Women's BRC Cycling Page

Women’s BRC Cycling Page

Welcome to the Women’s BRC cycling page.  We have many  female riders of all ages and speed, but weare always keen to have more within the club: Our aim is equity.

If you are a woman thinking of joining, or newto BRC, feel free to contact the women link member, Ali Cameron at ali@bristolroadclub.comfor information and support.  Ali willensure that one of the more experienced women riders is there to meet you whenyou first attend a BRC event.

Women Friendly Rides
We run ad hoc women friendlyrides, about one Sunday per month, on days when the weather is good.  These are not exclusively women, butmajority.  We ride 50-60km at 23-25km/hdepending on the group. 

The aim of thisride is to have fun riding in a group, helping those newer to cycling toimprove their group riding skills.  Thisis a no-drop ride and if people space out on any hills, then we will regroup atthe top.  Please contact ali@bristolroadclub.comif you are interested in joining the mailing list for these rides.

Women Specific Issues

In most cycling things, thereis little different between women and men. However, there are a few things that are women specific, or commonlythought to be different.  These arediscussed below.

Physiology

Physiologically, regarding cycling, the major difference between women and men is the impact of testosterone. The presence of this during puberty and beyond results in men (on average) having a larger, stronger bone frame, bigger stronger muscles, a larger heart and lungs.

The other major difference is that women naturally have a lower haemoglobin level in their blood than men.  As haemoglobin transports oxygen to the muscles used for cycling, then it is not surprising that this is the second major physiological important difference in cycling performance between women and men.

Therefore, this does mean that the fastest man will be faster than the fastest woman - this is considered at Olympic level to be 10-15%.  Over longer distances this difference narrows, so at ultraendurance level the difference is small and indeed the 2019 winner of the TCR (transcontinental race) was female.

Psychological differences are currently highly controversial and unlikely to be relevant to cycling.  However, it is accepted that on average men are greater risk takers than women.

What does this mean for group riding in BRC?

Not all that much.  Yes, it is unlikely that a woman will beat every man up a climb, but she can certainly be in the mix, and be happy to know that, physiologically pro-rata, she may actually be performing better than the men.  On hills, the fastest riders in the group will wait at the top for the slowest, and groups will go out aiming to put riders of similar ability together, so differences are small.  Down hills, again, some will be faster than others.  Do not take unnecessary risks - go down at the speed that you are happy with.  The best advice is to ride today in a manner that means you will be riding again tomorrow - discretion is always the better part of valour. In the main the group will ride together, two abreast, on gentle downhill roads. However on steeper, narrower descents the group will naturally split and ride singly for safety.  Do not worry, the group will then ride slowly at the bottom, or wait, until the whole group is back together.

Equality

Women and men are both integral components of the club.  Everybody is welcome within Bristol Road Club, whatever your sex, ethnicity, background or age.  We believe in equal opportunity and aim to be inclusive.

Unfortunately in cycling there are still inequalities.  All races do not provide equal prize money and recognition between the men and women.  At a professional level women’s cycling does not receive the same television coverage and the number of UCI races is less in number with significantly less prize money (and consequently the salary of professional women cyclists is a fraction of the male).  25% of professional women cyclists received no salary in 2020.

It is also recognised that BAME riders constitute a lower proportion of cyclists, particularly in the professional peloton.

Local Bristol rider, Alice Thomson, is one of a growing number of cyclists calling out on this misogynistic practice, and she recently gained thousands of signatures on her open letter to CTT (Cycling Time Trials) asking for equity to be enshrined in their rules.  On an international scale, The Cyclists Alliance is an independent Union which strives for fairness for professional women cyclists and to provide them with holistic support throughout their careers.

Within BRC, we believe that we have embraced equality.  All prizes are equal.  This includes the road race (A bridge too far) and the club annual awards.  Group rides are inclusive. However, if there are areas in which you think we can do better, please let us know.

