The Art & Science of Selling Bicycling to Women

Pictured here is the Electra Townie "Go," the electric version of the most popular bike in the country sold through independent bike dealers. According to NPD Market Group, it has $9 million in sales this year as of July.

Pictured here is the Electra Townie "Go," the electric version of the most popular bike in the country sold through independent bike dealers. According to NPD Market Group, it has $9 million in sales this year as of July.

Note: This article first appeared in the Electric Bike Association's special publication for Interbike 2016. It was preview of Melissa's presentation at Interbike in the Electric Bike Theatre with Robin Bylenga of Pedal Chic. The Electric Bike Association hosts the Electric Bike Expos.

For years now the idea of "women" has been a buzz word for growth opportunity for U.S. bicycling. The challenge is that there's been very little follow through from the majority of the bike industry, or bicycle retailers, to understand and successfully market to the real growth opportunity in the female market. I'm talking about the casual female bicyclist.  I'm going to be even bolder, the biggest growth opportunity is actually in the woman not yet riding, either for the first time or not-for-many-years. There are millions these women in the U.S.  I know. I was one of them.

My observations and experience in Long Beach California, were so in tune with what Robin Bylenga was observing and experiencing herself on the other side of the country in Greenville South Carolina, that the two of us teamed up to share our insights with others. Robin created Pedal Chic, the very first female-centric bike shop in the country. On 9/22 at noon we presented "The Art & Science of Selling Bicycling to Women" in the Electric Bike Theater at Interbike.

While of late there have been great strides made in the bike industry (led initially by bike lifestyle focused outliers like Public, Electra, and Linus) to embrace those who simply want to ride comfortably around their city, or suburb for transportation, rather than a workout, sport bicycling for the very fit is still where most of the energy is focused. And yet, Electra with their jazzy, fun, easy to ride bikes with the marketing to match it, sells the number one bike in the country - the Townie, a woman's casual city bike. 

I personally ride a Linus Dutchie 3 speed for my daily meetings and errands .  And this past spring and summer I've had the great pleasure of seeing for myself how the Electric Bike Expo, traveling throughout the Western U.S. with leading manufacturers with Bosch as the presenting sponsor, Trek as the track sponsor, and Tempo Electric Bikes as the charity sponsor, has been bringing in women of all ages and abilities, including many newbies, to test ride the best in ebikes for the American market.  Here's some fascinating data the expo has been able to collect: Participation in the ebike expo events in the U.S. are 70% men and 30% women, in Germany, the same type of ebike events draw 90% men and 10% women.

Teri Sawyer, one of Pedego's talented PR team members, shows off the joy of riding an electric bike. Image by Allan Crawford.

Teri Sawyer, one of Pedego's talented PR team members, shows off the joy of riding an electric bike. Image by Allan Crawford.

And here's the sweet spot of market potential that almost all of the bike manufacturers ignore in their marketing - the largest participation group in the U.S. ebike expos, 40%, have been in the 55-64 age group. Yep, the Baby Boomers with their higher levels of disposable income.  Among the ebike manufacturers, Pedego stands out for its marketing approach that welcomes older riders.

This past November The Wall Street Journal reported in an article "Retirees Get Back on Their Bikes" that according to the National Household Travel Survey (conducted by the Federal Highway Administration) recreational biking among Americans over 50 jumped 62% between 2001 and 2009, to an average of about 20 miles annually per person, compared with only a 22% increase in the general population.  I should note that this report has been shared by People for Bikes and others earlier, but as a proponent of getting more positive stories about women and casual biking into the popular media, I think it's important to call out when the nation's largest newspapers writes about it.

Like many industries, bicycling's leaders like to focus on the young and fit. But whether you're 19 or 99, to successfully engage this huge growth market of "not yet riding" or "hasn't ridden in a really long time" it's time to flip the script. It's time to reframe the conversation. Both the bike industry and many bicycle retailers are actually a victim of their own success. They've done a great job of selling excellent bikes to the athletic minded among us, or those who avidly want to be athletic among us, but they've failed to recognize that the athletic market isn't a growth market right now. Only by throwing the net much wider and embracing the casual bicyclist where they are right now, and inviting them into bicycling at their own speed, will they find their new athletes. Soon enough a certain percentage of these people will want to go farther, faster too.

Two exciting situations have arisen to really make casual bicycling more possible:

1.  The first is that across the country progressive cities, guided by local, regional, statewide and national advocacy, are making serious strides in making bicycling safer for everyone from 3 to 93. From New York to San Francisco, cities of all sizes have seen an exponential jump in bicycling when they create the safe infrastructure, education and outreach programs to grow bicycling. 

2. Ebikes are now becoming readily available in the U.S. market . In a pre-Interbike press release, Pat Hus, the VP of Interbike shared that the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association reports sell-in numbers for ebikes through June 2016 are up 63.75%.

