If you’ve ever been to watch a track cycling event you’ve probably watched a very unusual race called the Keirin. I’ve always enjoyed it and for a number of years I’ve been aware that it’s a big sport in Japan where it was developed. Men’s Keirin racing is very popular but women are also involved and it’s growing. Here’s a few insights based on some research I undertook:
Keirin is a track cycling race where between six to nine riders race over about 2 km around a velodrome. It is a relatively new Olympic event, first raced by the men in 2000 and the women in 2012. Keirin has been a big part of Japanese culture since it was introduced in 1948 as an initiative to rebuild after the war. The race starts with a pace setter (typically a motorised “derny”) who starts slowly but gradually increases the speed until peeling off with about 600 or 700 metres left to race. Usually the riders are travelling at about 50 km/hour by this point and have hopefully manoeuvered into their favoured position. Once the “derny” is gone the race is in full flight and the riders fight to take line honours.
The women follow international competition rules in Japan to keep things safer: while the men are renowned for shoulder barging and head butting through their racing, Girl’s Keirin is a bit more ladylike. The women use colourful disc wheels and tri-spokes provided by the JKA –the same colour wheels as the lane colour they draw.
A couple of weeks ago I was doing some research for an article I’m writing about cycling clubs that support women for Bicycling Australia magazine, and I came across a Brisbane cycling club that’s attracting lots of women to its ranks, and working hard to support them.
Kangaroo Point Cycling Club (KPCC) which might sound like it has a semi-rural bush setting is in fact based in Brisbane’s inner suburbs and has been around since 1905. It currently has over 200 members and about a quarter of them are women.
I had a chat via email with Club Co-Captain Alix Everton about the great work she and other women (and men) are doing at KPCC.
Q: Do you run any female only rides or other activities for female riders?
Yes, we have our very popular Women Only Weekdays – rides run by women, for women, with ‘no boys allowed’. These rides are always kept at a social pace where nobody gets left behind, so that all experience and ability levels are catered for. Since we started running these rides nearly a year ago, we have developed a consistent core group of ladies who turn up, and have new women coming along to try it out nearly every week. This ride helps our club to reduce barriers to female participation by providing a welcoming, non-threatening, non-competitive cycling environment.
Cyclocross is a relatively new event on the Australian cycling calendar but it’s actually been around in other countries for many years.
Some describe it as a combination of mountain biking, road cycling and criterium racing into one challenging event. Most races last for 30 minutes to an hour on a closed, twisty circuit of 2.5 to 3.5 km. The course surfaces consist of pavement, grass, dirt and sand peppered with obstacles, such as steps and barriers. Participants must conquer these by rapidly dismounting and carrying their bikes while running, then remounting on the fly. Aerobic endurance, bike handling skills and even tyre pressure are key factors in achieving victory. The messy conditions brought on by variable winter weather often make for a slippery mudfest, as documented in countless images like this one.
Special bicycles used for cross racing draw on characteristics of other cycling sports. Like road bikes, cross bikes are lightweight with drop handlebars and skinny tyres. But, as with mountain bikes, the tires are knobby for traction to grind up hills, the frames are stronger, and cantilever brakes are standard issue. (The UCI recently sanctioned disc brakes.) The bottom bracket, fork and seat stay clearance are more generous to contend with muck and debris on the course. Not everyone who participates in the sport has a dedicated cross bike, but those who get into the sport, will usually buy a dedicated bike.
Last week Cycling Australia (CA) released the results of a some research they conducted last year with female cyclists in Australia. They surveyed two groups – Cycling Australia members, and non-members who were active riders. The results were not really surprising for me, because as one of the 2,400 respondents I think I have a reasonable handle on the women’s road cycling scene in Australia. However I think the research is great for bike industry and anyone working with female road cyclists, plus it provides a benchmark for future research.
You can read the full report from Cycling Australia here. It’s not overly long but if you want a quick summary, here’s my take:
The top three challenges to riding for the majority of respondents is feeling unsafe on the road, work commitments and lack of time.
Unsurprisingly the issue of safety was high on the agenda and a deterrent for women not riding as often as they would, if they felt safer. 55 per cent of respondents said they don’t have access to safe on-road facilities. Many also said that if they had access to safer bike lanes and off-road pathways they would ride more often.
I read a great article in The Guardian online today about an Italian female cyclist named Alfonsina Strada who rode the 3,613 km Giro d’Italia way back in 1924. She’s the only woman who’s ever ridden one of the grand tours alongside the men. Here’s my abridged version of her story.
Alfonsina was born in northern Italy in the late 1800s and won her first bike race at the age of 13, winning a live pig. When she was 24 she married Luigi Strada, who give her a new racing bike as a wedding present. The couple moved to Milan, where Alfonsina rode on the velodrome and Luigi acted as her trainer.
