Why we don't have boys' and girls' bikes

Lifestyle  |    |  

Boys should ride blue bikes and girls should ride pink bikes, right? It’s interesting how stereotypes can develop and become established, often starting as nothing more than crude marketing decisions. The cycle industry has been as guilty as any other when it comes to simplistic gender stereotyping. Whether it’s front baskets and tassels for girls, or superhero stickers and motorbike-inspired cladding for boys, children’s bikes have often been studies in gender clichés.

No differences in design

When it comes to the design and ergonomics of children’s bikes there’s a very straightforward reason for adopting a gender-neutral stance: in pre-pubescent children, there are no distinct differences between boys and girls in terms of body proportions. Our primary goal at Islabikes has always been to give children the best cycling experience, meaning we want them to ride a bike that fits perfectly. Due to the similarities in body shape between the sexes at young ages, we simply don’t need to produce separate bike models for boys and girls to achieve that aim.

How gender roles form

There’s no need to design bikes differently for boys and girls but what about the colours and graphics on children’s bikes? As anyone with children knows, they certainly have their preferences about everything from clothes and food to colours but where do these preferences come from?

This experiment conducted by the BBC shows how we, as parents and carers, create and influence the gender roles of children. When people are tricked into thinking a baby boy is a girl and vice versa they subconsciously treat the two children differently. The ‘girl’ is given soft, pink toys to play with and the ‘boy’ receives robots and toys that teach spatial awareness. Unsurprisingly, giving children toys that help them develop spatial awareness improves their ability in that area and a gender stereotype is born! When the participants are told the truth, they are all shocked but it’s not surprising people behave in this way. After all, most of us were conditioned into gender roles, too.

Pink is not the problem

At Islabikes we produce bikes in several colours. However, we don’t market those bikes to boys or girls. We believe the colour choice should be left to the individual child and they should be free to choose from all the colours available, regardless of their gender. By sticking to gender neutrality, and through encouraging children to embrace their natural instincts, likes and dislikes, we also hope to contribute to the larger debate about gender stereotyping and inequalities in society.

The big picture

We often read stories about the lack of women enrolling in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in universities. The gender imbalance is stark. According to the WISE Campaign who work for gender balance in STEM subjects only 24% of STEM graduates were women in 2016/17. The good news is the proportion is increasing but there is still a long way to go. Although the nature vs nurture debate may rumble on as the experiment above highlighted we continue to shape our children’s biases by conditioning their gender roles. If wider society implies that engineers are men and cake decorators are women it’s hardly surprising that some professions continue to be heavily biased by gender.

Isla’s vision for Islabikes

At Islabikes gender neutrality is hard wired into everything we do. As someone with an instinctive love for engineering our founder, Isla Rowntree had her own experience of gender stereotyping. At school, Isla’s teachers pushed her towards traditional gender roles: “I wanted to study Design for my O Levels. However, I was told that girls didn’t do design, and I would be disadvantaged because the boys had already studied subjects like technical drawing which prepared them for the design course, whilst I had been doing cooking and sewing with the girls. I refused to take “no” for an answer but the ensuing debate meant that I started the course later than other students. In spite of all this I got an “A” and design went on to become a significant part of my career”.

Happily, we’re continually increasing the number of women working at Islabikes, and particularly in our workshop. We have changed our recruitment techniques to overcome the subconscious bias that discourages many women from applying for jobs they perceive as “technical”. As a result, 42% of our bike mechanics are now women. Therefore, there is a good chance your child’s Islabike will have been assembled by a woman.

The role of gender in society remains a complex one but we welcome the current debate on the subject. At Islabikes we hope to make our own contribution towards a society where children are free to choose their own paths both on and off the bike.