So you bought a bike, joined a club and have all the gear. Go you! Its an amazing sport you have chosen, I hope you find as much pleasure in cycling as I do. I love it.
My little bike and I have cycled all over Ireland, every nook and cranny. We have been to Europe a few times to check out some real mountains. We have had good days and bads day but thankfully we are both still going well!
So 7 years on I have realised there is more to cycling than just sitting on your bike. There is preparation, the pre spin build up. There is expensive, shiny new gear and always an excuse to go shopping for more stuff. There is the day of the actual physical spin. That often means coming home cold and hungry but elated and rejuvenated. There is the aftermath where you discuss said spin in detail and bore your family members. Most importantly, there is the bad stuff like chaffing, ill fitting gear and the things I just wish someone had told me!
By the way, these are girl things I wish I had known! Things that may have saved me trips to the chemist. So boys unless you want some gory details I don't recommend reading any further!
So ladies! Firstly let's be reminded that anatomically we are very different to men and that's why we need this discussion. I love cycling with guys but there are just some things we can't ask them. Like why am I sore down there or are my knees supposed to hit my boobs? I used to think cycling was just an uncomfortable sport and I would get used to it. You learn the hard way. Let me share my pearls of wisdom with you.
Your Seat. It is like your bed, you will be spending hours a week on it so make sure it's a comfortable. I invested in a Salle de Italia ladies saddle. Its lady friendly in the soft tissue department. It has a hole in the center of the seat to encourage airflow and space. Why? Hours on the saddle, wearing tight clothing, sweating and eating sugary food are all a breeding ground for a yeast infection. The air flow helps to keep you dry. My brother always laughs when he sees my saddle and asks do I whistle? So rude!!
Ensure the saddle is in the correct position, ie, straight and level. If you find you are getting compression pains or severe discomfort check your saddle. Is it too high? Is it straight? Get out a spirit level and ensure it is level. You would be surprised how 1mm can affect everything. Saddles do not last forever either, if you're clocking up the miles then so is the wear and tear on your saddle.
Clothing: When I first started cycling I used to wear cycling shorts from Lidl and Aldi. While it is good stuff and it lasts, it's just not good enough for long distance / club cycling. By all means wear it commuting or for very short spins but anything over 50km is a disaster. The chamois is too thin. You need good padding. Also I found that mens/ boy shorts weren't all that comfortable, the chamois doesn't always sit right. Invest in some good ladies shorts / tights. They are worth the outlay. If you only spend money on two things for your cycling wardrobe make sure it's good shorts/ tights and a good rain jacket. Size matters when cycling. Ensure your shorts or tights are glued to you. Go a size smaller if you have to. If not they will move/ rub/ chafe. Trust me, I made this mistake once and never again. Tubs of sudocrem later I actually have a faint scar on my inner thigh. It's not clever and easily avoided. Also on the subject, chamois cream.. I use vaseline to be honest, you can of course use something else, the bike shops are full of expensive alternatives. Also, wear nothing under your tights or shorts. Leave your underwear at home. It will cause more friction and more layers equals more heat, sweat and problems down there. Black is best by the way, Go for high viz trims etc, just make sure they are black in all the important areas, seriously! Feel free to impart this piece of knowledge with your male cyclist buddies, white is not appropriate, EVER!
I'm sure that I don't need to tell any girl the importance of a good sports bra. While we are not runners, trust me, the potholes on some roads can cause serious discomfort. Plus all that bending forward over handle bars.. gravity will take its toll. Strap em in and hold em up! If you're suffering neck and shoulder pain the straps maybe cutting off circulation in around your traps (meaty bit at the top of your shoulders). It maybe that your posture on the bike is all wrong which we will discuss but check out your bra. If you have great big dents in your shoulders then it's too tight.
Ensure your gear last too by washing it on a gently washing machine cycle. NEVER use fabric conditioner on any sports clothes it wrecks the lycra/ technical fabric. I sometimes spray my chamois with a little tea tree solution (five drops to 300 ml water), its antibacterial. Saves you having to use a hot wash which will also wreck your gear.
Beauty and the bike, there is no need to look a wreck on the bike!
