Always Use the Buddy System! Or, Sexism in the Bike Industry

Image: Photo courtesy of Jessica Waite.

Interbike, held annually in Las Vegas, is the largest bicycle industry trade show in North America. Company heads talk numbers and retailers cut deals while mechanics like myself wander around and geek out over lighter water bottle cages and sleeker frames.                              

The huge draw of Interbike is freebies. A lot of the conference is aimed towards retail buyers, so companies are eager to hand out samples and talk numbers with sales representatives. Every year, a pair of socks is included in the freebie bag participants receive at registration. This year was no different — a pair of high quality cycling socks came in each bag. The problem? The socks featured a pair of women facing away from the viewer, arms around each other, both wearing red thong bikinis. “Always use the buddy system” proclaims the caption. “Interbike 2015” is written at the top. Both of the women’s near nude bodies are prominently displayed.

As you can imagine, I have a problem with these socks.

One: The socks utilize female friendship/ an implied lesbian relationship to fulfill the heterosexual male’s fantasy of two women having sex.

Two: These socks have nothing to do with bikes. Literally nothing. 

Three: Every attendee was meant to be given a pair of these socks for free. Every last one, even though this year was meant to include more women in the cycling industry.

A Facebook post by female cycling magazine Pretty. Damned. Fast. quickly went viral as the magazine shamed Interbike for carelessly including the socks in their welcome package. The sock producer, Save Our Soles, offered the good old “sorry if you’re offended apology while Interbike placed the blame elsewhere. At the very least, Interbike had all of the socks removed from the goody bags following the sudden outcry.

Many other women in the cycling industry have written well-formed responses to the incident, including GearJunkie, Dirt Rag, and my personal favorite from Surly. Pretty. Damned. Fast. wrote a blog post about it, and Glamour even covered the incident on their website.                                                                                      

But here is my own experience as a woman in the cycling industry: More than half of the men who come in are embarrassed to ask me for help. I’ve had other women ask me if there is a man they can speak to. A police officer came in to have his bike fixed and asked if I needed help working on mine. Some boys seem offended when I ask if they need help, never mind that it’s my job. I don’t like asking my boss for help in front of customers because I’m afraid they’ll see it as a woman asking a man for mechanical help, not an employee asking a higher-up for advice. A boy once asked me if I knew what an Allen key was. Yes, I have in fact seen the tool I use most often at least once before.                                                                                                        

At Interbike, some of the mechanic friends I came with told me I’d only come to spend time with my boyfriend. When I told them he came at my request, they laughed at me and then ignored me. On the trip, I fell asleep in the living room sitting next to my boyfriend, someone asked him to move his hand a little lower from my waist to my ass. When they found out I was awake and had heard them, they thought it was funny. The next morning, I told some of the guys that I’d found their comment to be sexist and sleazy. They told me I wasn’t objectified and that I was overreacting. They told me my boyfriend has the right to grab me whenever he pleases. I didn’t talk to them for the rest of the day — I couldn’t talk. I was drained from the energy it took not to scream.  

Despite the the daily discrimination and sexism that women in the bike industry face, there is still hope. After all, Interbike took back the socks. The fact that there even was an outrage is huge. I was able to witness a grown man politely decline the socks, claiming they weren’t really his style. Additionally, with women making up 44% of bike riders in the US, we are moving forward, and we are being heard.

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