Do Women Make Bikes?

Though I would have loved to be there in person, I enjoyed visiting the Handmade Bicycle Show virtually. The pictures and descriptions of all the beautiful, handmade bikes were amazing, and it was refreshing to see so many bikes made for the kind of utlitarian riding that Dottie and I do.*

But as I scrolled through the winners on Cyclicious (pic nabbed from there as well), I noticed something — winner after winner was a man. The group photo at the end really brought it all home.

NAHBS winners -- not a woman in the bunch

NAHBS winners -- not a woman in the bunch

OK, so the winners were men, but surely there was at least one woman exhibitor at the show? A scroll through the list of names turned up several promising possibilities. Nobillette? Nope, a man’s last name. Parlee? Three men.  Sadilah? No again, though that company’s owner named his business after his two daughters and I love his explanation of why he decided to do that.

Am I missing something? Why don’t women build bikes, when we know they ride them? Women make up only 10-20% of engineers, depending on the exact engineering discipline and which survey you look at, but I don’t think it’s out of line to expect that out of dozens of exhibitors, there might be one woman.

Don’t get me wrong, these men built beautiful bikes and I’m sure they deserved their wins (was especially glad to see the M.A.P. I was drooling over  in Dottie’s post take a prize).  But I’m thinking a woman who makes  utilitarian, step-through bike frames especially for women might find a waiting market.  Terry Bicycles are just for women, but they’re mass-produced. Natalie Ramsland, who hand-crafts her Sweetpea Bicycles, is a woman, but she wasn’t at the show. As she points out on her site, it’s especially hard for women to find bikes that fit, so why aren’t there more companies like hers out there? And why do the ones that exist seem to focus on diamond-frame bikes, instead of step-throughs**? I might have to get my dad to give me some welding lessons next time I’m home. . .

*Utilitarian pricing, not so much, but handmade rarely=inexpensive.

**Terry Bicycles does have a nice-looking mixte on sale right now.

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24 thoughts on “Do Women Make Bikes?

  1. Lynn says:

    Luna Bicycles are custom made by a woman in Santa Fe, NM:
    Gorgeous frames, but mostly racing style. There is one mixte in the photo gallery, though. And check out the sterling silver head badge – jewelry for your bike!
    I’ve never seen one of these bikes, just found the website last year.

  2. Fritz says:

    Who is there besides Terry and Sweatpea?

  3. Fritz says:

    Mark Nobillette’s daughter, BTW, was kind of involved in the business when she lived at home in Colorado, though she didn’t follow her dad into the trade (though she does ride a bike to get around). Last I heard she lives in Portland, OR now.

  4. I think you answered your question in your own post. Women would tend to make elegant, practical, moderately priced bicycles designed for real USE, not the gorgeous but introspectively obsessive bicycle jewelry featured at the NAHBS. Yes, many of those bicycles have carriers, lights and fenders but a woman would consider that clamping a child seat on will scratch the 17 layers of polished Imron paint… which wouldn’t look so great with ice-cream cone drippings, a couple shopping bags and a big chain lock either. Where can you leave a $5000 bike unattended anyway?

    Sorry guys, even though a few of you are old colleagues and friends I had to say it.

  5. cafiend says:

    A good friend of mine for the last 36 years or so builds all kinds of stuff, just not for market. She and her husband built aero time trial bikes out of aircraft strut tubing in the 1980s just for the hell of it. Now she builds immaculate replica ordinary bicycles at Victory Bicycles.

    Builders focus on diamond frames because step-throughs originated to accommodate skirts –not such an issue these days. The configuration serves no other purpose except perhaps to make mounting more convenient with a child seat. Mount the brood on a Big Dummy and you have plenty of room for the family and the picnic.

  6. Trisha says:

    Thanks for adding Luna, Lynn — nice bikes! Though they seem to be road bikes too. And Fritz, interesting fact about Nobilette’s daughter. I have to admit I didn’t dig deeply into the sites of every NAHBS exhibitor; I’m sure there are women involved somewhere along the line at many of them.

