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’.
Like many road cyclists I ride early in the morning to avoid traffic and to get a 20 km plus ride in before I have to get to work. This means that at quite a few times during the year I leave home in the dark. One thing that constantly amazes me is that I see other cyclists riding around with inadequate or even no lights on their bikes. They are also often decked out in dark clothing on dark bikes. I’m not sure if they are trying to be really ‘cool’ or are just plain stupid.
Many cyclists do not realise that it’s actually illegal to ride a bike at night without lights. In the state of NSW (and many other places) where I live if you ride at night you must have a steady or flashing white light that is clearly visible for at least 200 metres and a flashing or steady red light that is clearly visible for at least 200 metres from the rear of the bike. I also take night to mean 5 am when it’s still quite dark at certain times of the year.
I use lights pretty much all the time when I’m riding alone. When it’s dark I use the front light on a steady beam so I can see where I’m going, because even if you are on familiar roads and paths there can be obstacles like sticks, rubbish and rocks that can be a big hazard. When it gets lighter and I can see where I’m going I change my light to a flashing pattern so that other road users can see me. I always use my rear light on a flashing pattern and I nearly always have it on, except when I’m riding in a group and it’s fully light.
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.
I like to think of myself as a bit of a cycling evangelist. That doesn’t mean I give regular sermons about cycling but through this blog, my job and other social occasions I love the opportunity to share my love for cycling with others, particularly women. So here’s 10 reasons why you should think about cycling. They are in no particular order (just the order they jumped into my head). The initial list took me about five minutes to write so you can see that I’m completely enthusiastic about this subject.
Please note that I haven’t called this point ‘weight loss’ because that’s not what it’s all about. Fitness is a key benefit of cycling. I’m in my forties and I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life. I also weigh more than I did before I started cycling five years ago, but I’m actually leaner as a result of all those hours on the bike.
2. Café visits
This is one of my favourite benefits. All the road cyclists that I know go to the café after a ride. This means you get to have a good chat and you get to eat yummy food because you’ve just ‘pre-burnt’ your calories. I don’t actually drink coffee (because I hate the taste of it) but I don’t let that stop me being part of the café culture. Hot chocolate doesn’t look that different!
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.
Ever since I started writing this blog (about two and a half years ago) I’ve been following the women’s pro peleton. Prior to that, I have to admit I only followed the men’s, mostly because it was easily accessible with lots of TV and media coverage. Over those two and a half years I’ve learnt how to find information about the women’s tour and I think that 2014 is going to be big year for the women, and here’s a few reasons why.
UCI Women’s commission headed up by Tracey Gaudry
Last year Australian former pro cyclist Tracey Gaudry was named as one of three Vice Presidents of the UCI. That followed her earlier appointment as the President of the Oceania Cycling Confederation. That gives her two big roles and I’m sure she’s up to the challenge.
A new Women’s Commission of the UCI has also been formed and has already met for the first time to start planning its work.
I was lucky enough to meet Tracey at a forum in January and will be interviewing her in the next month or so for an upcoming blog post.
My saddle choice – Specialized Oura
For me it’s a no brainer that women need different bike saddles than men. Nowhere on the body is it more evident that women have different needs to men, than in the area of the body that makes contact with the bike seat, known as the saddle.
The saddle is the key contact area of the bike. It takes most of your weight and therefore it is crucially important to having a comfortable seat.
If you buy a women’s specific bike then chances are it will already be fitted with a women’s specific saddle but it’s not necessarily the right one for you. My recommendation when you buy a new bike is to try the supplied saddle first, but be prepared to change it if it proves to be uncomfortable.
In my experience, everyone will feel a degree of discomfort when they first start riding a road bike because it’s a new activity and your whole body needs to adapt. However, if after a month or so you are still uncomfortable then you should seek help.
S-Works Amira is available in a 44 cm frame size
About this time last year I wrote a blog post about road bikes that are specifically built for short women, and ever since my monitoring has shown that this is a really popular topic. So I thought I should update the information for all you shorties.
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’.
A lot of people are dubious about the whole women’s specific bike concept and question whether it’s just marketing hype but I’m a real believer in the philosophy. Read my past posts on this subject and make up your own mind. 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’.
As a keen roadie I’m quite biased towards road bikes, but I’m also well aware as a person who sells bikes that a road bike is not every women’s perfect bike, so here’s my quick summary on a few options you could consider when buying your ideal bike. It’s by no means exhaustive.
I had to start with my personal favourite! The road bike is a fast and light machine and as the name suggests it is best ridden on roads, or at least on bitumen or paved surfaces. It’s skinny tyres will not last long on other terrain.
To me it’s just a pure pleasure to ride my Specialized Amira. It’s a women’s specific road bike which means it is designed for women and that’s not just about pretty colours. Specialized women’s road bikes are designed to meet the needs of women and that includes the frame geometry, saddle, handlebar width, gear/brake reach and compact gearing and cranks. Lots of people, and particularly bike shop owners trying to clear last year’s stock, will tell you can ride any road bike, but I’m a great believer in women’s specific road bikes and I’ve written a few blog posts on this topic previously.