Enjoy the thrill of the ride, sans excuses…

More women are trading in the stuffy environment of indoor spin classes for the world of Lycra, helmets and the kind of smile only freewheeling down a hill with the wind in your hair can bring on. But if you’re among the cycle-shy crowd, we’ve banished all of your excuses so you can start taking the joint-friendly green-transport route…

THE EXCUSE: “IT’S SOOOO UNCOMFORTABLE”

Sore bum? Numb (ahem) other parts? Inner-thigh chafing? Yep, these are all indignities that can result from time spent in the saddle – but they don’t have to. First, invest in some padded shorts. Next, check your saddle. “Don’t assume the one that comes with your bike is okay,” advises bike-fit technician James Thomas. “It’s often a good idea to replace it with one that fits you better. Those designed for the female form are typically wider, filled with gel foam for comfort and with a cut-away middle to relieve pressure on your sensitive parts,” he says.

Thomas also suggests checking your saddle height. “Most people need to lower theirs,” he says. “When you’re sitting on the saddle, your feet should be able to just touch the floor. With feet on the pedals, you should have a slight bend in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke.” Lastly, if chafing is a prob on longer rides, apply some lube or ‘chamois’ cream to affected parts. But remember, anything you apply near the genital region needs to be irritation free. To soothe any chafing and saddle soreness post ride, look for products that have a blend of calming calendula, teatree, hypericum and lavender.

THE EXCUSE: “I’M WORRIED ABOUT POLLUTION”

You see cyclists in city traffic, sitting in the exhaust fumes of buses, trucks and cars – we get it. But is that fear enough to keep you off the bike altogether? The answer is complex but, ultimately, the experts say no. Cycling is much better for your health than not cycling, even taking into account pollution and accident risk. While petrol may have cleaned up its act, diesel is still a real risk, emitting particulates such as black carbon (or soot). “But, interestingly, cyclists may be less exposed than people on public transport or in cars because they’re in the open air,” says Dr Benjamin Barratt, lecturer in air quality science at King’s College London.

There’s also the fact that most urban journeys on a bike are quicker and shorter than the equivalent route inside a vehicle or on foot – so exposure to pollutants is less. If you cycle to work, finding a route on quieter back streets or special bike paths can go a long way towards reducing your exposure, while you should also consider the time of day you’re cycling. In general, pollution levels are highest in the afternoons, when ozone peaks. If you can arrange your rides so you stick to cycling in the mornings and evenings, especially in summer, that can make all the difference to your pollution exposure.

THE EXCUSE: “EEK, I’M SCARED TO CYCLE ON THE ROAD”

A 2013 survey conducted by the Cycling Promotion Fund and the National Heart Foundation of Australia found that more than 60 per cent of women are concerned about the safety of cycling. Whether you’ve cycled in the past and lost your confidence, or you’ve never made the transition from beginner to commuter or fitness cyclist, one-on-one and group lessons for adults are totally a real thing. Head to bikewise.com.au to find a workshop or coach near you. Other confidence-building tricks include practising on quiet local streets, or going out for bike rides with people who are more experienced than you. Ask friends or check out Cycling Australia’s She Rides program to connect and ride with other cycling women.

THE EXCUSE: “I DON’T LOOK THE PART”

Move over Mamils (middle-aged men in Lycra), the continued boom in bikes and cycling accessories is down to the increased numbers of women getting in the saddle. And looking the part is as simple as, well, making a few new purchases… You’ll be way comfier on your bike if you have at least some cycling-specific kit. And nope, it doesn’t mean you need to be decked out in head-to-toe Lycra (phew!) – instead, think a water-proof jacket or cape for dodgy weather, aforementioned padded shorts for longer journeys and cycling gloves for added comfort.

THE EXCUSE: “BUT I CAN’T FIX A BIKE”

If you want to make cycling a habit, then you’re going to have to get yo’self familiar with some basic bike maintenance – that is, knowing how to secure your wheels, ensure you have the correct tyre pressure, and clean and oil your chain, and making sure your bike is in good working order before you set out. You can have all this info on hand by downloading Bike Doctor app, which covers a whole heap of essential bike knowledge. While out on the road, it’s important to have the right tools in your kit (including a decent tyre pump, multi-tool, spare inner tubes and adhesive patches) in case of a mechanical fail – often a puncture. These are pretty easy to fix and, in most cases, can be done without taking the wheel off the bike. Then it’s happy cycling!

This story originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Women’s Fitness

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