How not to try to sell cycling clothing to women – and three companies who get it right

So, on Sunday I mentioned the Assos ad that was featured in Fatcyclist’s blog – the one where the woman’s on her knees in spray-on, wet-look trousers and stilettos, and they admit, in the advert, that the jersey has been designed for men to look at rather than for women to cycle in….  and although I promised myself I was leaving the marketing posts to Dan from now on, I wondered if maybe we were being mean about Assos, and decided not to judge them on the strength of one advert alone.  Guess what?  It actually gets worse!

Firstly, rocking up on their front page and flicking through their slideshow, there’s a weird thing where all the photos of products for men are illustrated with photos of men riding bikes…..  and those for women with models standing or kneeling around with porn faces.  So far, so bad.  But how, I wondered, would they show off the actual clothing?  Why, like this!

Yep, we go from “just” pornface, to braless, to topless.  At this point I wonder – just who DO they think buys their clothes, who’ll think this is the best way to demonstrate good cycling clothing?  Of course, I’ve chosen photos that prove my point, but seriously, they’re all awful, and although they have 5 or 6 pictures of each item, none of them show close-up details of the products, and NONE of them show a woman wearing them for actual cycling.  Yeah, the men’s don’t either (although they do elsewhere on the site) but in the guys’ equivalent photos, they’re exactly the same basic pose, straight-on, facing the camera, accessorising with dark glasses and caps, showing what the jersey looks like in a straight-forward fashion.


Sigh.  But it’s not always like this.  There are all kinds of ways to do it right, and here are three companies who have chosen to take the opposite route…

Vulpine is a small UK-based clothing company, in the first year of operation.  Roo Paprika recommended their merino women’s jersey to me for one of my gift ideas for women’s cycling fans and women cyclists posts, and it is a BEAUTIFUL jersey, I have one and I love it.  It’s the only item they sell for women at the moment (they ARE only in their first year) but look at how they market it!

Different women, on their bikes, using the features of the jersey.  OK, OK, I think it’s a miss that they show the black model with her face cut off – but I’m sure that’s just an accident, and I’m only including that one to say they’re not ALL perfect – it’s a gallery of real women, using the jersey, and making me WANT! it – and unlike the Assos ads, it’s talking to me, as a woman, showing the jersey as the desirable object, rather than showing the model as desirable to men (I guess the idea is that if I wore the Assos jersey, men would fancy me?  Dear Assos, that is not what women want when spending a lot of money on sports’ gear!  We want products that work, and make our ride easier, and look good for US!)

Edit! I have this jersey and it’s even more beautiful in real life than on the site.  It’s the kind of top I’d consider wearing when I wasn’t cycling!  Keep an eye on the Vulpine site, because they’re expanding their range in March, with a lot more women’s clothing, and I’m excited to see what they’ll bring us!

Edit again! If you want to buy their things, consider taking their survey on their website, and you’ll get 15% off

Yet another edit!  Vulpine have a sneak peek at things from their new women’s range, on Total Women’s Cycling and on

And another one!  Vulpine have now launched their new women’s range, and it’s GORGEOUS!


Well, OK, that’s just one product, so let’s have a look at Rapha I’ve talked about Collyn Ahart‘s blogging on marketing to women, and in her slideshow presentation she mentions some work she did for Rapha.  I always think I can never afford Rapha gear, so I don’t frequent their site, but I had a look…

They start off well, with a woman riding on their front page, advertising their Women’s 100 rides.  On their main shop page, they show the clothes without models at all, just telling us about the products.  Awesome!  No need for the excuse I’m sure Assos would use for their topless shots, that it shows off the shorts – this does exactly the same thing, but simpler, and with no implications at all.  Again, the women’s section has, hallelujah, photos of women using the clothing, and the main photo on each item page is of the product in action:

Real women!  Looking like they’re working hard!  And the other photos of each item has lots of detail shots, to tell me why these items are perfect for me.  I still can’t afford them, but damn, I WANT them!


