The stark gender divide is very noticeable in every aspect of the world and unfortunately, cycling is a part of that list too. Women, in general, are afflictions of the male dominance and the cycling world is no different. While men have it easy, with the biking world coming up with modified versions of everything, and open discussions to head off their queries, women tend to go through the ordeal of finding the perfect shorts, the most comfortable saddle type, and scrolling through myriads of forums to gain answers to their questions. While not trying to make this article an anti-men issue, we have taken up the task of providing something that every female cyclist needs – Cycling Tips for Women!
Breaking down all the important information you would need as a female cyclist, all into one handy read (You can totally thank us at the end). We want more women out there, and we figured, what better way than to provide the basic essentials which might be the prod that most women out there need – a prod in the right direction.
Table of Content:
- Get a Bike That Fits
- A Comfortable Saddle – Your Throne to Mount
- Getting the Angle Correct
- A Good Riding Posture
- Dressing for the Occasion
- Top Off the Outfit with Good Shoes
- Do it Yourself – Bike Maintenance
- Few Less Intensive Cycling Tips for Women
- Summing Up
There’s nothing like getting onto your bike, out in the fresh air to put you in a good mood and improve your general well-being. Cycling works out your abs, gets your heart pumping, raising your metabolic rate which is great at burning up those calories. Did you know that moderate pedal pushing can burn up to 500 calories/hour, way more than swimming or walking? So, whether you’re riding your bike with friends, getting around for errands, riding to work, is all an ideal way to keep fit and healthy.
Among the various concerns about cycling that crop up among women are safety issues, age issues, a lack of fitness and a range of points addressing appearance. The old saying that you never forget to ride a bike stands true, but what nobody also considers that you need to build to your information base and make informed choices when riding the bike. Well, below we have some cycling tips for women to help you:
Get a Bike That Fits
Now this is one of the most obvious (but most ignored) cycling tips for women. Bikes are personal, which means it’s a gamble before you find the right bike for you. No matter how long you intend spending on your bike, it’s imperative to choose one that suits you, since everyone has a different style of riding. Apart from the obvious physical difference between a man and a woman, men carry their centre of gravity higher up in their torso, women carry theirs in their lower back. So, if you think you’ll be riding similarly positioned, you are mistaken. Riding an ill-fitted bike to your style will lead to shoulder and neck pain down the line.
As women on an average have longer limbs and a shorter torso, the frames for women tend to be shorter as well. This means that there is less reach between the handlebars and the saddle, avoiding the uncomfortable ‘superman’ position. The classic cycle frame has a bit of a dropped crossbar. Some cycles have the crossbar so low so as to enable stepping through the frame, which makes it practical if you’re riding in a dress or a skirt. Many cycles also have a shorter reach to the brake levers and gear shifters, to make-up for riders with slightly smaller hands. Getting the frame right would depend heavily on the kind of bike you want and the type of riding you’ll be actually doing. For instance, you’ll be glad to sport a frame that provides a clearance of the crossbar of minimum two or more centimetres, if you need to stop quickly or suddenly.
Visit a proper cycle store and ask questions, maybe one that even specializes in women’s cycling and fit, as there is so experience one can gain from there. It’s normal for them to let you test-ride their bikes, testing out the frame size. Also, reputable stores will help you out with the specifics such as pedal-power, the saddle tilt and height, the handlebars etc. which are adjustable.
A Comfortable Saddle – Your Throne to Mount
It’s pretty clear that you need to have a decent saddle since it’s where you will be seated for all of your biking time. Again, it’s all about a personal fit. Female-oriented saddles are traditionally known to be wider at the back and narrower at the front, and should completely support your posterior.
What you need to be ensuring whilst testing out saddles, is that the two ‘sit bones’, which are the basis of support for your body when you sit, do not go over the sides of the saddle (whilst protecting sensitive areas) as this would lead to discomfort. Saddle soreness one of the leading complaints amongst women who ride – and trust us, you do not want to get there.