Racing

The women’s UCI racing has a growing calendar of events.  Sadly not all are televised, but the GCN app does do a reasonable job of covering the races that are.  

The site www.voxwomen.com is an excellent platform about the professional scene.  Sign up to the weekly email which keeps you updated on everything happening in professional international cycling.

If you are interested in racing yourself there are plenty of local opportunities for novice or experienced racing cyclists.  These range from joining the BRC team in the Cotswold league for road races, racing circuits at Odd Down (Bath) and Castle Combe, time trials, hill climbs and Zwift racing.  Time trials and hill climbs are a great place to start if you are new to racing as you can get a feel for if you would enjoy the competitive element, before committing to a road or circuit race.  BRC do have a very strong Zwift race team, topping the local league’s first two rounds of 2020.

We have some former national women racers in the club, who are very willing to help support those who are interested in, but new to racing. So just ask and we will happily link you up.

Bikes

A few years ago, there was atrend to have women specific bikes, and some remain, like the brand Liv.  However, there is no need to have womenspecific bikes. Most women ride a unisex bike. Looking at all the bike components there are just a few things to thinkabout when buying a bike:

Bike frames:  This needs to be the correct size for you - which for most womenmeans a bit smaller than a bike for a man. Most of the manufacturers create unisex frames now as there are notsignificant anatomical differences in the female/male arm/back/leg.  The average female leg will be longer andtheir back shorter than the average male, but this is only averaging and plentyof people are not average - so a good bike fit will overcome this by correctframe sizing and stem length.

Handlebars:  This should be the same size (width) as your shoulders.  Stock bikes will come with a generic sizewhich fits only some people - so you should ask the bike shop to swap this outfor the correct size for you.  Most goodbike shops will do this for you.

Brakes:  Make sure that the set-up of the brakes accommodates your handsize.  The generic bike set up oftenseems to be for a rider with larger hands. Your bike shop can set this up correctly for you.

Saddles:  Saddle preference is highlyindividual and will come down to the actual size of your pelvis and yourposition on the bike.  The female pelvisis a different shape to the male pelvis (required anatomically so that womencan give birth).  Saddles come in a rangeof sizes and shapes.  It is highly likelythat you will need a female specific saddle due to that pelvis difference.  The best thing is to go to a bike shop, siton a specific tool that measures your pelvis’s “sit bones” (Ischial Tuberosities) to estimate your size, and try several out.  Most shops will do a saddle test ride.  When you find one you love, consider buyingan extra one, as there is nothing worse than finding that the manufacturer hasstopped making your favourite saddle.

Gears:  Some find that with manualgears the front derailleur can be heavy and hard to shift.  If this is the case for you there are twochoices: speak to the bike shop to get them adjusted or go for electronic gears(the slightly more expensive option) - which are a joy in the lightness oftouch required to change gear. 

Cranks:  If you have short (orparticularly long) legs you may want to try a different crank length.  Industry standard tend to fit longer lengthcranks than the average rider under 5’8” requires, so consider if this needs tobe changed on your bike.  Those with astrong core and good flexibility are less likely to notice any problems causedby a less than perfect crank size, but if you have any knee/hip/back issuesthis should be addressed.

Wheels:  Emma Pooley (Olympiccyclist) is a big advocate for smaller wheels (650) for smaller riders.  However, these are more difficult to sourcewith limited range, so most women settle for the standard wheel size (700c),and accept that this can result in the wheel overlapping with the toe - so youneed to be aware of this and take care when doing sharp turns.

Clothes

Lots of clothing items areunisex (socks/shoes/arm and leg warmers/helmets).  However to be a good fit, shorts, jerseys,gilets and jackets do need to be female specific.