    Henry, interesting point. Although I don’t think all women look at a bikes with an eye to adding a child seat, esp not in the USA, they might value practicality and value more. (Though there are plenty of women able and willing to spring for a more expensive bike.) Personally I am torn between admiring the artistry of the people who make those $5000 bikes and thinking the bikes are total fetish objects, especially in this economy. Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that; if I had limitless funds I’d love to support an artisan running their own business here in the USA rather than buying a bike that could have been built or assembled in a sweatshop. Still, it’s like a $600 bottle of champagne or something — I suppose there are people who can discern the difference between that and Veuve Cliquot, but I’m not one of them and that $40 bottle would make me just as happy (and in the case of a bike, be just as functional). Not to mention that if champagne weren’t available at $40 or below, I wouldn’t be drinking it. It would be nice to see someone (man or woman!) focusing on creating the Model T of bikes: a well-constructed, attractive, affordable bike that would lure more people out of their cars.

    Cafiend, I have to disagree about the utility of a step-through. As a short woman, it’s almost impossible for me to ride a diamond-frame bike with normal-sized wheels without having trouble getting over the top tube, even if it’s a “ladies” top bar. My mixte, with its slightly steeper angle, is also better than a traditional women’s bike. Not to mention that to me, they’re much more elegant looking.

    And apparently I’ve written another post in the comments.

  7. susancyclist says:

    I was going to mention Margo at Luna too. Georgena Terry doesn’t manufacture her bikes, but she does design them. Actually I think they are being made by Waterford, or at least were.

    But you may have a tough time finding a non-drop bar bike made by a woman in the US. Although Margo’s are all custom so she might make what you want.

  8. Fritz says:

    Cafeind, *I* appreciate step through frames because I’m getting old and stiff and swinging a leg over the top tube isn’t always going to be easy for me.

    Trisha, I just happen to know Nobillete is all. We lived in the same town in Colorado for a few years and I dropped by his shop a couple of times.

    I interviewed Natalie Ramsland last year on this topic and she has her interesting insights.

  9. Trisha,
    I certainly didn’t mean to imply that women are only interested in bikes to carry kids, or that only women carry kids on bikes. It was just an ideal example of how practical bikes really get used in a place with a developed cycling culture. In a place where the great majority of the population cycles for transportation, carrying kids of various ages becomes a major issue. A bike that can’t be readily adapted to carry kids (safely, conveniently and economically) simply cannot be sold as a “practical bike” for adults . Of course not everybody has kids, but most people do have kids at some point. Which leads me to another point…

    Concerning step through frames, Cafiend says:

    “…step-throughs originated to accommodate skirts –not such an issue these days. The configuration serves no other purpose except perhaps to make mounting more convenient with a child seat.”

    This is an excellent approach for limiting cycling to young, fit, urban warriors. But to get the other 99% of the population on bikes we’ll need a lot more step-through and very low instep bikes.

    – True, women don’t wear skirts as often these days, but most women do sometimes wear skirts or dresses. So unless they’re to switch bikes on skirt days, not ride on skirt days or change their wardrobe to accomodate cycling they’ll be better served by a step through frame. I challenge you to try selling a “men’s bike” to a woman in the Netherlands.

    – Lots of people (as Fritz notes above) cannot or are not comfortable stepping over a top tube: elderly people, those with very short legs, people with all sorts of minor and major disabilities that hinder their flexibility, people with loads or children on the rear carrier and people who just don’t want to are a few examples.

  10. anna says:

    That’s really an interesting observation. And you’re so right. I can’t actually name any woman who designs bikes. Well, I know a big bike shop (Ciclopia in Vienna) where a woman is the chef mechanic :-).
    But it’s also similar with other bike-related jobs, e.g. there are less female bike messengers. Is think in Vienna there are only around 5-10% female messengers.
    It’s different in bike advocacy groups though. There I’ve seen many women :-).

  11. anna says:

    Btw, women are also less visible in bicycle sport. Have you ever heard of the Tour de France for women? Well, I have, but only because I know people that are interested in road racing. On the other hand, I could watch the whole male version of the Tour de France on the TV here if I wanted to. But they don’t even mention the female races..

  12. Thought I’d pass this along…

    Roxy Lo designed the ‘Mojo’ which was her first bike, and designed for Santa Cruz–based Ibis Bicycles. I excerpted the following from an article about her:

    The bike industry has only a few top-positioned women, and “the bar is set lower,” she says. “It is a male-dominated, engineering-based industry, but bikes today are seen as sexier, and the industry’s trendier for lifestyle cycling.” Lo says that this shift in trends has helped her as a female designer.