Here's what's need if you really want to engage this vast market opportunity:


Your sales team needs to be able to meet both women and men where they actually are, and listen to where they actually want to go on a bike, rather than deciding ahead of time what this new possible customer should be doing.

The concept of leading with compassion is from Robin Bylenga of Pedal Chic. Women drive 5+ hours to one of Robin's famous saddle fittings because she listens to what women really want to do, what hurts when she rides now, what isn't working, and then Robin uses the technology, and a vast array of product options, to fit women accurately for where they are right here and now. 

Robin and her team at Pedal Chic create colorful stories of how the lifestyle of bike riding can fit into a woman's life.

Robin and her team at Pedal Chic create colorful stories of how the lifestyle of bike riding can fit into a woman's life.

Further, Robin points out that the real power in creating strong retail is through relationship. It's the experience of shopping with you, not the discounts, that will set you apart from your competition. Through listening and education, she's transforming women's lives through bicycling. She's built not only a strong loyal customer base but avid fans and followers who want to learn exactly how she does it.

To tap into this vast market opportunity both the bicycle manufacturers and the bicycle retailers need to grasp the art and science of selling bicycling to women who don't view themselves as an avid cyclist. Using the term cyclist = sport for most Americans. They don't even consider themselves bicyclists, rather people who like to ride bikes. Which is one of the big reasons People for Bikes changed their name several years ago from Bikes Belong.


Food for thought, the National Bicycle Dealers Association reported that total bicycle sales in the U.S. for 2014 were $6 billion dollars. In comparison in 2014 the U.S. spent  about $3 billion on the Athleisure market. Athleisure is the fastest growing segment of the apparel market, and Morgan Stanley is reported as predicting it will rise to a total of $83 billion in sales by 2020.

To move the bike industry from our current sales of $6 billion, to a very big hairy goal of say $66 billion by 2020 (crazy big I know, but let's just imagine shall we?), we need to think very differently and adopt some of the design appeal and marketing strategy of the best fashion brands.  They know how to connect with women and get them to buy by making shopping for apparel a very enjoyable sensory experience, whether in a brick and mortar store or online.  Their customer service is great and they know how to make it...


The sport bike shop that focuses on the athletic minded male has been done pretty well, and the Mann Group is leading retailers passionate about that market to do it even better, as well as to give those stores a cleaner, better organized, and more female friendly appeal. But the casual female bicyclist needs a different approach. To connect with her successfully a store needs to have a section - or the entire store - that is about how a bike can easily, comfortably and attractively fit into her everyday life.

Whereas the average bike shop crams their store full of bikes, the section, or store focused for the casual female bicyclist, needs to give space to sell the story visually.  She needs to enjoy the sensory experience rather than being overwhelmed by product. Apparel and accessories displayed in visually alluring ways together with the bikes are as important as the bikes themselves. Color stories are key, putting the baskets and the panniers right on the sample bikes is key, showing her how great she'll look while riding is key with great photography. And showing women in a variety of ages, not just super young and fit, is key.

For the casual female bicyclist - or future bicyclists - the look and feel, and marketing outreach needs to be all about storytelling of overall lifestyle rather than a workout.  This is beach cruiser and city bike lifestyle selling. This is where an ebike becomes the second car so the family can have more fun together, improve their overall health and well-being, and save money on gas. 

Melissa Balmer is the Media Director for the California Bicycle Coalition and the Founder/Director of creating tools to elevate the voice + impact for active, mindful mobility.

The Power of Storytelling for Compelling Communications by Melissa Balmer

Why do you need to learn to create compelling communications? Because we need you. We need your unique voice, your unique story, and your particular passion to make our streets safer, healthier and more economically vibrant. 

Note: This blog is just part of the tools we'll share in our upcoming Storytelling Toolkit Part II: "How to Become a Masterful Storyteller" which will be available at the end of August. Part I of of Toolkit "Why We Need to Elevate the Voice & Impact of Women" is available for download now for free.

How Storytelling Affects the Brain

To be an effective, compelling, charismatic communicator you need to master the art of storytelling. It really is that simple. Only storytelling can change hearts and minds because the human brain is wired for story. Here's how as beautifully organized and illustrated in this infographic created by One Spot:

1. Neural Coupling

When someone is listening to, reading or watching a story the part of the brain activates that allows the listener/reader/watcher to turn the story into their own ideas and experience. This is why so many of us feel the “force” within and are avid fans of the Star Wars series.

2. Mirroring

When people are enjoying a story, not only those listening to, reading or watching the story having similar brain activity to each other, but if the presentation is live, so is the storyteller as well. Storytelling breeds compassion.

