Girls on Wheels

So, why do you think there aren’t as many women cyclists?

I was out on a group ride chatting with another woman when she posed this question to me. It’s a great question. How many times have you seen singletons, duos, and full-on pelotons of guys screaming down the road at all hours of daylight? Sure there’s usually a few women sprinkled in there for good measure – but you don’t usually see a lot of swarms of 15+ women barreling down the street like bats out of hell.

I guess I never really thought about it because many of my girlfriends in Colorado cycle.

A couple of thoughts came to me initially:

1. Comfort. Not only on the bike, but with the bike, with traffic, with being away from responsibilities. Taking time (sometimes significant time) for herself.

When I was first buying a bike, I didn’t want to spend too much money on something that would spend a couple of years in the garage. I questioned my commitment to getting out and riding outside of with my kids. I already have so much to do to keep our family running – working, volunteering, chauffeuring the kids to their classes and events, household chores, etc. Is it really in my best interest to take a Saturday morning for myself and ride around town?Did I even WANT to do that?

By starting on a comfort hybrid, I balanced the price with practicality. I wouldn’t secretly hate myself for spending $500 on a bike that was ridden maybe 5 times. Disappointed, but it wouldn’t be a sore spot.

I also was on platform pedals (easy to get on and off) and riding on bike paths (don’t worry about getting hit by a car). Being in a safe environment built confidence in my abilities and allowed the love affair with my bike to grow unhindered by fear.

2. Dress Code. Not everyone looks great in spandex. In fact, I’m not sure anyone looks awesome in spandex – it has a tendency to highlight our flaws and put them on display for all to critique.

But after one ride in all cotton shorts and tank top (and a backpack!), I realized there is value in dressing appropriately for the sport. I picked up a cheap jersey ($35) and a cycling skort ($50) and suddenly it wasn’t so gross to go out and ride. Until you get off the bike, then you realize how sweaty you are and how badly you want a shower.

The good news is now you don’t have to look garish in cycling apparel. There are some great companies out there (TwinSix is my favorite) making kick-ass products. Don’t want clingy jerseys? Get mountain bike apparel – just as wicking but looser fit.

And what I’ve found the more I get out and ride in groups and in events, cycling embraces everyone of all shapes and sizes. No one is looking at your butt because we all have our assets on display (sorry – couldn’t help it).

3. Unspoken “rules”. No one likes to look or act like a noob. But there isn’t infrastructure to guide someone who knows how to ride a bike into the world of cycling. Yes, the basic functionality is the same – balance, put your feet on the pedals, push down with one foot, repeat with the other, and off you go. But cycling is so much more than just riding your bike. Unless you already know someone who cycles and can guide you, it’s going to be trial and error. Which is a turn off for a lot of people.

Attending a beginner’s clinic was so critical to my comfort level with my abilities because I had a safe place to fail first. Beginner clinics aren’t commonly or regularly on the schedule. How cool would it be to have a beginner clinic monthly at the local cycling shop so neophytes to the sport have a safe place to learn good cycling habits and feel confident about their skills before heading out? Keep the fee reasonable, though. Consider offering a women’s only class as well as a mixed class. Work with the local cycling clubs to get the word out and promote – no one will show up if no one knows about it.

4. Other Women. . Many women prefer to do things among their fellow womenkind because the truth is, dudes just don’t get it. And being surrounded by dudes you don’t know can be very intimidating. Guys are (in general) stronger than gals and tend to not have the same issues with getting out on the bike that women do.

I love riding with my guy friends – they are my greatest inspiration to push myself harder, farther, longer. The rides with my girl friends are more socially based – a chance to catch up, talk about everything that’s going on in our lives and the world while enjoying fresh air and sunshine, less about seeing who can go faster or farther.

I am looking for my source, but I read recently that even in two-cyclist families, the women gets out less than the man. It makes sense – many of the women you see out cycling are child-free or their children are grown. The rest of us are usually helping out with homework, science fair projects, sports practices and games, doctor’s appointments, and any number of obligations that come along with being a sherpa to future civilized adults.

I’m very curious now though – what do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments!

