A letter from Jenn Kriske

Since Machines started, it has often felt like swimming upstream. My first time at Interbike, as I networked with manufacturers trying to source the best possible materials, I was told repeatedly that women didn't need high quality goods. These salesmen would discretely move the luxurious materials I was eyeing off to one side and nudge a lesser quality substitute within arms reach, much like you steer a toddler away from a sharp object. They insisted that women would not pay top dollar for a pair of bib shorts because they simply didn't ride enough to warrant the investment. Even as I had just returned from a 6-day tour of the Pyrenees, I was told that the market did not exist. 

In that moment, I was the market. And they still told me it did not exist. I was erased even as I stood there with a checkbook in hand.

The fact that we are still here feels like a victory. Especially when moments of egregious marketing campaigns make it past executive's desks. Like earlier this year when one of the top European bike companies suggested women needed an e-bike to keep up with their boyfriends. "The impossible made possible", the campaign preached.  Then there was the time I read an article about two savvy female entrepreneurs in the dot-com world who created a fictional male co-founder, Keith Mann, so that male collaborators would stop patronizing them and take their project seriously.  My thoughts ranged from laughing at the absurdity, to feeling saddened by the effectiveness, to quietly pondering whether a similar strategy was needed for Machines.  

And then, there are other times. When I meet women with tenacity, intelligence, and passion in spades. One of those women is Stephanie Kaplan. 

I met Stephanie at a women's ride weekend. Stephanie is product manager at Specialized, and played a big role in moving the company towards shared, non-gendered, bike frame geometry.  A move that began three years ago.  As we got to talking I was blown away to learn that she is essentially the reason why the women's Tarmac exists. The Specialized S-Works Tarmac is best in class when it comes to road bikes offered by leading bike manufacturers, and prior to 2018 this bike was only marketed to men. Stephanie felt strongly that a women's build was needed so she spoke up. Then she got to work. She dived into quantifiable fit data and made some big discoveries. Not only did women and men share many of the same frame geometry needs. Surprisingly, men would benefit from some of the geometry found in the Amira, part of the women's bike line.  A strong case was made for a non-gendered Tarmac frame, and with a shared frame, there was no financial reason why this bike could not be offered in a women's build. Equally important, this top-of-the-line bike would finally be marketed to women. A message that whittles away at limiting industry language. A message that finally stops insinuating women don't deserve the best.  

The result? Specialized listened and began to redesign bike geometry based on size and proportion rather than gender. This is the future. 

I was especially impressed that Specialized, the biggest bike company in the world, was so quick to shift their thinking once presented with this data. After all, Specialized was one of the first companies to introduce women's geometries back in the 1980s. The intention was in the right place, even if there were some unfortunate consequences that resulted from syphoning us off into black and white gender categories.  This was an important, albeit imperfect, step towards creating space for women in this sport. I truly believe that. Important conversations came out of those imperfections, and now Specialized is showing that growth and adaptation is possible no matter how entrenched you are in cycling history. There is no question that Specialized has a lot of influence in this industry. To see them making this positive shift in perspective is huge.  

Ask Stephanie about this, and she is humble. She is quick to point out the huge team behind the Tarmac and that the role she played was one of many. But if Stephanie won't say it, I will: Stephanie Kaplan is the reason this bike exists. And the way she has unabashedly spoken her mind might be one of the reasons the entire bike industry moves away from gendered bike geometry all together. She is a badass and industry trailblazer if I've ever met one.

Stephanie demanded for equality at the top level and the industry responded in kind.  The release of the 2018 Tarmac is a good day for women in this sport.

Once Stephanie and I met, and I learned about this backstory, we knew we had to make something together. When she told me one of the most sought-after painters at Specialized was also a woman, it all fell into place. We would make a Machines-inspired S-Works Tarmac Disc and it would be painted by Kayla Clarot.  Over 20 hours of painstaking hand-painted details later, this bike is a work of art. Kayla enlarged our "Fruits" print then applied layer upon layer of iridescent blue resulting in a chameleon-like effect that changes colors as the sun moves through the sky.  She added punchy and playful surprises like a gold-leaf seat tube inscribed with the slogan "Spread good vibes", a hand-painted accent of the original "Fruits" print under the seat, and the tag "Worth it" under the bottom bracket.  And my favorite surprise is the logos, painted in reflective black, straddling the line between elegantly understated and impactful.  When I saw the bike in person it took my breath away. Finally, I felt understood. This bike was clearly painted by someone who gets the Machines brand.

 

 

Photography by Warren Kommers