by Hannah Dobson
November 17, 2016
Liv invited Hannah over to Sedona, Arizona, to ride their new bikes, and to learn a bit more about the brand. Click the links to see Hannah’s thoughts on the Hail and Pique bikes, and read on for what Hannah learnt about the brand.
Bicycles have long been associated with the emancipation of women and social change. From the earliest days of its invention, women found that the bike offered them the freedom to get around by themselves. The riding of bicycles led to the ‘Movement for Rational Dress’ pushing for women to be allowed to wear sensible clothing (like trousers) which allowed women to do things like ride bikes, instead of wearing heavy dresses and tight corsetry that tended to make the wearer faint. Arguably, the freedom that the bicycle gave women contributed to women campaigning for voting rights, and all the fight for equality that continues today.
Skip forward to the modern day, and in the week when America decided it wasn’t ready for its first female President, I found myself at the launch of Liv’s new Hail and Pique mountain bikes for 2017, where it was clear that bicycles can still do as much for women’s freedom and confidence as the very first safety bicycles did in 1880.
Liv is the women’s arm of Giant bicycles, the biggest bike manufacturer in the world. It is apparent that the Liv brand is not an afterthought, it’s an integral part of the business, with last year’s Liv Lust being the biggest selling off road bike for the whole group. That’s quite a statistic. So there’s good business sense and sound commercial reasoning behind the investment that the brand is putting into designing its bikes from the ground up. They’re not just tweaking the grips and saddle on existing bikes and adding a dash of pink paint – the new range of bikes started with a blank sheet of paper, and a lot of statistics about the female form.
Sceptics of the ‘women’s specific’ approach to bike design can debate the merits and validity of these statistics – although my experience on the Hail has my sceptical self thinking there’s probably something in it after all. However what is unquestionable in my mind is the brand’s commitment to women’s cycling. Sure, they’d like to sell as many Liv bikes as possible, and they’re already selling in great numbers, but what comes across speaking to the Liv representatives is that what they want is women on bikes. Not just because that boosts the sales figures, but because of what they believe bikes can do for women. What Lindsey Voreis calls ‘The magic of biking’.
Brand ambassador Lindsey firmly believes that learning to overcome your fears on a mountain bike and to realise that you can in fact (or #actuallyIcan as the Liv hashtag goes) clear that drop, that obstacle, that climb, can give women the confidence to change how they think about other areas of their life. She teaches mountain biking skills to women, and sees a parallel between the thought processes needed to think positively about clearing an obstacle and the ability to set aside negative thoughts and experiences in life that can hold you back from achieving.
As she puts it, ‘Only think thoughts that serve you, only think thoughts to help you keep moving forward…You guys all know how it feels to feel a little afraid of going down that rock garden and telling your brain “I know I can do this, this is what I need to do to make it happen, and those are the only thoughts I’m going to allow in my head”. Why can’t we do that in every other aspect of life? If you can conquer that thing that physically scares you, that could hurt you, why can’t you accomplish getting that new job, or leaving that abusive relationship?’.
She’s very persuasive, and I can only imagine that her coaching clinics result in a lot of high fives as she talks people into doing what they thought they couldn’t. Her perspective on what mountain biking can do for confidence, and how it can help change lives, chimes with the very successful campaign run by Sealskinz with Traharn Chidley earlier this year, in which Traharn tells how mountain biking gave her the confidence to escape an abusive relationship – so it’s not just Liv that knows the power of mountain biking. I hope that other bike brands start to see empowerment as a positive marketing message – inviting women to push their limits should surely also lead to companies pushing to create more and more capable products to meet the demands of women who want their bike to perform as well as they do. I’m sure a similar marketing approach appealing to the strength of women would work in many other industries too – indeed this sanitary product advert is pretty revolutionary compared to the spilt blue ink and crooning soundtrack the same products used in my youth.
Sure, a message empowerment and of taking control of your life can resonate for men as well as women, but in a society where this kind of advert is not the norm, and where there are still barriers to women’s participation in every day life, then it’s great to see companies starting to target this type of message specifically at women. Even if, underneath it all, there is a commercial reason behind it. I’d rather buy something from a company that says women are to be celebrated, than from a company that patronises them.
Back to Liv, and it does seem that there is more to it than just bike sales – or they’re taking a very long view towards their potential market growth, by seeking to encourage new women into the sport. Liv has a large group of brand ambassadors, taking part in a program which seeks to promote riders of all different abilities and types. They’re not just out there going ‘look at me, isn’t Liv cool’ – as part of the deal they have to host events for women which encourage women to ride, or teach them skills such as bike maintenance or shock set up so that women can get the most out of their riding. Their role is to invite women into the sport, rather than just wait for women to turn up. It’s not just pro riders and awesome enduro shredders – there are ‘normal’ people in there too. Women who have families, and jobs, and squeeze their riding in around other life commitments.
It’s not just ‘normal’ people who want to fit life around their families. BMX and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame member Leigh Donovan now runs the coaching company I Choose Bikes, as well as being a Liv ambassador, so that she can be at home for her daughter as much as possible. She spends a lot of time coaching absolute beginners, and encourages women she meets on the school run to join her for social rides. She says that she has realised that she just loves riding – it doesn’t have to be a rad trail hucking ride for it to be fun. She’s also discovered that for many beginners, an easy ride that is fun without them being too challenged or scared can often be the best introduction to the sport – if they have fun, they’ll come back, and in time they’ll ride the technical stuff. She says it’s all of our duties as mountain bikers to say ‘Instead of doing that hard ride I was doing today, I’m going to take my friend out for an hour on a six mile loop that’s easy. I’m going to introduce them to mountain biking’.
As well as its ambassadors, Liv is staffed by an inspiring array of women who you can’t help feel would be just as happy to hear you’d bought a bike from another brand as they would one from Liv, such is their passion for getting women on bikes.
Having spent her career working in PR and marketing for outdoor and fashion brands such as Patagonia, Ugg, and Teva, Liv’s Global Marketing Director, Amy Stanfield started cycling following the loss of a baby late term in pregnancy. In this age of early home pregnancy tests many of us will be familiar with the pain of an early miscarriage. For a late term loss like Amy’s, I for one find it hard to imagine the scale of the emotional and physical distress that this would cause. Amy says ‘As I pedalled, my heart healed, my body got stronger, and my mind resolved to think clearly about my future and my past. I love all bikes for this very reason – a tool to train not only our bodies, but our minds and spirits’. The process of pedalling, of tackling the trail, of finding a release and an escape, is one that I’m sure many of us can relate to, and despite the circumstances, Amy is glad to have found cycling and the strength it has given her. The conviction and passion with which she talks about cycling and its transformative properties makes it easy to see why Liv headhunted her for the post.
Together with her PR and Communications Manager, Isabel DelCastillo, and Chemistry Professor turned Product Market Specialist Erin Lamb, the Liv team pulled together not so much a press launch, as the UN summit of women’s cycling. Twenty female representatives from bike magazines across the globe gathered together in one room to learn about the new Liv Hail and Pique, but also to see behind the scenes and hear what Liv is hoping to achieve.
The message was clear – it’s about more than bike sales, or even just cycling. It’s about empowering women, about creating a space within our sport that invites women in; encourages them to challenge themselves; helps them to achieve. To let women experience the thrill and excitement that comes with conquering the trail, and to transfer that energy and confidence into the rest of their lives. It’s a stance I can’t help but applaud.