Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Women Involved: Karen Canady

When I committed to commuting on the bike every day (a decision I made back in 2011), I found myself experimenting with different clothing options. I found I did not like riding in long pants. Even if I got the cuff under control, it was less comfortable to ride in pants. I tried skorts, but did not like wearing them. I have found that I love riding in skirts, as they are great both on and off the bike. But I did not like the available options for what to wear for coverage underneath the skirt. I tried "shapewear" but it was too constricting. I tried bike shorts, but the padding got uncomfortable after a couple of hours at the office, and I did not want to have to change my clothes. This is what led me to create Bikie Girl Bloomers, a line of shorts and skirts that are ideal for wearing all day, both on and off the bike, for both casual and dressy occasions. I wanted "normal" clothes, in that there is nothing technical or athletic about them (no fancy vents, pads, or reflective strips), and yet they are truly comfortable for cycling. 

Once I knew what I wanted to make, I emailed an old friend I hadn't seen in years to ask if she still works in the apparel industry. Not only did she say yes, but I learned that she provides consulting services to people starting a clothing business, so I hired her. She taught me the steps along the way and introduced me to a designer, pattern-maker, cutter, sewer, all right here in the L.A. garment district, and she guided me through the process. Now I am working on marketing the line and developing some new styles. I don't know yet if I will ever be able to make it a profitable venture, but I decided that it is worthwhile if I can at least influence how women think about what they wear on the bike and how easily they can incorporate bicycling into their everyday lives. One of my greatest thrills is when a woman tells me she wants to start bicycling just so she can wear the Bikie Girl Bloomers outfit.

When did you first start riding a bike? 
As a little girl, maybe age 5 or 6. I remember gathering my family members to watch me ride down the sidewalk for my first time riding without training wheels – and then crashing into the bushes!

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
One of my first purchases when I got my first job after college was a bike. I started using it to ride with friends out to a lake for fun. The rolling hills were an incredible thrill. It was the first physical activity other than swimming that I could truly enjoy, in that I didn’t feel clumsy or awkward or weak. Instead, I felt both graceful and powerful. My big thighs were an asset rather than a hindrance. Pretty soon I started using my bike to commute to work, and then got in the habit of going for a 45 minute ride after work, and longer rides on the weekend. Next thing I knew, I was training for my first triathlon.

Have you competed in events? If so, what were your reasons for competing?
I did several short course triathlons and a few biathlongs (run-bike-run) during my 20’s. I did it for the challenge, just to see if I could finish it. The swim and the bike were both a joy for me, but running was a tough challenge. I’m just not built for running, and I found it especially hard to run just after a long bike ride.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
At this point in my life (I’m 52), I can’t get into the competitive mindset, as a competitor or as a spectator. It’s hard when you no longer feel a need to prove anything!  But now that they are bringing a woman’s stage back into the Tour de France, I just might have to start watching.

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain, etc.)
I like paved roads, thank you! I suppose I haven’t given mountain biking a fair try, but I think of what it feels like when my road bike tires slip on sand that blows onto the bike path along the beach.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride? (If not a mountain biker, how about first commuter ride, paved trail ride, gravel, etc.)
I’m not a mountain biker, but I started using a hybrid bike for commuting.  Once I had to jump a curb from street to sidewalk to avoid some cars, and I was very impressed – definitely could not have pulled that off with my road bike!

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
Nervousness about riding? I’ve felt that when taking a fast descent on winding roads. I keep my speed in check before approaching the curves, and I try to just be one with the experience and avoid over thinking it.

Do you use clipless pedals? If yes, what are some tips/suggestions for beginners that you would share? If no, are you thinking of trying it out at all?
I love clipless pedals. You can really feel the increased power and efficiency of your pedal stroke. My advice to beginners: just do it. Try them on a day when you will be on roads where there is room to fall over if that happens. Maybe wear long pants or tights so you won’t get road rash. I fell once on my first day and I think that fall taught me to plan ahead for stops and develop a method for unclipping quickly. And don’t put your arm out to break your fall – you’ll just break your arm!

If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
I used to have a commute that included a few short stretches along a super busy arterial that could not be avoided. I used the sidewalks for those portions of the ride, and made a conscious effort to be patient about stopping or slowing for pedestrians and being extra careful at driveways and intersections.
I had a big breakthrough when I decided to stop commuting on my road bike and start using an upright hybrid/city bike. I felt much more visible to motorists and it was easier to look around. I felt safer and I felt more elegant riding that way! I put a roomy basket on the rear rack and that made a huge difference. It’s so easy to throw my purse, lunch, briefcase, groceries, etc. in the basket and go.

Do you commute even if the weather isn’t ideal? Why or why not? If yes, what do you do to make it more tolerable? 
Sometimes. I have a short commute, so it’s not a big deal, and bad weather here in Los Angeles just means rain. I do bundle up big time for cold mornings – scarves and gloves make a significant difference.  I have ridden a few times in heavy rain, using a poncho but still getting soaked. It was an adventure, but not something I would do often.

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level? 
I had to look this up, guess it’s a mountain biking term. I have not had a completely solo wipe-out, if that’s what it means, or at least not that I remember. I did wipe-out at the very beginning of my first day of my first Ride the Rockies (week-long tour in Colorado) when the person in front of me stopped suddenly and without warning. It messed up my derailleur and I had to wait for a sag support van to come help me fix it. 

That was a demoralizing start to my trip, but I got over it by the end of the day, I suppose because the ride was just so beautiful and exhilarating.  I’ve had two run-ins with cars, years ago, both were turning right and didn’t see me. Those were angering, frustrating, disheartening, and it took me a while (not terribly long) to warm back up to bicycling afterward. Mostly they taught me the value of defensive riding and the importance of not assuming a driver sees me. Now I try to anticipate situations where a right turning driver might not see me and plan for it.

What do you love about riding your bike? 
I feel free, powerful, and energized when I ride. I love that I’m breathing fresh air, not boxed up in a car. I love that I can zip past stalled traffic and don’t have to search for a parking spot. I love that I’m not spending money on gas or parking. I love the bounce in my step as I walk from my bike to the elevators at my office building. I’m always in a better mood on the days I started out with a bike ride.

What has been one of your biggest challenges with your business or selling your product? 
Figuring out how to market my product has been challenging. I am still trying to figure out how to communicate the value and versatility of having clothes you can wear both on and off the bike, for both casual and business activities. Hardest for me has been helping people break out of the mindset that bicycle clothing has to be athletic wear. Many women, when they see my line at a bicycling-related event, ask “where’s the pad?” when they see the shorts, or other questions that suggest it hasn’t occurred to them that bicycling can be something other than a sweaty, hours-long sport activity.

I’m still not sure where to direct my marketing efforts. I don’t sell a lot of product at events that are geared toward road cyclists, but others, like the Seattle Bike Expo, attract more transportation cyclists, who are more apt to “get it”. Bike shops don’t see my clothing as pertaining to their customers, but I think there are lots of women who would use their bikes more if they could visualize riding in normal, comfortable clothing.

What has been one of your greatest successes with your product? 
I get really excited when someone tells me that they have decided to start riding their bike (or even go out and buy a bike) just so they can wear the Bikie Girl Bloomers outfit! My friend, Linda, was the first to tell me that, and she now commutes to work by bike every day. She had been concerned about riding uphill to work and showing up sweaty, but she takes her bike on the bus in the morning and then rides the whole route home. Now she comes with me to events to help sell Bikie Girl Bloomers to more women!

I'm sure you wear your product regularly-what was one of the most fun experiences you had wearing Bikie Girl Bloomers? 
Most fun was one day as I was walking along Wilshire Boulevard, just a block from my office. There’s a grate over the subway tunnel there, and a train must have gone by. Suddenly my skirt swooshed up toward my face as I was walking. I was wearing the black skirt (and looking fairly business-like) with the flame print shorts underneath. A woman walking towards me got the full flash of my shorts and laughed. I loved it!

Check out the Bikie Girl Bloomers website and on Facebook: Bikie Girl Bloomers

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