Waist Shorts v BibShorts.  Some women prefer shorts (withouta bib) and others prefer having a bib. Bib shorts are usually a bit moreexpensive and they make doing a wee very difficult.  From talking to men (who almost universallyuse bibs)  the rational for bibs is 1)they do not fall down 2) they “hold everything in” 3) no compression around thewaist.  The problem for men to wearshorts comes from the different distribution of fat between women and men.  Men carry fat around the waist whilst womencarry it around the hips.  So for mostwomen, shorts do not fall down as our waist is smaller than our hips and goodshorts use Lycra to hug your waist rather than an elastic band compressingit.  So if you buy the right size andspend as much as you can afford - then shorts likely win out every time forwomen.  It is worth buying the best youcan as that will get you higher quality chamois, lycra and fit - worth everypenny.

If you do use Bib Shorts thendoing a wee will require taking all your top items off - not great given thesize of many cubicles or if you are al-fresco. There are a number of solutions to solve the “doing a wee whilst wearingbib shorts without fully undressing” issue: 1) there is  a trick of rolling up one leg and pulling thebib to the opposite side to create a gap, though this is fraught with potentialfor ending up with a wet chamois 2) use a shee-wee (or similar) 3) buy bibswith a zip or detachable bib straps (although these are considerably moreexpensive).

Menstruation

Just imagine the embarrassmentfor the men in the club meeting when this was discussed. However for women, itis part of our life - on average for 40 years, 480 times.  So in reality, cycling while menstruating isgoing to happen, or cycling will be severely curtailed.

There is an excellent articlein the link below written by Bristol’s own Katherine Moore:

https://bikepacking.com/plan/bikepacking-on-your-period-guide/

Essentially in her articleKatherine lists the options:

1)   Go free - onlight days the blood loss is low and will easily be absorbed by the chamois ofyour padded shorts.

2)   Tampons - nochafing, but they must be changed a maximum of every 8 hours which can be anissue on long rides.

3)   DisposablePads - not particularly recommended, as can chafe as much as wearing knickersunder your shorts and are not breathable, so can be hot.

4)   Menstrual cups- the environmentally friendly way of dealing with heavier days, and a greatoption for those bikepacking.

5)   Wearables -washable, so good for the environment, but again can chafe.

Cycling and menstruating issomething that can easily occur at the same time.  Club runs over a few hours will stop at acafe, providing the opportunity to use the facilities there as required.  And there are plenty of public facilities atlocations the club frequently passes through, including in Usk, Tintern,Cheddar, Congresbury, Clevedon, Chepstow - usually the local public car park isthe location of the village/town public facilities.  If you want to stop, ask the ride leader todo so, and do not hesitate or feel awkward about making this request.  There is no need  to explain why you want to stop.  Most public facilities are free, but bring upto 50p in 10p/20p money as those in some busy spots (e.g. Hay-on-Wye, Clevedon,Portishead) charge.

Menopause

The loss of oestrogen is anatural phenomenon that occurs for all women, usually between the ages of 45-55years.  The transition period can lastfor several years and some women suffer a lot of symptoms, others hardly any.  The loss of oestrogen can affect women inmany ways - affecting sleep, causing hot sweats, dry skin, aching joints andfatigue, altering cognition (“brain fog”), causing genitourinary symptoms,reducing muscle and bone strength and increasing risk of cardiovascularproblems.

Cycling (and other exercise)has been shown to help with these symptoms and reduce some of the effects oflong-term loss of oestrogen. 

An overview of the changesthat occur during the menopause and cycling during this period can be found onthis website:

https://www.cyclinguk.org/article/cycling-though-menopause

Skin thinning can result in anincreased risk of saddle soreness.  Tipsto address this are found in the following flyer:

https://rockmymenopause.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/RMM_Cycling-and-the-menopause.pdf

Strengthening and flexibilityare also important.  Resistance exercisescan help to maintain strength and bone density and also can  support your cycling.  Many find that yoga, pilates etc. can behelpful for balance and flexibility training.

There is some evidence thatexercise late in the evening can increase the risk of hot flushes overnight, soyou should avoid this if it is a problem.

