My experience in the cycling industry
How I got started as a bike fitter and a few stories from being a women in the cycling industry
I think it’s only fitting that the first article in the ‘women in cycling’ topic will be about how I got started working in the cycling industry. To do that, we are going to go back in time, all the way to 1992…
As surprising as it may seem, I didn’t really care for bikes as a kid. My parents pretty much forced me to learn how to ride a bike and I preferred my roller blades to my bike. I was a competitive swimmer from the age of 5 and I also ran cross country and track, but when I was 11, my swimming coach told me that I needed to give up running so I can dedicate more time to swimming. I refused (aka: I had a temper tantrum) and luckily my mom found a solution almost immediately - A triathlon program! I had no idea what triathlon was, but when I was told it’s a sport that will allow me to still swim and run without having to choose one over the other, I was all in. The cycling component was just a part of the package deal.
My first road bike!
It took well over 6 months to get a road bike my size. A local shop ordered me a Bottecchia bike, all the way from Italy, which was a deep purple steel beauty, equipped with suicide shifters and everything. It was way too big for me, I crashed in front of the whole team on one of my first rides because no one told me riding 18c tires on gravel isn’t a great idea, and it made me fall head over heels for cycling.
Below are some photos between 1993 and 2001. I had 6 bikes in that time frame, including 3 that were a part of various sponsorship deals. I raced internationally at an elite level as a junior (for draft legal triathlon) and supplemented that with road, crit and TT racing, too. I stopped racing in 2003, for reasons that are a story for another time.
I started racing as a 12 year old and I was in and out of bike shops from that point on. I don’t remember ever feeling out of place or unwelcomed. In fact, the first time I felt uncomfortable at a bike shop was around 2013, when I first moved to Vancouver (keep reading for that story). I feel lucky I had positive experiences in bike shops as a young athlete/women and I realize that is it not typically the case.
I graduated from Canterbury University with a degree in sport science and coaching at the end of 2005 and moved to Canada at the end of Feb 2006, with no money and only a temporary place to live, so I needed to get a job asap. As luck would have it, someone forwarded me a job posting for an opportunity at a local bike shop. They had one women working there and she was leaving, so they needed a women to take her place. The job had no requirements other than being a women, preferably one who rode bikes - No knowledge or experience needed.
In short, they needed a token women at the shop.
I don’t mean to throw anyone under the bus as they were supportive overall, but I was hired because of my gender. The fact that I had racing experience and a degree in sport science, with a cycling biomechanics/physiology honors thesis was just a nice surprise and simply an added bonus.
That job was supposed to be a temporary thing until I started grad school, but a comedy of errors meant that grad school was not going to happen as planned (it did happen eventually though) and I ended up working at that shop for about 1.5 years. I also started my business within 5 month or so of moving to Canada.
When I first started working at the bike shop, I was mostly selling kids bikes, hybrid bike, helping people with minor things, etc. For anything higher end or more advanced, I was expected to get one of the guys to take over, which I was not okay with. I knew cycling, I knew how to communicate with people and I knew how to sell things (I actually had quite a bit of sales experience from various jobs while at uni). I also really wanted to learn more… I would like to think that was just because I was the new person at the shop, but at the back of my head I always wondered if that was because I was a women?
I also asked to start doing some of the fittings at the shop, given that cycling biomechanics and physiology were kind of my bread and butter. They were not into it at all initially and I got the sense they figured I will just give up after a while, but I ended up changing how bike fitting were done completely. At the time (we are talking 2006), bike fitting pretty much anywhere was a trainer in the middle of the shop’s floor, and when someone walked in with some discomfort, the bike would be set on the trainer, someone would watch the rider pedal and then make a few changes. 20-30 minutes or so later, the fit would be complete. Payment for the service wasn’t really a thing, no records were taken and that was that. I thought that was completely crazy. Eventually, I got the green light to just do whatever I wanted, so I set up a separate space as a fitting area. It was tiny, but it was enough to start doing some lactate testing and bike fitting. People had to schedule an appointment, pay money for the service and I started developing my own protocol for the fitting process, from the interview, to the assessment, to the workflow, the record keeping of each fit, etc.
