my friends do this and they do this deliberately – they enjoy and revel in titillating men. Men enjoy this to – its a game and I must express genuine surprise that you’re not aware of this (or at least that’s the impression I get from reading your comics). Sexual dynamics and sexual energy is part of human nature and the advertising industry has tapped into it brilliantly. If you dislike the paradigm that is being set – change it. Attacking it makes it that much more powerful. You have a soapbox – use it wisely.

    • Erik Sandblom October 5, 2012  

      I think Sam makes an interesting comment. What is demeaning and tasteless to some is a playful allusion to others. It’s usually a matter of opinion and values, not of objective rightness or wrongness.

      I think Elly Blue’s Bike Test is a useful guide for those wanting to think about the issue. But the conclusions you arrive at in applying the test will not be the one and only truth.

  • Kookaburra October 2, 2012   Reply →

    Man, nothing brings out the butthurt like the pictures poking fun at CC. XD Especially hilarious to anyone even passingly familiar with your work are the accusations that you are a “bitter spandex racer.”

    It seems this discussion is going to go the same way that so many others have gone:

    Dude: Yo bro, there’s not enough chicks here. We need more chicks!

    Dude #2: Hey, there’s some chicks. Let’s ask them how we can get more of them involved in [cause of the week].

    Women: Make your spaces safer, or at least slightly less hostile for us.

    Dudes: You women never talk about what we think you should be talking about. Here’s what you should think blah blah blah blah and also you’re prudes.


    Dude #1: Yo, why aren’t there any chicks in our club?

  • GRJim October 2, 2012   Reply →

    A girl hit me with her tits on purpose the other day. No party was offended.

  • ridonrides October 3, 2012   Reply →

    i think your sarcasm at the representation of female cyclists was lost on some readers. i think everyone can agree that while some normal women do bike in tight dresses and heels, no one actually rides a bike in g-strings like in those memes with girls and fixies. that type of advertisement is aimed towards guys. luckily, bikes that are aiming for female consumers are more accurate in depicting female cyclists (sweetpea bicycles, terry bicycles, plenty of commuter bike brands).

  • Teri B October 4, 2012   Reply →

    Seriously? This is NOT COOL. Why does the girl in the skirt and heels have outsized boobs and looks dumb? Why is the other girl always wearing glasses and a ponytail and has a very modest bust? Way to go promoting the idea that busty ladies are good only for sexing and staring at, and that a flatter chest somehow correlates with intelligence.

    Anyway, guess what. I ride my bike in pretty polka-dotted dresses and heels and a matching ribbon in my hair. I also wear a ponytail with that ribbon, and glasses, and have a figure that’s slim rather than voluptuous, and am a bookish girl into painting and history–who LIKES TO WEAR DRESSES. And yes, I know how to ride my bike. And I will bike in my dress because I’m going to a party and my bike is more eco-friendly than my car and faster than public transport. Or because I just want to wear a dress, because it’s comfy and cute and it makes me feel nice. And I’d rather not have people like you make insulting and unfounded assumptions about what it says about me that I’m dressed “pretty” because of it.

  • Jonathan Krall October 5, 2012   Reply →

    Cool post–I feel like an idiot for not already knowing about the Bechdel Test. I’m glad women are speaking up about this and taking the lead. I’d love to see better marketing aimed at real women and less focus on selling gear to MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra). In the long run, women have to drive that change by speaking up and by putting their money where it will do the most good.

    Sadly, the only change I’ve noticed related to marketing is that some of the MAMILs are now MAMIHJs (middle aged men in hipster jeans). Happily there are more women on the road these days, but they seem better supported by the blogosphere than by the marketplace.

  • Jean October 9, 2012   Reply →

    Don’t have a problem if these fashionably impractical folks ride only 5-10 km. every few days. At least it’s something.

    So do alot of cycling guys who go to Interbike like the buxom, beautiful babes that grace some of the vendors’ stalls? Does that attract them to the bikes more?

  • Together October 10, 2012   Reply →

    I was a professional bike racer and I bike around town in heels that most would break there ankles wearing. Come on these generalizations are killing me. How I look because of how I dress says very little about my intellect, my feelings, my inner being, how I treat others, or my ability to kick you butt on the bike…..Some of these comments that are being generated from this obviously shared social idea that good looking women who have large breasts must be dizzy, not too bright, and lazy or incapable of being athletes are simply 1950’s stinky pudding.
    Are we not past this beating up of each other? Or putting woman at odds with one another. This is supposed to be about caring not comparing. Yeah I just kind of rhymed that’s right deal with it.
    I don’t care if you want to wear flats, shave your head, and wear a balloon for clothes – do what you want, and I promise I won’t care, condescend you, or treat you with disrespect.
    Cause it’s not about you and me it’s about WE.

