My new Diverge
I’ve recently bought myself a new road bike with disc brakes. It won’t be replacing my beloved carbon road bikes (yes I have two of them) which have caliper brakes but it will suit another purpose – commuting to work, short trips here and there, and maybe even some off-road riding. I chose to buy the Specialized Diverge because it has the ‘go anywhere’ capability and while I’ve only ridden it once I’m already in love.
The hydraulic disc brakes are probably the biggest difference this bike has with my others so I thought it was worth a blog post to outline what the future might hold for disc brakes on road bikes. The disc brakes have a really firm feeling about them. By way of comparison my five year old road bike has Ultegra brakes, and my year old road bike has Dura Ace brakes, and the Dura Ace ones are significantly better than the old Ultegra brakes. The disc brakes feel just that bit more responsive and solid that the Dura Ace.
In my experience female riders are a little more risk averse than their male counterparts, particularly on long descents, so I think disc brakes on road bikes are going to suit a lot of female road riders.
Me in action on a previous 100 km plus ride
I’ve signed up to do the Cadel Evan’s ride in late January next year, a mere eight or so weeks away so I really need to start focusing on my training. I’ve done a few long rides in the past including the JDRF Barossa ride which is 160 km, and Melbourne’s Around the Bay which is 210 km, so I know I can ride the 111 km I’ll be required to complete. But I know I’ll enjoy the ride a lot more if I undertake sufficient training.
I also know that after the Cadel ride I’ve also got a few other 100 km plus rides early in 2016 which I’m committed to ride, so the training won’t be a once off. It’s a great incentive for me to get really focused on my fitness and even my riding skills.
From my past experience I know there’s a few things you should do to prepare. Here’s my tips:
Velocio wind vest
When I started riding a road bike seven years ago, I bought the bare minimum of gear and headed off for my weekly ride. I soon caught the bug, and started to buy more gear, but it took me a few years to settle on the items that I couldn’t really live without. So I thought it would be helpful to share my road bike riding essentials with other women to shortcut the process for others.
The main thing I would stress is that there’s no substitute for a quality product and although the initial investment might seem a bit much, quality items last longer and are so much nicer to use and look at, so don’t be tempted to buy the cheapest gear you find.
Here’s five items that I would strongly recommend all female road cyclists should invest in:
I wear base layers in both summer and winter. In winter my thermal base layers keep me warm and stop that cold wind from cutting through. In summer they help regulate body temperature because the base layer wicks sweat away from my skin, keeping me dry. In hotter weather I have sleeveless base layers but on cooler days I wear short-sleeve base layers which meet up with my arm warmers providing a barrier against the cold. There are plenty of companies that make women’s base layers which are the right shape for women and this is important because they are designed to be very fitted. The brands in my draw include Odlo, Craft and Giordana.
Image courtesy of Specialized
Last year Cycling Australia undertook some research where they spoke to about 2,500 female cyclists who were either members of Cycling Australia, and therefore a cycling club, or keen leisure road cyclists. In this research the women who responded identified the majority of their riding is completed alone, but there was a clear desire for riding with other women of similar ability levels.
I remember reading that at the time and feeling a little sad, and hoping that the sort of activities I get involved in like the Cycling NSW Women’s Commission will help over time. I’m really pleased to say that there seems to be an increase in the number of activities for these keen female road cyclists like me. Here’s a short list of events that I’m aware of, and it would be great if you’re reading this if you share other events that you know about. My list are all Australian women’s events but feel free to share international ones as well.
To me, riding a road bike is one of life’s great pleasures and you don’t have to miss out just because you’re short. I’m a relatively short woman at 160 cm (5 foot 3 inches) but I’ve met quite a few female road cyclists who are shorter than me, and one of them mentioned to me that she, and other short stature women have trouble finding bikes to ‘fit’.
From my perspective the women’s specific bike becomes more important the shorter you are, so women who measure in at 5 foot or below should really consider a women’s specific bike. Thankfully plenty of bike manufacturers have responded to the short end of the market and many produce extra small road bikes.