Her ride in the Giro d’Italia came about through a disagreement between the organiser, Emilio Colombo and the top riders of the day. The riders refused to take part so Colombo offered places to whoever wanted to ride. Gazzetta dello Sport promised to pay their bills, their hotels and their food. It offered places for 90 riders and promised 600 chickens, 750 kg of other meat, 4,800 bananas and 720 eggs. But there would be no managers, no masseurs, no mechanics and no team cars.
Alfonsina entered as “Strada, Alfonsin.” The absence of a final “o” or “a” to her first name hid whether she was a man or a woman. She was accepted as number 72 and, assuming her to be a man, journalists began writing of Alfonsino. The truth emerged the day before the start and by then it was too late.
A couple of months ago I wrote about 2014 being a very big year for professional women’s cycling. One part of that big year is the Women’s Tour of Britain, a five stage women’s road race which starts tomorrow (7 May 2014) in the small township of Oundle in the east of England.
And I’m pleased to say it’s shaping up to be a bigger deal for the women’s pro peleton than many had expected.
It’s attracted all the major women’s teams and many of their top riders including multiple world champion Marianne Vos who will lead her Liv Giant squad. Australian riders include Shara Gillow, Nettie Edmondson and Australian champion Gracie Elvin riding for Orica-AIS; Chloe Hosking for Hitec Products; Tiffany Cromwell for Specialized-Lululemon; Amy Cure for Lotto-Belisol; and Peta Mullens as a late inclusion for Wiggle-Honda.
You can read more about the race in an excellent article written by Tim Renowden for The Roar, an online sports news site.
The Race Director Mick Bennett also predicts that it’s an important event for women’s cycling, he says in the Race Manual “Welcome to the 2014 Women’s Tour – the first edition of what we hope and believe will be a cycling event that sets new standards for the fair and equal treatment of women cyclists not only in Great Britain but the world.”
I’ve recently started working with a coach. It’s the first time I’ve used a coach and it’s come about because I’m involved with my cycling club’s women’s team. I don’t really consider myself to be a fully fledged member of the racing team but I decided as one of the key administrators of the team, I’d step up and try a bit more racing this year.
Stages Power Meter
Set a goal
So if you ‘re interested in stepping up and either developing your own training program or working with a coach you need to set yourself a goal. Without a specific goal you might as well just continue to be a keen recreational cyclist. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but if you’re serious about training you need to know where you are heading.
Don’t make it so easy that you’ll achieve it in the first month, make it a challenge. And make sure it’s specific like, “I’m going to research all the cycling clubs in my area, join up and try my first race by the middle of this year”. Or it could be that “I’m going to participate in a timed ride like the Amy Gillett Gran Fondo in September 2014”.
My main goal is to improve my time in my Club Championship Individual Time Trial in July. I have all the stats from my first two attempts so I’ll be able to easily measure if there’s an improvement.
On my way
I’ve just returned from an excellent weekend of cycling in the NSW central west town of Bathurst. Bathurst holds a special place in my memories because I attended University there some years ago just after I left school so it’s always a pleasure to go back for a nostalgic visit.
Every year Bathurst Cycling Club and Cycling NSW host a great weekend attended by lots of locals and plenty of Sydney cyclists who want to challenge themselves and breathe in some good country air.
There are three events included in the weekend – the NSW Hill Climb Championship, Bathurst Criterium Races and the Blayney to Bathurst race/ride (B2B), a Sportif rather than a race for most of us, which for the uninitiated is a ‘timed event’.
Cornering is one of those fundamental skills you really need to perfect if you’re going to be a good bike rider. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert but my cornering technique has really improved over the years. This has been through watching other riders with superior handling skills to mine, listening to advice, attending skills sessions and practicing what I learnt.
I’m a pretty risk averse person so when I started out on a road bike I used to rely heavily on my brakes every time I went around a corner. Over time I learned that for a vast majority of corners you don’t need to, and shouldn’t brake at all. You might wash off speed before you reach a corner, but you don’t actually brake as you turn.
Women are generally more cautious than men when it comes to anything that involves physical activity and we need lots of a encouragement before we become proficient at something.So here’s my tips learnt from various people and a bit of research.
A few months ago I was lucky enough to meet up with Kristy Scrymgeour who is the owner and manager of the women’s pro team Specialized-lululemon. Kristy was in Sydney enjoying her annual pilgrimage to her parents’ beachside home. I originally wrote this article for a UK website which they published but buried a bit in another article so I thought I’d share it again………….
Kristy Scrymgeour, despite living in Europe and the US for many years is still very much an Aussie girl at heart. She’s humble, and despite being fairly softly-spoken she gets fired up when she talks about her involvement in women’s cycling.
Like most Aussie kids she rode a bike as a child around her home in Sydney’s southern suburbs, but didn’t think of cycling as a serious sport until she reached university. Her opportunity came when the University cycling team was looking for an extra team member to race at the University Games and she rather bullishly put her hand up. She was studying science teaching at the University of Sydney and had only recently started cycling, after her boyfriend at the time gave her a second hand bike to ride.