Each year, Cyclepassion releases a calendar featuring a carefully selected bevy of female cycling stars from around the world. It includes women from a variety of disciplines – including triathletes, road racers, mountain bikers and track racers – but what they all have in common is that they are as sexy as they are fast. The calendar first caught my attention last year whilst on a mission to find a picture of a girl on a bike. Go figure. My search yielded the usual results – a combination of smiling gals in insipid pink flower jerseys and cheap crappy helmets, and Liz Hatch’s cleavage. So I was pretty excited when I discovered a calendar dedicated to pro women racers.
When I saw the photos, however, I’ll admit I probably did a little subconscious eye roll. The images are typical calendar cheesecake – complete with lots of makeup and little clothing, high heels, and racy (if you’ll excuse the pun) poses. Having said that, there is no denying that cycling does wonders for the ass – the women are fit, strong and gorgeous (if maybe a little oily) and the photos are really sexy. Sure, there is the cheese factor – but Europeans have a slightly different spin on sexy then we North Americans do. I’m not saying it’s better or worse – just more… European.The calendar is two-sided, with the B side offering profiles of the athletes, complete with relevant stats (and by relevant I don’t mean cup size) and cool race photos. While this is a very awesome and important feature of the calendar, let’s not kid ourselves. People aren’t buying it for the stats. The 2013 issue was just released and features photos of lady monsters like Julia Innerhofer, Barbara Benko, Anneke Berten, Sonya Looney, Nadine Rieder, Irina Kirchler, and Kristina Vogel. And you know what’s sad? Until now, I’d never heard of a single one of them. But more on that later.In it’s eighth year now, the calendar (which is the brainchild of German Anke Wilken and lovingly photographed by Daniel Geiger) enjoys some good buzz this time of year – most notably in the very niche market it resides. After eavesdropping on some spirited conversations on Twitter yesterday debating whether the calendar was empowering or demeaning, I have to admit I am torn – because in reality it’s a little bit of both.
It’s been argued that as long as women use their sex appeal to get noticed, they will not be noticed for other things – like being dedicated, kick-ass bike racers, for example. I’m not sure I buy that. Is a woman’s sexuality really seen as being inversely proportional to her intelligence? Or her ability to compete? If the Cyclepassion calendar, and Liz Hatch’s impressive rack along with it, disappeared forever under a sensible turtleneck sweater, would women’s cycling all of a sudden be equal to men’s cycling? No, it would not. Not today, not tomorrow. Not for a very long time, if ever.
Women’s bike racing receives little to no media coverage or public attention, and professional racers are paid a fraction of what their male counterparts are. Is this because every year twelve hot women pose for a sexy calendar? Or because Liz Hatch has a tendency to show off her magnificent rack? Probably not. In fact, I would argue that some people just might have been drawn to watch women’s races because chicks in tight clothes are nice to look at. But I doubt that’s why they keep watching. This years’ Olympic road race proved once again that women’s racing can be just as exciting as mens’ racing. Sometime even more.The reality is, in male-dominated arenas like cycling, sometimes women are left with very little at their disposal to use to any clear advantage. Sometimes, being committed, fast, smart, and nice just isn’t enough. So if our sex appeal is a way to generate interest, attention, and income, shouldn’t we be allowed to use it?
Not all of us have both the palmares and physical assets to be featured in the Cyclepassion calendar, but I was pretty thrilled recently to find a picture of myself on the Girls on Cross Bikes website. I did offer several times to take off my clothes, but Stefan the photographer didn’t think it was a good idea – something about all the kids playing in the area. Whatever.
So what about the men? Well, there isn’t a beefcake cycling calendar out there that I am aware of, and maybe for good reason. I, for one, have no interest in seeing Andy Schleck or Bradley Wiggins half-naked, oiled, and draped seductively over their bikes like boney aliens.That’s not to say some of the guys haven’t tried their, uh… hands at life in the centrefold. Take the suitably oily and habitually naked Mario Cipollini.
