The Chainlink

How Does Specialized Expect Women to Take Them Seriously When They Don't Take Women Seriously?

Specialized has found itself at the centre of a sexism row after a limited edition Playboy e-bike was unveiled at a Berlin bike show alongside women dressed in Playboy Bunny costumes. 

Monika Zamojska, cycle clothing brand House of Astbury co-founder, spotted the “Playboy Bunnies” at the Berlin Fahrradschau over the weekend, and says she feels the marketing contributes to a gender imbalance in the cycling industry and in the sport.

Zamojska told “These women were there to simply to look pretty next to the bike, and reducing women to just their appearance is what makes it so hard for female customers, athletes and women working in the industry to be treated seriously. We are not here to look pretty, we mean business.

“Women have the right to be represented by the industry in the same way as men do and not to be used as a tool to market products to the male audience.

“It might have been a product and a campaign targeted at the local market, but that does not justify it, especially that it only takes one tweet for the whole world to see it.

Cycling Today

Enough is enough. After a controversial 2015, one would think a bike manufacturer that bothered to invest in women's clothing, gear, and marketing would come to the obvious realization it's better NOT to alienate such a large percentage of its business and potential business. 

This is the description on their women's homepage, "We are for riders. All of you. That’s why we cheer just as loudly for women learning how to ride as we do for the ones racing to win. Because of this, we’re constantly inspired to make the best bikes and equipment for you. Whether you’re a mountain biker or road rider, new to the sport or a seasoned pro, let’s share the bike love and ride."

And they can write all the inspirational copy they want but the fact is that once they put two young women in bunny suits, they just transported us back to the 60s and proved they really aren't taking women seriously. It's all just marketing copy. As a woman, why would I want to contribute to this? Every saddle I own is Specialized and the next time I'm in the market for a new saddle, I plan to research my options again so I can avoid buying another Ruby Pro. This is how strongly I feel.

Specialized needs to start taking women seriously in cycling.

  • Retrain their entire global marketing team and establish what marketing is no longer allowed e.g. bunnies in skimpy outfits and product lines like a Playboy eBike.
  • Change the culture from the top.
  • Elevate women to executive and management positions so they can help guide the company to make better decisions that are not bad for business.
  • Advocate for women in cycling of all forms.
  • Stop alienating women, the largest growing market, with sexist campaigns and products like a Playboy bike. It looks ridiculous.

Here's additional background:

"For Women Cyclists, The Struggle is Real" by Jen Groen

"Things That Make You Go WTF" by Brett Ratner

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Ouch. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Thanks John. I added a few articles we did from last year to help give it context. This just keeps happening in the industry. Sad.

They apologized but I can't help thinking, well, I don't see it on their Facebook page so where did they apologize? They are saying it was a local marketing initiative and the global team was not aware of it.

“this is by no means an excuse as we have to stand up to any decision made in any market,” the company said that “this market activation was carried out locally by the regional marketing manager, and was not discussed with or approved by our global marketing team.”

So they didn't know anything about the partnership with Playboy? Or just the marketing using bunnies? 

Not really clear if Specialized in Germany launched a partnership with Playboy and corporate had no knowledge. Did Specialized in Germany also launch a new eBike product with Playboy branding and corporate didn't know? And to promote the new Playboy-branded bike, they hired bunnies but corporate didn't know? What they said is vague so it's hard to tell what they really didn't know.

If they are saying they knew nothing, three major decisions were made without the corporate CMO knowing. I really have a tough time believing that is possible. To have no checks and balances through out all of this is hard to believe. If they knew about the partnership and the bike, I would think it would be pretty logical to think bunnies could pop-up in promoting the product. Big red flag. A lot of steps to go unchecked and unquestioned. I appreciate their immediate apology but the new head of marketing, Slate Olson has been with Specialized for 12 months. Wouldn't he have assessed all of their global marketing initiatives and partnerships in that first year?

Make real changes (see above) and stop having to say you're sorry. 

See more at:

We're going here because there is a larger problem of women in cycling not being taken seriously. I encourage you to read Jen Groen's article, "For Women Cyclists, The Struggle is Real" if you question why this is an issue and why this is important to women. Instead of being able to compete in Tour de France, the only role women are allowed is to dress up in skimpy little dresses and kiss the winners. Advertising that includes women many times objectifies women as sex objects and not as serious athletes. This is ridiculous because women cyclists like me are also serious consumers. I've bought seven new bikes since 2012, gear and apparel but a large manufacturer like Specialized runs a campaign that alienates my gender. If we don't speak up, this will only continue. So here I am, speaking up.