There are a few stores that carry saddle fit cushions made up of memory foam. The memory foam helps in measuring the distance between your sit bones to get the right model of the saddle for yourself. There are also a few manufacturers who have some standardized demos that you can test run before settling on one that suits you.
Opting for an extra wide saddle might be a good idea initially but after long rides, you’ll notice unpleasant chaffing on your inner thighs, so don’t believe it so easily if someone tells you that as a lady you need a wide saddle, especially if you have a bigger build. Cutaway or anatomic saddles with a hole carved out in the middle to hit the list of favourites, since they relieve pressure on the affected (frontal) area, but could backfire by redistributing the pain to the sides causing labial numbness, so you might want to be aware of that. Forked saddles, generally targeted at men, are also a number to consider since the two arms of the saddle front flex and rotate as the rider pedals.
Getting the Angle Correct
While finding the correct saddle for yourself is an individual trial and error process, the setting of the saddle angle can be just as imperative. Many wouldn’t even realize that the angle is out unless it’s an extreme case of sliding forward or backward while riding, but why wait for that to happen to tell you that something’s not right.
A tilted down saddle nose means at the nose of your saddle is lower than the back, causing your pelvis to tilt and your hips to slide towards the front of the saddle. Compensating for this position you will end up exerting more than the required pressure on the pedals leading to painful knees. Since you’ll be seated on the narrowest part of the seat, there is barely any support causing pressure to build and numbness to spread to the most intimate of parts. This saddle angle would also cause you to be pushed forward to the handlebars, leading your forearms and hands to bear the brunt of the additional weight.
An upward tilted saddle nose will lead to you sloping backward. Since your pelvis will be angled backward, it will cause a pressure build-up in your lower back. Due to a ‘perched’ position, you’re going to end up overreaching for the handlebars leading to shoulder pain and a crick in the neck.
So, when you are adjusting your saddle angle your goal is a flat saddle. A neutral angle means you will be seated in the middle portion and not sliding off to the front or the back. It’s alright if you need to allow for a bit of a tilt, but if you find yourself not comfortable either way, you should consider changing the type of saddle.
A Good Riding Posture
While talking about cycling tips for women, your riding posture is something should never be ignored. Post achieving a professional bike fitting, the proper body position is the next go-to factor for determining any pain whilst cycling. While it may seem like basic skill and not a concept in itself, it’s easy to note the way cyclists’ slump into bad riding positions – maintaining a relaxed and balanced body position is something that even experienced riders wrestle with, not to mention the frustration it causes in novice riders. Just a simple tactic of relaxing your shoulders is an escape from a pesky neck pain on the next day.
The neutral riding position begins with your head culminating at your feet.
Unclench your shoulders to bring them down and away from your ears. You’ll notice that they mostly tend to creep up again if you are pushing hard on a climb. Lowering and relaxing them will loosen your head and neck up, enabling you to turn and check for traffic etc. and keeps you more aware.
Ride with relaxed and bent elbows, which allow your arms to behave like suspensions and absorb the impact should you ride over a bump or hit a pothole on the road. Such a position will also reduce the pressure in your hands and the strain on your shoulders. However, do not make the mistake of keeping a bend in your wrists. Instead, keep a straight line between your elbow and fingers. If doing this proves a level of difficulty, check for a bike setup issue and visit a bike fitter to confer about the hood position and brake lever.
Adopt a neutral spine posture. This means your back should be relaxed maintaining a relatively straight line between your shoulders and your hips. To check if you are maintaining this position, ask yourself if your core is engaged. If your abdominal muscles aren’t doing the work for you, it means your shoulders, hands and even parts of your crotch are taking on the pressure.
Check that your knees aren’t bowing out to the side while riding. Instead, your knee should be tracking right over the ball of your foot or the pedal.
Whilst riding, occasionally check your body position to ensure you haven’t slouched back to bad habits.