3. Dopamine

When the brain encounters an emotionally charged event (i.e. a story) it releases the neurotransmitter of good feeling dopamine which makes it easier and more accurate to remember. Recognize that emotion drives giving, including of our attention spans.

4. Cortex Activity

Watching, listening, reading an emotionally engaging story activates more parts of the brain than when the brain is processing facts alone. An activated brain is an engaged mind, which is exactly what we need if we wan to have millions more join us in growing active, mindful mobility.

Dig deeper:

Anyone Can Become a Masterful Storyteller

Image by Lisa Beth Anderson

Image by Lisa Beth Anderson

Anyone of any age and any background can become a masterful storyteller. Yes introverts can be great storytellers. Let me give you an example. Shown here is Kellie Morris who like me has found a new career in active mindful mobility in mid life.

Kellie is a League Certified Bicycling Instructor. Over the past couple of years she's developed a specialty teaching people to ride who’ve never ridden before - especially middle aged and older women. Kellie is also a self professed introvert and former IT executive who doesn’t naturally enjoy the spotlight. But I didn’t know that when I asked her to star in a photo session to help me get more stories about her, her teaching, and the fact that she and her husband have been able to go completely off their blood pressure medication through a new diet and a car-light lifestyle that incorporates bike riding into their everyday lives, into the media. What I knew was that Kellie was fun and engaging and always had interesting insights and we had a fantastic young photographer Lisa Beth Anderson willing to work with us who makes everyone look great.

I thought Kellie would a perfect spokeswoman for the media. I had no idea she didn't feel like she was someone others would want to learn more about and found blogging challenging.I had no idea she dreaded being professionally photographed. When I asked she said yes! And then panicked at home on her own. But she decided to feel her fear and jump anyway. She decided to trust that Lisa and I had her best interests at heart. Kellie's written a great blog piece about her journey to that decision called "It's Time to Shine" that I encourage you to read if you're at all on the fence about stepping into the spotlight yourself.

The photo session was quite a success. We came away with several really excellent images of Kellie that have been shared far and wide, including in Momentum Magazine, and by the League of American Bicyclists Women Bike program. And we've been able to regularly place stories about Kellie and her work in local and regional media.

Remember everyone matters.

If your organization needs to be better at sharing its story don’t place the burden on just one person. Not only your colleagues, but your board, and your network of supporters can all become masterful story tellers. But you’ll need to create a safe storytelling culture to allow people to feel comfortable doing so.

And here’s the most powerful source of storytellers that are often overlooked – those who have been helped by the work you do. They too can become part of your storytelling culture.

The Elements of Great Stories

Great Stories Have a Purpose

They have a mission to entertain and to teach, not just teach or show how smart the storyteller is.

Great Stories Follow a Classic Narrative Arc

They have a beginning, middle and an end. In our work one of the best classic narrative arcs is often "the hero’s" journey.

Great Stories are Relate-able

They offer the reader/watcher/listener a chance to see themselves in your story. Children all over the world (and many adults as well) know what I mean if I say I wish I’d been able to go to school at Hogwarts school of wizardry.

Great Stories Create “Aha” Moments & Opportunities for Change

Great stories give the reader/watcher/listener the opportunity to see both themselves and their world in new ways and inspire us to make a positive change. Remember, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech began with a story, not data, not a plan.

Great Stories Quiet the Minds of Our Audience

Robert McKee is one of the world’s best-known and most respected screenwriting lecturers. He now trains people all over the world, in all types of organizations, to be great storytellers. He is very clear about why the basic way professionals in most fields share information - conventional rhetoric accompanied by a Power Point presentation to build your case - doesn't really work to truly connect with, engage and persuade your audience: 

1) The people you're trying to persuade have their own experiences and expertise. While you’re trying to persuade them, they're arguing with you in their heads.

2) If you do succeed in persuading them, you’ve done so only on an intellectual basis. That’s not good enough, because people are not inspired to act by reason alone. Remember emotion drives giving. Dopamine helps us remember. Only stories, not facts alone, can do that.

Food for Thought: Great stories can work on any communications platform from live presentations to email newsletters, and yes even phone pitches.

Dig deeper:

The 6 Key Steps to Becoming a Masterful Storyteller

1) Find the Heart of Your Story. Find Your Why.

Emotion not only drives giving, it trumps logic. If you want people to remember what you’re sharing, and especially if you want to change hearts and minds, you need to find both your own personally engaging stories that illustrate why the work you’re doing is so important, and the work of your organization as a whole.

Simon Sinek recommends you always start with why. Why should we listen to Simon? He's given the most popular TEDx talk of all time "How Great Leaders Inspire Action" with over 26 million views. He's now an demand author, lecturer and thought leader on how crucial starting with why is.