A third approach I love is that taken by Ana Nichoola.  It’s a very different style – more girly, and OMG, I still want the Café dress for riding in – and wow, I LOVE the new peplum jersey, because something that has all the performance of a jersey, and yet hides the bits of me I don’t want to draw attention to?  Genius!  The primary photos are of the object, then a range of pictures showing off details, and some modelly ones, where when they’re not on bikes, they’re having fun – and especially, thinking of Collyn’s point about how many advertisers seem to be scared of showing groups of women together, having fun with their friends.

(I don’t think the web shop is working on the site at the moment, but there’s a store locator and a list of online stockists to buy the clothing fromt)


That’s three different-sized companies, selling products to me in three different ways – the clothes jump out at me as beautiful and practical, on Vulpine’s site; all about performance, with great designs, on Rapha’s; and on Ana Nichoola, a mix of practical and fun, showing me products I’ve never seen before, but would improve my cycling experience.  And I want all of them!  But above all, I see companies who are talking to me, showing me that they see who I am as a woman who rides her bike, and value me as a person.  Asssos?  It’s like they wouldn’t even want my custom, on so many levels – they certainly aren’t thinking of me, let alone targeting me.  I have to wonder, what’s the point of bothering to make clothing if you’re not trying to sell it?


53 thoughts on “How not to try to sell cycling clothing to women – and three companies who get it right

  1. No, I don’t think Assos do want your custom. They want to stimulate the primitive reward system in men’s brains in the hope they’ll spend longer browsing the site and come across something they want for themselves. Cynical, sexist, outdated and hopefully counterproductive.

    • That’s as depressing because of what it means they think of men, as well as women! Seriously, Assos, a company that hate us ALL, but want our money!

    • Spot on, argravat – it’s draping a model over the bonnet of their sports car.

      Great article Sarah. I’d not seen the Rapha pics – odd that they’re refreshing for being similar to the ones you’d see selling the male clothing line.

      • It should be obvious, really, shouldn’t it? Cycling is cycling, if they’re selling high-end, high-performance kit, then there’s going to be some basic things that are the same for men and women – real people wearing it while riding, close-ups of the details – because the way we ride isn’t really different. There might be different approaches for some shots, but it’s the same overall approach

  2. I once emailed Assos after being disgusted at their only use of size nothing, fake boobed girls – so their dresses fit and suit who exactly…? They clearly dont care about real women, only insecure teens. Love the real shops here though, thanks for sharing those 🙂

  3. Thanks for pointing out two new companies that look wonderful! I’ve had the same sad feelings about Assos as well. Their stuff looks so well made but I just can’t take the leap because of the models alone and who or what they are catering for. As far as Rapha goes, yeah, they can be a bit on the pricier side but when you compare to many other top brands, they aren’t that bad. I was looking at a pair of Castelli women’s body pain bibs which ran about $250 and the new Rapha bib shorts are $220. This is just one of many examples to point out they really aren’t out of this world. In fact, back to Assos, they really are pricey! Once again, back to Rapha, I can attest to the fact that you are buying quality. I’ve been very pleased with my items from them. You can also wait for their sales which makes things less painful. 😉

    Nice article, thanks!

    • Glad you enjoyed it! Vulpine have released a sneak-peak at their new women’s range, on – WANT!!!

      Good point re quality and cost – I’m still in the starving-mature-student mode, so it’s all way beyond my pocket, but yeah, why pay big money to a sexist company when you can pay a bit less for a company that actually likes women?

  4. All well and good but where were the helmets on the vulpine shoot and also the Ana Nichooola shots. I ride my bike everyday and no matter what I do before I still get helmet hair, so I would like to see that on a photo please!

  5. Funny, as a female road rider. Assos and Rapha totally appeal to me, and other than Castelli it’s what I wear. The other two companies I find way too girlie and wouldn’t consider them.. Each to their own 🙂

  6. Very interesting article, I always shake my head at the Assos models. I love my Rapha pieces, great fit and quality. They wear really well and their sales are perfect to add new items. I look forward to checking out the other two. Support the companies that look after us on a different level! Thanks.

    • I should probably edit in that Vulpine are supporting my favourite British team, Matrix Fitness Racing Academy, and Rapha have a women’s CX team (and I think a women’s UK-level road team) – they’re supporting the sport, too, and I love that! Maybe more on that in another article (ha, I only meant to write 1 on marketing, now I’m up to 3 already!)