Mind you, he always looks like that. See? He’s riding a bike, like, SUPER fast! By the way, all you women reading this are now carrying Cipo’s love child. Sorry about that.
And then there’s the always demure Lancypants – who posed for this beauty back before people stopped giving a shit about him.When Victoria Pendleton posed for a similar shot, based on the media coverage and public outrage you’d think she’d announced she’d given up bike racing to be a podium girl.I have no issue with grown women getting their sexy on, whether they are star athletes, grandmothers, or hockey moms. Admittedly there is a time and a place for it – but I’m pretty sure Nadine Rieder doesn’t race or do her grocery shopping dressed like this. I do not believe that in order to be respected a woman has to become some androgynous drone devoid of any sexuality. But nor do I think that taking our clothes off is, or should be the only way we can get noticed for the things which we otherwise excel in.
Do I think the Cyclepassion calendar helps the progressive march of women’s cycling? Well, probably not as much as the growing number of advocates, conferences, events, articles, book and blogs dedicated to that very cause. Do I think it does any harm? No more than pictures of women in insipid pink flower jerseys and cheap crappy helmets. And certainly no more than the doping fiasco which threatens to wipe out the credibility of pro cycling for good.
And finally, would I buy the Cyclepassion calendar? If I was a hot-blooded heterosexual bike-loving man, maybe. I might even spend some time looking at the B side.
i think you make points on both sides excellently. my view on the whole things is a bit more ultra feminist on it all, but like how you put it- it doesn’t exactly help, but it doesn’t really hurt them either. i think it’s just a reflection of society and i take the most issue with people who think *less of the women who chose to take their clothes off/be sexy.
maybe i’ll have to write my own blog now 😉
Well, I look very forward to seeing that!
By the way, non-Twitter folks – Anna is a blogger (http://masteringtheuphillshift.wordpress.com) and cycling advocate from Washington, DC, and also runs the much-loved “Cross Hotties” site (http://cyclocrosshotties.tumblr.com). She is an active, outspoken and provocative voice in the cycling community, as well as a self-professed raging liberal feminist. Yes, she’s totally cool.
Anna’s discussion with another person on Twitter was part of the inspiration for this post.
Another winner Andrea!
Can something be both empowering and demeaning? Kinda like being a little pregnant. But I’m with you – torn.
There’s something to be said about the difference between the photos of Nadine Rieder and Victoria Pendleton above. I don’t know what there is to say but it’s something.
I like the Pendleton shot. In fact, I picked up a similar (signed!) print from ultimate kick ass rider Missy Giove at Interbike about 10 years ago. Same style except black/white and on a downhill bike. It’s awesome and still up in the bike room.
But there’s something about the straddling, back arching, cleavage squeezing shots that offend. Same way the flowery, crappy (“shrink it and pick it”) gear offends.
I agree with you. I don’t think this calendar helps or hinders the progress of women’s cycling. Just like it doesn’t help or hinder the progress of women (as respected equals to men in society yadda yadda). As if a calendar could more powerful than real women out in the real world riding bikes really fast.
Amen sister. The calendar is not important. The discussion, however, is.
It might offend. It might not empower female riders. It is somewhat tasteful depending on your where you stand in the debate. At the end of it all the goal is accomplished more talking about women in sport. How wrong is that ?
Liz hatch is great!
But like 98.7% of most true cyclist, my eyes are drawn toward the bike she’s on… After I’ve figured out components and what wheel set she prefers… 🙂
[…] over at Winnipeg CycleChick, has a great article summing up a lot of how Anna […]
If guys could do the same they would, but like you wrote, there’s not much demand for half naked or naked skinny freaks.
Haha, yes. Not your typical beefcake crowd… but if Eisel or Boonen or Cavendish were to bare all, I would not complain. : )
Excellent choice of tire hammock!
