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!