  13. Fritz says:

    Thanks for that Shelly. And that reminds me of Sky Yeager, who was the designer for USA sold Bianchi bikes that have the “100% Chick Designed” logo on them. Sky left Bianchi for Swobo Bikes a couple of years ago. She’s a real riot — I really thought she was Bike Snob NYC for a little while.

  14. Trisha says:

    Shelly, interesting observation from Roxy Lo…I am enjoying hearing about the women in the field. I’m pretty new to all this and certainly can’t claim any depth of knowledge about bike makers outside of major brand names, so this is very enlightening. It just seemed strange, after discovering so many other female bike bloggers and commuters online, that there weren’t more on the manufacturing end. Anna, I’m sure the idea of cycling being a sport has a lot to do with it.

    Henry, I knew where you were coming from with the kids thing, and appreciate your more thorough defense of the step-through! I’m with you on every point there. Don’t think I’ll ever buy anything else now that I’ve ridden one.

  15. antbikemike says:

    I know of one more female bike building crew [2 women] in MO called ACME Bicycle company
    When I worked at Fat City Cycles we had many women working in production and we carried that on into Independent Fabrication. Seven Cycles and Serrota also have women doing production work [machining, welding & painting].
    The opportunity now exist for any women to get into the frame building business. You just need to take the same route as the rest of us guys.
    At the 2006 NAHBS there was another women builder [making sport bikes]..[not Luna or Sweetpea], but I cannot remember her name? I have been looking on the web for her, but can not find her:(
    At this years NAHBS I we had 2 step through bikes [of 3 bikes total] and they were the favorite bikes in our booth.
    I am redesigning my basket and cargo bikes to be step through frames only [for everyone] and will have photos in the next months.
    I took a look at the whole Terry site [had not seen it in a few years] and was very impressed with the low cost to high quality…just need to get her to make more practical bikes;)

  16. antbikemike says:

    I found the name of the other women builder “Jenny Frayer” [Reno NV?], but can not find her site…maybe not building anymore?

  17. jj says:

    Natalie will build whatever you need. She’s making me a kid/grocery hauling mixte with swept back bars right now. I do admit I am slightly concerned about scratching it with the kid seat and the follow-me-tandem attachment, but that’s what touch-up paint is for, right? :)

  18. Trisha says:

    Thanks, Ant — I can’t wait to see the pics of your new step-through. Good to see a maker recognize the utility of the frame. And JJ, I hope you will share some pictures of your new bike once it’s done?

  19. J.Knecht says:

    I picked up a post-hipster Bianchi Pista on CL and noticed this on the back of the seat tube.

  20. J.Knecht says:

    whoops. Guess it didn’t post. What I was referring to in the last comment in is a sticker reading “100% Chick Designed.”

  21. […] a couple of giveaways.Elsewhere in the bicycle blog-o-sphere… – Smurfette and Blue Suede Shoes. – Do women make bikes? – A new podcast at the Fredcast cycling podcast. – Bike theft by cutting the spokes. – More Menlo […]

  22. Roxy says:

    I found this thread quite randomly, but thanks for inspiring a great dialogue! I’m not a builder, but a designer. I would agree there are not enough women who step forward to stake their claim on designing bikes. Most of us are too busy doing other things to self-promote or even stand up to take credit. The more beautiful a bike, the more you want to ride it. In some companies, the design of a bike is divided among many men; one to work on suspension, one to work on seats, another to do the front triangle another to do the rear, etc. etc. (*Speaking for bikes designed with alum. monocoque or carbon fiber, then manufactured, not handbuilts, which I am not so familiar with.) My bikes are non-gender specific, but believe me, when I say that I purposely designed a roomy drop in the small size mountain bike just to make sure I cleared stand-over height (I’m 5′-1″)! I am grateful to have male partners at the company who aren’t threatened by me, so they are open and actually promote me in interviews and articles. I spent about a year intensely riding in mountain parks, like Whistler, Canada, or local No. Cal, Downieville, in order to understand performance and needs of the mountain biker and how you handle the bike, so function and beauty have to go hand in hand in designing a bike. Now, that technology and computers can measure stresses/loads/configure best geometries to maximize your performance and pedal power, the challenge is to keep innovating. I’ve designed CamelBak’s “Outlaw” bike line of hydration packs, and bike lights for Light & Motion. Most people don’t know that those sporty, more masculine products were designed by a woman, either.

  23. YAA Adding this to my bookmarks. Thank You

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