Women in Bike Shops Series: Victoria Firth

My name is Victoria Firth. I own and operate (along with my husband Simon Firth and our friend David Wilson) Firth & Wilson Transport Cycles (www.transportcycle.com) in Philadelphia, PA. In addition to selling bikes and accessories, I manage the content of our website, write our blog, update our Facebook , Twitter, Pinterest page, and do the bookkeeping. 

You originally started out working as a sales person at Bicycle Therapy- what inspired you to get involved with the industry?
It was 2011 and I was out of work and needed a job. A friend told me Bicycle Therapy was looking for seasonal help in sales. I already knew a couple people who worked there so felt comfortable enough applying for the job even though I didn't know much about bicycles outside of riding one and what I knew through Simon, my husband. 

Living with a mechanic and frame builder you pick up a thing or two. At that point Simon and David had been talking about opening a bike shop together. I figured if I got some experience at Bicycle Therapy I could work at their shop when they got it going. The people I worked with at Bicycle Therapy were all really nice, down to earth, very knowledgeable, and most importantly, patient with me while I learned the ins and outs of selling bikes and running a bike shop. I don't think I could have learned what I now know from any other shop.

You co-own Firth & Wilson Transport Cycles- what inspired you to co-own a shop?
Initially, it was just going to be Simon and David's business and I would be employed by them but as things got going it became advantageous for me to be an owner as well. I felt confident enough to be more involved because I had been at Bicycle Therapy for two years by then and was eager to move on. 

Tell us about your shop and why people should come check you out!
Our shop is unique amongst the other bike shops in Philadelphia. While we will repair any kind of bike we don't sell road bikes, mountain bikes, or hybrid bikes, no sporty bikes. We only sell transport bicycles; bikes to get you around with your kids or your stuff easily and comfortably. We sell bikes that are upright, have fewer gears (8 or less typically) and wider tires, with racks, fenders, internal hubs, cargo bikes, and family bikes. We want people to get on their bike to get to work, go to school or the store, take their kids to school; to not rely on their car or have to wait around for public transportation. We carry the brands Brooklyn Bicycle Co., Pashley, Simcoe, Pure Fix, Bullitt, Yuba, Xtracycle, Babboe, and others. We have a lot of accessories to carry your stuff; tons of bags, racks, and basket options.  

Why do you feel women are hesitant to get involved with the cycling industry?
I think that was truer in the past. When I was at Bicycle Therapy there were as many women working there as men. There are still fewer women mechanics but that's getting better. I think there are still a few obnoxious macho dudes in some bike shops that can put women off. I wouldn't want to work with guys like that. 

What do you feel could change for more women to seek employment in the cycling industry?
Business owners and managers shouldn't keep those obnoxious macho dudes on staff. Seriously though, I think the overall attitude of the bike shop has to change. There are many different types of riders out there. They aren't all out to race or climb hills they just want to ride a bike to get around. Bike shop employees have to be more sensitive to the novice rider or someone who doesn't have a super fancy bike. A lot of bike shops have the reputation of being elitist. 

 What are some challenges you've had with co-owning a bike shop?
The most obvious would be working with my husband. We're together a lot now. Pretty much all the time. It's been pretty good so far. We have a lot of similar interests so I don't mind him being around me so much. Hahaha! Besides, he's either working on repairs or at our workshop (which at the moment is in a different neighborhood) fabricating a custom frame while I'm immersed in the bookkeeping or social media stuff so we're sort of doing our own things. Other than that it's been great. The line of communication amongst us partners is open. Our biggest challenge is about to come up: we're beginning the process of transitioning to a bigger space, combining the retail shop and workshop.  

What are some challenges you've faced with working in sales?
I'm pretty comfortable talking to customers about our bikes and products but don't know a lot of the in depth mechanical aspects of the bikes. I still need to ask David or Simon for assistance with some sales. But the more I do this the more I learn. It was the same at Bike Therapy. Also, getting some people interested in the upright, fewer geared bikes. So many people grew up riding hybrids or mountain bikes and since our bikes don't have a ton of gears like a hybrid or a suspension fork like on a mountain bike, some folks are unsure that these bikes will perform well. 

