Prize & Prejudice

•June 17, 2013 • 6 Comments

My alert rider/readers have clued me into a couple of interesting developments.
One is that a young woman named Juliana Buhring has circumnavigated the globe at high speed (supposedly faster than her countryman Mark Beaumont, whom I met back in Edenbruh 2007 or 2008). The press has been disappointingly mute, unlike the blogosphere.
The other is the tale of a Vermont mountain bike recreation park hosting a race where the pro women will win more than the top men.  Nic Coury’s video can be seen here–it features Olympian Georgia Gould and Lea Davison (who is another gifted Middlebury kid) expressing the very same valid reasons why women deserve an equal purse that I used when futilely arguing with Thomas Frischknecht (Swiss racing star, slightly faded by now, who holds antiquated ideas about women and sport) and other unevolved men. It seems to me there were even some women who agreed that we don’t deserve equal prize money because we don’t show up in equal numbers.

As if we were to blame for the myriad barriers that hold women back from the start lines of mountain bike and road racing!
Sheesh. But anyway, slowly slowly it’s become obvious that in a global market downturn that even the money of women, people of color, and people of furrow (= old fogeys) has serious income potential for the Boy’s Club.  IFFFFFFFF they figure out the right language.

Which brings me to this year’s winner of the Golden Testicle Award.
Delta Cycle’s ad, featuring a couple of bikes mounted on a pole like that in a fire station. There are some crumpled dollar bills strewn round on the wooden floor. And the ad copy reads: “This Pole Is Not For Dancing”.

Comments of course are very, very welcome. Comments imply engagement or investment in these women, and on that topic.  Here’s the text of a letter I wrote to the magazine (Bicycle Retailer& Industry News, a trade magazine read by shop owners and bike manufacturers. It has only lately become slightly less testosterone-poisoned, thanks to a welcome influx of bright women reporters.

BRAIN does such important work revealing strategies for marketing, spotting trends,  and sharing stories about this little fief of ours.  As always, Charlie and I gobble up every word of your important, wonderful magazine, and analyze it to death, ‘solving’ the problems of the IBDs over lunch, in our treehouse at 3 a.m, most any old time.

As  old farts with a combined 80 years experience(is it fair to add two people’s mileage to impress?) we feel we have something to offer in the way of perspective, having personally invented mountain biking on aluminum (charlie) and leisure mountain biking while female (me).

What I really appreciated was ads and stories about the importance of attracting and retaining women in cycling. I loved the “family friendly” ad about Striders, with its useful statistic about the 80% of buying decisions made by women. Megan Tompkin’s story was spot-on. It re-iterates what Lynette wrote about LAST summer, the fact that 15% fewer bikes are being sold, the trend is downward, and that inclusion of minorities, older riders and women could  reverse the decline.
And then we were puzzled by an ambivalent editorial which wondered why Discussions About Women’s Participation still haven’t gotten anywhere.
I am very familiar with ‘awareness.’ Solutions are another thing entirely, and involve rigorous study followed by action.

I routinely ask at local shops if they have an idea about the percentage of women who buy bikes, and it has always been  “about a third” .
I haven’t heard “a half” yet (this is from the mechanic’s , not the owner’s perspective.)
When the problem in the sports (not only bicycle, but our industry has a particularly bad case of testosterone poisoning) world is as deep as entrenched male dominance (I regret that these words seem inflammatory at worst, and cliche at best) , then there need to be more women’s panels. And more women CEOs.
“What can we do to appeal more to women,” the industry wonders. Awareness would help.
The outside back cover ad, Delta Cycle’s “This Pole Wasn’t Made For Dancing” with its unfortunate allusion to a stripper bar, perfectly embodies the confusion of messages the industry puts out.

