The subject of bicycle helmets seems to raise all sorts of issues. Should they be compulsory? Do they actually save riders from head injury? Well I’m not here to debate all that, but I thought it might be helpful to provide a few tips on buying the right helmet for female cyclists.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think helmets should be compulsory, just like I don’t think seatbelts should be in cars. My thoughts around this subject are more to do with the ‘nanny state’ idea than anything else. I believe that we should take personal responsibility for our own safety and those of our children. That’s not to say that I don’t wear a seatbelt or a helmet, but it should be my choice, not some faceless politicians.
But I’m a law abiding citizen and in the country in which I was born and choose to live bicycle helmets are compulsory, so I obey the law and wear one. Just to clarify one point, if helmets were not compulsory I would still choose to wear one while riding my road bike, particularly on the road but I would like to have the choice not to wear one when I’m undertaking a more leisurely style of riding and not riding on the road.
I work in a bike shop so sell helmets on a daily basis and I often get asked by my customers (both men and women) – How does it look? And I usually answer – Like a helmet! So anyone who thinks they look really good in a helmet is probably kidding themselves. They don’t look great but they serve a purpose.
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.
There’s been a lot of media space devoted to the issue of bike riders using the roads of late, so I thought I’d put my ‘two bobs worth’ forward.
You’ll note that I haven’t called this blog post ‘Cars v Bikes’ because I really don’t think that’s what it’s about. From my observation many drivers (and by no means all drivers) think that they are entitled to use the roads exclusively and that cyclists should vacate ‘their’ roads or at least pull over and let them pass.
As a road cyclist I think I’m pretty considerate. I do most of my riding early in the morning to avoid heavy traffic, I choose not to ride on major roads except where they can’t be avoided, I obey the road rules, I use front and rear lights early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and I travel at a speed where I rarely hold up a driver for more than a few seconds.
And yet, nearly every time I ride my bike I encounter an aggressive driver who either takes my right of way at a roundabout, comes up very fast behind me and then overtakes in a dangerous manner, and occasionally I’ve been beeped at, or yelled at by impatient people.
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.
When I first started riding about five and a half years ago I understood the need for lycra clothing, but I set out to buy the cheapest I could find, and at the time I thought this was okay. The result was that I look pretty ordinary and worse still my new lycra clothing didn’t fit properly, plus it certainly didn’t last the regular washing it required.
I soon learned that I needed to spend a bit more and be more discerning about the lycra clothing I chose to wear.
Fast forward to now and I’m very conscious about how I look in my riding kit, how it fits and how it washes.
So it’s been a pleasure to try out some of the items from the new Velocio range of women’s cycling kit. I purchased (albeit at a discount because I’m writing this review) the ‘Paint’ short sleeve jersey, signature bib knicks and light long sleeve jersey.
The range is the brainchild of Australian Kristy Scrymgeour who among other things is the owner/manager of women’s pro cycling team Specialized-lululemon. Kristy told me about her new venture when we met up in January when she was home in Sydney for her summer break.
Specialized women’s three quarter knicks
I’m lucky enough to live in a place with a temperate climate which means I can ride my bike outdoors all year round. But even in the mild Autumn and Spring mornings I wear a number of warmer clothing items to keep me comfortable on the bike.
The most important thing I’ve learnt about riding in cooler weather is you need to wear layers, so you can peel them off (and on) as required. It’s really awful to go riding and feel cold but it’s equally bad to get overheated on the bike.
So when the weather starts to cool you need to think about the following items of apparel:
Three quarter length knicks – I own several sets of three quarter length knicks, all of them are bib knicks but you can also buy regular knicks in three quarter length. The bib knick variety are a little hard to track down, so look out for Rapha and Specialized which are two brands in my cycling wardrobe.
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.