Occupation: General Manager, U.S. Subsidiary, Giant Bicycles, Inc.
As the top-ranking female bicycling industry executive in the U.S., Elysa Walk is, well, a giant among cycling enthusiasts and advocates for getting more women on two wheels.
Under her leadership, Giant, the largest bicycle company in the world, earlier this year re-branded its women’s bikes, apparel and gear from Liv/Giant to Liv to underscore dedication to products created by women for women. Liv is also a leading funder of the Women Bike program of the League of American Bicyclists (so honored to serve on the advisory committee with Elysa!) and supports women’s causes through such efforts as an annual partnership with the Young Survival Coalition in the fight against breast cancer.
Walk and I caught up in October in Manhattan, where Liv hosted a pop-up showroom of its 2015 line. In the fifth in our series of interviews with people who inspire us in the world of bicycling, Walk shares her perspectives on marketing to women, sources of daily inspiration and advice for beginning cyclists:
What career path did you follow into the bicycling industry?
After earning an MBA, I worked in the software industry in operations and finance for 10 years. Following that, I was going through a transition in my career, I was a cycling enthusiast, and was very excited to accept a position at Giant in management (in 2004). Once I came in the door, I fell in love with the company and the industry, I became extremely dedicated to my work, and grew in my leadership very quickly.
What inspired the decision to spin Liv off into a separate brand?
We believe that women’s cycling is underserved by the bike industry, both in terms of product and marketing. By spinning off Liv, we can tell the world more clearly that these bikes have been designed specifically for women, by women. If we just made bikes for females and put them in our Giant range along with everything else, we are not really going to make a difference to get more women on bikes. We need to do more, and for us, that meant going all the way to having a brand completely dedicated to women.
From this unique brand perspective, we can reach women in a way that they want to be spoken to. Women love to be inspired and love hearing stories from others, which is different than males, who tend to prefer communications that are more about competition and technology. Women want to genuinely believe in a brand and know that a product was made for them, by a company they admire, and that has a value system that is worthy to them. Liv is run by a group of women who communicate in this way and aspire to change the culture of women’s cycling by making it inviting and inspiring so that more women can enjoy cycling like we do.
What most inspires your work?
I am most inspired by the team at Giant. They work hard and play hard, they are really great people, and they make me eager to give my very best every day.
What bike do you ride when you’re in the city?
In the city, I ride the Liv Alight City (above). I love the fit and feel of the bike, and it’s got the racks I need.
What’s your favorite ride?
I have many favorites. I recently rode among the fall leaves in Vermont and thought I was in heaven, and I cherish my local trails in Southern California because that’s my backyard. But lately, my favorite is cross-country mountain biking in Mammoth and the surrounding Eastern Sierras. The views are stunning and the technical terrain is such a thrill.
If you could take a ride with anybody, living or dead, who would it be?
Michelle Obama. She is active and has been seen on bikes, so I would love to take her on a long, flat ride where we could chat for hours about how to engage more people with cycling.
How can more women be persuaded to try bicycling for transportation and recreation?
I’ve observed that a lot of women don’t try cycling because it seems complicated, there is a lot of gear to figure out, and bike shops often seem intimidating to them instead of helpful. However, once they get involved, they see it’s not complicated, but liberating; the gear can provide exciting enhancements to their ride; and the folks at bikes shops really love what they do and usually want to genuinely help. My advice would be to do some reading and research, such as the content on this Velojoy site. There is tons of information written just for new riders to learn what they need to know when they first start out. There are also some amazing essays and articles written about the joy of cycling that will inspire readers to find the simple pleasures in riding a bicycle and the motivation to make cycling part of their life for transportation and recreation.