As crazy as it sounds, sooner or later you’ll encounter a woman working in a bike shop. We offer some hints on how to communicate with this rare species, because 1) it's just polite and 2) they’re happily becoming a whole lot less rare.
We spoke to retail assistants, salespersons and mechanics to find out the most outrageous things they've been asked as women working in the bike biz, and what advice they'd give on avoiding future faux pas. The following conversations actually happened.
1. Try to act natural
Yes, women do work in bike shops. Yes, they do know what they are talking about. Please try to remain calm.
Customer [rushing up to Hannah]: ‘I’ve heard a rumour that there’s a woman in the shop!’
Holly: I've had people just come in and stare at me
Lucy: ‘‘You’re very knowledgeable!’ Like I’m not supposed to be?!
2. Don’t get confused
We understand that for many people, the sight of women in a bike shop may cause confusion. Pause, breathe and gather your thoughts before attempting communication.
Customer in Bella Velo, a women’s specific bike shop: ‘Can I get some non-female tyres?’
Holly: I’ve been mistaken for a man more than once, like ‘Oh, the boy said so-and-so’.’
Georgina: I’ve had people staring at me and asking if they can speak to the mechanic, as if the 'real' one must be a bloke out the back with a beard.
Lucy: Talking to me: ‘Is there someone who can help me?’
A woman came in to the shop with her daughter to ask Sandra about a job. Sandra: ‘Why do you want to work in a bike shop?’ Daughter: ‘I don’t.’
3. Beware the L-word
Lucy: Someone once clicked their fingers and shouted ‘Lady!’ at me.
Hannah: I've had people say ‘The lady mechanic…’
4. Make the effort to be nice…
Clare: I've had customers look at me and go ‘Oh, I’ll speak to someone else’.
Customer: ‘I want a gear cable.’ Belinda: ‘Okay. What kind?’ Him: ‘They’re all the same.’ Belinda: ‘Well, no, they’re not.’ Him: ‘You need to go to bike school.’ (He then asked a male mechanic, who said the same thing as Belinda.)
Anna: ‘Can I help you?’ Customer: ‘It’s a technical question…’ Alan, Anna's colleague (not realising Anna was already serving the customer): ‘Can I help?’ Customer: ‘Is she just the eye candy?’
There are more women than ever before working in bike shops
5. …because we can mostly give as good as we get.
Customer, in response to advice by Georgina: ‘Are you sure?’ Georgina: ‘Shall I get one of the guys to tell you?’
Belinda: ‘Could somebody with a penis come to the phone?’
6. Don’t assume the male staff are on your side
Anna: Some people used to come in and literally ignore me… my colleague Alan is really great. He’ll turn the other way so they have to talk to me.
Sandra: They used to ignore me at trade shows. Paul (my colleague) used to point them back to me.
7. Try saying something positive instead…
Clare: It took a long while for customers not to look confused at a female mechanic. Nowadays, people say ‘It’s really nice to see a female in the shop.’
Anna: Loads of people have said, 'God, it’s really nice to see a woman in here'.
8. …but choose your words wisely.
Lucy: Someone said to me ‘You’re very aerodynamic!’
9. Because there CAN be a happy ending…
Holly: Children sometimes think I'm a bloke, but then I can make a point of it, and help kids figure out that women can do this too.
Zoe: At the beginning, 3% of customers were like, 'You’re a female. You don’t know what you’re talking about'. But they’re now the customers who’ll always come back to me.
Once a customer wanted the other mechanic – the one he knew - to set up his gears. ‘No, no, love, it’s all right!’ But he was very happy with Caroline’s efforts afterwards. ‘My work spoke.’