There is nothing worse than a bike that doesn’t fit, unless it’s wearing the wrong clothing for cycling. Rubbing, aching, cramping, blistering…the possibilities are endless. Don’t let the after-effects of a combination of the wrong gear and a poorly-fitting bike ruin your day (or week)!
Here are some essential cycling tips and advice that every woman should keep in mind, along with some tips on how to avoid the two most common sources of discomfort: saddle-induced pain, and tension in the neck and shoulders from a poorly-fitting bike.
1. Buy the Right Size Bike – Don’t try to use someone else’s bike. Chances are it won’t fit you, not to mention that it is adjusted for their body, not yours! You wouldn’t want to run in the wrong size shoes, so follow the size guides and buy the right size bike for your height and reach. Check out a short video on how to find the right size bike for you here.
You’re probably wondering, ‘But what about bikes with women’s specific geometry? Do I need to buy one of those?’ There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but what it boils down to is that women tend to have shorter torsos in relation to their leg length. Women’s specific bikes take this into account by shortening the top tube, which shortens the reach, making the bike more comfortable for someone with a shorter torso. However, there are other ways to shorten the reach on a bike (e.g. shortening the stem), and there are some women with longer torsos and shorter legs. It all depends on you and your body.
2. Wear Women’s Bike Shorts – Wear a good pair of women’s-specific padded cycling shorts. The padded part is called the chamois (pronounced sham-ee). Not only does it provide additional comfort but it also wicks moisture, which helps prevent saddle sores. Women’s specific shorts are designed differently than men’s with seams and padding in the proper places for us ladies. Never ever wear underwear with bike spandex; they will gather and crumple in all the wrong places. For long rides use a chamois butter, it helps reduce friction. Apply it around the seams of the chamois, or directly on your skin if you know where you have a tendency to get sores. If spandex isn’t your style wear them under some athletic shorts.
3. Find the Right Women’s Specific Saddle for Your Body – Find a good fitting women’s specific saddle. Big, wide and squishy doesn’t always equate to more comfort. The more upright your body is on your bicycle the wider your saddle can be. That’s why beach cruisers have a tractor sized saddle. Women’s saddles are generally wider and shorter than men’s, because our sit-bones tend to be wider. All of our bodies are different and the best way to find the perfect fit is to test out a few saddles, giving yourself some time in between each new test. Some of my favorite saddles are the WTB Deva for mountain biking, Terry Liberator X for road bikes, and the WTB Speed She for my city bikes. Finding the right saddle can be time-consuming and frustrating, but it’s totally worth it in the long-run! Many stores will have test saddles, or will allow you to try out different saddles for a couple rides before you settle on the right one for you.
4. Ensure your Saddle is Flat – Make sure your saddle is flat and level to the ground (though some women prefer a small amount – 1-2 degrees – of forward tilt). If your saddle is tipped too far up you will feel like you are sliding off the back of the saddle, your posture will be poor, and your lady parts will be none too happy. If your saddle is tipped too far down it will pull your body forward and your sit bones won’t be in the right place on the saddle. This will put an unnecessary amount of pressure on your hands, which will in turn lead to pain in your back, shoulders, and neck.
5. Make Sure Your Saddle Isn’t Too Far Forward or Back – You want your saddle positioned on the rails so the bottom of your knees is in line with the pedal axis. This will help ensure that you are sitting on the correct part of the saddle and that you don’t end up with sore knees.
6. Set Your Saddle to the Correct Height – For most bikes, having the right saddle height means having a slight bend in the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke. An easy test is to lean against a wall and place your heels on the pedals. When pedaling backwards your bottom leg should be completely straight when your leg is most extended (i.e. at 6 o’clock). If your hips rock your saddle is too high.
7. Check Your Handle Bar Reach – Here’s a quick and easy way to test whether you have the proper reach on your bike: warm up for a bit. Then, while pedaling, look over your handle bars to the front hub (if you are riding a bike with drop bars, your hands should be on the hoods at this point). The handlebars should obscure the hub, more or less. If you can see the hub far in front of your handlebars, you might need a longer stem; if the hub is visible too far behind the handlebars, you may need a shorter stem.
Women with smaller hands often find that the reach to the brake and shift levers is a bit of a stretch, particularly with Shimano components. Frequently shifters will have reach-adjust dials – a 2-3mm hex key and a few clockwise turns are all you need. (On drop-bar type (“STI”) levers, you will probably have to pull back the rubber hood covering the top of the shifters to find the reach-adjust dial.)
8. Check for Optimal Drop Between the Handle Bars and Saddle – Most of us are comfortable with the bars near the same height as the saddle. With road bikes we can drop 1-2 inches if we are really flexible, and for mountain or hybrids the handle bars can be higher than the saddle by 2-4 inches. For most road bikes you can flip the stem into an upward position to help with comfort. The more “aggressive” your position on the bike (i.e. the extent to which the handlebars are lower than the saddle), the more weight you’ll have to bear on your hands, and the more pressure will be put on your lady parts.
9. Get Up and Off Your Saddle Often – There is a misunderstanding that riding a bicycle is going to be painful, and we just have to deal with it. But that is definitely not the case! Sanding up on your pedals and stretching every ten to fifteen minutes will help your body stay loose, prevent numbness and pain, and increase blood flow. Bonus: you’ll engage different muscles when you’re standing and pedaling than when you’re sitting and pedaling.
10. Allow Time to Adapt – Whether you have a new bike, a new saddle, or just haven’t been on your bike for a while, your body will need some time to adapt to riding. Go on a few short rides to let your body remember what it feels like to be back in the saddle.
Article by Celeste and Hillary