5 of the bike industry’s worst sexist marketing fails

Someone, somewhere, may be looking for a new job

With any big business marketing plays a major part in forming and informing customers desires. A huge amount of time, money and effort is spent on campaigns and clever strategies.


But sometimes, they score a miss – and from time to time it’s a real howler. These are some examples of when the bike biz has got it very, very wrong… particularly when it comes to women. 

With the growth of women’s cycling, the bike industry are understandably keen to cater to female road cyclists, commuters and mountain bikers. More and more women are taking up or returning to the sport, creating what’s deemed to be one of the fastest growing sectors of the cycling market.

Companies are getting better at marketing to women, with increasingly smart, inspirational and eye-catching campaigns and techniques. The industry itself is seeing a growing proportion of women working in jobs from bike shop floor and purchasing to mechanics, design and marketing – and this may well have had an impact in the type of marketing that’s being produced, as well as the products themselves. 

Related: You won’t believe things women in the bike biz get asked

Why, then, is the bike biz still droping some horrific clangers? Reaching for tired old sexual stereotypes, misunderstanding the market or even referencing assault – all of these are still happening. Needless to say, this fact is unlikely to make the most women feel welcome or comfortable within the cycling world, either as employees or participants. 

The examples here aren’t the the only ones out there, but they include some of most recent and high profile. Shockers such as the Interbike #Sockgate incident (see below) have even made it to mainstream outlets such as Glamour Magazine

One positive element is that there seem to be fewer and fewer incidences, and when they do happen, they are rapidly and robustly called out. 

1. #Sockgate

The socks that triggered #sockgate, given away free at the interbike trade show in the us, and deemed by many people of both genders to be completely inappropriate:

The socks at the centre of #sockgate, in an image taken by Pretty.Damned.Fast

The chances are, if you follow women’s cycling and you’ve been online over the last few days, you’ll have spotted #sockgate at Interbike. 

Interbike is one of the biggest bike industry trade shows in the world. Hundreds of manufacturers, distributors, dealers and riders descend on Las Vegas in September every year to show new products, discover trends and work out what’s going to be gracing a bike shop near you the following year. 

As with any trade show, goody bags are a feature. In 2015, many attendees opened their bags to find half a pair of socks. This is not uncommon – the idea is you should go to the relevant booth to claim the other half of the pair. The issue here was the design on the socks, a rear view of two women in bikinis. Many of the women who attended Interbike found it deeply inappropriate. 

The story first broke on Pretty.Damned.Fast on Facebook, and has subsquently been picked up by many outlets including Glamour Magazine online. If you’re wondering what the issue is, it’s worth having a read of this response by Surly Bikes’ marketing manager

2. Macaw tyres and scantily clad women

Using scantily clad women to market your products isn’t new, as this advert for macaw tyres from the 90s shows:

An image from a Macaw tyre advertisement in the 90s. Via Bike Jerks

Using scantily clad women isn’t a new thing in the bike industry – it’s been happening for years. Tyre brand Macaw was known for its ‘tyre girls’, used to market its range of colourful tires in the 1990s. Nowadays, these images look dated, lazy and embarrassing, so you’d think that marketing in this way would be a thing of the past. Unfortunately you’d be wrong…

3. Specialized: Get sick soon 

What does the nurse have to do with cycling? we’re not sure either:

What, exactly, does Sexy Nurse have to do with cycling?

In 2012, Specialized released the new Demo 8 downhill mountain bike – but what image to market it with? A pro rider, tearing up the track? The bike in action in a race? No. A woman in a low-cut nurse’s outfit pumping up the tyres. We’re not sure what that has to do with cycling either. 

4. Superior Bike, superior sexism

Superior bikes managed to alienate the very market they were trying to sell these bikes to:

Superior managed to alienate the very market it was trying to sell these bikes to

Sometimes, it’s not about the imagery used, it’s the words themselves and what they, by extension, reveal about the brand. 

Czech bike company Superior dropped a clanger in 2014 with very misplaced text accompanying its women’s mountain bike range. Stating: “Female cyclists do not generally need to push their limits, race against time and increase their adrenaline when riding downhill trails” and that “their expectations from the bike are completely different from men’s” is pretty strong start towards insulting and alienating a large proportion of the target market. 

Not only does the text demonstrate a general failure to understand an audience – never a good marketing strategy – it also appears to be talking about them rather than to them. 

Was it a mistranslation? The company did hastily amend and apologise, but not before it went viral online on cycling groups and forums. Something of a marketing disaster for Superior. 

5. E3 Harelbeke race and the grope

You have to wonder what went though the minds of the organisers of the e3 harelbeke race when they decided on this image to market the event:

You have to wonder what went though the minds of the organisers of the E3 Harelbeke race when they decided on this image to market the event

What could be a more inappropriate a way to advertise a bicycle race than a breezy spot of sexual assault? E3 Harelbeke featured a women’s posterior with a male hand reaching in to cop a feel. Someone decided it’d be a top idea to add the strapline “who squeezes them in Harelbike?”

If you’re wondering where the inspiration for this came from, look no further than pro road cyclist Peter Sagan who, at the podium of the 2014 Tour of Flanders, groped podium girl Maya Leye’s bottom

There are so many things wrong with this poster, it’s hard to know where to begin. The anonymous and unknowing woman, reduced to an object, branded with the race logo. She’s positioned as the innocent victim of a joke the observer is supposed to be laughing at and, frankly, it isn’t funny. 

The advertisement garnered the disapproval of the UCI, who released a statement saying the organisation was ‘extremely unhappy’ with the poster – and it was taken out of circulation. 


So will #sockgate and the subsequent response signal the end of this type of marketing? It’d be nice to think so, but we won’t be holding our breath…