Why are women so vital in the cycling community and industry?
More women are cycling than ever before. Because of this it's only natural that they get involved in the industry. There is only one bike shop in Philadelphia that is owned exclusively by a woman, Fairmount Bicycles. Hopefully there will be more in the future. I was surprised and elated to learn that a lot of the big bike companies are owned or managed by women. A past issue of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News had a write up on them but I don't remember when it came out, sometime last year I think. 

How can bike shops make women feel more welcome (as customers or employees)?
From my experience, women really appreciate it when a woman is working at a bike shop. Bike shops that want to stay relative need to have women employees. Having more women bike shop owners would solve that problem. I was fortunate at Bike Therapy to work with men who didn't play the macho game. They had other interests. They were just really good people. And my shop, of course is the same way. I treat women and men with equal respect. We all do. I can't imagine doing otherwise. I think the issue bike shops need to focus on is dealing with novice riders or riders who don't want a sporty bike, men and women, with respect and sensitivity. Listen to your customer. 

Do you feel your presence at the shop is a positive draw for other women?
Absolutely. More importantly I feel I'm a positive draw for someone who is new to riding, or a slow rider, or just wants to get somewhere on their bike. I'm very up front with my customers. I don't ride every day. I hate riding in the cold and rain. I don't like to go fast. But I love to ride my bike and encourage people to get a bike to get around. It's so liberating. I don't drive. Simon and I don't own a car. In the city you don't need one.  

What are some of the things you’ve learned since working at the shop? 
Bookkeeping. I thought we'd hire someone but my bookkeeping friend convinced me it would be better to know whats going on with the finances. It's kinda fun now. Also, talking to people in the industry on a professional level and talking to people at bike shows and events. Getting people interested in what we're doing and the bikes we sell.  

Tell us about your personal bike(s)!
I have one bike of my own. It's an 8 speed internally hubbed upright custom bike built by my husband when he worked at Bilenky Cycle Works. This year I'm getting a new one under his name, Hanford Cycles. It's going to be similar but will have a front cargo rack and a rear rack with a basket for our little dog, Archie, so I can take him to the other dog parks in the city. We have a tandem that Simon built, I'm the stoker. So I guess I have one and a half bikes.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I don't wear cycling specific clothing. I don't need to for most of the riding I do. When I did go on longer rides padded shorts and gloves made things more comfortable. For rain gear I'd recommend a rain cape from Carradice. We have them at the shop. They are much more efficient than jackets and pants. You don't sweat in the cape. My favorite accessories that we sell are the myriad options of carrying your stuff. We have waterproof bags from Ortlieb, colorful panniers from the Dutch company Basil, saddle bags from Carradice, sleek racks from Velo Orange, and trusty old Wald baskets to name just a few products we carry. Brooks from England make my favorite saddles. They're beautiful and long lasting. We have a bunch at our shop for sale or if you already have one but it's broken, Simon is the official Brooks repair person for North America. 

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
Living in a city I think some people are afraid to ride a bike. Not just women but men too. I think women will be more open about this though. More and improved cycling infrastructure like protected bike lanes will help ease those fears. Offering bikes that are easy to ride, like the ones we sell, will also help.  

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
Offering bikes that are a means of transportation not just a weekend diversion. Offering bikes that enable you to transport your children, more than one. A lot of women are staying/working at home to look after their children but they need to get out. They don't want to or can't rely on the car to get around. Family cargo bikes like Xtracycle, Yuba, Gazelle, and Babboe give them the freedom to do so. 

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
My perspective on cycling has always been towards transportation. While I support and cheer on the women who race and compete, it’s not my thing. I like to let women know that they can experience the joy of riding a bike but don't have to go fast, they don't have to be competitive or athletic if that's not the kind of person they are. There are bikes that are fun to ride, easy to get on and off, more stable, that don't have a ton of gears to work out, and they can still get exercise and be environmentally conscious. 

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
My favorite cocktail is a Boulevardier. It's a riff on a Negroni but using bourbon in place of gin. Cheers!