To give you an idea of the sizing Specialized produces a sizing chart which suggests that a 44 cm Dolce, Ruby, Alias or Amira (the women’s specific road bike models) will suit a women who is 143-152 cm or 4”8’ to 5”0’.
I’ve done a bit of research and here’s a list of women’s specific bikes I’ve found in this nice compact size. This list is not exhaustive but will give you an idea of the bike manufacturers who are committed to making bikes for shorter women.
Every time I read a survey of female bike riders, they say that one of the greatest barriers for women to ride is road safety, and as a woman who’s been riding a road bike for seven years in Sydney I don’t really blame them.
I was lucky enough to spend 10 weeks in Europe on holidays this year and spent some of that time riding my road bike on the country and city roads in Holland, France, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. I can honestly say that I was not abused once by an impatient driver. Every one was courteous and welcoming of cyclists. I felt safe every time I rode my bike.
Back home in Sydney I regularly feel unsafe and quite often get abused by impatient drivers who think they are the only road users allowed on our suburban streets.
But there are changes afoot in Australia thanks to some fantastic advocacy groups like The Amy Gillett Foundation, Bicycle Network, Bicycle NSW and others.
I’m a huge fan of continuous improvement and lifelong learning and these principles apply to developing bike skills for both women and men. One skill which many female cyclists struggle with is descending. I think it’s because we are fairly risk averse and when we feel like our bikes are going too fast the temptation is to grab the brakes. I know I’ve still got a long way to go with my own descending skills so I’ve done a bit of research and borrowed from experts to bring these descending tips together.
To start, familiarise yourself with the condition of the road surface by riding up the hill. Look for loose gravel on the shoulders, potholes or cracks on the road surface. Look also at the radius of the turns – do they follow a continuous arc, or do they become sharper during the middle of the turn? Are there sections that suddenly become steeper?
I was really interested to read over the weekend about a new women’s international cycling initiative called Strongher. I must admit that when I first saw the name I thought it was some sort of weird European spelling for the word ‘Stronger’, but on my second attempt I realised it was the combination of ‘Strong’ and ‘Her’ which is quite clever.
The founders of the movement, aiming to “give women a stage to show themselves”, are a large bunch of female professional cyclists. It was launched in London over the weekend by professional cyclists Marianne Vos, Hannah Barnes, Lauren Kitchen, Manon Carpenter, Marijn de Vries, Lucinda Brand, Juliet Elliott and Rebecca Charlton.
They describe it as a unique international movement with the impressive title of “Strongher, The Stage for Women Who Ride” with the goals of the continued development of women’s cycling, giving women a stage to show themselves and getting more women on bikes.
Last week I watched a fascinating episode of the ABC TV program catalyst which was all about interval training and the mitochondria in our cells. It wasn’t specifically about cycling, more about exercise in general and how it can benefit our bodies as we age. But I think it has huge implications for cyclists and the way we choose to train. It certainly supports the idea that interval training can play a huge role in exercise programs.
Here’s an extract from the program, you can read the whole transcript of it here:
Why do we lose energy as we grow older? Why are some of us prone to disease? Why do our bodies deteriorate with age? The answers to some of the most intriguing questions about life may be found in parts of our body a billion times smaller than a grain of sand. Mitochondria.
Mitochondria are critical for health. The more mitochondria you have, the lower your risk for developing many chronic diseases.
A couple of weeks ago a good friend of mine sent me a distressed message via text to tell me she’d been attacked by a couple of magpies on her morning ride and come off the bike, injuring herself and damaging her stead. And since her story I’ve heard quite a few tales of woe about bird attacks so I thought I should tackle this topic again.
Native birds such as Australian Magpies are highly protective of their eggs, nest and young and will often swoop at unsuspecting passers-by if they feel threatened. Other native Australian birds that are also common culprits include butcherbirds, kookaburras and plovers, but even invasive species like Indian Mynas can attack at this time of year. Magpies seem to cop the majority of the blame but from my experience butcherbirds are more vicious.
Only a small proportion of birds swoop on people and these often have a preference for a few individuals that the birds recognise or certain types of ‘targets’ like cyclists. A magpie will only defend its nest within a ‘defence zone’. For cyclists, this is usually an area within 150 metres.