Addressing diversity in cycling

By Bottle PR managing director Natasha Hill 

Is it true that the cycling image has an image problem? That is a big question, and multi-layered. But if one of the ‘problems’ is that it’s struggling to appeal to a wider audience, then there’s strong evidence that that is true.

It’s well known that cycling is not only dominated by men, but white, slim-ish, lycra wearing men – and whilst there are other barriers to taking up the sport (cost of equipment, safety, weather), the image will be playing a factor and limiting the take-up and therefore sales and profits of the cycling industry.

It’s not to say that women aren’t represented…they are (albeit to a lesser extent). But they follow the similar image of the MAMILs…slim-ish, lycra wearing, pro-looking with bikes as light as their carefully calorie-counted meal.

However, the tremendous efforts that have been made to increase the appeal to female cyclists now need extending to all groups: race (only 7% of London’s cyclists are from BAME groups), disability… even class.

It’s ironic that the sense of belonging and community that cyclists love, is not felt by non-cyclists – in fact, many think it’s not accessible. Is it such as surprise when the old trope of MAMILs still reigns supreme and has evolved Into 2020 to become ultra-niche and fashion-forward? They have spending power, they take PBs seriously and if you’re friends with any, you’ll know they proudly spam you with their latest ride stats.

There’s simply a lack of representation at all levels, from elite cyclists to the local cycling clubs. We’ve even seen cycling replacing golf as the new backdrop for business networking: great for the sport, but without tackling the inclusivity Issue, we risk replacing one boys’ club for another (lycra-clad) one.

It doesn’t take more than a cursory glance at This Girl Can’s Instagram page to see how they did it. So how can the cycling industry really motivate and inspire new cyclists? It’s got to start with an in-depth understanding of the barriers and enablers.

– Understand the audience(s)
Cycling brands wanting to gain traction with an increasingly diverse audience might find its worth trying to get to know their audience, to understand them better. We can no longer rely only on traditional demographics like age, gender and income because they no longer define people (…did they ever?).

Dissect each under-represented group, and explore their barriers from the functional to the emotional. Is it the cost of getting set up, worries about bike storage or theft, weather, length of time it can consume – or an irrational but strong fear of lycra or cleats?

– Use representative imagery
A quick Google image search, or a browse of top cycling brands’ websites lays bare the unbearable whiteness of cycling. BAME people and those with disabilities are woefully underrepresented. Brands and the industry now need to recognise diversity and inclusion is a business imperative.

Don’t patronise or treat them as a homogenous group, connect beyond fitness with lifestyle, sustainability, technology and play. What does an e-bike warrior want to wear? How vis can high vis be? Are the trouser bike clips able to make a retro revival?

– Be relevant and involving
Behaviour, interests and attitudes are far better qualities to understand about your customers, and this insight informs your messaging and marketing strategy. When targeting these new audiences use online tools such as Answer the Public to identify areas that might be of interest to this specific group e.g. topics and themes that would be relevant to female cyclists like ‘adjusting a bike for a woman to prevent back pain’.

As an industry, you have an opportunity to celebrate diversity in an authentic way. Shine a light on underrepresented communities by using real people to represent and act as your face (and voice) to inspire in a natural way. Tell more than one story.

Support, sponsor or partner with grassroots and niche projects with purpose. And let’s see how far along the road this sport can go.

Bottle is a Digital PR agency driven to help brands build fame and authority online. More detail on our digital Insights and cycling trends at wearebottle.com.

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