If you take up riding in your 30s or 40s as many of us do, one area you need to focus on if you want to advance, is to learn some bike skills. As children most of us rode a bike, but the majority of us were not formally taught, so we didn’t have the chance to learn any bike skills and this particularly applies to women.
In my experience in meeting many female cyclists, women tend to approach cycling quite differently to men. Although many of us rode bikes as kids we usually did a few laps around the neighbourhood and didn’t jump off gutters, perform wheel stands or other daredevil acts like our male counterparts.
The good news is that it’s easy to improve your bike skills. Here’s a few tips on how to improve your skills in areas like cornering, pedalling, safe braking, descending, climbing, riding in a bunch and more.
The LACC Women’s bunch ride
I’m often guilty of not promoting the good stuff I’m involved in, partly because I’m not good at self promotion and partly because like the car mechanic who doesn’t look after their own car, I’m a comms person who fails to communicate about the things I’m heavily involved with.
So to rectify this I’m going to tell you about a great pilot program from Cycling NSW that I am playing a small part in.
Jacqui Bogue, who is a member of the Board of Cycling NSW and the Chair of the CNSW Women’s Commission approached me late last year about a pilot program of women’s bunch rides run by Sydney cycling clubs. She was approaching all clubs to ask them to be involved and I readily agreed.
I’m a member of Lidcombe-Auburn Cycling Club (LACC) and the team coordinator of our women’s squad, and while I don’t do much racing I work behind the scenes, and I’m really keen to get inexperienced female cyclists involved.
The women of KPCC
Joining a cycling club is a great way to meet other cyclists and to step up from being a ‘Sunday’ recreational cyclist to that next level. Traditionally they have been primarily focused on racing rather than just riding but they are beginning to reinvent themselves as the popularity of cycling grows to accommodate riders who don’t necessarily want to race, and to welcome women who have not always been attracted to clubs.
When you join a cycling club in Australia you are actually signing up as a member of Cycling Australia which gives you a number of other benefits including public liability and personal accident insurance. On the Cycling Australia website under membership you can search cycling clubs in your area within a 5 km, 10 km, 25 km or 100 km radius, giving you a good shortlist depending on how far afield you are willing to go.
Once you have a shortlist you need to decide what your priorities are to find out what each club can offer you. You could consider criteria like location, whether skills training is offered, what training rides are available, the number of female members and the support given to female riders, racing opportunities for women, and of course what social activities are included.
One of my personal mandates for this blog is to promote women’s cycling at all levels so this week it’s the top ends turn. Recently I caught up with Megan O’Neill Johnston who the Assistant Manager and Head Soigneur for the Canberra-based Suzuki Brumby’s women’s cycling team who had some very interesting insights into how a cycling team runs…..
Q: How long has the team been going?
Suzuki Brumby’s is a Canberra based team that started in 2008 and originally fielded both a men’s and women’s National Road Series (NRS) team, however in 2014 we are an all-female affair.
Q: How many members do you currently have?
We currently have 9 cyclists in the team; 7 who are based in Canberra, 1 in Victoria and 1 in NSW. We are all really close, not only as team mates, but as friends and I think this contributes significantly to the success and character of the team. There is a lot of comradeship and support for each other which I think is imperative in such a mentally tough sport.
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.
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’.
I first heard about the Adelaide-based women only cycling club, The Skinny Lattes a couple of years ago but it wasn’t until now that I made contact. I previously profiled a women’s only club based in Austin, Texas in the US, a country where I’m sure there are plenty of women’s only clubs. However, The Skinny Lattes is the only one I’m aware of in Australia (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about that). I recently caught up with Belinda Bramley who is the Club Secretary and one of the founding members.
When was the Skinny Lattes formed?
The Skinny Lattes Cycling Club was formed in 2002 by three girlfriends Felicity Laing, Lynette Collins and Belinda Bramley who recognised a need for a women’s specific cycling group.
How many members do you have? How do you join?
Currently we have 90 members. We don’t search for members – they find us. You contact the club via the website, and then we chat with potential new members and if we sound like the right club you join via the Cycling Australia Website.
When I first started riding about five years ago, I was terrified at the idea of riding in a group of people. Every time someone rode close to me I’d move as far away as a could, but over time I’ve grown used to riding in closer proximity to others. In fact, I’ve noticed that the more experienced the other riders are, the closer they are likely to ride beside you, and on the whole this is pretty safe.
So I thought it would be useful to share a few things I’ve learned. This is not a definitive guide and I’m sure there are others both in Australia and around the world who do it differently but these tips will help get you going.
My photograph of Anna at Dunc Grey Velodrome
I was lucky enough to catch up with the amazing Anna Meares via email for an interview. I find Anna very inspiring and have been lucky enough to see her race a couple of times at the velodrome in Sydney.
Q: My Sydney Cycling Club, Lidcombe Auburn Cycle Club (LACC) has a girls’ development squad called the Pixies. They ride and race both track and road and range in age from about six to 13. What words of wisdom could you offer them?
A: I have heard of the Pixies (very cute little group and cute name). My advice would be to have fun, enjoy the sport, enjoy the company of old friends and new friends because these will be memories that last you a lifetime.
Q: At what age did you switch from ‘having fun’ racing and riding your bike to ‘serious’ training? How old were you when you found your first coach?
A: I was 13 when I found my first coach in Ken Tucker in Rockhampton. I probably went from having fun to serious when I was 16 years old.