18 thoughts on “Girls on Wheels

  1. Funny. I was just thinking how incredible it was to see so many women biking Lookout today.

    I feel I should add I don’t remember ever having traffic issues caused by the women on bikes. The men… well… Not so much.

    1. I agree – when I ride with female ride leaders, we tend to actually obey rules of the road whereas guy leaders sometimes “forget.”

      (This is a gross generalization, I realize.)

      Also, learning to ride in traffic is somewhat intimidating. There’s little to no room for error or mistakes. I’m much more comfortable with heading out as a duo or group, not so much as a singleton. But that may be a matter of time and comfort with local roads.

      What does your wife think? What are the factors that limit or encourage a woman to be more active in cycling?

      1. If I may be allowed to pimp my own writings, it has to do with priorities:

        http://myinnerfatman.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/priorities/

        I know my wife has issues dropping everything in order to take care of herself. (You know, go for a ride.) She usually feels guilty about it and feels she needs to ask my permission. Thus, there are not enough miles on her odometer as she would like.

        Nike had it right. “Just do it.” Get out there and get your exercise. You’ll be a better person for it.

      2. Very true.

        For me it’s less about “permission” and more about acknowledging that choices I make impact my husband and vice versa. I see it more as ensuring my plans can be fulfilled as desired.

        My goal right now is to get out on group rides twice a week. I have been successful in finding rides that leave at times I can work with – they are on the calendar. This makes them more permanent.

        This will be challenging in the coming months, as I’m traveling a lot (sometimes with the bike, sometimes without). I’m also realizing that even though I’m enjoying leisurely rides, my 12.7 mph average on the last 50mi ride is just that – leisurely. No pain, no gain. I need to find a 13+ mph ride and push.

        Also, I’ve decided to ride a century this fall. I have a ride partner, just waiting for the announcement to register. She’s much faster than I (16mph average) and I’d like to finish in decent time (6-7 hours). Which means pushing on at least one ride per week. The other can be more endurance or recovery focused.

  2. I’ll take the task of answering that question…. “What are the factors that limit or encourage a woman to be more active in cycling”? I can tell you what factor limits a worman from being more active in cycling: Their mind. Men may be stronger overall, but that’s used as an excuse more often than not – the only place the difference is really important is in the elite ranks, but in the lower ranks there are plenty of women who can run faster than I can – but for some reason that changes on the bike… There are far fewer women who can keep up with me on a bike. There can be only one reason for this – it’s mental.

    Also, I’d say that same factor applies to why men get out more than women. Women tend to have a whole list of things that have to be just right for them to ride, they have to look good in the spandex, they have to have the house in perfect order, they have to have the right make-up on, etc… Guys just ride. My wife has more time than I do to ride by an order of magnatude but I put in 8-10 times the miles she does. My 1 hour a day rides are simply more important to me than they are to her. It is what it is.

    1. There is definitely a huge mental aspect to this – it’s a matter of getting out of your own head and riding because you love riding. But no one will go ride if they can’t overcome their obstacles, real or imagined.

      We need other cyclists who are supportive and encouraging towards new cyclists. For example, falling off the bike because you failed to unclip in time – very common but still embarrassing for the fallee. Having someone there who will reassure you that everyone does it and ask if you are OK if key to supporting the new cyclist.

      More positivity means more confidence, which can get anyone out of their head.

      As a father yourself, do you find work, home and parenting obligations sometimes get in the way of your training or riding plans? Or do you generally schedule a ride and then go do it? What about your wife – does she have the same flexibility? Or does she have to choose between work, the kids, the house, relaxing, and the bike?

      1. I work my riding around everything else. I check with my wife to find out what her plans are and then make sure I can fit my ride in somewhere – if that means I’m up at 3 am to get into the office to get my work done then that’s what I do (better to handle things when everyone else is sleeping I always say). What I do is not easy, but it’s a choice nontheless.

        As far as groups that cater to the beginner rider, your local bike shop should be able to point you in the right direction… Even though I’m a noob at road riding, I ride with the advanced group – I’m expected to know what I’m dong already – and I’m expected to buck up and crank ’em if I want to keep up. There needs to be both – a group for the slower noobs who need support and one for those of us who want to go fast… If you’re jumping from the beginner group to the avanced, there will be people who will be hospitable and those who aren’t – seek out the one’s who are, but don’t be upset by those who aren’t – because guys like me need them to get faster.