I always get the Sports Illustrated “Body” issue because seeing mostly naked top level athletes is inspiring (and a little demoralizing). This calendar is kind of smutty though. I’m sure the intended market would be just as happy with a more tasteful and more co-ed calendar. No one wants to see a Schleck or Wiggo more naked than usual, but what about Cancellara or Beans or Awang (pun intentional, obviously)? I’d be more likely to fire up the Paypal account for something like that.
p.s. that Pendleton pic is awesome.
Rock on, Andrea!
Thanks Rob. That is my plan. : )
The following may be a diatribe, but here goes anyway… What is the world coming to? Cycling has had so much negative press re: doping scandals. Top level cycling is big business and to be viable sponsors willing to invest large amounts of money are needed. Women’s cycling has enough trouble attracting the kind of money that is seen in men’s cycling. Thus any publicity is good. That is what the whole point of the calendar is. Like it or not the saying ‘sex sells’ is true. Are people really that shallow that if they see women semi naked in a calendar they see it as sexual exploitation? Or is it more of an insecurity issue? This may come as a surprise to some but people aren’t born with clothes on. Reminds me of kids that think milk comes from the supermarket. Also, Lycra clothing is like a second skin anyway. Both my wife and I are passionate cyclists and we can’t understand what the fuss is about. Athletes have been doing semi nudes for charity (at least here in Aus) for years and years.I know many will disagree with me, that’s fine. I see the calendar as being quite artistic. Actually I am looking at a Dali print in my lounge, there is a naked woman featured in it, is this sexually explicit? NO, it is just art! Whether a calendar is of men or woman is not the point, these are world class athletes at the peak of physical fitness, we should respect them as such and be grateful that they are willing to help their sport or charity by going semi nude. BTW, Chris was right in his post, the first thing that I notice are the components. Instead of nitpicking people trying to promote the sport instead lets all support cycling, it needs it!
Oh, one last thing. The idea that woman don’t want to see men in calendars is a generalisation. I know plenty of woman who like seeing male athletes semi nude in calendars… Cheers. Stay safe on your bike over xmas, a lot of crazies on the road 🙂
Thanks for your comments Drew! (and boy are you right about the crazies). It is a really fascinating and complex issue, and there is no right answer – but the discussion is as great as it is important.
And just to clarify – as a hot-blooded bike-loving female, I would be DELIGHTED to see Cavendish, Hushovd, Boonen, and Eisel bare all (or most) for a Boys of Cycling calendar. First in line. I was just making a little joke about the often emaciated physique of male cyclists not necessarily being typical beefcake material.
I think the idea of women atheltes showing off their fit bodies can be both empowering and artistic, as well as sexy. The human body, especialy those of these incredibly fit and talented atheltes is something to behold. My problem with the calender is that it is cliche, not artistic. You can find female models striking the exact same poses on cars, motorcycles, furniture, etc. It’s been done in so many ways – check out any tool calenders lately? Pictures like the Victoria Pendleton one are more intetesting and appealing.
Like you I would like to see more pics like the Pendleton shot, it demonstrates the muscle groups in action. This is also seen in the similar pics of the guys too. We must remember that art like wine is a matter of taste! For instane I find a lot of impressionism to be cliched, yet many like the style. Being different isn’t a prerequisite for art in any case. Artwork from any era tends to share similarity. The main difference between this calendar and tool or car calendars is that these girls are cyclists not pro models. How many of the girls in tool calendars are tradies? How many posing on a car are a racecar driver? I don’t find a pic of a girl holding a bike or components to be cliched. One of the first things a cycle coach will do regardless of sex, is drill into you that you are responsible for the upkeep of your bike. E.g. if you are out on a training ride by yourself you need to be able to conduct basic repairs using a multi-tool. I know of coaches that are pedantic about the cleanliness of an athletes bike and won’t hesitate to pull you aside for a chat. Also, think of the calendar as a marketing tool. It has to appeal to the taste of the majority. As I eluded to previously, these girls are doing far more good than harm to the sport for which I am grateful. Anything that distracts people from doping scandals has to be good right? Take us for example, here we are discussing the merits of a calendar, not how dirty the sport is. That is good 🙂
Mario Cipollini has a gland on top of his head that secretes a musk scented oil every 7 minutes. That’s how he stays all shimmery.
