Bike shops are one of the scariest things about being a new cyclist.
Full of weird and wonderful gadgets, insanely expensive bikes and kinky-looking clothing they can be incredibly intimidating. And if you don't get the right sales assistant it can be a disaster. There's a lot on the web about lady cyclists and how to encourage them, better bike shop assistance is a frequent plea on forums and blogs.
But I don't think it's an issue of sexism. Don't get me wrong, if you're a girl you often get the old raised eyebrow, but I think it's more about elitism.
Women have it worse because there are a lot fewer of them on the roads so many shops will assume you don't cycle or are new to it but men who don't know what they're doing get the same treatment. When I first walked into my local bike shop I was, frankly, terrified. It's dark, the windows are full of equipment and, when you walk in from the sunshine, the sudden blackness means you can't see where you're going. It's a serious bike shop, it does repairs, orders in specialist kit, and does very reasonably priced services.
The first time I went in I bought a gel seat cover and then scuttled out, too embarrassed to ask for anything. But then Roger needed a brake service. As I work six days a week and they're always closed when I'm free I had to ring in advance to see if I could lock him outside the shop, drop the keys through and pick him up in the evening. I got a very nice guy on the phone who giggled a bit when I called Roger by name but was otherwise very helpful. He expressed surprise at my then total miles a week (60) and agreed a service was needed.
I dropped Roger off and waited. The guy then rang to explain exactly what he was planning to do and the costs, I agreed and for a very low fee all was completed. I then picked up Roger in the evening.
I now use that bike shop regularly and it will be the source for my kit when I do the Brighton run. The owner refers to my bikes by the names Roger and Reg, asks after my cycling development, recommends products of use and is generally fantastic. I had one issue when I had a problem after a service and it was dealt with admirably, he even offered to come to my house to rectify the fault.
I let my own fear stop me from using that shop for ages and I don't think I'm alone. Maybe women should just stop expecting to be treated with contempt. Maybe we should pull our shoulders back and expect to be treated with respect. Maybe we should actually research what we want and not expect to be led by the hand and told what to buy. Come on girls, learn to shop!