Women in Bike Shops Series: Nicole Davison

Nicole Davison, bike shop owner, amateur CX racer, lover of all things two-wheeled. 

Our shop is “boutique” in size, meaning no long list of staff members. My husband and I do it all, with the occasional help from a back-up barista and mechanic during the busy months. 

You learn to wear many hats when you own your own business. The bicycle industry is no different!  

You own Veloville USA- tell us about your shop!
We are definitely unique (at least to this neck of the woods) as one of the first coffee/bicycle shops in Virginia, certainly the first in Loudoun County. We have a distinct Pacific Northwest vibe but focus on bikes that are appropriate for our area (lots and lots of hilly gravel road riding). We're trying to create a shop that is just as much about cycling culture as it is a place to buy cool bikes. 

Plus, we LOVE to ride and have popular monthly “adventure” shop rides plus some multiple ride series that are starting to make a name for themselves.

What inspired you to open your own bicycle shop?
Honestly? I got tired of never finding the “right” shop for me. That isn’t to say there aren’t hordes of wonderful shops out there, but for the most part traditional shops still prevail and they just always seemed to miss the mark. Shops still tend towards providing the athletic store experience, with a distinct lack of passion or soul. I coined them “5-minute shops”…you know, in and out in five minutes because there was nothing exciting to ponder over or anyone willing to chat about bikes. I wanted a place where customers were inspired to stay awhile and talk about their current bikes or the bikes they dream about building, watch racing with friends, or have a coffee and hang out after a ride. The shops that inspired me the most were: River City Bicycles in Portland, Oregon who know exactly how to treat their customers AND staff so that they feel both important and relevant every time they step through the door. The second is Mellow Johnny’s in Austin, Texas who despite my NOT being a cyclist at the time, treated me with the utmost interest and respect. They also had a hip, inviting space with a coffee bar well before that concept was mainstream.  

Why do you feel women are hesitant to get involved with the cycling industry?
Despite the fact that women are the fastest growing demographic in cycling, the bicycle industry in general is still focused on the male cyclist. It isn’t a surprising fact given the tradition and history of the sport but the female cyclist still faces way more challenges in this industry. Yes, there are outstanding companies making huge leaps when it comes to women’s specific frames, clothing, accessories, teams, etc. but they are still outnumbered ten to one. And there are certain bicycle-mecca pockets of the country where females and males exist in the cycling community as equal players. The industry isn’t as blasé about women as it was a decade ago, but I think the average woman walking into the average bike shop still walks away with an average experience. We need to arrive at the point where there are no female-cyclists or male-cyclists, just cyclists.

What do you feel could change for more women to seek employment in the cycling industry?
More support. More peers. More information. But all those things are going to take time. The more “generations” of female mechanics, shop owners, industry professionals and racers there are, the easier and easier it will be for the next round of ladies to enter the cycling industry. The women who are a part of the industry now are the ones who are taking it on the chin to make the future better for both women and men alike. We should remember that and make it a point to support and recognize every single one of those women for their determination, hard work and pluck (because that’s what it took to make a name for themselves in cycling).  

What are some challenges you've had with owning a bike shop?
I went into this adventure knowing that I’d have long days and hard work ahead of me. I also knew that along the way, there’d still be challenges as a female in a traditionally male-dominated industry. What I wasn’t prepared for was that some folks just weren’t ready or willing to accept a woman in this role. I’m not even sure they realize it themselves, but the evidence is there in the comments they make or the attitude they project sometimes. I don’t let those few experiences chip away at me and instead use it as a reminder to work harder and be better at my job, so that my gender can never be used as an excuse. I also didn’t expect so much unsolicited advice or chivalry. As in…”can I help you get that bike down” or “can I lift that for you” or “you know you ought to do…this , that and the other” regarding how to run my business. I think all owners go through this, female or not, and I try to see as an endearing offer of assistance from caring people.

Why are women so vital in the cycling community and industry?
Because it would be a lonely, uninspired place without them!

How can bike shops make women feel more welcome (as customers or employees)?
Assume every woman walking through the door is just as bike crazy as you are. Clearly they have come into your shop because of their interest in cycling. It doesn’t matter how they look, act or appear….you never know if they are just there to buy something for their bicycle-crazed husbands (who often encourage their wives to become cyclists themselves) or are a professional racer that just moved to town. Don’t make assumptions and never look down your nose at a woman who is a total bicycle novice. We ALL started out as novices. Thankfully though, there was someone in the industry willing to devote their time to helping us find our way.  

What are some of the things you’ve learned since opening the shop?
Don’t make assumptions because you will almost always miss the mark. Throw the “rulebook” out and make a new one, in pencil and have a very big eraser. In other words, this is a wacky industry full of surprises. Some are pleasant and well, some aren’t. That being said, I’ve learned to have a more active sense of humor. It makes the stressful days easier if you can laugh, sometimes at yourself and sometimes along with the folks laughing at you.

Tell us about your cycling clinics and why they are a great way to get women together-
In the past we offered women-only tire changing clinics. That worked out great until our male clients complained about not being allowed to attend! Now we offer one-on-one tire changing sessions to anyone who requests it. Currently, we offer women’s only rides a few times a year to encourage area-ladies to come out and enjoy our lovely road riding in a group with one thing in common (to enjoy time on the bike, that is). There’s always a wide range of abilities and backgrounds, from triathletes to stay-at-home-moms, cross racers to yoga gurus…no attitude, no competitiveness, no stress. Just us, our bikes and the road ahead.  

Tell us about your personal bike(s)!
I’m really into custom steel these days! I have two Gunnars, a Roadie for the pavement and hills and a Crosshairs for the gravel. They are so fun to ride. Custom doesn’t have to be expensive and is a great option for women like me who tend to find themselves “between” sizes (plus you get to pick your own colors). I also have two cyclocross bikes. The geared bike is a women’s specific RXW by Raleigh. I have to applaud Raleigh for being one of the first manufacturers to offer several models of women’s specific cx bikes. Mine is an aluminum workhorse that was totally reliable last season and fit like a glove. My other is a single speed. It was my first bicycle and I ride it absolutely everywhere. I have so many great ride memories with that bike. I was riding it the first time I ever won a CX race and that was a huge moment for me. Last but not least, I have a cool single speed mountain bike. I call it my monster truck. It can literally roll over anything on the trail, which is a good thing since I’m terrible on a mountain bike!   

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I’m a huge fan of Endura cycling clothing. We carry it here in the shop, so I’ve had a lot of time to get to know the product. They have a women’s bib that has a well-thought out chamois and a zippered derrière for nature breaks! I also love the basic, professional look of them. I’m a sucker for their merino base layers, which I wear every day in the winter to keep from being cold all the time.   

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
Aside from the still-lingering, icy reception that some women (especially beginners) might experience at shops? Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of not being “good at it” or not being able to “keep up” with other riders. Feeling overwhelmed with a modern bicycle. Feeling uncomfortable with traditional cycling apparel. Lack of time. Lack of support. Lack of safe places to ride. All these fortunately, can totally be overcome. 

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
Let’s make cycling less overwhelming. We should start by making it a part of daily life. If riding a bicycle is a more prominent, accepted, safe and enjoyable part of our community, then more women will include cycling in their lives and routines. Then it stops being just a hobby for the privileged few.    

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Seeing women genuinely enjoy themselves out on the bike. When you strip away all the stress, all the expectations and it’s just a rider and a bike. Getting to hear stories of memorable routes, successful races and goals met. 
Those things start with a single pedal stroke.                                                       

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I never had a bicycle as a kid. So I get to enjoy them now with child-like enthusiasm!