        As for my wife, she’s working on her “want to” – when she gets that down, she’ll get out more often, and I’m doing everything I can to support it’s development, which is about all I can do.

        Happiness is either an inside job or it isn’t. For me it is, entirely.

      2. We’re coming at this from different angles I think. The question is more about how do we encourage more women in general to try cycling? What are the unique challenges we as a cycling community can assist her in overcoming, to have a positive experience?

        Positive reinforcement is so key. Have enough poor experiences with something and eventually the effort isn’t worth it. Not everyone has a cut-throat view on their hobbies.

        Of course we can’t expect to fulfill every need and assist them through every obstacle – every person is ultimately responsible for their own happiness and safety.

        For me, I’ve joined bike clubs. I email ride leaders for guidance if I think a ride might be on the border of what I can handle because I don’t know the area well enough to feel OK with being dropped if I can’t keep up. That’s a safety issue, one that I don’t feel comfortable tossing to the wind just because I really really really want to ride my bike.

        I don’t rue cyclists who are better than me – I admire their abilities. I’d like to someday be a faster cyclist. But let’s be honest here – the “slower” 12-14 mph average rides out of a local bike shop are monthly at best while the 15+ mph averages are weekly or better. One of the local clubs I ride with is actively seeking at least one person who can lead newbie rides at a 10-12mph average – with no volunteers. It’s easy to forget we all start somewhere and should give back to the community to keep the sport alive.

        I’ve also been fortunate to have both male and female friends who are better cyclists than I to help guide me through the process of noob to rockstar. To that end, I’m also not training for races or competitions and have no plans to make any money at this. I’m your average new cyclist looking to improve in an inclusive environment, learning from those who are better than I am.

      3. Yes, we are coming at this from two very different angles… Let’s get beyond the stuff that doesn’t matter.

        I can help you get fast (I helped another girl get from 15 to 18 in two emails not two months ago). You game?

      4. How about this – I’ll reach out when I’m in a better position to devote time to improving performance, not just get out for the joy of riding. I have previous obligations over the next few months that will limit my riding opportunities and it will end up being frustrating if I try to shoehorn everything together.

        I know you’re thinking “she’ll never reach out – excuses, excuses!” and that’s OK – you don’t have to believe me. I’m willing to learn when I can take the time to actually learn.

      5. I’ll be here when you’re ready. Don’t assume that you know what I think about you though. In this case you were off the mark. It takes what it takes to get where you want to go.

  3. My reason is comfort, my chest has always been large but put me hunched over on a bike for an hour. Even with the best of sports bras, my back is killing me.

    1. mmonteleone

      I am going to have to agree with bgddyjim up there — there ALWAYS seems to be a long list of things that must be perfect in order for a woman to take up an activity or sport. This is actually a problem in my line of work. I teach fitness classes and have heard every excuse in the book from normal women who want to lose weight/improve health/get in shape but don’t commit. Same is true for biking. I bike as much as possible around town, running errands, toting kids to school, and for myself as well. Every time I run into a friend while on these errands I get a laundry list of excuses as to why she is not able to or willing to ride a bike. Totally unasked for list, I might add. To me the reason is simple – I bike because I love it. I’m not perfect at it, or have all the right gear, or look the part, but I’m going to keep on riding. Just try to stop me…

      1. Let’s be fair – for some people, there will always be any number of excuses.
        Personal commitment is critical to success at any hobby or sport.

        I feel like if someone has fun with something, they are more likely to want to do it.
        If they are comfortable, even if the activity is out of their ability range, they will come back.
        If they feel safe, they will continue.

  4. Pingback: Follow Up: Girls On Wheels « wife. mother. awesome girl.

  5. This is such great post, cycling is most definitely a male-dominated sport, although women are slowly breaking into it whether it is racing or commuting or cycling for fun. The rise is fashion and fitness apparel also shows this. Lets go ladies!

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