Women's Off-Road Cycling Conference – Steering the Cycling Industry

March 05, 2019

This month, in conjunction with International Women’s Day, PEARL iZUMi celebrates women in cycling. Female riders excel at bringing others into the sport and creating an inclusive space for the love of bikes to flourish. This is one of several stories focusing on women who devote time to the development of others getting out on the bike.

Elorie Slater, co-owner of Sports Garage Cycling in Boulder, Colorado, has focused her efforts on the bike industry itself through the Women’s Off-Road Cycling Congress (WÖRCC). These meetup events bring women together to discuss what they want from off-road cycling, covering a broad range of topics including the retail experience, products, events, media, group rides, etc. Slater says the results have become some of the most useful audience-specific market research that the industry has found so far.

The WÖRCC began in 2017 when Slater wanted to offer women a better alternative to the “drink wine and buy stuff” paradigm so common to bike shop ladies nights. “It started as a vision of providing real value to women, but I wasn’t actually sure what that was,” Slater said. “I just didn’t want to do a ladies night that sucked.”

Then she realized that the not-knowing was the concept she was looking for. “The single most valuable point was to acknowledge that women don’t perceive to have a united voice in mountain biking right now. So the magic was right there in front of me. They need someone to ask them what they want.”

She put the word out to her circle, and the event took off. An expected 40-50 women ballooned into 80, and she knew she needed a bigger space than her shop. PEARL iZUMi, located in nearby Louisville, offered a conference room, and Slater watched the room fill up with 120 attendees. “We were blown away by the response,” she said. “We realized, this is worth doing, and there is a lot of demand for this space for women in the sport.”

Elorie Slater sets up the ground rules for women discuss ideas to improve the cycling industry for women in January 2019.

Afterward, Slater and her team collated the information they had gathered, generating a 29-page report that outlined their processes, their survey results and their analysis of the qualitative data they’d collected. “We didn’t want to just do a data dump,” Slater said. “We analyzed it, looked for themes, and created a tool for presenting the data.” The information was plotted across four quadrants that identified consumer behavior in terms of gaining market share, losing market share, incentivizing experiences and disincentivizing experiences.

“I needed to know more specifically about the women who are engaging in my market, and also those who are curious but not engaging,” Slater said. Additionally, the goal had been to share the information with the shop’s core group of vendors. But by the time the congress took place, there were 65 “subscribers” wanting to hear the outcome. Slater realized she had hit on something relevant to the industry, which also wants to grow the pie of female consumers but doesn’t always know how.

“When the industry gets better at serving this particular market, they’ll get better at serving all cyclists.”

“Off-road cycling represents the most significant categories in cycling right now,” Slater said. “But women are only about 15% of the gross revenue in those categories. That’s a huge opportunity.”

Slater believes the WÖRCC can help to improve that number. “We get really good information, and we’ve created a totally new environment to collect that information. No one knows what kind of rider you are, or what you wear, or what bike you have. Anyone can attend so long as they’re an off-road cyclist. As a result, we’re getting much more diverse and representative feedback.

The changes she wants to see are focused on the quality of the retail experience, parity in gear, and an increase in participation. She decided to put her money where her mouth is by trying the things she learned in her own shop.

“I made a claim that this information would benefit people, so I felt responsible for beta-testing the ideas.” One of the ideas she tried revolved around racing, an area where many women expressed perceived barriers. The shop didn’t have a team, so they started the “Women’s Learn to Race Club.” The program provided training plans, group rides, racecourse analysis, jerseys, and everything else the members needed to stand on the starting line of the Beti Bike Bash, a popular women’s only race in Denver.

Of the 15 women who joined, 11 raced and seven stood on the podium. “The youngest was 28, the oldest was 61, and they all said, ‘This was amazing, this was the most positive experience I’ve ever had,’” Slater said. “I sold two bikes to women in the club, and my shop jersey was on the podium seven times. Plus I benefitted from the brand equity, word-of-mouth and the intangible results that come from something like that.”

She plans to do it again, with the founding riders returning to mentor the next round of racers. “This will create community, new leaders, and lifetime customers who bring others in,” Slater said.

Having seen proof of concept, Slater charged ahead to grow the WÖRCC. She reached out to companies who seemed the most interested in the project and asked them to cooperatively underwrite the next round of research. Pivot Cycles and Quality Bicycle Products stepped up to offer support, so she pushed the fall 2018 event into early 2019, in order to create three separate meetups across the country — Boulder, Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Additional women gathered on their own to participate “virtually,” using the event’s text-based technology to provide feedback. Total attendees for the year reached 400 women, and another detailed report will be generated later this year.

Looking ahead, Slater says events for 2020 are still being planned since they will be driven by underwriter support. She expects it to keep growing, and eventually benefit more than just female riders. “When the industry gets better at serving this particular market, they’ll get better at serving all cyclists.”

Elorie Slater listens to a speaker present during the 2017 Women’s Off-Road Cycling Congress.
Gloria Liu, an editor-at-large for BICYCLING magazine, presents to an audience primarily of women during the 2019 Women’s Off-Road Cycling Congress.

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