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For the Ladies: Gladys Bikes Speaks Your Language

Monday, November 03, 2014



Leah Benson, owner of Gladys Bikes, puts customer ease and comfort first, welcoming everyone to her cozy, friendly shop.

Remember the best selling book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus book by author John Grey? Well, if you're a woman in the market for a new bike, you might want to pick up a copy of the book, first. Walk into most bike shops and you'd better speak Martian. Unless you head to Gladys Bikes, where they speak Venusian as a first language.

The idea for a women-focused shop arose after owner Leah Benson had been discussing the challenges women face when shopping for new bikes, bike parts or clothing. For many women—especially newcomers to cycling—the experience can be so discouraging they don't want to set foot in a bike shop after feeling pressured, talked down to, or made to feel unwelcome by the (usually male) staff. Benson realized there wasn't a single bike shop in town which focused on women-specific bikes and products, and Gladys Bikes was born.

The shop takes its name from a turn of the century suffragist—Frances Willard who believed that simply learning to ride a bicycle could help women gain confidence, become more independent and be seen as equals to men in skill and ability. Frances named her bike “Gladys” after the gladdening effect she got from riding her bike. She was 53 when she taught herself how to ride.

Benson and the staff at Gladys Bikes share Willard's belief that cycling is a liberating, empowering and enjoyable activity. While they are focused on women's products, Benson is quick to point out that everyone, regardless of gender, is welcome in the store.

“We want everyone who walks through our door to feel comfortable. In fact, while we are committed to locating and offering products that fit women's bodies, many of the products we sell are gender neutral, and we have almost as many men's saddles in our library as we do women's.”

Size Matters


The shop seeks out quality brands and designers who create specifically for women.

When it comes to bicycle frame construction, size definitely matters. For years the industry's approach to making bikes for women was to create smaller versions of men's bikes, paint flowers on them, and downgrade the components to produce a cheaper bike. Known in the industry as “pinking and shrinking” Benson was determined to buck the trend by working with brands who make sizes that not only fit women, but are good values, and are available in colors other than pink.

Currently the shop carries Bianchi Bicycles—quality bikes designed and built by the world's oldest bike company—and Papillionaire, which offer snazzy, affordable dutch-style urban bikes.

In 2015 Gladys will be adding Liv Cycling USA to the list. Liv is a stand-alone brand from Giant Bicycles, focused exclusively on designing bikes for women, by women.


The fit studio in Gladys Bikes taps into the bike fitting talent of local bike builder Natalie Ramsland.

Gladys also carries clothing from women-forward apparel designers such as Moxie Cycling, Velocio, Club Ride, and Shebeest. The clothing is not only made to fit women's bodies, but also pack a little more style into the design than most mainstream cycling brands.

Fit to Ride

A properly fit bike is the number one indicator of positive rider experience, so when the opportunity arose to collaborate with local fit specialist and women's hand-built bicycle designer Natalie Ramsland, Benson jumped at it. Ramsland is renowned for both her fitting expertise, having studied with one of Portland's master bike fitters—Michael Sylvester—before branching out on her own.

A professional bike fit attempts to place a rider in an optimal riding position for both comfort and efficiency. The fit studio at Gladys Bikes offers fitting options ranging from $50 for the Comfort Fit to $250 for the Custom Fit. All of the fittings from the Basic level ($100) and above come with six months of free follow-up appointments, which help to ensure rider satisfaction.

Playful Programs for Purchasers


The popular Saddle Library offers cyclists a chance to try before they buy.

Beyond selling the usual bike stuff, Gladys also offers some innovative and fun programs that add a distinctively playful—but utilitarian—flavor to the purchasing experience. For example, the shop has a Saddle Library of about 40 different saddles. For $25, buyers looking for a new saddle can literally “check out” saddles for a week at a time. This try before you buy approach is wildly popular—and not just with the ladies. The Saddle Library has both men's and women's saddles, allowing the customer to find what works best for their behind, regardless of product or gender labeling. The $25 library fee goes toward the purchase price of the saddle once the buyer's choice has been made.

To play up this concept even further, every once in a while the shop hosts a “Saddle Speed Dating” night; riders come in and consult with a product expert, choose 5 saddles to demo, and spend about 10 minutes riding each saddle, after a free bike fit mini-session with Natalie to ensure correct saddle height and positioning.

Cross Curious

Another fun offering is the “Cross Curious Club” for recreational riders wanting to try their hand—or legs—at cyclocross. The club costs $50 and includes meetings and clinics which educate riders in gear selection, fitness and training, special sales and service deals, a special goodie bag, and snacks. Most importantly, because anyone is welcome, it's a great way for the truly brand-new, never-raced-before beginner to feel welcome and supported by kindred spirits.


The shop offers a cozy place to sit and relax while waiting for service, a bike fit, or sales help.

As with many Portland-area bike shops, Gladys offers ongoing bi-weekly maintenance clinics which are open to everyone. The clinics are frequently attended by men who feel snubbed by the many bigger bike shop environments. Cost for the clinics is a suggested $5-10 donation, but no one is turned away for lack of funds.

It's this combination of women-specific product and fun, inviting programs and atmosphere that makes Gladys Bikes a hit with everyone who comes through the door.

“I love wine as much as the next person, but too often shops think they can just hang a chandelier and serve wine and call it “women-specific” and women will buy it,” said Benson. “At Gladys we focus not so much on only offering women-specific products, as much as we seek out products that tend to just work great for women.”

If you're a woman looking for bikes, parts or apparel, stop in to the shop and check it out. Regardless of your gender, you'll be welcome in this cozy, warm bike shop, and whether you hail from Mars or Venus, you can be sure Gladys Bikes speaks your language.

For more information, visit Gladys Bikes online at http://gladysbikes.com.

Photos by Üma Kleppinger.


Üma Kleppinger is a Portland-based copy writer and advocate for full-contact anti-bummer living. She is a recovering sesquipedalian who writes about life in the saddle and outdoor adventure. She is also the author of BikeYoga, a yoga program for cyclists. When not writing, she can be found riding and racing her mountain bike throughout the Pacific Northwest.


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