An unexamined assumption in the cycling industry is that an ideal customer is a 150-pound man, 5”10’, 20 years old and Italian. In practically every bike shop in North America, this guy can find the perfect bike in seconds just by scanning the bikes on the floor. But what if you are a woman who is 5’2”? What if you weigh more than 200lbs? Why is only one body type and gender represented on a bike shop floor?
It can be nearly impossible to find consistent service in a bike shop, especially for women. The industry is largely dominated by men, making it easier for everyone else to be dismissed or patronized. Throw in other marginalized identities, like being queer, neurodivergent, transgender, or overweight and the likelihood of being heard or receiving quality service goes down.
Andrea Smith, owner of Sidesaddle, Canada’s first women-focused bike shop, knew that people who didn’t fit this narrow mould still needed a safe place to find a bike. “It didn’t make sense to me that half of the market was being ignored. Or that an enthusiastic cyclist wouldn’t be taken seriously because she isn’t a guy.”
While Sidesaddle was created with women in mind, they cater to everyone. “People told me that we were going to turn away too many customers by being women-focused,” Andrea recalls. “But our customers are all genders, everyone is welcome here.” And that’s the point: regardless of your gender, age, body size, ethnicity, orientation, or skill level, you will be treated with kindness and respect. Plus, you will be able to find the right bike for you.
Part of what makes Sidesaddle different from other bike shops is the number of services and products they offer. Sidesaddle has an impressive Saddle Library for customers to try out different bike seats and find the perfect one for their body — especially since what is considered a standard bike seat is actually designed for a man’s anatomy. They have numerous products for women and even offer bike fitting options so you can customize your bike specifically to your body, getting the perfect fit.
Customer care is crucial to Sidesaddle’s mission and Andrea is just as passionate about how Sidesaddle treats staff. Because of Sidesaddle’s focus on women cyclists, they have played an important role in opening the door for marginalized folks to work in the bike industry. Sidesaddle provides job opportunities and training for women and trans folks and helps shape their careers in the field. Additionally, using their status as a successful small business, Sidesaddle advocates for higher wages in the cycling industry and to increase the legal minimum wage in BC.
Andrea explains that “being a living wage employer is a huge priority for us. We pay for benefits, time off, and my next goal is retirement plans.” This level of employee support and advocacy is uncommon in the cycling industry.
Integrity is one of Sidesaddle’s core values. For Andrea, that means paying employees for their work. “Sometimes businesses that do not have boundaries about charging for what they do end up not having enough revenue to treat their staff well.” Some bike shops have mechanics do repairs for free, but that can set an unrealistic expectation about pricing and value. “We charge for what we do so we can pay our staff a living wage. We’re clear with our pricing because we want to be as transparent as possible.”
Another reason why Sidesaddle is so upfront with pricing and quotes is to change customers’ experience with bike shops. “We make it so there are no surprises, especially unpleasant ones. To empower our customers, we give them a lot of information so they can get their needs met. Our goal is to improve people’s relationship with their bike shop.”
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrea ran a campaign to highlight women doing amazing things for their communities. Folks nominated their women heroes, or Sheroes, and Sidesaddle was able to reward several incredible women with a new bike. Sidesaddle also works closely with cycling advocacy groups such as HUB – a non-profit which helps remove barriers and create a connected cycling network through Metro Vancouver. These initiatives help make Sidesaddle the community-focused shop that it is. For Andrea, the bike shop community is everything: “My purpose in life is to make sure each person has the perfect bike for them.”
Sidesaddle is on a mission to change the cycling industry. Operating from a place of kindness, generosity, and integrity, Sidesaddle’s success is a testament to what businesses can achieve when they center kindness in everything they do.
Also, if your business has kindness at its core, drop us a line or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are doing a series on kindness in business and would love to feature you!