  7. I totally agree that the Assos and other companies that do the naked but in bibs pictures are so insulting!!! A brand I love is Dhb by Wiggle. Reasonably priced and good quality I have found, their shorts even have the same pad in as the Rapha kit!!! Wiggle are even supporting a ladies cycling team which is fab!!! They just do shots of their products and close ups, and none of the other crap!! I also loved the new Adidas campaign as it showed real, tough but feminine women.

    • Any company that supports women’s racing gets my love – it surprises me that more don’t. Another sports brand I’ll always love is lululemon (yoga-type clothes) for their sponsorship of super-team Specialized-lululemon

  8. Nichola does show something different. Even in Terry Bikes and more generically, Athleta, they rarely show more than 1 woman per outfit. It is it because we would get confused and can’t figure match of price to oufit/clothing piece???

  9. SARAH! I am soooo glad you addressed this because I was reading Peloton magazine on the iPad the other day and came across an Assos ad and was immediately like, “WHAT THE FUCK????” I actually wondered if maybe I was having a hallucination because it was just so fucking bizarre and terrible and awful. Like, was my iPad malfunctioning???? Did it has a Weird Sexist Virus? And then a few days later you posted this and I think maybe Dan tweeted the link to, and now I am just on a rampage and think we need to start a revolution which actually is pretty much what you and Dan are doing so yeah, good job guys!

    AND, I am fucking sick of Fyxo, which I love but also fucking HATE because he always has the most gorgeous bikes on his website but then always has chicks in short skirts draped over them which makes me feel like I can’t be in his straight white male club and enjoy the photos of the bikes because there’s just this big fucking obstacle there like ugh, why the fuck do I want to look at this photo of a bike when it’s obscured by some woman’s naked upper thigh? It makes me feel excluded because I forget that cycling is a boy’s club, because OH YEAH IT’S NOT, but these people make it seem like it is, and how dare they do that?

    AND I am so, so fucking mad because I want to do the Dirty Gran Fondo, but then look at the website:

    OK so not only is their marketing logo thing a drawing of a girl who is inexplicably naked from the waist up with only the straps of her bib knicks to cover her nipples (because, y’know, that’s just what we do), but also she is riding what is OBVIOUSLY a brakeless track bike and y’know, who the fuck is going to ride a track bike over a 90km course designed for cross bikes? I mean I don’t know what to be more annoyed about. It’s just fucking ridiculous. I don’t want to be all whiney and shit but I FEEL SO EXCLUDED and just, y’know, would they have a picture of a cute anorexic hipster guy wearing only bib shorts riding a track bike? NO because it would be fucking ridiculous. And if you look at the results from the year before there are only about 10 girls out of 160 entrants… no wonder… because they probably alienated a whole bunch of women who wanted nothing to do with their complete fucking idiocy. Anyway. RAAAH!!!!!!!

      • Haha oh you stop, NO YOU STOP!
        (no but I really-really want to do the Dirty Gran Fondo and I was ranting to Jonny about the Assos ad and the website and Fyxo and all those things, and then I was like, “Jonny, let’s do this Gran Fondo, you can ride beside me the whole time to keep me company because I am a lady and we cannot possibly ride alone because we are such weak creatures prone to dizzy spells and hysteria,” and he was like, “I am boycotting it out of solidarity!” and I was all disappointed because my rant had worked all too well!)

    • Why? WHY? WHHHHHY???

      It’s just madness, isn’t it? Because it’s not just in insult to women (d’oh! I mean, yeah, LET me ride a Gran Fondo topless, because that makes perfect sense for a tough ride in Aus) but also it’s an insult to guys…. What’s the thinking there? That guys who are wavering on signing up will be swayed by a crappy cartoon a topless girl?

      Here’s what I’d do – email them, and say “hey, your site kind of makes it look like it’s a boys-only thing – am I actually welcome here?” and see that they say….

  10. Good article. I hate this too. I bought some giordana bibs the other day (as they where on sale) and they too had the equally depressing boobs out pictures on their website. I don’t aspire to look like that, I don’t want to look at that, I just want comfy shorts. Can’t you show some pictures of women on bikes, or what the chamois acutally looks like? I doubt that a lot of these models have ever ridden a bike judging by the size of their legs.