I understand you probably can’t just turn down ad money flatly. But aren’t there standards for magazines that involve respect for women, non-degrading, non-sexist content and advertising? I will happily donate my time to consult about creating an industry standard to defeat sexist advertising using education, awareness, and if neccessary, really cute prizes for those who want to maintain the boy’s club atmosphere
Hre;s a letter I wrote about 2O years ago, and a bit of background so you know to what lengths I went to to right these wrongs.
For years as an industry insider disguised as a racing fool disguised as a journalist,  I collected data on the state of Women In Cycling.  I saw how the women who rose to the top of their companies, didn’t get a whole lot of saddle time anymore. They were dedicated, athletic people who got into the industry for their love of the pastime, then wound up so busy they rarely rode.

I determined that I could afford a little time to create a camp especially for them last year, and invited forty women ranging from Suntour’s General Manager Sandy Coulter to Vogue magazine’s eminent author, Laura Fraser.  Twenty three women came:  top racers, bike politicians, writers, commuters. They came so we could change things. It was a historical weekend, favored by good weather, sumptuous rides, gnarly food and great company.

We tackled little problems, like how to get more saddle time, and then tackled the big ones like doubling the number of active cyclists.  We sat in  a story circle, tossed problem after problem in the air (with a tape recorder waving) and fired answers at them.

After agreeing to form an organization, whose working title is “Women Of Power In The Industry”, we know what our mission is:

Identify the barriers women face in the cycling subculture. Basically the industry still behaves as though women are a “specialty” market.  A limited view, when the numbers tell that women buy over half the bikes. Common observation tells me that many of the buyers then don’t use them again.  Like joining a gym, and staying away. It’s partly the gym’s fault for not fostering participation, and definitely our industry’s fault for not fostering more female participation. Women need  prodding mixed with encouragement.  I’ll be more specific:  shame is not a tool of encouragement.  WOMBATS is such a huge success because, given a network, twelve hundred women provide their own activities, and bring in more neophytes in the process.

Help the industry over some of its own stereotyping barriers.  Need I enumerate?

–Create guidelines to help bike shop owners sensitize employees to the perspective of a woman customer who is not yet an enthusiast.

–Stay in touch with a letter sharing our views about how to best serve the women’s market.

— Initiate a task force to study ways to encourage girls and women to use their bicycles more.

–Heighten media awareness of women athletes, innovators, and plain ol’ cyclists…in non-cycling journals!

–Design women-friendly activities.  For example, make instructions for women to teach cycle technique and safety to little girls, something I’ve a bit of experience with.  Or get racers or female bike cops to talk to elementary schools. Or do a one-hour talk about “shopping for a bike that actually fits”.

Celebrate the hero in all cyclists.  We don’t particularly resonate with the “cooler than thou” approach, but we definitely want to hear more about women making a difference, and our own history.

Girl’s Selfish Team

•April 28, 2013 • 3 Comments

The Girl’s Selfish Team

By Jacquie Phelan

Once upon a time, back when girls weren’t supposed to get dirty or yell like boys, a very loud little girl got delivered by the stork to two rather surprised young people named Jack and Doreen. Jack was so anxious to have a boy in the house that, even before the stork plopped down the bundle, he declared, “We’re naming him Jack, after me. Little Jack is going to make me very proud. I’ll be sure of it because I won’t allow him to make any mistakes.” Jack was perhaps a little bit of a control freak.

Doreen said, “No mistakes, eh? We’ll see about that”. Then the cloth bundle wriggled a little and they undid the knotted fabric at the top and discovered a girl inside, yelling like there was no tomorrow.

“Well, well, well!” the slack-jawed recipients of this new baby bundle said. “Well.” The loud little bundle’s name would be “Jacquie” because that’s the next best thing to Jack.

When another bundle arrived a year later, the parents made sure to peek inside before making any assumptions.

“It’s another girl”

“We’ll call her Jill” Jack said. “A nursery rhyme playmate.”

