For new female riders, cycling can seem intimidating or confusing. Many of us get into riding because of a dad/boyfriend/husband, and no one told us about bike fit, why bib shorts are better than bike shorts, if you should wear a tampon or a pad, how a bike fit should feel… all kinds of awkward and practical questions that, if answered, can make cycling a lot more satisfying and rewarding. Here, the Saskatchewan Cycling Association is sharing some of the answers to the questions you may not have even known to ask.
What’s the deal with bike shorts?
Bike shorts aren’t just the spandex-y high-waisted long shorts that the Kardashians wear. Actual shorts designed for cycling have a pad in them called a chamois that protects your nether regions from friction caused by thousands of pedal repetitions during a ride. You don’t have to wear one, but you’ll be a lot more comfortable if you do, especially on longer rides! If you get a pair of bike shorts, consider getting the bib short option—they’ll look like suspenders (but the straps go under your jersey!)—because most people find them more comfortable than having the waistband of shorts digging into their stomachs during a ride. And don’t wear underwear with your bike shorts! They’re designed to be friction-fighting and anti-microbial, and when you wear underwear with them, you’re actually creating more friction and trapping bacteria. Ouch! (And if you do have your period, opt for a tampon or cup rather than a pad, since a pad does the same thing as underwear will—plus they rarely stay in place in bike shorts.)
How do I know my bike fits properly?
“Get a bike fit,” says 21-year-old road racer Zoey Bourgeois. “That can really revolutionize your comfort on the bike if you have any underlying problems or are uncomfortable riding. It’s really helpful to get a bike fit and make sure that you’re not like hurting yourself and hating your time on the bike.” Often, we assume that it’s normal to feel discomfort—especially in our nether regions!—on the bike, but a bike fit or a new saddle can make a huge difference to your riding comfort. If you don’t have a local bike fitter in town, play with your bike fit yourself by moving your seat forward and backward, and playing with your saddle height: at the bottom of your pedal stroke, your leg should be very slightly bent, and during your pedal stroke, your knee should never come farther forward than your toes.
How do I get started in cycling?
You can obviously get out and ride on your own, but finding a group—especially a group of other women—to ride with even some of the time will make you a better cyclist, and you’ll have a lot more fun! “Make the most of cycling in Saskatchewan by joining a club that meets your personal needs,” says Laurie Ewen, who helped start a regular women’s mountain bike rides in Moose Jaw and is the recreational ride coordinator for the Pavers. “If there isn’t one in your area, reach out to another club and maybe they know other people that are kind of looking for something that’s similar to you and you can join up with them and get going. Or you guys can start your own club or piggyback off of another club. Check out SCA website to see what’s going on in the community!”
Should I only do women-only rides?
Heck, no! While some women might prefer riding with other women, or find that women-only events feel more inclusive, there’s no reason you can’t join in with a regular group ride—they’re all open to women! If you’re a beginner, just make sure you check on the speed, distance and terrain you’ll be committing to before heading out with a new group, and err on the side of caution. When you’re new to riding, it’s better to finish a group ride feeling fresh and like you could have gone harder!
How do I pee in bib shorts?
While bib shorts are arguably more comfortable than regular shorts, they do present a certain issue for women: It’s much harder to pee in them! Some brands have adapted their shorts to pull down in the back, or have made a halter- or snap-style suspender strap for easier access, but some brands still don’t offer an easy option for when you simply have to go. The best thing you can do in this case is to layer all but your final top layer under the bibs, so that when you do need to pee, you just have one layer of clothing to remove.
Why aren’t there more women in cycling?
The good news is that there have never been more women in cycling than there are right now, and the numbers are trending in the right direction. But until very recently, cycling has always been a very male-dominated sport. It’s really only in the last three decades that women’s racing has been growing—so while it still has a long way to go, it’s important to celebrate the wins that we have made in a short amount of time thanks to amazing, dedicated women.
I’m terrified of riding in a group or going on scary mountain bike trails, what should I do?
Let’s be honest, many of us have seen footage of huge road races with hundreds of racers jammed together or super-intense mountain bike races with gnarly terrain. But cycling doesn’t have to be scary, and on your first beginner group ride, no one is going to force you to jump directly behind someone to stay in their draft.
“You don’t need to just all of a sudden tuck in behind someone,” says Sarah Honeysett, Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Cycling Association. “I started in more beginner groups where we were spread out a lot down the road, and then eventually as your skills get better, you just naturally group up more together because you just you feel more confident.”
It’s OK to ask about anything
Asking questions is how you learn about cycling, whether you’re racing or just riding for fun—especially if you don’t have a friend or family member involved in the sport. It can be confusing, so know that you’re not the only one who’s feeling lost! “When I showed up at my first road race—a criterium—I went up to registration and said, ‘Hi. I’d like to meet a coach,’ and eventually, I met the coach for Sask Cycling,” says Bourgeois. “I asked, ‘Can you please explain to me how I do a crit because I showed up here and I don’t know what I’m doing.’ And he explained it to me right there! I learned you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to people. If you feel comfortable reaching out to a female, try to find a woman who you can talk to—there are a lot of women’s cycling groups around!”
You will become part of the Saskatchewan cycling scene immediately
Once you show up to a few rides, you officially have a lot of lifelong friends. “There’s more women in cycling right now, and it’s great,” says Ewen. “And we’re all really protective and committed to helping new riders, and riders who’ve been out with us for a long time. If you’re having a hard time on the bike, or even just having a tough time at work, we’re here for you. Our rides are about more than just getting out and pedaling, and we’re always trying to make sure everyone is doing okay and having fun.”
About the writer:
Molly Hurford is a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside and healthy habits of athletes and interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete podcast and website, and most recently launched the book ‘Becoming A Consummate Athlete.‘ She’s the author of multiple books including the Shred Girls, a young adult fiction series and online community focused on getting girls excited about bikes. Molly is a little obsessed with getting people psyched on adventure and being outside, and she regularly hosts talks and runs clinics for cyclists and teaches yoga online and IRL… And in her spare time, the former Ironman triathlete now spends time tackling long runs and rides on trails or can be found out hiking with her mini-dachshund DW and husband, cycling coach and kinesiologist Peter Glassford.