Dressing for the Occasion
There’s a whole fashion range of cycling clothes available, in the most dazzling of colours and variety of fabrics, right from the ‘easy-on-the-pocket’ kind to the ‘burn-a-hole-in-the-pocket’ kind. While heavily padded saddles are available, they aren’t that beneficial for long rides, which is why we suggest…yes, you got that right…the uber unattractive but super comfortable padded shorts. The Chamois is what the padding on the inside is, and the higher the quality of this chamois, the better the levels of comfort. (It does not necessarily mean higher the expense!)
Another tip is, with the women padded cycling shorts, you might want to skip the underwear. While it might seem like a good idea to put as many layers between you and the seat, all that does is cause unnecessary bunching which will lead to chaffing and soreness in the nether regions. Find good quality padded shorts that you’re the most comfortable and stock up if you’re a regular rider. Either way, have a couple of changes around the house. Sweaty bike shorts and spending unnecessary non-biking time in them is an invitation to breeding infections. Go ‘commando’ after a long ride to ‘air things out’.
Top Off the Outfit with Good Shoes
Yes, you own a pair of trainers which should be good enough, but, no, they aren’t as suitable as a decent pair of cycling shoes. Cycling shoes have a rigid sole providing a decent stable platform for your foot, trainers allow too much flexibility which could cause problems not only in your foot but your leg and hips too. Selecting cycling shoes for women is to know which category of shoe you will need and then judge the different kinds of models available for that category before making a decision. While standing in a store to pick out one won’t really help determine the performance of the shoe, you should at least check out the fit and comfort before settling on a kind. If store shopping could be that tedious, it’s safe to say that online shopping without a chance to even TRY on the shoe is a big No-No.
You could also consider cleats. These work in combination with clipless pedals – a concept very different from toe-clips. It might take you a while to get the hang of them, but they’re make cycling efficient, easier and therefore, more enjoyable. For when you are contemplating the best shoes for cycling without clips, you need to look for sole stiffness (soles which do not push over the edge when you pedal), made of breathable yet waterproof material (most uppers are made up of synthetic materials or leather), Velcro and/or ratchet style buckles (as laces could be annoying and also a bit hazardous).
Do it Yourself – Bike Maintenance
Moving on to things that will keep your bike happy – maintenance and upkeep. While you don’t need to be fully equipped with all the tools to do this, you could always have a favourite handy shop nearby for your bike’s regular check-ups. Also preferably take a cycle course to learn the necessary pointers about your bike.
Regularly clean and oil your bike chain, maintain tyre pressures and have mudguards handy for those wet weather days. Also, a helpful pointer is learning to care for the minor things on your own, like fixing a blown tyre – you might not always be near a cycle shop or a garage to have someone else take care of it and that’s when you’ll thank your stars that you learnt how to mend a puncture! Make sure to have a repair kit and some basic tools at hand in case of emergencies. Worst case scenario at least you have the tools, to enable a friendly stranger to fix your bike.
Knowing more about your bike will help you maintain it better so read up on your bike’s anatomy.
Few Less Intensive Cycling Tips for Women
Cycling Community – Make it an Interactive Sport
Try joining a Club, a social outlet for people who enjoy cycling together at different speeds and levels and it’s not all about just the racing. Look out for other women that you could cycle with, especially if you could join experience cyclists, it could be really beneficial as it could up your own levels. You could also sign up for an organized event, where your fellow riders won’t solely be women.
Another option is a skills clinic which is a great opportunity to build your confidence, up your ability levels and make friends with new riding buddies too. In cycling friendly areas you might also come across something known as a ‘No Drop Ride’ often scheduled by bike shops or cycling clubs, wherein the riders would re-group post the challenge or even after hills so that no one rider is completely left behind.
Utilize Online Forums
Online forums or chat rooms are a great way of learning from others’ experiences. Don’t’ only head down to one when you have a query yourself, but indulge a bit in the chat history and older post discussions. Who knows, your query might already be answered and few other questions more that you never even thought to ask.