Within less than 6 months, I was doing bike fits and testing regularly, selling high end bikes (and making everyone who bought those bikes get a bike fit) and I started coaching women specific cycling skills clinics as well. I think it is important to mention that I was doing all of that as a shop employee, meaning I was getting paid my regular hourly rate and most of the money was going to the shop. It didn’t really matter though, I likes being a part of the community and I also started Performance Training in June 2006, which was at the time only a coaching business.
By the fall of 2007, I was still working on the shop floor, doing the fitting at the shop and coaching the women skills clinics, but I was at the shop on a part time basis only (I was still the only women working there) as I was working on growing my coaching business. As luck would have it, one of the women at the latest skills clinic I coached was a physiotherapist who owned a clinic in Brentwood Bay and she suggested I started doing bike fits at her clinic as a contractor.
My plan was to continue working at the shop part time, and splitting my fitting time between the store and the clinic. Unfortunately, my boss at the shop said no: I was told to pick either working at the shop, or working at the physio clinic. So I quite my job… To be honest, that didn’t go over very well, and I never really went back to that shop - I felt ridiculed as I was told that I would not be able to make a living doing bike fits. That it wasn’t a ‘real’ job. That it was a phase and that it would fail. That no one would go and get a bike fit outside of a bike shop and pay more money for it. A part of me wonders if the reaction would have been the same if I was a man?
I set up a little room at the physio clinic and then worked on refining my fitting protocol, my fees and finding some clients. The reality was that half my income was gone, I now had to pay office rent, and I was still relatively new to the cycling community.
That’s when and how I came across Retul.
I decided I needed something to set me apart. I was using 2D video and wanted to find cool new technology that would be of interest to the cycling community… And somehow I stumbled across an article about this new 3D technology that only a few pro teams were using. It was not available for purchase yet, but I sent an email to one of the founders and asked for more information. Needless to say, the equipment was way more than I could afford. As an added challenge, despite the fact that I am a Canadian citizen, I was essentially a recent immigrant who never lived in Canada, so there I was, in my mid 20’s, without any credit history to even apply for a loan to get the equipment to grow my business.
The physiotherapy clinic owner and her partner co-signed a lease agreement for me to purchase the first generation of the Retul equipment. At the start of Feb 2008, I flew to Denver to spend some time with the 3 founders in their studio / office, do some bikes fits / fit training and talk about everything bikes and fitting. There was even a guest appearance from Allan Lim (that was pre Skratch labs)! It was a pivotal experience for my career and a huge confidence boost. I also started grad school at the same time, which was a bit over-ambitious, thinking back. I was one of the first 10 people world wide to use Retul, and the first one in Canada.
2008 - 2013
I now had all this advanced and very expensive equipment, but no one to work with… To cover costs, I had to increase my fees, which raised a lot of eyebrows. Here I was, a young women, fresh out of uni, asking people to pay her $120-150 for a bike fitting session with this camera/LED equipment no one has seen or heard of before. Huh? That was double what anyone else was charging! Luckily, people were curious. And a few of those happened to be the triathletes at the national training center.
Through 2008, I was lucky enough to start working with the junior and U23 triathletes at the national triathlon training center. After the Beijing Olympics, I also started working with most athletes at the senior triathlon team. Things simply snowballed from there.
I had the pleasure of fitting many Olympians, national champions, world championship medalists and commonwealth Games athletes racing triathlon and cycling events (and many other Olympians who picked up cycling after their athletic careers ended). I can honestly say that I learned so many valuable lessons working with this caliber of athletes, and often from their coaches and support team as well. I remember the first time I fitted a 2 time Olympic medalist / 4 time Olympian (3 Olympic Games at the time). It felt like a make it or break it job interview, but I worked with him for close to 4 years until he retired after the London Olympics, so I must have done something right!
