Bearded Bespoked

What the heck does this beard have to do with Bespoked?

Bespoked 2019! The RyanBuildsWheels team attended another amazing edition of Bespoked. We had an awesome time, loved it, loved meeting all of you and are already looking forward to next year. Unfortunately, the experience was a bit marred  by the unconscious bias Joey experienced during the event. Read on…

I (hi, Joey here!) joined the business in October 2018 and this was my first Bespoked as an exhibitor. It was so exciting to meet other passionate makers and to see some legendary frames, tools and components in the flesh. I bought my first pair of ‘casual’ cycling shorts. Rock and roll.

We were lucky to be placed right next to Abbey Tools so, had the pleasure of shooting the breeze with some pretty awesome kinfolk from my country of origin… whilst drooling over amazing precision tools. (Next year I WILL possess a Crombie Tool, a Fit Kit and a Hanger Alignment Guage, at the very least.)

Highlights for me were Beaumont Bicycle (hey Liz!) Ingrid Components and LD Frameworks (anyone who has a purpose built pizza front rack and breaks out the red wine at lunch time at an event like this is someone I fully support!), Lauf Cycling, Varonha Frameworks and meeting the lovely team behind Just Riding Along. It gave us the warm fuzzies to be just down from both Starling and Clandestine, two local businesses for whom we have built, and continue to lovingly build, wheels.

The RBW Coop representing.

It was truly wonderful to speak to so many enthusiastic cycling and bike bods. One conversation that stayed with me was a chat with a Canadian woman whose husband was part of the group who established the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path. He recently suffered a stroke and was told to not ride his bike for at least a year. He was back out on his bike in about eight days and, rather than dole out a scolding, his wife rode behind him and would shout if he started to veer into a hedge or off the road!!

This was one of the very few women that I  spoke to whilst I was there. I was actually surprised that there weren’t more women attending or exhibiting. I know, we all know, cycling is still dominated by men in terms of media coverage and those working in the industry but, actually on two wheels, the demographics are changing* and I expected to see this reflected in the attendees this year.

*Speaking of wanting to change demographics and as a (much needed) side note: I want to start up a Women of Colour riding group – similar to what Jenny from LBK has done in London – to not only ride but discuss all things cycling and what issues within cycling are important to and affect us as women of colour – if you’re interested, get in touch! A further important side note: At this time I won’t go into the white-middle classness of the cycling world (another post in future) but I was disappointed that the crowd was majority white and seemingly middle class. I was one of three Asian exhibitors and Adrian, from Reilly Cycleworks, was the only black exhibitor (not sure he was actually on the stand but I did spot him walking around).

To give you some background, I am a recovering Civil Engineer so, I’ve worked in a male dominated industry before. In fact, the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was a site visit to a viaduct, where I was the lead design engineer, and having to keep my cool whilst being continually called ‘girl’ by the client. Lovely.

 

Image result for vivien leigh resting bitch face

My face when called ‘girl’ on a site visit.

So, when I changed careers (I certified as a bike mechanic and planned to pursue mechanics work before I got this gig), I felt I’d be prepared to take on whatever the cycling industry might throw at me. Bespoked, and working in the RBW workshop, has been a wake up call. During Bespoked, whilst I stood at the front of the booth, being my most smiley and welcoming (which is pretty much me anyway), I would say about 80% of the men visiting our booth avoided eye contact, walked around me and asked Pete or Ryan their question. Questions asked ranged from ‘where are you located?’ (when I smile do I look that gormless that I wouldn’t know our address?) to technical things like engagement angles, bracing angles, etc. I started saying hello to men who were avoiding eye contact to get acknowledgement but I’d still experience a closed lipped smile and then be bypassed for the men.

I came into this job expecting existing customers to take a while to warm to me, and to maybe assume that I was the admin person at a glance. Our business name might lead people to think that we only have one male wheel builder… if, at the workshop, I’m standing at the wheel jig, building a wheel, we would hope that this might alter that assumption. Here I am, 9 months and a Bespoked later and still wondering why, when people appear door, a lot don’t say ‘hi’, or acknowledge me and head straight on over to the men. And there are the times when I’m struggling with a tubeless installation for a waiting customer and as they leave they will thank Ryan wholeheartedly but only give me a cursory ‘thanks’. (Insert stink eye face here, and sigh.) I make it clear that I’m open and friendly when anyone arrives by smiling and greeting them. So, dear readers, please don’t hesitate to say ‘hi’ back and a ‘bye’, when you go, with a sincere ‘thanks for your help’ to let me know you appreciate the work I do that contributes to your wheelset.

By the final day of Bespoked I was so fed up with being ignored that I wore a fake beard to see if more men would talk to me. It started a lot of conversations and I realised that men who are in a position to do some effective influencing are seemingly unaware of the issue I’ve experienced.

I’d like to shout out to male allies and say: Confront the behaviour I’ve experienced when you see it, or if your female counterparts are telling you it’s a problem! Also, my thanks to those repeat RBW customers who already greet me by name and have a chat with me – you’re the proof that it’s not ‘all men’ and my hope that things are shifting (and that I won’t need to actually wear that beard).

I’ve been part time up until 1st June and am now full time (yay!).  In the next couple months we’ll start getting me more involved in discussions with customers.  With the extra hours I’ll start gaining more product knowledge, learn how to advise on wheel builds, and be able to start answering technical questions – you’re welcome not to take the bypass and have a chat!

There are a lot of people, of all genders, in the industry actively trying to change the  behaviour I’ve experienced and the attitude behind it… I’d like to see this happening faster and across the board! I posted about my experience at Bespoked on my own personal Instagram and the responses I received showed me that I am far from alone in feelings of frustrations about this. It’s time for a revolution.

Me and Lucy of Greaves Cycles papped while smashing the patriarchy!

 

2 comments

Thanks Joey for writing all of that out with great insight and a lovely sense of humour and irony. To be a good bike mechanic/wheelbuilder/ you just need a brain and some hands, so I think that levels the playing field! What does count more than anything is passion for what you are doing and you and Lucy have that in abundance.

Hey Mike! I appreciate you taking the time to read the post and comment, thank you. I do think this issue is part of a wider conversation but felt it needed to be highlighted in this context. Hopefully it will make people think about the issues and perhaps change behaviour! See you out on two wheels soon.

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