    The only women I have seen wearing assos all in ones have been walking their bikes around outside cafes in the vicinity of Mt Ventoux looking desperate for male attention and desparate for food. They look down their noses at me on my touring bike and cheapo cotton leggings but I still overtake them on the way up the hill as they are either too busy trying to look “good” or about to pass out as they neglected to eat anything for the past few days.

    I get really annoyed about the huge amount of gratuitous tits and arse draped over bikes too. I’ll get a follower on tumblr, so I go and have a look at their blog to see if they share any interests and lo and behold. I can almost guarantee I will be confronted by at least an up the skirt shot, if I’m lucky, with pants on, if I’m not, well……

    A lot of these pictures seem to be very young girls posing on bikes way too big for them. I’m thinking that there are a lot of guys who want to take pics of their half naked girlfriend posing on their bikes. They then think its appropriate to post them on their tumblr for the whole world to see and reblog.


    • I always feel very, very old when I see those kind of photos – and actually, hugely relieved that I had that “it’s public, and there forever, and you can’t control it” message dinned into me….

      What I don’t understand re boobs-out shots is why companies really feel it’s necessary. It’s not how the clothing is worn, and it necessarily just shows it on a specific body type. I like the way Rapha and Ana Nichoola do it – showing the item on an invisible torso, and then show it in action. But, if they HAVE to have it on a model, include a bra, ffs! The Assos site does have some topless men, but they’re standing very basically, facing straight-on, with sunnies and caps (denoting “cyclist!!!!”) – if you can accessorise like that, include a damn bra!

      • If it is the case I just wonder how the poor girls are going to feel in 6 months time, or when they realise thats what he’s done!

        I particularly like Ana Nichoola, totally normal women, doing stuff with bikes. Thats what we want to see. But what ARE the gender stereotypes like in switzerland? Anbd what its proportion of female to male cyclists over there in general? I can imagine certain countries have slightly skewed ideas of female cyclists. I only saw one female roadie in 3 weeks cycling in Spain but male cyclists are everywhere. When they saw me touring with my hubby it was like they couldn’t believe their eyes 😉

      • It was bad enough at college (before the advent of phone cameras) when I friend did a saucy pic for here boyfriend which then got photocopied……

        I’m just imagining how my female friends would react if I tried to show them a saucy pic of my husband. Most of them think he’s attractive, but I’m not sure I would get a positive response to that!

  11. Thanks for the answers guys, and the really good suggestion to actually email the organisers to ask them if girls who wear tops are welcome to race… maybe I will do that instead of basically being like THIS!!!!:

    me talking about this stuff = Emilio at 1’02” when he screams and the window explodes

    A note on Rapha: I actually have a few of their women’s merino jerseys that I bought on sale ($100-120 or so) and I like them. They’re thick and soft and nicely finished, a bit warm for Aussie summer but I will wear them a lot in cooler weather. I also wear their men’s merino underpants (3 for $100) and I think they’re lovely too. It’s not too overpriced if you can get certain things on sale, and for a smallish woman like myself I can often get the men’s merino styles in the XS or S size on sale, which is a boon.

    Also, a mention for the Aussie company Creux Cycling who do WOMEN’S JEANS!!!!!!!! Basically NO ONE does cycling jeans for women, so yay them. They also do lots of other cool shit.

    • Good idea but uber expensive. Is that what Jeans cost here in Oz (newbie immigrant here) Looks like I’ll be getting my favorite jeans shipped from the UK. 20quid for a plain straight leg jean that fits over my cyclists arse and calf with room to roll up. Plus throw in a 25 quid craft bike boxer underneath and you have the same thing for a song.

      Is it me or is that padding seems to be giving the girls that old lady slacks + incontinence pant effect?

      • dan, you have the best hearing.

        pixi, I am one of those people who owns lots of jeans but only wears the same three pairs, and they are all over $200. I like uber expensive jeans. BUT, I am anti-pads, and so I will not buy the Creux Jeans, because yeah, the pad????, but I wanted to give them a shout out because women are always like, “Dear Outlier/Swrve/Rapha/etc, please make jeans for us too!” and no one listens, but Creux do! And they basically do the exact same as the boy jeans but to fit a girl shape, so I really appreciate that they’re not like, pink jeans, or jeans with a sequinned flower on them or whatever.