And for all their subsequent lives, the sisters endured being “Jacquie and Jill”, who were supposed to be together up and down life’s big hills. Nothing could be further from the truth: they split up as soon as it was humanly possible, starting with a big curtain running across the middle of their shared bedroom, and ending up with an invisible wall covered with electric shock wire extending around Jill’s family life, so dreadful was her life with Jack and Doreen.

Jacquie’s life on the other hand, although no picnic, was always an open book because that big loud voice was hard to miss. Loud girls definitely get people’s attention. Sometimes she had listeners. Sometimes she didn’t. For years, she struggled in a kingdom where boys and men were loud and proud, and the girls and women were quiet and polite, and got a big kick out of helping everyone else. Jacquie got a reputation for being… “selfish”.

She decided to roam the kingdom, and got a small crowed of other misfit girls and women to agree with her that being loud and proud might be selfish, but for now, selfish was going to have to do. There had been enough eons of quiet and meek to prove that those characteristics didn’t improve the situation of all the little pink packets of joy delivered throughout the kingdom. So this band of merry, loud people who didn’t mind a little mud and a lot of volume and didn’t mind taking up serious space trekked about the realm, calling themselves the “Girls Selfish Team”. They taught the old ladies how to fish. They showed the moms how to ride bikes so they could be out with their kids and pound on the hoods of all the cars in which the busy women talking on their cell phone drove THEIR bundles of joy to and from their many daily appointments, classes and play dates.

The Selfish Team was spreading a rumor about the kingdom: on a bike you can steal time, and keep the profit (which is fun) even if you were just going to the store–or to work– on a bike. The kingdom was a bit crowded– overly large cars, trucks really–were filling up the roads with angry drivers, and the air with toxic fumes which tended to make the girls and women develop nasty tumors in their breasts.

This condition, called “Cancer” when someone else had it became known as “My Turn” to these furious, fleet women. The GST were gliding through the Gordian Traffic Knot using their almost perfect invisibility (which sometimes proved lethal when they weren’t extremely careful) stealing minutes and hours because nothing held them up in their movements. They were appallingly efficient.

The one small drawback to all this freedom of movement was the smoldering envy of the trapped people …Jacquie realized that something might backfire here, especially if the Selfish Team gloated too openly about their perceived superiority.

“We need to think about what we’re doing” she told a selfish friend.

“There have been too many ‘lesson-crashes’ lately”. Those are tragic encounters between pissed off motorists in search of a  miscreant biker, in order to  teach the two-wheelers who’s boss in the kingdom. The results? Grievous body damage, sometimes death, to the rider, and usually fender damage to the car).

“We gotta get ourselves a lobbyist”.

It didn’t take more than a couple of want-ads in the Kingdom Tattler and the Selfish Team had their very own lobbyist in the Realm’s Hall of Power. Thanks to the loud women’s team, the bike people were given special privileges like Permission to Roll Through Empty Intersections Without Punishment, and Being Taken Seriously By A Cop When Doored. In fact, the lobbyist was a Policewoman who had flipped over a few too many doors , and once even sideswiped by a person arguing on their car phone who claimed not to have even seen the Cop. The driver’s defense, which failed in court, was that all bike people are invisible. According to the law of the land, drivers, although they couldn’t see the bikes, should navigate AS IF THERE MIGHT BE a bicycle out of their limited range of view.

It wasn’t a hundred years, maybe it was 75 or so, before the laws of the land finally protected the humans from the machines, and even the bodies of the humans were able to slowly recover from their scary 200 year exposure to the Residues of Progress, and it was all thanks to the Girl’s Selfish Team.


Ride, Read, Ruminate

•April 27, 2013 • 2 Comments

First Wombat Ride of Spring, and I had two women on board, Fran M. & Heather C., both feminist thinkers. I decided that along with tea and some trail mix, I’d throw out for perusal a special NYTimes supplement “Dealbook” from April 3.

