I am so proud of myself. I bought a bike a couple weeks ago — my first new bike since high school. Bikes can last forever — it’s just a matter of replacing worn parts with newer parts — which is why I had been riding ancient bikes that I bought second hand or that others had discarded.
My bikes have a lot of miles on them. I often ride to my appointments during the warmer months because it’s faster than walking and parking is free.
Because bike riding is such a significant part of my routine, my clients can count on me to explain the bike routes and conditions if they are buying a home and want to bike to work.
From April until some time in November, I ride at least 100 miles a week. I take my bike for errands and attach panniers and a basket on the rear so I can easily manage three bags of groceries.
A couple years ago, I took an all-day bike maintenance and repair class at the local technical college. I learned what tools to buy, and we practiced changing tires.
While I did enjoy riding the bike I had rescued from someone else’s trash, I had replaced so many parts that it gradually morphed into a kind of Frankenstein, and it was always just a tad too big for me (and maybe even a little dangerous).
Shopping around is frustrating
Bike shops can be intimidating and overwhelming. And if you don’t believe biking is a male-dominated sport, go to google images and type in “biking.”
My attempts to buy a bike ended in frustration. I wasn’t looking for just any old bike — I already had one of those. I was looking for the perfect bike, and I either could not get the attention of any salespeople, or they did not understand what I was asking for.
Buying a bike online would have been easier, but I did not want to buy one without testing it out first.
A great way to lose a customer
One hot August day I stopped by the bike shop where I usually buy parts and tools. I started looking at the bikes, but there wasn’t any way to just look because the bikes were suspended from the ceiling.
The salesperson who came to help me looked as if he pictured a woman in a flowered dress with a straw basket on her bike, headed home from the farmer’s market. At the same time, I was picturing myself weaving through downtown traffic, gliding over the train tracks and making it to an appointment without breaking a sweat or being run over.
He brought out a few bikes he thought I should test drive, but they were all pretty much the same. “This one has a bell,” he said when he brought out the first one. It had a step-out frame, a huge seat, wide tires, three speeds and a big basket attached to the front — absolutely not what I needed.
What happens when someone listens
After I tried a few bikes, the manager came out. We spoke briefly, and she told the salesperson she would take over. She asked me how I use my bike, where I ride it and how many miles I ride at a time.
I ended up buying the first bike she showed me, and I spent twice as much as I had planned on spending.
It’s a road bike with an extra-small frame, and it’s designed for women. It doesn’t have a bell, but it has disc brakes, which I am beginning to really appreciate.
It is light enough for me to lift easily, which is handy because I sometimes bring my bike on the light rail. (Those trains don’t stop moving for long, and it takes coordination and upper body strength to get a bike positioned vertically onto the train’s bike rack.)
The manager who helped me uses her bike for commuting, running errands and for enjoying bike trails and parks — just like I do. She listened to me when I told her what I was looking for in a bike and how I planned to use it.
I trust her and will go back to see her anytime I need something bike-related.
Never assume anything
We all make assumptions about people based on their age, race, size and gender. I learned long ago that people over age 55 do not always prefer one-level homes; young single women are not always looking for small condos; and single black men buy houses too.
We need to really listen to our clients. Ask questions and process the answers. Clients don’t always know what they want, but they usually know what they don’t want, and they have some ideas about which features are important and which are not.
Are we doing our best?
It has been 50 years since fair housing laws were passed, yet there are still racial disparities in homeownership. As a result of my bike shop experiences, I am asking myself if I am doing what I can to make the homebuying experience as easy and as comfortable as possible.
Is my business approachable or is it intimidating to some? Do I put up barriers that my clients have to overcome to work with me? Do I hear “beach cruiser” when someone says “road bike,” based on my ideas of what they should want?
Do I hover when I should let people think? Am I available when someone needs help or do I ignore them because I assume they are not going to buy?
Having women employees, women leaders and female bike shop owners might help the biking industry understand women cyclists better. And who knows — we may start seeing better bikes for women.