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Eileen Gray
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Frequently Asked Questions


Page last updated: 18th May 2003


A collection of queries and conundrums that we often get asked by racing girls:

1. Clothing and Equipment
2. Racing
3. Training

1. Clothing and Equipment

Q. Is it true that you don't wear anything underneath your shorts?
A. Yes. The cycling shorts worn for racing are specially designed to be worn next to the skin. They are made from breathable, stretchable fabric (usually containing Lycra) and have a special padded insert that makes a comfortable cushion to sit on. It may not look much but, providing you also have a saddle that fits you properly (see How do I choose a comfortable saddle?), padded shorts are perfectly comfortable for everything from an all-day ride to a hard and fast race. In fact, if your wear normal underwear, you may well suffer from very painful chafing as the cotton soaks up the sweat, stays wet and rubs against your skin. The insert in cycling shorts is specially formulated to stay dry and not cause chafing and the resulting skin infections.

Q. What should I wear under my jersey?
A. The modern racing jersey is made from high-tech, lightweight, breathable fabic that wicks away sweat thus keeping you cool, dry and comfortable even in the heat of a race. Therefore it's essential that you don't wear cotton undergarments that stay wet once they get wet. Most racing cyclists also wear some sort of undervest. Make sure this also wicks sweat away, e.g. HellyHansen, Infil, Nike DriFit or Odlo Thermic. If you feel comfortable doing so, some smaller-bosemed women don't bother wearing any sort of support. However, if you need to, then wear a sports bra but make sure that it is also made of a wicking fabric. You don't wear your ordinary bra as this will soak up the sweat, stay wet and cause painful chafing.

Q. Are "women specific" clothes any better than men's?
A. Women's specific clothing, such as shorts, jerseys and gloves have been welcomed by women cyclists around  the world. Women specific shorts have most if not all the following features: "hour-glass" shaped insert to fit the female form; different panel cut to allow for shorter legs and wider hips; non-elasticated low-cut waist for comfort. Women specific jerseys have tailored waists, are shorter in the back and cut for the bust so that they fit snugly and comfortably. Also, women specific gloves should allow for our slimmer, longer fingers. In summary, clothing designed specifically for women may fit you better, making you feel more comfortable on the bike.

Q. What's so special about these "women specific" saddles?
A. The female pelvis is shaped differently to the man's, being shorter and wider. Also, women sit with more weight on the pubic bone at the front as opposed to men who sit mainly on the "sit bones" under the buttocks. This means that the man's saddle, with its long, hard nose and narrow rear will not support the female pelvis properly and can cause great pain in women riders. Women specific saddles are wider at the back, have a shorter nose and usually a soft or cut out section in the middle for the soft and tender perineum underneath.

Q. How do I choose a comfortable saddle?
A. The bad news is that the saddle is the most personal thing to get right on the bicycle. The good news is that today there are plenty of women specific saddles that should mean that you get a good, comfortable saddle fairly quickly (see What's so special about these "women specific" saddles?). Look for one that's slightly wider at the back, has a shorter nose and soft padding or a cutaway in the middle (because women have a wider, shorter pelvis than men and put more weight on the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis). Very few shops will accept a saddle back once it's been used but what doesn't suit you may be perfect for the next woman so you may well be able to swap or sell on.

 Q. Why do I get pain in my neck/shoulders/elbows/wrists?
A. This usually indicates that you are riding too stretched out on your bike. Are your arms locked out at the elbows, your neck cricked right back to see forward and your back nearly horizontal? If so then your bike is either not set up properly for you or even too big for you (see What is the right size bike for me?).

Q. Why do I have to stretch to reach the handlebars even though the bike is the right size for me?
A. The size of a bicycle is quoted as the length of the seat tube, e.g. 21 inches or 54 centimetres. However, bicycles are built to fit men of different heights but what fits a man who is the same height as you may well not fit you. This is widely accepted as being down to not only the difference in leg and body length between men and women (women having a shorter torso and longer legs) but also because men and women sit differently on the bike (women "hinge" at the lower back while men "hinge" at the hips). This means that a standard 54 cm frame will have a top tube that has you stretched out to reach the handlebars (see What is the right size bike for me?).

Q. What is the right size bike for me?
A. As well as getting the seat tube length right, the reach to the handlebar has to be comfortable. This means that, when you are sitting with your hands on the tops of the handlebars (the straight bit), your back should be angled at 45 degree and your arms bent slightly at the elbows. This usually means that women either go for a smaller frame size to get a correspondingly shorter top tube, or get a women specific frame with the correct geometry. These tend to have a steep seat tube angle (74-76 degrees), short top tube and sometimes a slightly raised headstock to bring the handlebars up and back to where the hands are. Note that simply putting on an extra short stem on to reduce the reach will leave you with a bike that feels twitchy rather than sure-footed at the front.

2. Racing

Q. How do I get a racing licence?
A. For all races held under British Cycling rules (road, criterium, track, mountain bike, cyclo cross, etc.) you need a British Cycling racing licence. This currently includes all WCRA events. You can get the details of what a racing licence is and entitles you to, and download the form from the British Cycling web site.

3. Training

Q. Why do I just feel shattered after training with my husband/boyfriend/clubmates while they are getting fitter and faster?
A. Sadly, for most of us, men are stronger than women and so what will be a reasonable pace for your male friends will leave you hanging on for grim death. Especially if you're new to cycling, you must develop at your own pace, even if this isn't as fast as the men around you. Eventually, if you stick at it, there is no reason why you cannot be as fit and fast as most of the men in your club and, who knows, even start beating them! However, you must train at the intensity that is right for you. The best way to make sure you're doing it right is to get the advice of a qualified cycling coach. You can contact our own Coaching Advisor or go through either the Association of British Cycle Coaches or British Cycling.