Of course, medication issomething you may want to consider. There are medications such as Sage, Venlafaxine and HRT (hormonereplacement therapy) which can be prescribed for a range of the symptoms.  All have pros and cons, so you must alwaysspeak to your GP about this. 

Pregnancy

It is certainly possible tocycle whilst pregnant.  You shouldhowever consider changes and be cautious - such as keeping under threshold andavoiding high altitude and of course avoid falling off.  There is a good article on this in cyclingweekly- an interview with professionals, Dame Sarah Storey and Lizzie Deignan,who both cycled whilst pregnant with their children.

https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/cycling-pregnancy-advice-lizzie-deignan-dame-sarah-storey-381590

Returning to cycling afterpregnancy will depend on the birth and the person of course, but 6-10 weeks ispossible.  This should be discussed indetail with your midwife before you start cycling again.  It will take longer for ligaments to tightenback up and for all the changes that occurred during pregnancy to resolve, soexercise needs to be built back up slowly. Laura Kenny and Lizzie Deignan have returned to professional racingafter having a child, demonstrating that it is possible to return to fullfitness.

Profiles of some BRC members

Gwen
I was a late comer to cycling, not reallystarting until my mid 40s. I have always been a keen runner, swimmer,mountaineer and skier but cycling was new, I was also keen to try triathlon. Myhusband first joined Bristol Road Club in 2012 and he genuinely chose this clubas locally they had the best looking kit! He kept telling me to come along butI was worried about ‘keeping up with the boys’ and being dropped on the hills.I eventually picked up courage to go along to a club ride in early 2013, I hada great day and was totally hooked after that. Everyone made me feel sowelcome, the ride went so quickly chatting to different people and everyonewaited at the top of any hills so that we were always riding as a group.

I wasalso really pleased to see there were several other women on the ride whichmade me feel much better. It wasn’t long after that first ride that I wasregularly joining the Saturday rides on my own as I knew there would be lots offriendly faces and support there. My main reason for wanting to ride with theclub was to improve my bike handling skills and fitness to help with mytriathlon racing. Well it certainly worked, a year later I was racing my firstIronman and have continued to have more success than I ever thought waspossible. I have represented GB in Masters Triathlon, finished 2nd in my agegroup at Ironman Barcelona, was English and British Middle Distance Champion.Aside from the racing I just love the camaraderie of the club, I have madefriends for life and had great adventures both in the UK and on our trips toMallorca. I have also dabbled in TT racing and Cyclocross which was great fun.Recently a group of us have started regular off road gravel bike rides, moregreat adventures that still involve coffee and cake when possible.


Fiona

I’d been road cycling for fitness and done afew triathlons before I moved to Bristol. I knew there were cycling clubs but they all looked really serious, maledominated and race dominated.  I’m not sointerested in racing but do enjoy triathlons and challenge rides.  I was literally ‘picked up’ by a BRC ride oneday by accident, riding out on my own through Long Ashton.  A group scooped me up and a few of the guys saidI should join them.  I really wasn’tsure, and was seriously worried about holding them up or getting dropped on aroute I didn’t know.  60 miles, a cakestop and trip up Cheddar gorge later I had a big smile on my face.  Everyone was so welcoming.  It was great to ride side by side sociallyand I definitely rode faster than I normally would.

The fact I know there will always be a 60ishride going out every Saturday morning has been fantastic training for eventslike the Marmotte and Maratona.  It meantI covered most of the 112 miles and 5200m ascent of the Marmotte with a big smileon my face.  I was a lot stronger thanthe friends I’d been riding with on Sundays, and a lot more confident oncrowded roads.

Really lovely bunch of girls and guys with somuch experience, always ready to help and advise.  It also helps that the kit looks good 😉


Zoe
Before joining BRC, I was attending the group rides with my triathlon group.However, after taking part in around 10 rides, I was informed that due to thefact I was under 18, I could not keep coming without a parent, and with 3 siblingsdoing various activities on a Saturday morning, this was not possible. To saythe least, I was very disappointed – I was loving cycling and wanted to do moreof it, not less. It was at this point that Ali recommended Bristol Road Club tome.

