The cycling industry hasn’t always given women’s apparel equal attention. Thankfully, the age of “shrink-it-and-pink-it” is getting further and further behind us and companies like Machines for Freedom are helping keep it that way. Dedicated to making high-performance (and quality) cycling apparel for women, their jerseys, bibs and shorts are a welcome sight for a growing demographic in the cycling industry.
I sat down (virtually) with Founder, Jennifer Kriske, to talk MFF, her riding history and women in the cycling industry as a whole.
It all started when…
Jenn started riding in the early 2010s and had a few years in the saddle when she realized that something needed to change. “I found out pretty quickly what was missing…that there was a huge gap when it came to clothing. It was probably my second year of riding when I started to train for bigger and bigger challenges and as those challenges got bigger I was like ‘these clothes are just not working for me’”.
While working with a bike fitter in LA, they did a lot of work to get her bike fit dialed but, issues persisted and there wasn’t a solution readily available on the market to meet her needs. “All the guys that I ride with had so many options and they’re not complaining about these types of things…it just seemed clear to me that no one is putting in the time and effort – which got me mad enough [to start a company]”.
The clothes available to her lacked on two fronts. Aesthetically, she just didn’t feel confident in them; functionally, they actually caused pain and injury, disrupting her training altogether. Cue Machines for Freedom.
Building a community
In the early days, Jenn figured out her rhythm. She worked on product development, sent comments to the factory and waited a few weeks until samples started arriving. During that wait, she started working on the community component of MFF. Admitting that being idle isn’t her strong suit, she used her downtime wisely – she rode her bike. Jenn shared that because L.A. is a sprawling city, many thought a tight-nit women’s cycling community just couldn’t be created. She’d join group rides, connect with one or two of the women that showed up, and eventually changed that perspective.
Jenn created “Bikes & Brunch” meet-up rides, inviting the women she connected with on past rides to join a community of women cyclists. With nearly twenty-five attendees at her first gathering, Jenn realized that the community could exist, it just took a little bit of work to make the connections.
Jenn shares “There’s a gap in the culture. I was probably as hardcore as they come – riding 20-25 hours a week – and I didn’t feel like I fit into the culture. I did a lot of solo miles and small group rides with friends [and] if someone has hardcore about the sport as I am is having trouble identifying, there’s a hole there in the story telling”. Thankfully, Jenn and MFF are filling that hole.
Today, MFF showcases riders at all different skill levels, “showing cycling from different vantage points” as Jenn calls it. While their story has always been focused on individuality, it also inspires and speaks to a need for adventure, whether through racing, a beach cruise or exploring cities. “We want to show different types of people on bikes [and] hopefully anybody can scroll through our feed and relate to our brand”. While their feed speaks to this, I personally appreciate their sizing guide video – it is, by far, one of the most true-to-inclusive-sizing videos I have watched.
Challenge past beliefs
MFF is challenging the idea that unless you look a certain way “you’re not hardcore, or your not athletic…or you’re not deserving of quality product”. “All cycles deserve to be comfortable and wear something that makes them feel good”, shares Jenn, and MFF is blowing the traditional perspective of womens’ cycling apparel out of the water in so many ways, including their recently launched “inclusive sizing”. While Jenn was once told not to bother making XL-sized apparel, she went a different route. Scrolling through their web shop, customers are more likely to find their perfect size, than not. Her product size demand is shifting, proving there are people of all different shapes and sizes riding bikes.
When asked about the audience/demographic of their followers and clients, Jenn excitedly shared that they want to break the archetype of the “cookie cutter” cyclist. Their apparel fits all shapes and sizes and they aren’t necessarily gendered. MFF isn’t “heavy-handed on the gender front because really, our brand is for everybody, except for the dudes – sorry!”, she shared, chuckling a little.
Words of wisdom
Finally, when asked to share some cycling tips with readers, Jenn boiled down her top three for us:
1. If you’re going to invest in cycling, invest in the shorts or bibs. It’s worth the money to splurge and buy something that is really going to work, because if you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to ride your bike.
2. Always carry zinc sticks for sun protection! Her wallet and zinc stick never leave her pocket.
3. Cycling caps are a must. They are the best solution to helmet hair when you get to where you’re going. Plus, they’re really cute and help hide the mark your helmet leaves in your forehead!
Jenn shared a lot of about the basis for MFF and her perspective of cycling. Particularly, I appreciated her sentiments on making cycling meaningful to you:
“The culture and the community can be really intimidating and a really hard place to fit into sometimes. I’ve been riding a bike for over a decade and I have trouble finding community on my own – but it’s really about doing it for yourself. There are so many different ways to enjoy being on a bike – dirt, trails, the beach, exploring the city – just figure out your mode and do it for yourself.”