I had been mulling (and fuming) over a story in  it: “Women in a Man’s World”.  Subheading: Wall street makes progress but lack of role models impeds equality say female executives.

Having just listened to the redoubtable (and for me previously unheard of) Barbara Garson on KPFA, speaking about her book Down the Up Escalator What this freedom fighter from the student rebellion era had to say was that the huge recession with its sweeping problems we face are social in origin, i.e. created by a system-wide failure of politics to protect citizens. But since Americans are so ingrained with the RuggedIndividualist mythos, they tend to blame themselves for when things go wrong, whether it’s unemployment or illness.

She pointed out that Europeans seem to see more clearly that the economic crisis is caused by the reckless financial practices  of the “1%”.   So they riot, demonstrate, become enraged. (Maybe even vote for social justice!)

So back toNYT story. The most powerful woman in banking, Irene Dorner,  recalled that  she didn’t complain when her male colleagues carried on misogynist banter. I thought: “OK, she’s just hanging onto her job, and I guess when her colleagues gathered at a bar she had to go along with it…”

Dorner elaborated that she thought she and other top women were poor role models, and so sparsely sprinkled throughout the upper echelons of finance that they were not visible enough for people to work out how to do what we did”.

Reading that made me have to bring it to our ride. I need to have some corroboration of my irritability with some of the premises of the story. I don’t think Wall Street ‘made progress’. It’s gone backward, retrenched itself. The men will not willingly yield the reins. The reins must be grabbed.

It was a quick 2 hour, 8 or so mile jaunt (though it grew to 15 miles, partly because I’d frittered considerable time away yakking with strangers instead of focusing on my bat-friends, and I felt I owed ’em more miles & smiles). To pull out the paper and ask other opinions was a stretch. Heather took the bait, read the story and said “Yes, they do seem to blame themselves, and why do they have to do things like the men do anyway? Isn’t that why everything is so messed up? Why can’t the men take a clue from the way women do business?”
Is there a cogent answer to this simple question from a 29 year old kid?
I mean, why would the guys in power ever bother taking a lesson from women, unless it somehow proved to be even more profitable than the rapacious b.s. that they’ve been perpetrating all along? The giant bank bonuses, the golden parachutes, the concentration of wealth.
I wanted to write a letter to Ms. Dorner, sharing my insights about being in a so-called Men’s World of Mtn Biking.

But I’ve written to Powerful Women’s Organizations  before. Nice thoughtful letters on WOMBATS letterhead, Crane’s rag paper, the whole deal.

NEVER a reply. My pitch was always (and always will be) “hey, I know what you’re talking about, have been there, and would like to offer my services to get your members comfortable and competent on a mountain bike. Golf is so last millenium”.

Maybe it was the dig about golf?

I didn’t include a picture of our ride, but might tomorrow. I’m tired.

This probably doesn’t conform to my usual cheery blog habit. But hell, I’m rather irritated. WOULD SOMEONE PLEEZ COMMENT ON MY STORY?

Happy Earth Day

•April 22, 2013 • 2 Comments


CC and I got up early to beat the heat (Marin’s first hot day this year) on a ride to the tippy top of Tamalpais. En route many signs of spring…copious flowerage (thick banks of Doug. Iris, small lupine mats, lots of calif poppies and the less common bush poppy, linanthus ceanothus). Then came the fauna: a small gopher snake stretched out on the verge, good luck, and a pair of fawns. I flushed them from the road’s edge, and one stumbled and recovered at the very instant its mother and sister cut to the left into a meadow. The stumbler gallooped after me.
If I’d had more presence of mind, I’d have caught it, catching up to me as I rode away. Finally I thought, why not stop and see what happens?
It came to a halt.

Looked at me, and mewed.

It has been a long time since a dear got trapped in CC’s shop, and when I threw a blanket around it it vocalized like crazy. Didn’t know that about deer at the time.ImageImageImage

It was so early (7:15 departure) that we saw NO traffic. Got to do this more oftn. Returning was normal traffic level, including the inevitable bikers who greet us. Note to friends: I’m not being rude, I’m just trying to keep an eye on the road… Last time I failed to do that, I busted my nose.


