Beginning any new venture or sport requires thought and planning, and when you’re new to the ropes, even the idea itself can be a bit daunting. In this article we address some of the most-asked questions by women preparing to ride.
1. Where do I even begin? I have not been on a bike in decades!
We hear this almost daily in the bike shop. You are not alone! Start easy.
After your bike has been dusted off and checked over by your local bike shop mechanic, go to a park with paved trails and little traffic or an empty school parking lot on the weekend to get a good feel for your bike. Continue to ride there regularly until you can:
- get on and off the bike with ease
- ride at varying speeds with good control (even slow speeds require strength and coordination), and
- brake and turn confidently.
When you can do these things, you are ready to join a Beginners Group Ride. Check your local bike shop for options and/or ask your cycling friends. They’ll be glad to help!
2. I don’t have any of the gear. Does this mean I can’t ride?
The three most important items after a safely checked over bike are a helmet, a water bottle, and a great attitude. The rest will come.
Remember: your beautiful, amazing brain contains all that is “you” and cannot be replaced. Most seasoned riders have seen what a helmet can do to save a friend’s skull and, therefore, a life. Most group ride organizers even require that you wear a helmet to participate, so get a helmet asap. They are plenty that are reasonably priced, and some even more comfortable or stylish options that go up from there. YOU, however, are priceless.
Hydration is key, because you are literally made up of water. You need water and electrolytes for everything to work right, especially when you’re exerting yourself. It’s summer now, and you will inevitably sweat profusely. As with any endeavor related to fitness, hydrating and nutritious meals can totally transform your ride. Google it. There are infinite articles on the subject. My cycling club leader even says, “Hydrate or die!” in his ride posts. And he’s not wrong. A second option is a CamelBak, which is a backpack you can fill with water and ice and sip from a straw that hangs conveniently over your shoulder. You can get one of these at your local bike shop.
On a side note regarding nutrition, if you are cycling for weight loss, you still have to fuel your ride. This can be challenging if you’re trying to shed pounds. But Coach Steen Rose at Training Peaks had the best advice for me on this. He suggested Generation UCAN—a protein/superstarch drink that powers my ride, provides NO sugar crash, and also allowed me to lose weight. Read up on it and how it came to be—quite intriguing! It changed my game. My ride is so much happier and more productive, and I don’t even mind my picture taken in my kit. Ladies, you know that’s something.
A great attitude is key to your success. ALL of us started from the beginning at some point. ALL of us were the slowest once, or had crummy coordination, or got tired before everybody else. Remember this part of your journey when YOU are encouraging the next new rider. All of us had what we thought were silly questions, too. Ask away, we’re happy to help, and we will smile knowingly because we still remember what it felt like! Being unhappy with yourself only sets you back and wastes your time. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience. Just remind yourself of why you started. Look for the next simple step forward and own it. And every once in a while, look back and celebrate how far you’ve come!
The next major priorities in gear—especially as you add miles—are a seat bag (containing a tube and equipment to change a flat) and padded shorts for your tender rear. Yes, you’ll need them.
Here is the Essentials List from my bike shop, which is especially handy for new riders. Collect as able!
3. I am trying to ride, but it really hurts “down there”. What can I do?
There are a series of questions and considerations to address when solving this issue. Have you ever been “fit” to your bike? This is crucial. The seat height and spacing (forward and back, nose up, nose down) all matter—and also vary according to the style of your ride (road, hybrid, comfort, mountain). Your pain may be fixed with a proper fit at your local bike shop, or the fit may reveal that you indeed need a new saddle (proper word for bike seat).
If you did have a recent fit on a fairly new bike, ask yourself, are you riding consistently (at least two to three times a week and at least 30 minutes at a time) for at least four weeks? Your body needs time to acclimate if you haven’t hit those benchmarks. The seats on your new bike, purchased from an actual bike shop, are generally backed by science—especially in women-specific frames—but as we know, our bodies are not created with cookie-cutter measurements and you might personally need something different. So, you guessed it. Your bike shop sales person can help you find the right saddle if that really is the issue. Finally, once everything seems to be in place, the bike is fit, the saddle is proper, the shorts are comfy, but the ride is long and you are getting chaffing (an abrasion where the fabric rubs your skin raw), you might just need chamois cream! This is now available in pH balance varieties for men and women at…your local bike shop!
4. What if I get a flat? I’ll be stranded!
When you are first getting out to a park or school lot, you’re riding near enough to your car that you can simply walk back, load the bike and head to the bike shop for repair at your convenience. On a group ride however, that gear (referring to the seat/saddle bag with everything for fixing a flat) is key and necessary. Even if you don’t know how to fix a flat, a kind soul in your group will help. Your responsibility is to have your own tube and tools so others do not have to provide them for you. Finally, it should be on your list to learn how to fix a flat. Many women, including myself, put it off for far too long. But it’s not that hard. Have someone teach you, then go teach others. Imagine that!
5. I am afraid to ride on the road. I don’t know the rules. How do they do it?
There are a variety of clubs and places to ride solo or in a social setting. As you visit various clubs and participate in group events, you will find what fits you best and that group will quickly become Your People. Lots of bike shops host Beginners Rides or “No-Drop” Rides (meaning no-one is left behind), and you can find those details on their websites, like with area cycling clubs. Some groups ride strictly on paved trails while others ride on roads or a mix of both. The organizers will share information with you on how the ride works, they will pedal with you, and they’ll explain how they call out road hazards and next turns, etc. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we have supportive clubs all over the metroplex, many of which are listed on the Wheelbrothers website. Visit more than one. Ask lots of questions. Pedal with them. Know that no club can be perfect and they must work to meet a variety of needs within the group. Speak up when you have a question or need help understanding protocol. Find your club and ride!
What questions did I miss? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will address them in a future article!
Lisa Tilley is a contributing writer for Wheelbrothers, is a member of Fort Worth based MBBC, and is in sales at Bicycles Inc.