        I am actually a bike clothing marketers worst nightmare because I am all fuddy-duddy and only wear merino wool and refuse to wear padded shorts anymore because I think they’re “the devil’s pants” and whatnot. But I am about to invest in a pair of Ibex merino wool 3/4 length tights with a proper chamois and everything for winter because I want to wear pants in winter but I can’t wear the pants I want to wear over my men’s boxer shorts because then they get all bunchy around the legs and I hate the bunchiness. Sigh.

  12. I’m sorry – that vulpine jersey is horrible and impractical and can only be used for going to the pub.
    You wouldn’t be seen dead wearing ananichola products outside of east london.
    And rapha? Great. If you want to look just like the boys and catch their products in their sales.

    Assos, for all their terrible advertising, do produce the best women’s shorts/tights on the market (the chamois is the best). What you forget is that Assos marketing works in Italy and other European countries where that kind of sexist advertising is more acceptable. It doesn’t mean it is right (it isn’t in the UK), but it is culturally acceptable in their own country of origin.

    The debate should be around whether Assos advertising breaches advertising standards guidelines in the UK. They don’t. End of. This doesn’t mean i like it though, I don’t.

    • That’s an interesting viewpoint Ang, but I think you’re missing the point in a conversation about marketing, not fashion. And I disagree that the debate should be about advertising standards guidelines. This is how capitalism (sort of) works, brands/manufacturers/retailers etc. put out products and advertise them and then we (potential customers) get to reject them for any reason we wish. And we get to say why.

      So while you’re perfectly right to not feel obliged to purchase Vulpine or Rapha or Ana Nichoola based on your aesthetics, anyone else is also perfectly welcome to call out Assos for sexist advertising.

      More interestingly though, I think that it’s a viewpoint that Assos would do well to pay attention to. This article is one of the most viewed items we’ve ever had and so far the vast majority of women who are commenting seem to agree that Assos’ current advertising marginalises them and completely misses them as a target market. If I were responsible for anything to do with growing Assos’ business, I’d want to understand how Assos is missing such a large market by such a wide margin. After all, if Assos really does have the best chamois available, why isn’t that the feature of their advertising? I’d have to say that based on the visual evidence from the Assos website, their chamois appears to be so inadequate that the models can’t even reliably sit on a bike long enough to snap off a few photos.

      I take your point that such advertising practises may be more welcome in different cultural contexts, but honestly, in this day and age it’s so ridiculously simple to customise content and branding for different audiences that I can’t accept it as a valid reason for offending so many women.

  13. I meant to also point out Capo. They do seem to really be doing a nice job towards marketing to women. The model you usually see is a REAL cyclist and rides hard. They had me hooked from their ads and photos. Thought I’d give them some lip service because I think they deserve it for not forgetting about us ladies and doing a nice job with their line.

    • That’s cool to hear. I’ve got a bunch of Capo gear, so it’s good to know I haven’t accidentally sold out my sisters. 😉

  14. I’m sure I’m disqualified from commenting (as a bloke) but the Assos advertising doesn’t put all women off. My wife buys and loves Assos and Castelli kit – she laughs about the ads with the girl with her boobs out in the bib shorts and bib knickers but then she never buys bib versions of anything. The male model on Assos is quite far removed from most fit and (almost inevitably) skinny male cyclists as to be equally unrealistic. If Assos want to sell their brand through beautiful or sexy models that is their call. I know I won’t look like as goid in it but I’ll buy the great designs if they fit. My wife does look great in the kit, but is never going to be lulled by an advertising dream into cycling either topless or with stilettos on.

    Sorry for the rambling element to the mail but if they were missing so much of their target market I’m sure they’ll change their approach.

  15. I have purchased some Assos bibbed shorts, yes the ones where the woman is holding her breasts and I have to say they are pretty damn good. If you forget about the marketing which I think must have been created purely for men as others have stated, the actual clothing is really comfortable and soft and very good. The fit is true to size so don’t be put off by the pictures if you want some good kit.

    I do think that women’s cycle kit has been pretty limited and still is in the UK so I’m pleased to see these recommendations in this article, I shall take a look.

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