Women’s Bike Company Turned Mentor for Female Racers

Cristina Goyanes
by Cristina Goyanes
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Women’s Bike Company Turned Mentor for Female Racers

If you build it, they will come. This is part of the inspiration behind the new DIA, or do-it-all, high-performance road bike handmade by Von Hof Cycling, a 3-year-old boutique bike manufacturer based in New Jersey. Co-founder and owner Diana Parmer remembers having trouble back in the ‘90s finding a ride that fit her small 5-foot-4 stature. She had two options: Get on a kid’s bike or have her husband (and now co-founder) custom-build a frame. The latter choice helped lay the groundwork for the future DIA, a handcrafted, steel frame available in sizes 44–54 centimeters to accommodate anyone under 5-foot-5 ($1,950).

Women-specific bikes are nothing new. Since the early 2000s, female participation in cycling has steadily grown, giving big (and small) bike brands good reason to create more options exclusively for women. Still, it’ll be a long road before women catch up to men, especially in racing, where women make up only 14% of the field, according to USA Cycling’s 2013 survey.

Von Hof hopes its high-performance DIA frame — featuring internal routing for Di2 electronic shifting and 28 mm tire capacity — encourages more women to roll up to the starting line. That’s why Von Hof is donating $100 of every DIA sold to support Women Bike PHL’s race development program called Devo, an intensive, six-week workshop to help women of all skill levels break into racing.

TURNING INTERESTED WOMEN INTO CYCLISTS

“Devo is really great at empowering women to get out and ride. I wish I had that kind of community back when I started. It’s the worst when you finally get yourself to race, and find out that it’s been canceled because there’s not enough female entrants or they don’t have a proper podium. Devo is changing that,” Parmer says.

Parmer first found out about Devo when she asked Team Laser Cats, the Philadelphia-based amateur women’s team, to test ride the DIA and offer feedback. Team member and cyclocross racer, Elisabeth Reinkordt, got to chatting with Parmer about how she started Devo in 2015 with fellow rider, Michelle Lee, who stands at 5-foot-1, to improve the women’s field for beginner races. Parmer loved the idea and jumped at the chance to help grow the sport.

Since launching Devo three seasons ago, the free women-only program has grown from 7 to 16 participants, and that’s not to say that they couldn’t have many more riders. Each December, when registration opens, they’ve received more than 70 applications, making it challenging to discern who to accept for the annual early March to mid-April program.

“We were totally floored by the number of applicants, ages ranging from 20s–40s. There’s this myth in the bike racing world that women just aren’t interested in racing. Our application required a commitment to three weeks of racing, plus meeting every Tuesday at 6 a.m. and every Saturday for three hours in the late winter and early spring when the weather’s not always great. We had 70-plus women say they were ready to do this for two years in a row, so clearly there’s an interest and a need,” says Reinkordt, Devo’s head coach and director, who also works full time as a digital communications manager at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

“With that response, we asked our alums, who have since become Devo mentors, to help us figure out a way to take more than seven, which is why we were able to double the size of the group. We found that it worked out really well. People had more buddies to match their skill level whether or not they were new to cycling, group riding or racing.”

While Devo does its best to teach riders how to race safely in a group, crashes are still inevitable. In both 2015 and 2016, Devo saw a few accidents, but luckily none this year beyond a scraped knee.

“It’s a risky sport in some ways, but a lot of what we’re trying to do is emphasize improving pack-riding skills so that our riders know what they need to do to be safe and avoid crashes. We want them to be comfortable group riding before they sign up for a race,” Reinkordt says. “It can be really dangerous when people come in with a lot more fitness than skill.”


READ MORE > GROUP RIDE ETIQUETTE | CYCLING 101


DEVO FOR MOUNTAIN BIKING

Devo introduced a mountain biking program that drew 11 participants this year, boosting Devo’s year-to-date participants to more than 50. While Devo continues to be a free program run by volunteers (Reinkordt and Lee, alum turned mentors, and other strong female riders in the community), it asks for a $25 deposit to cover renewing its USA Cycling license. All participants are also encouraged to buy a team jersey to wear at races. Sure, it can get matchy-matchy at events, but there’s a comfort in competing against a teammate.

“It means something to show up to a race and have the person next to you be someone who you trust and know. Devo is not about results, but building camaraderie and relationships,” Reinkordt says. “Of course, it would be awesome if someone starts in Devo and goes pro, but that’s not our goal. It would be more awesome to develop a racer who gets five more women to sign up next year.”

DEVO AT THE RACES

It looks like Devo is on track to do just that. “At the Philadelphia Navy Yard Criterium on April 15, the beginner women’s field had 36 racers in it, which is huge, and half of them of them were either Devo alums or part of this year’s team. Without this program, maybe only two or three of these women would have been there,” Reinkordt says.

Though Devo hasn’t received any donations from Von Hof just yet, the new partnership is  exciting for both parties. Devo is looking to welcome the Von Hof to its 2017 graduation in a few weeks to formally introduce Parmer and her crew to the fresh new faces of women’s road and mountain bike racing.

About the Author

Cristina Goyanes
Cristina Goyanes
Cristina Goyanes is a NYC-based freelance editor and writer who covers topics including sports and fitness, health and lifestyle, and adventure travel for various national men’s and women’s magazines and websites. When she’s not feverishly typing stories at her desk, she’s exploring the world, from the Arctic to Antarctica and plenty of countries in between. Follow her adventures and more at CristinaGoyanes.com.

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