I stayed at the physiotherapy clinic until 2011 or so, at which point I briefly had a home based fit studio (never again) and then a small space in Saanich.
It was not all great though. Many people who found me online for example, were often confused when they were greeted by a women as they assumed I was a man - It was often awkward and I constantly felt like I had something to prove. I got into the habit of never having photos of me on my website or blog, and people simply assumed I was a man, because pretty much everyone else doing similar work were men (Admittedly, I fully took advantage of the fact that my name is often confused with a man’s name...).
2013 - 2020
In 2013, I moved from Victoria to Vancouver. I did not have the resources to set up my own space in a new city, so I started fitting at a physiotherapy clinic downtown - One I still highly recommend to a lot of the athletes I work with.
A few weeks later, I walked into a high end bike shop (that has closed down since), as I was in the market for a new bike. Having spent a lot of time in bike shops throughout the years, working in a bike shop, racing internationally and with experience fitting thousands of cyclists, I knew what I wanted and I had a fairly healthy budget to work with. Sadly, my experience at the shop was far from positive - It was the first time I felt out of place in a bike shop, ever… The women at the shop took one look at me and decided I was a beginner rider, who needed an endurance style bike at a lower price point. If you know me, you’re probably laughing pretty hard as you read this. The best part was when she specified how they are expert at fitting bikes (they were not) and how they were going to fit me on the bike, making sure I was upright enough.
So many (wrong) assumptions made without asking me about my background in cycling, my goals or my budget for a bike. Honestly, that experience was everything that is wrong in the cycling industry and to be stereotyped by another women was a low blow.
Shortly after this experience, I was contacted by Bicicletta with a very solid partnership offer. I started splitting my time between the shop and the physio clinic, but within a year I outgrew the clinic space and was mostly fitting at Bicicletta, as well as at Fortius a couple of times a week (I left Fortius in 2019). My relationship with Bicicletta was always a partnership, a business within a business if you will, as I was there as a contractor. But for some reason, I sometimes felt like some clients looked down at me, and some were very surprised to learn that I was a business owner with 2 degrees who didn’t ‘just do bike fits on the side’. Was it a gender specific thing? Probably not... It was likely more of a bike industry thing - I am here to tell you that yes, you can have a successful career in the cycling industry, not just a ‘job’.
As the years went by, there were only a handful of instances where I felt out of place or mistreated. There was one particular case where a client almost left when he saw me… Half way through his appointment he actually told me that he was very skeptical and almost didn’t start the appointment when he saw a young women was his fitter. He apologized and complimented my skill and knowledge levels, but the damage was done.
2020 - Now
The effects of the pandemic deserve a post of its own, so I wont get into too much detail here. In short, I couldn’t work as normal for several months, but I did some cycling industry consulting and more coaching work. In October 2020 I set up my own 400sf studio space and purchased more equipment (sizing bike, foot and saddle pressure mapping and more). I leveraged a lot of my connections and ended up using the pandemic as an opportunity to grow quite substantially and I have fairly lofty growth plans for the new 2-3 years.
I currently work with all ability levels, regardless of the bikes they ride, their ability levels, etc. I still work with a lot of high performance athletes, but the majority of the cyclists I see are everyday people who ride bikes (More men than women, as highlighted in a previous post).
Over the last decade or so, I established a lot of contacts in the cycling industry: Importers, distributors / brand reps, bike shop owners and various brands. Not once did anyone treat me with anything but respect and I consider some of these people friends, also. But I still always feel like I have to prove my worth. I still feel like I am a minority… And the reality is that it is because I am. There are so few women in the cycling industry, relatively speaking… And even fewer doing the same work I do. Things are changing, but I don’t think they are changing fast enough. The only thing I wish was different for me, was seeing more women working at bike shops as a young athlete and professional and I wish there was another women working at the bike shop while I was there…
My only solutions at the moment are: 1) tell my story, 2) keep doing the work that I do, and do it very well and 3) Be supportive and encouraging to all women who ride, and support other women in the industry.
Are you a women working in the cycling industry? I would love to connect with you!
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