I originally wrote a blog post about commuting by bike last year, and at the time I didn’t commute, and had no intention of commuting, not in the job I was in at the time. But of course circumstances change and I’ve now joined the army of people taking to the roads to get to and from work.
Women tend to approach cycling differently to men (please excuse the stereotyping) and that includes bike commuting. A lot of men treat commuting like a race and constantly attempt to outdo their previous times and those of other riders. Women however, tend to treat it more like a practical way to get to work and are more focused on safety than speed. So naturally women have a few ‘special’ requirements.
To me it’s all in the planning. Here’s a few tips I’ve compiled to get you started.
One of the major topics amongst my riding friends in the last few weeks at the post-ride café visit, has been aggressive birds. Spring has definitely sprung in my neighbourhood and birds are out in force defending their young.
Thankfully my bird attacks have been uneventful where I’ve heard a click noise on my helmet and been aware of an anonymous object nearby, but a few of my friends have not been so lucky. One of them had a butcherbird attack him on Saturday morning and draw blood on his cheek. Another was attacked by an aggressive magpie last week while visiting an area where he doesn’t normally ride. Both of them stayed calm and managed to stay upright but many are not so lucky.
These stories have prompted me to do some research and put a list of facts and tips together.
Tina McCarthy is changing women’s lives by getting as many of them riding bikes confidently. She has a Melbourne-based business called Wheel Women and focuses on social and recreational female cyclists. Tina contacted me a while back and we’ve kept in touch. I’m very impressed with her enthusiasm and passion. Women Who Cycle asked her a few questions about her business – Wheel Women.
Q: When and Why did you start cycling?
A: I’ve always cycled, for as long as I can remember. I had 3 older brothers so I didn’t have any choice if I wanted to keep up with them. But as an adult life and career kind of got in the way. When my son was born in 1998 I did start cycling a little bit again when he was in the baby seat, and then on the tag-along. But I found it increasingly difficult – the bigger he got the harder it was. But about 3 years ago, my son who is now a teenager was training for the Great Victorian Bike Ride, and I stupidly thought I could join them on a training ride. I wondered why everyone was passing me and I was left for dead! Short answer is, my husband suggested a new bike instead of my department store special at 22kg! I bought an eBay bike and couldn’t believe the difference – it was AWESOME. I’ve now become a little more serious about my rides and ascribe to the N+1 theory of bike ownership – you can never have too many bikes! Though my husband does like to dispute this!
When I started riding a road bike nearly five years ago I didn’t have any idea that there was actually a technique involved in braking. If I wanted to slow down I just grabbed either or both of the brake levers and it seemed to work. I had no notion that the front and back brakes have a different role and that there was actually a technique involved in using them. I, like so many newbie cyclists used my brakes far too much, particularly when cornering. So I thought it would be helpful if I shared some of what I have learned from others and from my own research.
In Australia and some other countries, the brake lever for the front brake is on the right hand side of the handlebars and the rear brake on the left hand side. Unless you’ve bought your bike overseas or had your brakes altered, then this will be the standard set up.
When braking, your front brake is there to stop you and the back brake is there to shave off speed. Roughly 70-80% of your stopping power comes from the front brake. Leaving 20-30% for the back brake. Try standing on the ground over your top tube and applying the brakes one at a time and pushing your bike forward. You’ll see how this really applies.
I’ve just returned from Melbourne where I attended a training course with US bike company Specialized. I attended the course because I recently took on a full-time role at Ashfield Cycles.
The course was excellent and run by a great team at Specialized and I found it particularly encouraging that there were six women (out of 13 total attendees) sharing the three days. According to Emma Mackie who coordinates the courses for Specialized, this was the most number of women that have ever attended this training course. Typically there are usually one or two on each course. I took this as an encouraging sign that things are changing in the bike retail industry. I doubt that every course will be nearly 50/50 men and women but it’s a sign that there’s a slow change occuring.
As any keen cyclist will tell you, most bike shops are full of male staff who are pretty good at meeting the needs of cyclists of all kinds but not always great at serving the needs of female cyclists.
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.
Eight year old, Ava Giramondo is a member of the youth development squad of my cycling club Lidcombe-Auburn Cycle Club (LACC) and she recently presented to her Year 2 class at PLC Sydney, her reasons for selecting cycling as the best sport. When I read it, it seemed to me that Ava’s reasons were not dissimilar to many female cyclists. I particuarly like the bit about how she and her friends don’t have to hang out with the boys! Enjoy….
Here’s Ava’s presentation:
Good morning/afternoon 2c.
In my opinion cycling is the best sport. The type of cycling I’m going to talk to you about is bike racing. It can be enjoyed by both young and old. There are two types of racing you can participate in; road racing and track racing at a velodrome.
Here are three reasons why in my view cycling is the best sport.
One of the things I’ve always admired about the United States is the sheer scale of the country. With a population of nearly 14 times that of Australia, at almost 314 million, there is always a group of people (like women cyclists) who have a real voice because there’s so many more of them. I suppose proportionally there no difference to other groups but they seem to get cut-through.
In the US there’s a group called the League of American Bicyclists which has its own Women Bike program and a few weeks ago they released a really interested research report called Women on a Roll.
Women on a Roll is a first-of-its-kind report showcasing a trend seen on streets nationwide (US): Women are changing the face of bicycling, and bicycling is transforming the lives of women.
It seems like only yesterday I was writing a blog post about Women Who Cycle reaching its first anniversary and here I am telling you about the second year milestone.
What an amazing two years they have been in my life. My fervent hope is that I’ve inspired many women (and maybe a few men too) to take up cycling or to take their riding to the next level.
Writing this blog has given me the opportunity to focus on women’s cycling and led me to uncover some wonderful stories like the incredible journey undertaken by Dani & Kacie in the 3,000 mile Race Across America; to meet wonderful female cyclists like Annette Edmondson, Joanne Hogan and Kimberley Wells – all achieving great results overseas; to touch base with women working behind the scenes like Kristy Scrymgeour of Specialized-lululemon and Gaelene Snelling at St Kilda Cycling Club; and many more.
I couldn’t possibly list them all here but I’ve really been so inspired by so many wonderful women including dozens of women just like me.