Mansplaining Bicycle Tires

Is there a female cyclist alive who doesn’t have a cocktail party’s worth of stories about when they’ve been mansplained to?

According to one source, mansplaining is “that thing where men explain things to women without acknowledging their intelligence, knowledge, or familiarity with subject matter. It’s paired with a ‘slimy certainty’ (thanks Urban Dictionary) that the mansplainer is right because he’s a man.” (Mansplaining 101: How to Discuss Politics and Feminism Without Acting Like a Jackass)

Now, I’ve been mansplained to plenty in the past (here’s my usual reaction)—I even wrote last summer in “Mechanical Woes” about some mansplaining I got from a mechanic at my (former) local bike shop.

A few nights ago I made my way to the one bike shop in town that stocks Nifty Swifties—the tires I have on my Sweetpea. Walking in the front door, I instantly felt out of place. The counter was full up with tall, very lean dudes. (If you have never met me: I am not tall, not lean, and my large breasts often get in the way when I’m doing yoga so I’m pretty sure I’m not a dude.) I stood a comfortable distance from the counter and waited patiently for a few minutes until the token woman offered to help.

As she was checking their stock of Nifty Swifties, the next clerk over had an exchange with a new (male) customer who had come in, expressing remorse that the customer needed to wait. Gosh, I thought. He didn’t care that I was waiting—patiently.

The female staff member found the tire I needed and started working a computer for an invoice. A thought occurred to me: since I had to go out of my way to make this purchase, I should make sure I was getting the exact same tire I had.

Asking an innocent question was my big mistake.

“Do Nifty Swifties just have one diameter?” I asked. I was almost certain they did, but better be safe than need to delay my repair, right?

The female staff member, who may have been new, was perplexed. As she started looking up the shop’s stock again, the customer on my right chimed in.

“The 650B is a very unusual size.” Mr. Buttinsky said, in a way that instantly felt condescending. “Almost no bikes have it.”

(Note to random customer: you’ve never been to Europe, have you? Or known any short women? Or checked out the new Jamis models? I know at least two people, not including myself, who have bikes with 650B wheels…)

Wishing I could shoot laser beams into his skull with my eyes, I asserted back, “I have a 650B.”

If I was better at comebacks in the moment, I might have added, “Natalie Ramsland drew two options for me when we were working on my bike together, and I very thoughtfully and deliberately chose the one with 650B wheels.” I know what tire I need, you jerk. UGH!

After I left the shop and headed for yoga class, I thought more about the interaction. Lately I’ve been looking for possible miscommunications in unsettling interactions rather than assuming the knee-jerk worst and letting it color my approach to my fellow humans. Another man I know really likes being helpful, and on many occasions has helped me when I’ve had a lack of technical knowledge. (He also does so without the slightest bit of condescension.) Could this stranger have merely been trying to help, and my own situational insecurity misinterpreted his intent?

It seems possible—until I think about other bike shops where I’ve never once felt out of place. The shops I’m thinking about are proactive about being female-friendly and have more than just one token female staff member. I have a personal connection to at least one person—reinforcing my thought that bike shop loyalty is built largely on relationships. The contacts I have and cherish, like my man friend, share knowledge without disdain. And recognize that I am no newbie to cycling.

Guys—just because someone doesn’t look like you doesn’t mean that they’re not a knowledgeable cyclist. Bicycling in high heels is fairly de rigueur in Portland these days. Seniors were racing the wind since before you were bornGary Fisher could probably school you on bikes, but doesn’t look the part. If you’re trying to be helpful, check your tone.

And for the love of Pete, when will more shops start stocking Nifty Swifties?

3 Comments

Filed under Bicycles, Oregon

3 responses to “Mansplaining Bicycle Tires

  1. Fabulous post, and I am soooo following your blog now!! 650B aren’t THAT uncommon, sheesh! Great example of mansplaining (or, manslaughter to my autocorrect…that’s interesting) and everyday sexism!

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