Monday, June 8, 2015

Sidesaddle: A New Women-Focused East Van Bike Shop

I've been riding my bike for transportation for over 15 years now. Along the way I've learned a lot about bikes, components, picked up some basic maintenance skills, & gotten a much better sense of what kind of bikes are good for different purposes. I can walk into any bike shop with confidence & I feel comfortable asking questions & shopping for bikes, parts & gear.

However, if I think back to 15 years ago, when I was shopping for a bike to replace my hand-me-down three-speed beater, I got talked into a frame that was too large for me with a geometry that hasn't been that great for hauling stuff or kids. I've long since modified it (new saddle, different handlebars) so it's functional & not neck muscle spasm inducing, but it would have been great to have a shop that actually had bikes for women & more approachable staff that women new to cycling feel comfortable talking to.

As you can imagine, I was pretty excited to hear about a new women-focused bike shop in East Van, so I headed over as soon as I could to check it out.

Sidesaddle grew out of urban planner Andrea Smith's experiences at her desk job. She had ten years experience in bike maintenance, but had moved on to working for a great non-profit unrelated to cycling. But once her female coworkers realized she knew a thing or two about bikes, she became the go-to person for advice on all things cycling. There are lots of great bike shops in this city, but the vast majority are owned & operated by men. Many try to be as accessible & women-friendly as possible, but none are aimed specifically at women.

Andrea decided to make a women-centric bike shop a reality & brought Lucas Gallagher on board, with his experience in bike maintenance & racing.

Sidesaddle is a bright & airy store, with an open service area across from their growing bike selection. Brands they stock include Marinoni (Canadian made!), Papillionaire, Fuji, Breezer, Fairdale. I saw a few drop-bar road bikes, but the majority were stylish upright city bikes. Andrea says, "We've tried to be very intentional about everything we carry in the store - we look for companies that offer superior quality, pleasing design, & solid value (not the cheapest, but where you get a lot for your money). We also made sure that our bikes are available in small sizes. We want to offer people a simple choice between good options, whether it's for a bag, a pair of jeans, or a complete bike."

When you walk in, it's not obvious that it's a business geared to women--the place isn't slathered with pink or flowers or any of that stereotypical girly stuff--a guy going in isn't going to feel like he's walked into the ladies room or something. It's women-focussed where it really counts: approachable staff, bikes sized & designed for women, plus a couple of unique services that I haven't heard of before: the Saddle Library & Used Bike Inspections.

Knitchanchan caps, made in Victoria, $25-27
The Saddle Library.

I've sat on dozens of bike seats over the years & some of them were really horrible. Trouble is, it's hard to know what's not going to make your nether regions hate you in the store, where you can't try it out.

Women can join Sidesaddle's Saddle Library for $25, then borrow different bike seats & try them each out on your bike for a half hour test ride--long enough to know if they feel comfortable. If you find a model you like, the $25 will be applied to the price of the saddle.

This is especially brilliant for higher end seats like Brooks--who wants to drop $100+ & then realize a week or two later that you just kind of hate the seat?

Used bike inspections. 

When you're looking for a new bike, sometimes the best way to get a decent bike if you have a more limited budget is to go used. But buying on Craigslist can be intimidating--how do you know the bike is going to work properly? & if there is something wrong with it, is it a relatively minor adjustment, or something that's going to require replacing pricey parts?

Sidesaddle is piloting a bike inspection service to help women get a good deal on used bikes. Get the bike seller to meet you or drop off the bike at the shop. Then for $25, Sidesaddle will check out a used bike for you. They’ll assess it & give you a report with their recommended purchase price plus an estimate for repairs & upgrades to turn it into your dream ride. They’ll also check the bike’s serial number against the police database to make sure it’s not stolen.

Neither Andrea or Lucas have children, but they know that a lot of women ride with their kids & plan to stock more child seats & other gear. At the moment they have some Kazam runner bikes; these have a unique flat spot for feet in the middle of the frame that makes them a bit more versatile as a runner bike, because they can be used as a push scooter or to do tricks.

Sidesaddle is a labour of love, not just a business but a way to help more women fall in love with cycling. If you're thinking of looking for a bike, or getting yours fixed, or just want somewhere to shop for a lock or cycling cap, drop by Sidesaddle & tell Andrea & Lucas I said "hi".

Sidesaddle is 2496 Victoria Drive at Broadway, along the Central Valley Greenway & close to the 10th Avenue & Lakewood Bike Routes. Follow them on Facebook, & Instagram.

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