Reunited, two ‘pipe guys’

•April 18, 2013 • 1 Comment

IMG_3533Ken D. with Charlie and the ‘Cunningham V’

Today we had a visit from  one of the original handful of ‘Ham owners, a fit gentleman who (as he put it) “rode his bike hard and put it away wet”. He’d raced the original Rockhoppers with me and Charlie (that is: 1983-5) and even did the revivalhopper a couple years ago.

The bike was due for a restoration to original condition, so CC assessed it and sketched out the scope of the project (t’s a bear to find headsets of the correct dimension, and other fitments). It was lovely to catch up on a 30 year hiatus, and we’ll see him again sometime soon.

I reminded him that to us, he is ‘family’ since we forgot to arrange for progeny ourselves. The Bike Is Our Baby.
Eventually he’ll meet Noah Gellner, GH, and the other hamfam members.

Gentle Riders, I apologize for the sluggish blog pace.

Crabby Holidays

•January 4, 2013 • 5 Comments

coconut_crab-biggest+land-dwelling+arthropod+in+the+the+worldFirst week of the new year. I’ve already given my husband a cold that has lasted for three weeks (mine only took one,  thanks to countless hours reading Willa Cather in the snuggletorium). Charlie must work, and so his recovery involves an hour of intense work in a 35 degree (Fahrenheit) shop, followed by a ten minute thermal replenishment at the wood stove, then another hour, then in for more ‘woe-ramth’.

Last night, Bonnie Simmons, our rock n roll pioneer DJ on KPFA, played a wonderful set from 8 pm on, featuring lots of Steve Earle.  He’s the activist songateer with the lovely, weary tenor voice and super gnarly songs like “I’m thinking about burning Walmart down“.

Then on came Robert Earl Keen (this is why I am a DJ devotee–they group their songs according to inner directives that the listeneer is free to imagine) with  “Doing nothing is something that I do”

2012 Induction, US Bicycle Hollow Fame

•November 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

SeeKay, me, George Mount and Joe Breeze at Freeborn Hall.

On a fine fall day, the  great Peter Rich (owner of recently closed Velosport Bike Shop in Berkeley) picked me up from the bus stop to trundle north to U.C. Davis for a November rider’s ritual feast.

The last three autumns have featured a West Coast enshrinement ritual–the previous eighteen or so took place where the USBHOF was founded, in Somerville N.J., home of the annual criterium classic.  In the early years of USBHOF, it appeared that the U.S. only had fast people in the East, but eventually George Mount was honored (he was the first American man to get close to the front of the pack at an Olympic race–his sixth place in Montreal 1976 was the best American men’s showing in 70 years–women were not yet permitted to compete at the Games on bicycles in 1976)

This year, my criminally humble offroad racing buddy Susan DeMattei would be  lionized, along with some other men.

There are two events: the “Free I.P. reception” (=VIP reception, anyone can attend) on Friday evening at the Hall and Museum on 2nd Street, and the gala the following evening (attendees support the USBHOF annually by attending and buying a table for a cool grand or so).

The first person I met walking in the door was the Not-Yet-Enfamed Erin Hartwell, a thirty something fellow who took some Olympic track racing medals back in the nineties. We traded a few friendly jabs (I love verbal jousting with perfect strangers, and it takes a strong constitution on the part of the stranger to cope with it, I am sure).  Next to him stood a woman whose nametag said “Gale Hartwell”.  I clasped  her hand and said “you must be his honey!”.

“No, I’m the mom” she smiled. We hit it off quite well notwithstanding.

Susan’s friends from nursing school came to the fancy event, but not before cramming into the host hotel room and showering her with champagne, good wishes and contagious cheer.