In addition to the concerns that every cyclist faces in road cycling, from buying the right bike to learning to ride in a peloton, women have a set of additional challenges. The good news is that the bike industry has come to appreciate women cyclists and in many instances does an excellent job of creating products that cater to women’s particular needs.
Professional cyclist Dotsie Bausch, a four-time National Champion and Pan-American Games Gold Medalist, offered her insight into some of the issues women face as cyclists. As both a racer and coach, Bausch knows what it means to be a serious cyclist.
As with other new riders, smaller gears are the rule. Because a new male rider simply doesn’t have the strength of an experienced racer, and women lack the strength of most men, many women riders (though certainly not all) are faced with a double handicap when they begin riding on the road. Bikes with compact or triple gearing will offer more gears at the low and middle range of gearing to accommodate the needs of the newer rider.
Known for her quick bursts of speed, Bausch suggests, “For quick accelerations, you need to be in an easier gear, so that your turnover rate or cadence is high, which will make it easier for you to jump out of the saddle without much load or lactate build-up. Then you can catch those escapees with a quick jump and hang with them longer because you won’t be burning with lactic acid from an explosive move in a big gear.”
Riding in a Group
Women riders new to group riding can have an especially difficult time matching the accelerations of the peloton. The technique of backsliding mentioned in Chapter 3 is particularly useful in trying to limit your losses during a fierce acceleration. Similarly, using other riders to help you move up is a helpful way to conserve energy during slower episodes, courtesy drafting. Take note of the bigger riders in the group. These riders offer a better than average draft (helpful) and may not be the fastest to respond to accelerations by the group (even more helpful). Following these wheels can keep you in the group when other, more capable, riders are struggling.
“In a group ride, make sure to stay aware of your surroundings always, and use the bigger men and the safer wheels for drafting,” Bausch advises. “But always make sure to be looking ahead for what might happen four to five wheels in front of you, and not just staring at the wheel immediately in front of you. Accidents happen this way. It’s just like driving. When you are driving a car, you are always scanning the road ahead while simultaneously scanning the activity of the car directly in front of you.”
On occasion, other riders may offer a push to help you stay in a group if it appears you might be dropped. If a guy offers, chances are, he’s not getting fresh. There’s no shame in getting a push to stay with the group. Sometimes, if a rider is backsliding through a group especially quickly, another cyclist will give a push simply to minimize the difference in speed for the sake of the group’s safety. Pushing is covered in greater detail in Chapter 4.
While the basics regarding the different articles of clothing are covered in Chapter 9, women have a few additional considerations. While all men’s raglan jerseys will fit with remarkable consistency, as will all jerseys with set-in sleeves, women’s jerseys with a princess cut can vary radically in their fit. Some will be cut with more room at the bust for fuller-figured women. Others will be cut for especially slim women. Similarly, the difference in hip and waist dimensions of some shorts may not always match your proportions. Bausch, a former model, suggests, “Just like shopping for designer clothes, you want to find the cycling clothes that fit you best and work with your unique body type, not against it. Just because it’s comfy for one does not make it work for another. Try on various brands and pick what works for you. The same advice goes for saddle selection.”
For every woman who prefers feminine colors and feminine-looking clothing, there’s another who wants her clothing and equipment to be as close to the guys’ stuff as possible. Each company in the industry approaches this differently. Some will stick with decidedly feminine color schemes and designs in bikes, equipment, and clothing, while others simply offer their performance gear in smaller sizes. Be aware that one company’s approach won’t be another’s.