I would add to that it is itself part of a larger problem of women not being taken seriously.

Thanks David. I've seen it in the workplace and elsewhere as well. Recently, in the bike industry, there have been so many examples and it's everything from objectification to massive difference in income to limitations on what women are allowed to do. So much work needed to fix this.

I am not a racer, but I am a regular cyclist and I own four bikes.  In addition, I bought the one that my husband sometimes rides.(The fifth bike in the house.)  I hate to think about the amount of money that I have spent on cycling related stuff in the last couple of years. Specialized will not receive a dime of the money that I will continue to spend until they really change the way they address women.  That apology was a joke in light of their history.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you completely.

What about the objectification of men? The cultural hypersexualization of men is from a different direction but still just as offensive. Men are equally presented as physical objects and used in marketing. Most significantly when male sports figures are used in advertisement. Their physical ability to dominate in an athletic contest is really their prime appeal; not their intelligence or moral character. Additionally, men are objectified as providers in modern culture and that is also used in marketing especially for expensive cars.

Personally I want to be judged by my intellect, the quality of my character, my compassion for those who are less fortunate, my duty to family, my ability to see those that are superficially different from me as my brothers and sisters and NOT for the cost of my car, how far I rode last year or the size of my chest muscles.

Here's one bike name and marketing scheme that I could do without, nothing wrong the pictures of the men but the words are somewhat objectifying: fighter, fighter, bad boy

Oh, and of course I'm offended by the playboy bunny bike and the objectification of women.

Are you kidding? I can't tell if this is a joke or an argument or both. 

If you are kidding/joking, you don't seem to be taking it seriously. That would be a shame. You have a lot of good insight you offer on The Chainlink and I would like for you to take this more seriously. And as David P. said, this is a global issue for women - in the workplace, in the home, everywhere. I have over 20 years digital and technical experience and yet I cannot tell you how many times men assume I am "not technical" and need to mansplain a simple concept like domain extensions to me like I'm a little girl. 

When I went to buy my road bike back in 2012 I wasn't taken seriously - why would I want to buy a carbon road bike with Shimano 105 when I could buy a hybrid with a comfort seat for a fraction of the cost? That carbon road bike with 105 helped me complete my first century months later and RAGBRAI the following year. 

That's just a taste of what I've experienced. As a woman, when you are not taken seriously over and over and over, it can feel defeating and overwhelming. So instead of sitting in a corner and giving up, I'm here as a business owner, trying to make a difference for all cyclists and for women cyclists. There are many topics I'll joke about but this isn't one of them. Take a look at the bike industry related advertising that has cropped up in 2016 (and it's only March):

Why should women be taken seriously? We are a huge part of the market and we are one of the biggest growth areas for the cycling industry.
•Women who bike commute grew 56% (2007-2011)
•Women will ride more with better bike infrastructure i.e. PBLs
•60% of bike owners aged 17-28 are women
Women 37% of the bike market in 2011, spending $2.3 billion
Women are still underrepresented in leadership position in advocacy organizations and the national industry
Professional women racers are grossly underpaid, no minimum set by UCI, not allowed to compete in the same races. 

In men’s cycling, UCI regulations clearly define what a team must pay its athletes: 36,300 euro for WorldTour squad (29,370 euro in case of neo-pros); 30,250 euro for Pro Continental squads (25,300 euro for neo-pros). Top athletes meanwhile make upwards of half a million euros per year. In women’s cycling, with no UCI wage regulations in place, athletes make only a fraction of the men’s minimum wage e.g. $5,000/year and many female athletes compete unpaid.

•Women are objectified in advertising and the media for bicycles and gear
•Two words: podium girls

As with other industries, the bike industry is male-dominated as I experienced at Interbike last year. And as a woman in the media, it is harder to be take seriously. We can do better. 

It's not a counter argument just an extrapolation. Hypersexualization of men hurts women as well.

Male cultural sexuality is as a physically and financially dominating character. Without understanding that you will never eliminate the sexual objectification of women.



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