To begin with, I was slightly apprehensive. Thedetails that I found on their website showed that the average speed of clubrides was 15mph and that they usually cycled 50-60miles. This was both furtherand faster than I had ever cycled. Despite this, I decided to give it a go.

The Saturday morning of my first ride, Iarrived at Brunel Lock just as the drizzle was starting, looking somewhat likea radioactive lemon in my waterproof, and was warmly greeted by Danny andBrian. We proceeded to cycle to Berkeley and back and, although the rain onlygot heavier and my legs grew more reluctant to keep on pedaling, I had awonderful time. Everyone was really friendly, they made sure not to leave mebehind, and I got to do what I loved: cycling.

I now go every week I can and am graduallygetting faster and stronger – I can keep up on some of the little hills, andeven when I can’t, everyone waits for me. Every week, there are differentpeople to talk to, and another fabulous ride waiting for us – I already can’twait for the next one.

Jenny
Whilst I was at University in Bristol I waslooking for a group ride to join on a Saturday, as the University club only meton Sunday morning. I had experience with group riding but I hadn’t done manylong distance rides until I moved to Bristol. I heard about Bristol Road Clubthrough a friend who recommended I joined them that weekend for a club ride.

At first I felt a bit intimidated when I turnedup and there were around 30 other cyclists waiting at the start, especially asa solo female cyclist, but I was instantly welcomed by the Club Captain. Theyintroduced me to the ride leader so they were aware it was my first time ridingwith the club. We headed out riding two abreast, with the line rotating every10 minutes so you were always chatting to someone new. There was so muchknowledge and experience in the group - I was learning all the tricks to hidefrom the wind! I got home, absolutely shattered having completed my longestever ride on my first time with the club. I think I just lay down for the restof the day but I couldn’t wait for the following weekend to ride with the clubagain and explore more of the fantastic cycling routes from Bristol.

Over the past 7 years riding with the club Ihave improved so much more than I would have riding alone, not just in fitnessbut with bike handling, positioning in a group...even in cycling clothingchoice (overshoes and buffs were game changers for me). They have alsosupported me with my road racing ambitions. Whilst at University I was offeredlifts to events, without which I wouldn’t have been able to compete.

My favourite thing about Bristol Road Club ishow much knowledge there is on pretty much all cycling disciplines. Althoughthey are a road club, through the club I have been introduced to track cycling,mountain biking, road races, circuit races, time trials and hill climbs. Thereis also a wealth of experience in triathlon and cyclocross. I would recommendBristol Road Club to anyone - newcomer or experienced cyclist!

Ali
I started cycling 10 years ago to do a charityride.  I went from buying my first roadbike to cycling from Bristol over the moors to Lands End in 8 weeks.  I loved it and I was hooked.

I like to explore new roads locally, around theUK and abroad, particularly with cycling friends.  I love plotting new routes, stopping toadmire the view, and, of course, enjoying a cafe stop.

I first cycled with BRC in 2016.  I was a bit anxious that I would not bestrong enough for the fast group, but Jenny had reassured me.  I was soon a regular, enjoying the newfriends to chat to, the beauty of the two abreast group riding, and the extraspeed and strength that came from pushing myself not to drop the wheel on hillsand keep a good pace on the front.

I have enjoyed theTuesday BRC Friendly Chaingang throughout the summer, helping out andspectating at local races, and making great cycling friends for epic rides- ittakes a special kind of friend to ride the festive 500 audax together withoutany complaints.  Being part of BRC meansthat I have friends across the Bristol cycling scene- I will always bump intosomeone I know at a cycling related event, there is a cheer of support if I doa hill climb, and a fabulous zwift racing and social riding team.