  • Amanda October 12, 2012   Reply →

    The concept of “real women” is a highly problematic one and does nothing but alienate. I see myself in the “bimbos” you drew as examples of “not-real” women. I may not be that skinny but I’m just as busty. I ride bikes all the time, sometimes in jeans and a t-shirt, many times in a dress or skirt. Just because I’m showing cleavage (which is impossible for me not to do if I’m wearing anything other than a high-necked shirt) and leg doesn’t mean I’m not a “real” woman, or a serious cyclist. It disappoints me to see you buy into the notion that some women are “real” while some are not; the zero sum attitude that sexiness and seriousness/competency are exclusive.

    Is it problematic that women’s bodies and sexuality are used to sell products? Yes. But it’s equally, maybe even more, problematic to shift the blame from the advertisers to women out living their lives. All people should feel free to enjoy the pleasures of biking without judgement, no matter what they look like or how they dress.

  • Carmen October 16, 2012   Reply →

    I work in a bike shop and i confess, i do a little snoopy dance every time a woman comes in and bypasses the line of step-thru ladybikes for a lighter, more efficient hybrid with full gears etc. etc. Sure, ladybikes coax some timid and older women onto bikes, who would otherwise not try it…but there is no room to grow with those bikes; if you want to go beyond your level seawall or shopping cruise, where you might find a modest hill, forget it. After the initial thrill they wind up rusting in the back of the garage.

    The only advantage to those bikes is, yeah, you can ride em in a long slim skirt. But really, the appeal is they are “ladylike” and you don’t need to swing your leg up in a masculine manner. Amelia Bloomer would turn over in her grave, to see how we’ve been re-sold this pile of girly bullshit.


  • Together October 16, 2012   Reply →

    Girly Bullshit?
    Seems like smart bikes for women with female concerns.

    I’m confused.
    I’m happy to swing my leg up with my miniskirt on and show the world my panties – but I’m not sure that is what you mean.

  • sarai October 18, 2012   Reply →


  • heather October 20, 2012   Reply →

    Hilarious! I do think some people are taking bikeyface’s criticism the wrong way. She isn’t criticizing real women out and about in real life dresses and skirts, but the very very sexist marketing that is effectively showing porn star like ladies in bike ads etc.. I find it very offensive that media would even think to go this route in something as basic and egalitarian as cycling. Women who bike regularly usually develop an appropriate wardrobe, know which skirts are best for biking in, and remember to bring a sweater. I have always worn my regular clothes for biking, and it most definitely involves dresses, skirts, dress coats, pretty shoes etc..
    And those women who do ride in heels and skirts/dresses, I am sure you know that some skirts are better than others, and heels can be dangerous. You also know that when you get going, it becomes very windy, you can get cold, so sometimes wearing that summer dress without a sweater or hoodie is a mistake merely because you will be freezing. It has to be a very hot day to get away without getting the chills. So, it becomes a matter of comfort to wear layers and pants. It’s been a long warm summer so I wore as many dresses and skirts as possible and even though the weather changed I still tried. Recently, I went out in a skirt that hiked up way too much while biking. It’s a wool skirt, short, but warm. It was fine sitting and standing so went out. I was quite conscious of it. Had I worn leggings I would have relaxed, but I wasn’t and I was getting stared at nonstop by the mens! I’ve been biking for fun and transport for years and when I was younger in my late teens and twenties I got alot of attention on my bike. Most unwanted, and very rude comments that no man on a bike would ever have to endure.
    To me the media encouragement of getting dolled up in heels and biking actually is a hindrance to women because it does effect the ride. Biking in heels is okay for short distances at a slowish pace, but not practical for longer riding. If you are having to slow down to yank down the skirt every five minutes or if you lose control and have to stop suddenly in heels it can be very painful! I can’t even walk in heels, and they are bad around for your body. I have tried over the years and can bike in certain wedgey heels quite fine and will ride in them if I know I will be biking more than walking or going to a party, dinner etc..
    oh and the whole tucked in sock thing….pant straps!!

  • Max Schneider June 21, 2013   Reply → – advocating bike wear, i.e. heels, skirts, business clothes, etc. Beautiful and stylish girls (as well as men) on beautiful and stylish bicycles. A riveting read.

  • Uncle Syd October 18, 2013   Reply →

    I am addicted to your blog. Saddly, commuting via bike in Baltimore made me feel like I was alone in the world other than a few hipsters. Thank you.

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