Disclaimer – This post about cycling will not be your typical lifestyle blogger post about bikes. I will not be posing in a cute outfit on a cute bike like this. This is real life peeps. You will not be jealous of my lifestyle!…..And I am not trying to sell you anything!
I want to write a post about cycling and what I have learnt since I acquired my bike nearly a year ago. This will not be a post that offers a lot of advice, as I am still very much a beginner. I just want to share what I have learnt so far and my thoughts and feelings from a female perspective in what is a very male dominated hobby and sport.
I live with a MAMIL. Rob is a fully fledged bike nut, who owns far too many bikes (apparently he needs both a winter and a summer road bike?!?), regularly enters 50 mile bike races for fun and dreams of being a bike mechanic. The staff at our local bike shop know him by name, in fact some of the other regular customers in the shop also know him by name (!?!) as he spends far too much time (and money) in there.
He also spends far too much time talking to me about gears, cranks, lightening his bike and other stuff I have no interest in. To be fair, I bore him going on about what Princess Monster Truck and Lil’ Bub are up to on Instagram, so we are evens Stevens really!
For years Rob had been trying to convince me to join him riding. But I am not an active, sporty person in the slightest, and I try to avoid doing anything that involves any effort and getting out of puff! As documented on my blog here, I eventually relented, hiring a bike at a local country park, and I actually enjoyed it! The good stuff out weighed all the bad stuff, in the end. Just about.
I would like to say now, that if you can, buy a your next new bike from your local independent bike shop. I don’t like to mention this kind of stuff on here, but we had some shocking customer service when we bought my bike from Halfords. They resolved the issue and gave us some money back – so all’s good. Your local bike shop will offer much more knowledge and advice and will fit and service your bike better. The staff in our local bike shop live and breath cycling, its their passion and they take pride in their work. And learn your name, let you hang out there and give you doughnuts apparently!
I think from a beginners perspective cycling can seem intimidating. It is like this cult with its own language that only men (sorry to say, but its true) seem to belong in. Unfortunately cycling is a little more complicated than it looks and there is some technical stuff involved, but the basics are easy to master. If I can do it anyone can!
Another thing that puts some people off cycling is the clothes. Middle aged men in lycra are an easy target for jokes and irreverent articles from the Daily Mail. But as Rob pointed out, people have no problem wearing swimming costumes to swim in and gym gear when exercising, so why do they have such an issue with cyclists wearing cycling clothing?
My personal beef with cycling clothing is that a lot of the cheaper female options only come in pink. Come on cheap sports clothes manufacturers, use your imagination more!
Male or female, it is worth investing in a pair of cycling shorts/trousers/leggings, as the padding does help (thats help, rather than stop) with the saddle soreness, even if you do feel like you have a massive incontinence pad between your legs! I have a couple of cheap 3/4 length trousers, which might not flatter my tree trunk legs, but they are comfortable to ride in.
Well, one pair of my cycling pants are comfortable at least. My second pair that I bought recently from Aldi and wore in the New Forest, are my correct size, but an odd fit. The crotch piece was almost halfway down my legs, and when I sat on my bike it kept getting caught up on the saddle. I looked like I was packing more down there than Jon Hamm! I must have confused a few ponies that we passed!
If you are going to wear the trousers, you might as well wear the rest of the kit, I say! I have a couple of cheap tops from Sports direct and a jacket from Aldi. Cycling tops are cut lower at the back to keep your bum warm, to stop them from riding up your back while you are riding and have a handy zip pockets to keep your essentials in. And they are made in breathable fabrics that are quick drying etc. So basically they make life easier, so why wouldn’t you want to wear them? Don’t worry, not all cycling gear looks like the Colombian female cycle team!
I also wear wrap around sunglasses on brighter days. They stop me squinting and the flies and dirt going in my eyes. On one of our first rides together Rob lent me a pair of his glasses. I took them off and popped them in my back pocket, only to forget about them and sit on them while messing around with my nephew going down a slide at Bedgebury. Oops!
Forgetting the fact that I shouldn’t have been on the climbing equipment etc, Rob was not amused that I broke his fancy glasses! Now I only wear his cheap ones. We have bought a couple of pairs for £3.99 in Lidl with inter changeable lenses (budget supermarkets are so good for this kind of thing) which will hopefully last me a while!
If anyone reading this is worried about their ability and looking stupid pushing up hills in front of the more experienced riders on cycling routes etc, try not to let it stop you from having a go. I will admit that I have turned down invites to ride in a mixed group that Rob has organised because I did not want them to wait for me to catch up. I am not very confident in my abilities, but I know that the more I get out on my bike, the better I will get at cycling. So just go, don’t be silly like me! You will catch up with your friends eventually. Even if it is in the car park! Cycling is for all ages and abilities.
While we were on holiday last week, we went biking every day. I went from thinking that I would never be able to do this sponsored 35 mile cycle race that I have signed up for in June, to thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could manage it, if I train more towards it….eek!
Right, I have waffled on far too much in this post (as per usual), so its time for some bullet points on what I have learnt!
- You need to clean and maintain your bike regularly to keep it in top notch condition. Much like a car it will need a service and parts replaced from time to time. You local independent bike shop will help you with this. And always clean the mud off after rides to prevent rusting etc.
- One thing that I always wear while riding are gloves. They help you grip your handle bars better and I don’t have to worry about having an attack of the clammy hands while I am panicking going down hills fast (I got up to 28 miles per hour downhill on gravel paths last week!). Again, mine are pink cheapies from Aldi.
- I always thought that a bike is a bike, that they are all the same really. But I have learnt that like most things in life, you get what you pay for. The cheaper bikes will be harder to ride, you will feel every bump that you go over and the bike is more likely to break as its made from cheap materials etc. So get the best bike that you can afford.
- Make sure that you get the correct type of bike for what you will use it for. Do not be seduced by looks. Pretty pastel bikes with baskets are fine for short leisurely town and city journeys. But if you want to commute on your bike you will be better off with a much lighter road bike or a more practical hybrid. My sister has one of these vintage style type of bikes with a basket and luggage rack on the back. On our family bike rides we all give her our jumpers and bits n bobs to carry and she looks like a pack mule, the poor thing! She is planning to sell her bike and buy a more practical mountain bike for the country parks we ride in, as she finds it too heavy and difficult to ride (and thats without carrying all our crap).
- BTW I would like to point out that you do not have to buy a female specific bike if you are a girl, you can have any bike you want as long as it is the right frame size for you. And you like it of course!
- Lets talk gears. I still struggle with mine and need to get to grips with them more. I often find myself peddling away and getting nowhere fast going slightly uphill as I am in a too high gear (or is it low?). Practice, practice, practice is the only thing I can say (and what I need to do more of). Cycling is all about keeping the momentum going and using your gears to do so. Rob told me something that helped me click (boom, gettit!) with the gears – that I need to feel like I am putting the same effort in with my peddling all the time, no matter if its flat, uphill or downhill ground, and that I should use my gears to do so. I hope that makes sense!
- When you are going downhill fast use your back wheel’s brake more, rather than your front wheel’s break to prevent you from going over your handlebars.
- Seat height matters, even a centimetre either way can make a difference in the comfort factor with your ride. We are constantly adjusting mine (luckily Rob carries a small tool kit with him on rides) as it seems to sink down after a while.
- As for female cycling role models, in mountain biking there is Rachel Atherton. But look no further than these girls in Afghanistan. Truly inspirational stuff.
- And finally, just look at this status from Rob. Bless him, he is such a big kid when it comes to bikes!