From Dream To Reality: The Story Of BFF Bikes
By Annie Byrne
Every now and then I still feel the need to say “pinch me” despite the fact that BFF Bikes is approaching is 4th anniversary. In fact, when I think about that fact, that is what makes me feel like I am dreaming, because holy crap! So much has happened in the last five years! When the idea to open a women’s specific bike shop came in February of 2013, I hadn’t even heard of a such a thing. But my immediate and strong response was “Yes, that’s brilliant.” Fast forward to 2018 and PINCH ME.
Coming up on this anniversary, combined with an all-new BFF Blog, and having recently told the story of how BFF opened in a podcast, got me inspired to blog about how it all began. After a nutshell version of the very beginnings, I delve into one of the first things I learned about: women specific bikes. By writing about my experience with BFF, along with women-specific bikes, racing, and other topics, I hope I'll shed some light on issues facing women's cycling. Please let me know if there's a topic or question you'd like me to address in the future. But for now: Here's how BFF came to be.
Why Open A Women-Specific Bike Shop, Anyway?
When the idea of a women-focused bike shop came in my head, I pictured a shop that would have a wide selection--not just a small, hidden-away section--of women’s cycling apparel, shoes, saddles, accessories, and more. I also pictured what it would be like to walk into a bike shop and immediately be greeted by someone who smiles, makes eye contact, gives a genuine, enthusiastic welcome, and really gets to know me and helps me navigate the options. I also pictured the ways a bike shop could make it easier for women who might be interested in racing to get involved--and the impact that could have on the local cycling community.
I pictured all these elements in a single shop, and I realized that I really wanted to go to this shop. Stat. So that’s what I, along with my friend and bike racing teammate, Vanessa, set out to create.
Now, sure, I had zero professional experience in the industry. I was an urban planner who loved to bike and recently discovered racing. But I saw my lack of experience working in a bike shop as an advantage. I had a lot of experience with bike shops--but strictly as a consumer. I knew what I wanted and I knew I was not alone. And I knew there are a lot of people out there who had yet to discover--or rediscover--biking. The impact bikes had already had on my life was so profound, and I wanted to help others experience that joy. That was a big part of my rationalization to leave my career and pursue this new passion. Looking back, I am so glad I did.
Why Do Women-Specific Bikes Matter?
At 5’10”, I have no issue finding a bike that “fits.” However, I know many women, including BFF’s 5’ co-founder Vanessa, who don’t have the same ease. She will gladly tell you the story of her long, frustrating search for a road bike that fit her. So before we opened the shop, I knew we would stock women’s bikes--even though I had no personal experience with them yet.
It didn’t take long for me to become educated on just why women’s bike geometries and design can be a better fit for many women, including me. There is no shortage of discussion on the topic and every manufacturer approaches their women’s line differently. For example, BFF carries Liv and Bianchi, and while Liv started from the ground up to engineer bike dimensions and geometries using data on women’s bodies instead of men’s, Bianchi kept its existing bike frames the same, but changed out the saddle and handlebars to make them women-specific. So is Liv’s approach to women’s bikes really better? I think for most women, yes, and here’s why and how I see it.
I was recently discussing the difference with a customer who is 5’9”. She pointed out that she doesn’t need a women’s bike, and I nodded saying I don’t “need” one either. But I do prefer it, because it feels better, not unlike how women’s jeans fit me better than men’s jeans. Women’s body proportions and their center of gravity are different, on average, than men. Liv bikes are designed based on those averages, not men’s. (If you want to read more on this, see Liv’s detailed explanation.) A main result of this approach is a more comfortable ride that feels stable and controlled.
For me, the difference I felt was obvious. I am not a naturally coordinated person with good balance. I couldn't ride a bike without training wheels until I was ten! Even after I started bike racing, I could barely ride no-handed, and couldn’t ride the rollers after trying for two winters in a row. I chalked this up to my lack of balance and coordination, which certainly played a part. However, during my first attempt on the rollers riding the Liv Envie, I got it in five minutes. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe it wasn’t me! Riding no-handed also became way easier. That was my experience and after nearly four years of helping women find a bike that’s right for them, I am more confident it’s not just me.
Needless to say, I have learned a lot since we opened and I continue to learn everyday. I'll continue to write about all I've learned over the past five years on this blog. For now, if you want to hear more about the opening, and one of the biggest joys of this endeavor, the BFF BIkes Racing team, check out this podcast I was recently on.
And one quick final note. There have also been some big changes and developments over the past year, and I am really excited about how we’re furthering our mission through new programs like Camp BFF. Another big change: Our co-founder, Vanessa, moved to Colorado in May of 2017. While she is no longer officially part of the business, she is very much a BFF and always will be. I will always owe Vanessa deep gratitude for being the force that got me into racing and change my life forever.