Refuelling during the Ride
The term ‘bonking’ refers to running out of your carb stores, leaving you feeling empty and shiverish. This is not a stage you want to reach whilst riding hence it’s absolutely necessary to keep up blood glucose to supply energy to the muscles at work and this is achieved by levelling up your carbohydrate/muscle glycogen levels.
With the facility of accessories such as training pouches, it’s easy to carry snacks with you. Your goal is between 30 grams – 60 grams for an hour, varying with the intensity of your ride. 30 grams can be easily found in a large banana, a small handful of jellied sweets, a large cereal bar or an energy bar, a 500ml bottle of commercial sports drinks etc.
A Woman Cyclist Body
Among the various concerns that have affected women’s cycling is a particular body image – the woman/female cyclist body that is expected to be sported. A common occurrence is the female athlete’s appearance being commented upon – either with debauched admiration and jealousy or (the more often) criticism. Female cyclist’s legs are the definition of built-up muscle and a sign of endurance, yet they are an image both feared and coveted. There are many who have been struck down by the paradox of bicycle fitness. The best of weight to strength ration would mean the best at cycling uphill, but heavier cyclists make it downhill much faster. As for flat roads being light has no effect whatsoever. There isn’t any ‘hard-and-fast’ ideal body type for cycling, the sport being more forgiving in terms of weight, height and age.
Looking at a stereotypical image of a cyclist means a skinny upper body with muscular legs. With regards to cycling as a sport, what’s important to be a successful rider is your power to weight ratio. Getting technical, women have a lower total mass of haemoglobin in their blood. Low haemoglobin means less capacity to transport blood oxygen present in the blood, combined with the ability of the heart to pump that blood and the muscles’ ability to draw out the oxygen from it effects levels of endurance.
Another aspect is that men, in general, have heavier bones and more muscles whereas women have more body fat. For a female cyclist/athlete body fat is important since low body fat would risk their bone health. But the positive side to having proportionally more fat means you can go for a longer time period on lesser fuel since fats burn slower than carbs.
Another aspect where a woman cyclist body is coming out as advantageous is being aerodynamic – owing to a typically smaller body frame of course. And to add the cherry on the top competitiveness and mental strength is a main driving force, where clearly women have an edge.
But, all said and done, experience and training are higher rungs of the ladder to successful cycling than your body. Whether you are getting serious about the sport or just taking up cycling don’t let such a factor discourage you.
Carb Cycling for Women
What is carb cycling? It is a concept where you alternate the periods of eating low and high carbohydrate content in your diet. For instance, for five days you’ll stick to eating low carbs and the next two days you’ll eat more moderate carbs.
So the working behind this is that it optimizes your body’s metabolic needs. When you are in a low carb period, the body’s insulin sensitivity gets sharpened, producing glucagon to help you burn fat and hence become metabolically streamlined. However persistent low carb diet will lead to a drop in your thyroid hormone levels, worsening your insulin sensitivity to worsen and lead to weight gain instead of loss. Therefore, mostly eat low carbs but make sure to be deliberate in adding carbohydrates often.
For most women it’s important to have a consistent intake of carbohydrates especially:
- Those with delicate hormonal systems
- Those who are pregnant, trying to conceive or are nursing.
- Those who suffer from thyroid issues
- Those who are recuperating from hypothalamic amenorrhea
- Those who suffer from mood issues
- Carb cycling is a real and an effective concept for fitness and loss of weight if and when used correctly.
While the above given cycling tips for women will help you while cycling, it is also important to be safe while riding.
The idea behind all this is to encourage more women into cycling whether professionally or recreationally. It’s time to open up the cycling industry and prove it isn’t just a man’s world out there. The easiest way to get women cycling is to show them how.
So, equipped with all these handy cycling tips for women, all there is left to do is head on out and put it all to work. Your saddle awaits you, hop on and ride away…