Trek Bicycles launched its new advocate program at the inaugural Trek Women's Summit in September 2016 with 54 women from across the US and Canada. These women will be leading rides, running events and helping to make bike shops more inviting to female customers, but this isn't your average ambassador program. The advocates will also have the potential to influence how Trek designs and make products for women in the future.
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The Summit, which took place at Trek HQ in Waterloo, Wisconsin, USA, involved talks, factory tours and feedback sessions, with the women in attendance also receiving training in event organisation, social media and more. Trek is the latest brand to take direct action to grow female participation in cycling at a grass roots level, and it has made a significant investment in the program. But this is more than simply asking women to promote Trek: the company is actively seeking feedback, criticism and opinion, so they can ensure future bike and product design actually reflects the wants and needs of female cyclists.
Strong voices in women's cycling
Trek has chosen to call the women it has recruited 'advocates' though in many ways 'ambassador' might be a more accurate description, although the Trek model is a step above and beyond many ambassador programs we've encountered in women's cycling.
Advocates were recruited through local bike shops rather than an online open call for applications, and from 250+ applications only 54 were selected. This selection process is in part because Trek wants to encourage shops to become more welcoming for women, and also to support women working in bike shops, with nearly half of the advocates selected being bike shop employees.
Based throughout the US and Canada, the women were supplied with a bike, kit and accessories, with a broad range of disciplines and interests represented from road racing and triathlon to mountain biking and backpacking. It's not simply a case of providing these women with kit and sending them forth. They were also provided with training in event organisation, leading rides, etc in order to help them develop women's specific events and rides in their local areas, and grow the cycling communities there.
Most ambassador programs would stop at either of these first two steps, but Trek has done something different and interesting. At the Summit, a significant number of Trek's staff of bike and product designers gave presentations and talked to the advocates, keen to hear their thoughts on what is available for women currently, how Trek is performing within that, and what could be improved going forward. All designers were keen to maintain this relationship going forward. This means that these advocates will in effect have a direct line back to Trek HQ, linking women who ride with the people who create bikes and gear for them, giving them the opportunity to have a direct influence on how products are researched, developed and made.
The women themselves are clearly passionate about women's cycling, and were strong and vocal when questioning Trek designers on various elements around women's specific design, brand focus, support for women's cycling, and more.
Unafraid to challenge received wisdom or put their opinions forward, these are attributes needed if women's cycling in all its forms is to progress. It's refreshing to see a brand like Trek not shy away from potential criticism, and in fact welcome it. If the cycling industry is to successfully cater to the women's market, taking on board and reacting to needs and wants of female cyclists is key.
Over the course of the coming year, Trek will maintain its support for ambassadors, and continue two-way communication ensuring advocates can feed back information from riders, and Trek can update them on developments and changes made as a result. If successful, it's likely this program will continue going forward, and will be amended and improved based on feedback.
Trek isn't the only company to invest in women's cycling in this way. For example, Bell Helmets launched its own ambassador program in 2015, with successful applicants given resources and budget to help grow women's cycling in areas of the US and Canada where there was low representation of women on the roads or trails.
We've encountered numerous ambassador programs over the years, and some are simply a way of increasing awareness or pushing a particular brand. While there is a place for this, particularly when it comes to growing a new or smaller brand, for bigger companies it can smack of stealth marketing.
However, in this case, it certainly feels as though Trek is making a genuine attempt to improve its women's specific offer and support grass-roots development of the sport. Yes, it's in its interest to grow the market and produce products that suit women, but that is also of course in the interest of women themselves. And unlike some other ambassador programs, Trek seems to have developed, or is working to develop, a genuinely two-way communication directly between designers and female cyclists. We're hopeful this will lead to better bikes, better gear, and more women cycling - but, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.