Get out of your clothes a.s.a.p. Why? We are back to lycra, being damp and a breeding ground for thrush. It is essential for us girls to get out of those wet clothes asap. Get showered and get dry. Its also a good idea to wear loose clothes, ideal excuse to put on pjs. Let the air circulate. Did you know that drinking Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is brilliant for eliminating yeast infections and preventing them? Ensure you use cloudy ACV with "the mother." Dilute it as it can be harsh on tooth enamel. I make lemon and ginger tea, add a good healthy dash of ACV to it. It's not that bad, honestly. You get used to it. It beats trips to the chemist as it heals from the inside. I try to drink it everyday, plus it stops you craving sweet things so all round thumbs up. More info on that here.
A Bike Fit is essential. Do you remember when you were little and you were getting new shoes? The shop assistant would measure you, make you walk around, squeeze the toe etc! Well same principle really only more technical. I recently went to Bike Fit Ireland, Aidan Hammond who is just brilliant. I should have gone years ago to be honest. If you are getting into cycling then you need a bike fit. Best to start your cycling career from the best possible position. Why wait till you have sore knees, achy shoulders ,neck pain etc. Most of it is avoidable if your bike fit was correct!
Irish proof your kit! You can spend all the money you like on top notch gear but cycling in Ireland requires some Macgyver thinking now and again. I have over the years put tin foil inside my over shoes to try and get further insulation. I have used electrical tape under the insoles of my shoes to cover up holes from cleats. I have ran into shops and got free newspapers, not to read, but to put inside my jersey when I was struggling with the cold. Latex surgical gloves or marigolds, yep have worn them under my gloves too. They come in handy for puncture repairs too. I spent good money on seal skin socks which are allegedly waterproof. Mine were €40 and the week after Aldi had them for €18. So keep your eyes open. The thing about cycling here is layers, getting them right. Arm warmers are invaluable as is a light rain jacket that folds up into nothing. Even on a nice day don't be fooled. Last summer the Tour of the Burren was amazing for 90kms then like a light switch it changed. We were soaked, cold and miserable for 60km home! I had stupidly taken off my mudguards thinking it was going to be a great summer's day. My advice is, and I know the boys will oppose this, leave your mudguard on. Always! There is nothing worse than a cold soggy chamois. The dampness and cold gets into your kidneys and goes up your back! Honestly, I know my bike would look more pro like... but I prefer to be dry and comfortable.
Off the bike: Refuel, make sure you eat something good as soon as you have showered. Always try to have something in the fridge and ready to stop you eating crap. Hardboiled eggs are great, you can prepare the night before, chicken sandwich etc. I love to have a great big glass of almond milk too. I personally am not a fan of synthetic protein powders but don't let that stop you. Chocolate milk is good too but I find it's just more sugar. You probably ate bars etc on the bike, try and give your tummy a break. Eat something normal. You will be hungry again in an hour so plan ahead!!
I am a yoga teacher so I can't not mention the importance of stretching and looking after your body. I highly recommend Yoga for Cyclists which I teach on a Monday night in Dublin 2. You will usually find me rolling around my floor on a saturday afternoon, either with massage balls, foam roller or just elevating my legs. Sometimes an ice bath or a sea dip is called for if I have been doing a lot of miles. It all helps your recovery and remember, hours bent over your bike, grinding gears and hanging on to the brakes for dear life all take their toll on your body. Undo it before you collapse in a heap on the couch. I have written articles on the subject of stretching. Here are a few to get you started.
1. How to improve your cycling performance while lying on the floor
2. Are you sitting comfortably?
3. The Female athlete
The last piece of advice I can give you is to get out there and enjoy it. Make friends and network so you will always have a spin buddy. If you're waiting for a nice day you will be waiting. Best to toughen up from the start and get on with it.
Want to feel great off the bike? Join me in class, Yoga for Cyclists and Pilates are great enhancements to any aspiring cyclists. I also teach Yoga for beginners which is a great place to start your yoga practice.
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About the Author:
Sinéad Kennedy is a Physical Therapist, Yoga Siromani and Pilates Instructor, based in South County Dublin. She treats and teaches people from all walks of life, including many athletes, especially cyclists, runners and golfers. Recently featured in the Irish Independant, FIT Magazine, her Yoga 4 Cyclists class has gained notoriety. A keen cyclist and proud member of Orwell Wheelers she has completed numerous cycling events including La Marmotte Sportive. Sinéad has also completed three Dublin City Marathons, numerous Adventure Races, Half Marathons and the Camino de Santiago.
Keen to spread the word on all things related to Wellness, Fitness, Coaching and Travel.