The power of your story, and your organization’s story, is in your struggle and your overcoming. That's what makes your story inspiring and relate-able to the broadest audience. Best selling author Carmine Gallo of The Storyteller's Secret has written a great piece in Forbes I highly recommend on this: "Why Stories of Struggle Bring Out the Best in Others."

My own story is one of struggling with a chronic pain and fatigue condition. It took my then friend and colleague (now my partner) Charlie six months to convince me I really could ride a bike again and enjoy the experience. I had forgotten that the bike is a strength maximizer. I knew I could still ride, but I didn't think I could actually go anywhere. Finally in December of 2009 Charlie invited me to ride a vintage cruiser with the Cyclone Coaster riding club in the annual Belmont Shore Christmas parade. It's a short parade route. I decided to give it a try and have been happily and regularly riding a bike ever since.

2) Map Your Story to the Narrative Arc

Also called "Freytag's Pyramid" for the 19th century novelist who studied classic stories that have captivating us for so long, this is a series of five episodes or sections that give your the framework of compelling stories:

  • Exposition
  • Rising Action
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Resolution

3) Frame Your Stories for Impact

Sometimes it’s best not to start at the very beginning. Sometimes it’s best to start at the heart of the challenge and work backward for drama. TED's Chris Andersen shares more on framing in his piece for the Harvard Business Review "How to Give Killer Presentations."

4) Blend Your Data with Stories

Data and statistics are absolutely crucial to show credibility and proof, but they need to be blended with stories that specifically illustrate them to be memorable and compelling. Avoid using data alone without a story to humanize it.

Did you know it's been ten years since Al Gore released his groundbreaking "An Inconvenient Truth" campaign? The creative team behind that was Durate. In this must read blog Nancy Durate spells out for you exactly why your report is not a presentation, and how storytelling blended with your data will make your presentation sing.

5) End with a Clear Call to Action

What to you want your audience to do because of reader, watching, listening to you? What next steps would you like them to take? Make sure your invitation is clear.

6) Approach is as Important as Content

This is such a crucial aspect of being a masterful storyteller we're going to dig even deeper here. How you tell your stories is as important as what's in them.

This is Amy Cuddy. Her TED Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” is one of the most popular talks to date with over 35 million views. A social psychologist, she has gone on to share her research on body language in her best selling book “Presence.” This is where I picked up the concept that “approach is as Important as content.”

Shorter is Sweeter

Most of us get caught up in wanting to prove how smart we are. Remember your audience, especially if you're giving a talk at a conference or summit with packed full days. Even super smart active, mindful mobility professionals can get overwhelmed with too much information. There’s a very good reason why TED Talks are formatted between 8 and 18 minutes maximum – that’s what research has prove our attention span can last for.

Less is more. When giving a live presentation on a report share highlights (always illustrated with story!) and then handout the report, or share a link, at the end for those who want to learn more.

Visual Allure is Essential

Your Powerpoint is like the music that accompanies a solo. It's there to make you look good - it isn't the presentation, you are. Make sure to use one template or format for your Powerpoint all the way through. No it's not ok to cobble together different presentations.

Be careful with clipart that automatically shouts you haven’t been paying attention to the digital design revolution that’s been going on across the world. The same goes with photos that aren’t crisp, clear and emotionally engaging and have emotional resonance for what you’re talking about.  For just dollars an image you can purchase striking graphics, icons and photographs if you don’t have the resources for a graphic designer and original photography. See the end of this blog for resources.

Use Descriptive Evocative Memorable Language

Think of your communications as passionate love letters. Repeat key words and phrases but make sure they trip easily off your tongue and look/sound compelling and appealing on the page.

Practice Makes Perfect – Even with Your Presence

We can get so wrapped up in writing and learning a presentation that we completely forget that our own personal presence is also crucial. The tone of our voice, the way we enunciate, our posture, our energy and yes, the way we dress all adds to or subtracts from a live presentation.

The TED Global team works for 6-8 months with a speaker before setting them loose on the big TED stage. Best selling author and televangelist Joel Osteen practices each sermon or speech for 6 hours. Something I’ve noticed about many of us working in active mindful mobility is that we’re chronically overbooked and we often wait until the last minute to finish preparing for a live talk. In the past I’ve been as guilty as anyone else. If you're as interested as I am in becoming not just a panelist, but a keynote speaker, let's make a pact to give ourselves the time to flourish.

No, you might not have 6-8 months to work on a talk. I get it. But what amount of time do you need to raise your game to the next level, and then the next? What amount of time do you need to practice to have the worlds flow easily like a conversation?

For the women reading this: We are still far from equity at our professional conferences and summits as far as having women as keynotes. In order to rectify this I hate to say it but we have to dazzle. We have to be better. It's unfair but true.

Dig Deeper: