Women in Bike Shops Series: Andrea Cohen

I am a 25 year old lady hanging out in Iowa City, IA. Pretty much every aspect of my life is devoted to cycling. I work full time at World of Bikes in Iowa City honing my bike knowledge and getting more people on bikes daily. At the shop I lead the Women on Wheels.

I lead this group of women on social rides and fat-bike rides. I also hold flat-tire clinics as often as possible. The opportunity to get more women on bikes through my shop is one of my favorite things about working at a shop! 

The rest of my life is dedicated to my love of ultra-endurance cycling. I am new to the Salsa Cycles family for 2015 as a sponsored rider. I have been involved with the ultra-endurance cycling scene since 2012 and I am completely stoked to continue down this path as an athlete. I have completed events such as TransIowa, Dirty Kanza, the Royal Almanzo, and countless 100 mile gravel events. Gravel is where I got my start and this year I am going to add in more MTB events. Chequamegon 100 and Wausau 12 hour are on my list.

Check out My Blog and Facebook!

What inspired you to seek employment at a bike shop?
I had graduated college about a year before and I was fumbling around with odd jobs. My family has always been passionate about bikes, participating in countless RAGBRAIs and my younger Brother has worked in a bike shop for nearly ten years now. I went to a local race with a former employee of the shop and asked her if she thought I should apply. I was already a strong member of the cycling community and knew I loved bikes so it was a great fit. My Brother actually works at the shop across the street from us so it has become a family affair within the Iowa City cycling community!

Are there any other women who are employed at the shop?
Currently there isn’t. World of Bikes seems to be a shop that always has at least one lady working for them. I definitely miss having the camaraderie and understanding we shared at the shop.  

What do you enjoy about working at the bike shop?
I enjoy first off getting people on bikes. I truly love sharing my passion and teaching others about cycling. Before I worked in the shop I found my passion through commuting and the community of people that supported cycling in Iowa City. I have since broadened this community and I am really starting to find a voice at my shop. I love being able to take my ideas and run with them. Plus I get to play with awesome bikes all day and work with amazing people.

Have you had challenges at the shop?
I would say that nearly every day something challenging pops up. The mechanical workings and technical side of bicycles is something that I struggle with every single day. I have noticed that over the last two years at the shop that I have grown immensely. I try to tackle every challenge I am faced with and learn from it. I know I am working with a strong team and that they support this growth, that is extremely important and I am lucky to work with such a great group of guys.

What do you feel are common misconceptions about women who work at bike shops?
I am not there to overcome barriers or prove my worth; this is a job that I have decided is going to set up my career choice. I will not be leaving the bike industry any time soon. There may be misconceptions that women who work at shops are just there to sell clothes and cute accessories to women. While I certainly love shopping I think people need to realize that every single person who works at a bike shop spends just as much time as I do picking out these things. If anything men have more choices which makes it even harder to pick out the perfect outfit! Beyond the actual shopping experiences I am faced with sometimes odd reactions from mostly men. The knowledge I have gained from a mechanical standpoint helps me deal with all different opinions, but I have also learned how to stand up for myself  not just because I feel the need to defend my position, but because I am becoming a more confident and bold person. It is exciting to surprise the naysayers and to augment the growing women’s cycling scene.

Why should women not be apprehensive about seeking employment at bike shops?
If you really want to work in a bike shop, then you should apply! If the shop doesn’t understand why a lady would want to work for them you would not want to work there, and honestly I would never shop there.   Bike shops and the bike industry in general is a place where strong opinions and passionate people thrive. Choosing to work in a bike shop instead of going down the path of whatever is considered the “proper” path for a person with a 4-year degree has just shown me how much more I can accomplish when I am doing what I love. Gender should never be something that limits your passion or decision making.

What are some of the things you’ve learned since working at the shop?
I learn something new every day. Bikes are always evolving and I am always working to keep up with that flow. Again, the people I work with are an endless resource of information. Some of my favorite things that I have learned during my career at World of Bikes are the simple things, swapping cassettes, doing minor wheel trues, and tweaking shifting. I have never really taken to anything mechanical so this has been the hardest part of working in a shop, but it is one of the most rewarding feelings to accomplish something on my own that I couldn’t fix a week before.

Tell us about your riding group: Women on Wheels-
Iowa City has a very strong cycling community considering how small the town is. We have an established ladies only racing team, which is one of the ways I got into riding more competitively, but they can be intimidating. They lead road rides weekly and organize races throughout the year. Women on Wheels was formed to fill in the gap between more serious fitness rides and ladies who haven’t been on bikes in years. I lead casual trail rides, flat tire clinics, and fat-bike rides. There are no expectations except to have fun and stay relaxed. While the ladies may be outside of their comfort zone, they are hopefully never in a position where they feel scared or like they are not welcome.

What suggestions would you give to those looking to start a group-ride concept?
Just do it! It took me a long time to realize that even if only one person shows up that is a ride. I was worried that we would take the wrong route, or go too fast, too slow, not long enough, or something horrible would happen. None of that is the case. Creating a ride that you feel is safe, inviting, and fun can be easy and should be. Don’t overdo it; just go for a bike ride, any kind! Sometimes our rides are just to the local eating spot.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
I think they might be preconceived notions for every type of rider. There aren’t many examples for women to follow into the cycling realm. Typically it seems like there is either super bad-ass, hardcore ladies or comfy, cruising ladies, there is no happy medium. Personally I get stuck with the super hardcore persona, but I know I didn’t start there and a majority of my riding is commuting. I think women need more of a story or understanding of how to navigate the wide array of bicycles and what is needed to ride as well. It is often assumed bike shop employees have always known how to make riding easy, but that is not true. We all started somewhere, men and women alike. Finding a welcoming shop that really knows how to convey this is key to getting women on bikes. It doesn’t even matter what bicycles they are selling if she is not understood! I always try to communicate just how self-conscious I was when I started riding, and that is a conversation anyone at a bike shop should understand.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
Ask those awkward questions and I think you will find the answers you need to feel safe and comfortable. When you walk into a bike shop you should be the only thing that matters to that shop. Ask if there are any women in your community who ride if there isn’t a lady employed at the particular shop. I really believe that every shop should at least have that knowledge, if they don’t they are doing it wrong. Not just something, but the whole shop is in trouble. I tend to get worked up about this, but I know it’s a change that can happen and is easy to make in this industry. You should be able to find a bike shop in your community that you can rely on and trust.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Nearly everything I just explained inspires me. The feeling of power I have as I slowly hone my passion and skills. The excitement I feel when I see a lady conquer every type of ride from a simple paved trail ride to a fat-bike romp through the woods. When a customer comes back in raving about how much fun she had taking out her friends or family on her new favorite bike route.  The fact that how I edged my way into the cycling community was through a group of strong women. I want to build up the community as much as I can. It is my way of giving back to a community of people who support me endlessly. The more ladies we have on bikes the stronger we are! 
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have my black belt in Shōrin-ryū karate! Years of my Mother forcing me to stick with something paid off, and I will never be able to thank her enough for all the discipline to keep me going!