Aha! I knew it had to be something like that.
What brand of Duct Tape IS that……….
Dad!!! (shakes head)
Excellent post. I’ve argued for the last five years on this subject with various cyclists, both female and male – especially about Liz Hatch, who received a very unfair share of nasty snark when she was on the scene. I never understood the fuss (jealousy?) over Liz Hatch unzipping her jersey when riding for Vanderkitten. Were she less attractive and flat-chested, nary a word of criticism would have been said. Nor would she have garnered the enormous positive attention she received. I have and still do argue that very same attention was a positive for the sport and not a negative (just go look into women’s Volleyball – Misty May and Kerri? They were playing their sport in outfits just shy of pasties & thongs). I’m not sure what Hatch is doing these days, but when riding for Lotto (and while posing for the Cyclepassion calendar a year or so ago), she kept her jersey zipped. I only noticed this because much was said on a forum about her sudden refusal to “shot her tits.” I found that offensive. A woman unzipping her jersey is just to “show her tits?” Oy vey! We have a long way to go, baby! As for the calendar, I think it’s fine and completely understand its popularity. These women cyclists are stunning. Of course they could do with less makeup, but the poses? There is a good deal of creative thought that goes into these shoots; in fact, they’ve improved over the years. About five years ago, the calendar was pure cheese-ball. But now, they really incorporate more imagery into the photos. I’m not going to buy one (I’m not the audience), but I can’t help but look at the photos online and wish that I could not only look like one of these talented young women, but, more importantly, that I could ride like one.
Thanks Mary, so many great points and comparisons you make here. I could have written so much more about this subject and am glad to see these points brought up by others, creating a broader perspective. But I think you are right. The time has passed that we need to be told when, where and how we (women) can be sexy – or that we need to look and act more like men in order to be taken seriously.
Keep the faith, sister.
p.s. I often ride unzipped in the summer without incident. hrmph.
I loved this. We girls into the motorized variety of two-wheeled action face the same problems when it comes to promotion. I couldn’t agree with you more; I do NOT think that using one’s sexuality is a sell-out. Heck, the men would be all over it if more of them were even half-a-bag handsome; why would we poo-poo anyone’s ability to not only meet society’s penny-anty, image-obsessed expectations, but to raise them a six-pack of skill, too? Excellent write-up!
Thanks Heather! Love your site by the way – looks like we wheeled ladies have lots in common. Thanks for reading! I hope you come back and add your perspective regularly!
For the Record I own a Womens Rugby Calendar. The women are beautiful. They have done previous years with the two picture format of each model One an action shot from the field and one a glamour shot. It really shows that women can be fierce athletes and beautiful as well. One does not cancel the other. Also the Calendar raises money for the Canadian Womens Ruby Team. These athletes work damm hard to be in that shape and they are proud of their bodies they want to be admired. You can talk all you want but nothing is going to change athletes wanting to feed their ego and seek attention. Men and Women it does not matter.
Since you brought up the dearth of male bike pin-ups, I’ll mention that the Minneapolis Bike Messenger Association put out a pin-up calendar of male bike messengers: http://grist.org/list/here-are-some-cute-bike-messengers-and-their-butts/
Apparently cycling does as much for the male rear end as it does for the female version.
Stephanie, you just made my day. So. Buying. This.
Always an interesting topic the whole calendar or advertising with sex appeal. Personally…. I roll my eyes and I do think that the stereotypical (yawn) sex shots do nothing good for women in sport. Or really, for women anywhere. As others have said though, the Pendelton shot is kinda different. Less, err, greasy I guess. It’s all about her body DOING something. But I suppose that’s all to do with personal taste.
