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Instagram is a wonderful place to discover new things. You can follow your favourite racers and teams, see the hottest new bikes and gear, get inspired to ride in new places, and learn where you’ll be spending your next paycheck.
One of my favourite cycling-related accounts to follow is womenskit. Whether I’m looking for a review, want to find the latest sales or simply want to browse the newest styles and design, womenskit does a good job showcasing what’s available for women who ride.
When I learned that ‘womenskit’ was also roaming the halls of the Interbike expo, I was keen to meet the woman behind this instagam account and find out about her inspiration and the goals behind it.
Meet Siobhan Dolan
Siobhan Dolan is a bubbly, thirty-something finance worker from Los Angeles with an unusual cycling story.
While she credits the bike for everything that is good in her life right now, she didn’t start biking till she was 30. And when she says ‘start’, she means actually starting to learn how to ride a bicycle.
“Yeah, I was really late to the game,” Dolan said with a smile. My stunned expression a common reaction to learning this information.
“[Learning to ride a bike] just never happened. No one ever pushed me. I was never raised as an athletic person. It was not encouraged,” she said. “It was even believed that we, as a family, were never good at it so don’t try, don’t bother. Go to school, be smart, get a good job.”
Obediently, Dolan went to college, studied finance and took a good job in the Los Angeles.
Then, at 30, Dolan was looking for more.
“I think I was a bit lost. I wanted to find a really strong me. Moving to a big city, you really got to find out who you are, where you fit in, what your subculture is,” Dolan explained. “Then I thought, ‘you know what? There doesn’t have to be an Olympic medal in my future to be athletic.’ I can still enjoy and be involved with sport. It’s incredibly social, and it was something I was looking for in a big city.”
“I decided to take a class, learn to ride a bike and I’m telling you, my entire life changed.”
Two years later, Dolan was training with a coach and racing “at a very amateur level”.
“I never thought I could ever do that,” said Dolan. “Today, a few years later, my partner and I ride and we have a really great life filled with bikes and I have never been happier. I have never felt better about myself, I have never felt stronger and I’ve got a wonderful culture and community that was born from that.”
Like so many women who start cycling, finding comfortable and flattering kit was a struggle for Dolan.
“I struggled to find kit at my local bike shops. A lot of the kit out there is geared toward men or unisex at best,” she said. “I got really tired of it but I didn’t know what was out there, who was making apparel for me, for women.”
Dolan took to the internet looking for answers. On Instagram, she found the popular kit handles like wtfkits, kitwatch but nothing specifically for women.
“There are all these places full with information for guys, why not have one for us?” she said. “So you fill the void and viola.”
Seven months on and womenskit has 2.4K followers and is steadily growing.
“I want to review and share kit because I do think that women will go to the internet as they don’t have a lot of one-on-one resources to talk about sport and kit and their body shape and sizing. I do view womenskit as a resource and want to give women great information and be that person who’s there at the beginning of women’s cycling journeys,” said Dolan. “There has been amazing, positive feedback and I pour all of my extra time outside of my job into this [mission to find women’s kit].”
Extra time and money. With the increase in beautiful women’s kit out there, spending hours at women’s kit sounds like a dangerous hobby.
“Ha. Yeah I didn’t think of that when I started womens kit,” Dolan said laughing. “There are a lot of nights that we are living off Ramen because I have gone to that last dollar of my paycheck trying to get something new or trying to snag something on sale.”
By now, Dolan is somewhat an expert in women’s cyclingwear so I wanted to know what’s good, what the trends are and what she has learned in her quest for the best kits.
Dolan’s Top and Least Favourite Kits
– Velocio apparel: “I just bought the lightweight jersey in patron –I love that colour. And I have their very first, 1.0 Superfly.”
“I have been following Kristy Scrymgeour since she was DS and owner of the racing teams. When she created Velocio and paired that with Tayler Wiles –who’s one of my favourite racers –and I started seeing Tayler out on the road in this, I really liked where it was going. And then Velocio had the ‘buy it and try it for 30 days or return it’ policy I was like, ‘OK, now you have me.’ It’s really scary to look at something online and spend a lot of money before taking a look in the mirror. But this was a guarantee I could get behind and I never, ever, ever thought about returning them. The chamois is amazing, the seams are incredibly flattering, the compression is just enough. It’s the first time that I have had a full frontal bib and I really appreciate it now.”
– “The only other kit I really like and buy every single season is dhb.”
“It’s not sold in the US so I buy it on Wiggle and pay the import fee. It’s worth it. It looks good, I love the colours and it’s affordable. The design appeals to everyone and I get compliments all the times. I have never had more flattering bibs with a more flattering leg gripper than dhb. At this price point, there is nothing better.”
3. “I have a love/hate relationship with Rapha.”
“Sometimes I think Rapha hates women and sometimes I think they like women. I really wonder who is coming up with this stuff. Their jerseys are really great but the bibs, I think, are awful. I have struggled so much to find a bib I actually like that will last more than a couple of months or a couple of washings. I frankly think they do not like women’s bodies that do not look like a perfect advert. I don’t need a Mercedes that drives poorly.”
8 things Dolan has learned about women’s kit from running the @womenskit Instagram account
1. Now that the market for women’s specific apparel has grown, women have specific standards when it comes to good apparel.
– For jerseys, aside from the fit, that means flat laying zippers, full-size and zippered pockets and reflectivity.
– For bibs, many want a drop tail or potty-break options and leg grippers that don’t give you sausage legs.
2. It’s really difficult to know what works for most women and what is going to be popular. What works for me, doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.
3. The hottest trends right now are patterns and accessories.
“Design wise, wild patterns and bold designs do well at the moment. After watching the likes and comments for months, people respond better to patterns. They find it fun and funky, easier to match and play with accessories –which are certainly a growing trend—and some of the classic, more simplistic pieces can sometimes come off as a bit stand-offish or elitist. It can feel cold, and that’s not what women want. They want to express themselves, they want find each other, ride with each other, be social and find a community.”
4. Best up-and-coming brand? “Queen of the Mountain from the UK.”
5. “Most women actually buying the kits do not look like the adverts.”
“I’m not the body type of most athletes. I’m around 150 pounds and I’m usually a large on the bottom and a small to medium on top. I feel strong and that should be beautiful. I’d like to see companies respond to that. I want fashion and performance to be married to each other but when these companies first conceptionalise their products, I want them to think of me as an athlete first, fashion second.
6. “There are still so many companies that do not make a women’s line. And that’s disappointing.”
7. “Women struggle alone, at home in front of our mirrors. And I think that’s a terrible waste of energy.”
8. Don’t start off with pink.
“There is so much behind that colour. If you like to dress in pink, own that sh*t. Go for it. You deserve to be up there with the person who prefers to dress in all black. But for companies, don’t start off with pink just because it’s a women’s product.”
Learn more about Siobhan Dolan and womenskit at instagram.com/womenskit.