I take your point that women don’t need to look and act like men in order to be taken seriously. But I also think that when men do the beefcake thing – firefighting calendars for example – they are just as silly.
Ah – but that bike messenger one. HILARIOUS! I guess it’s not the nudity, it’s the tone of the whole thing for me.
Yes, tone is everything. You are right the interpretation of these things is very subjective, but we can still make some generalizations. I love the bike messenger one too, because it is obviously being ironic – but cheese and beefcake calendars are entirely different in their intent.
And then there’s this one, which is somewhere in between:
It uses the traditional pin-up girl concept in a modern and empowering way that is somehow fun AND sexy at the same time. Love it. (Watch the video.)
Thanks for your comments Jenn!
It is tricky, but what does this calendar do for women cyclists? Nothing. It’s done by men. Do the women posing get paid? Is it part of a foundation to encourage cycling, anything remotely positive? Who are the calendars marketed for? Guys obviously? It reminds me of the sports illustrated ‘swimsuit’ issue which seems to be an excuse to see ladies near naked. The photos are appalling in my opinion and greasy. Very sexist, standard boring crap. Photoshopped straddling tires and bike stems…boring and crass! And hot as the ladies are, the poses etc do nothing to show off their physical prowess and power. And what is with all the make up? I live in downhill/cross country mecca and the girls are dirty, just as dirty as the boys, it’s not a fashion show, and they generally don’t dress up outside of cycling either.
I’d love to see a calendar of kick ass women cyclists naked or not in the context of their personality and sport. With their bikes. The Victoria Pendleton photo is beautiful and would be down for something like that. It shows off her muscles, her training and the softness that women tend to keep compared to men looking like jerky. That Mario quite frankly always scares me! For fair play a similar boy calendar would be cool too. As for that wonderful Minneapolis boy courier calendar, that thing was done in fun and love for boys of all sizes-why not something similarly goofy with women?
And what about the fact that we do not know who these women even are? Did you know Bradley Wiggin’s wife is a pro cyclist and top in her age class? They’ve got kids and his career obviously comes first, so she does not get the same exposure or time to focus on her racing. The top world’s woman downhill rider lives in my neck of the woods and she’s young still teenage, not sure she’d want to participate in this kind of sleazy promotion. It sucks that women don’t get the million dollar cheques or that the tour de france isn’t co ed. Women’s racing tends to be an after thought. While there is nothing wrong with being sexy and utilizing sexiness, how is that actually going to improve things for women in cycling? If it gets other women into cycling, cool, if it gets people to come to watch races, cool! But, the calendar is obviously not meant for women, probably never crossed the guys’ minds!
How to improve women’s role and visibility in cycling? Consider many of the merino cycling wear companies popping up, with little to no options for women. Cute websites with hot guys looking serious on single speeds, yes, but no equally awesome women riding with them. Rapha’s woman line is so tiny, it’s all about the mens at Rapha. Sponsorship? There’s a pro downhiller in the family and he says there is no money in it at all, but still dreams of a red bull sponsorship. There are some guys up my road who are world class trick riders of some description with the coveted red bull money and they are rolling in money! A bunch of young guys who use women in their promo videos as objects to watch the guys ride-not participants in the sport.
Another thing about this calendar, what if say a top woman cyclist wasn’t ‘hot’,or very young, would she be included in the calendar? The great thing about real life cycling is that boys and girls can get into it and start competing at any age, so many of us are not so young anymore or marketable, discovered ____ as adults, even older adults but are kicking ass. I’ve been biking for eons, only recently have considered getting into racing on some level. The amount of women competing is so small that any of us with time and effort could go pro and start winning. And we’ve got hot bodies, we’re in amazing shape, blah blah blah. But maybe too ‘old’ and life like for the sexualized marketing of the calendar. That’s a problem with relying on sex for promotion if it is geared to men who might want to see young dewiness.
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