Whilst having a conversation with another male cyclist recently about the state someone had left their legs in post shave, I realized that this was not a normal conversation for two grown men to have. I decided to change the subject quickly to avoid any more of my masculinity fading away. As our chat continued we moved on to talk about how it was good to see more people in cycling at the amateur level, especially women. So what is it that is drawing women to a traditionally male-dominated sport? Well, it’s not to swap leg-shaving techniques I assure you.
Women’s cycling is not a new concept. Ladies seeking freedom and emancipation from their restrictive lives found solitude in the two-wheeled machine as far back as the 1890s. Since then, Victorian era attitudes and expectations have thankfully changed for the female of the species. In more recent times we have seen the emergence of fantastically talented female cyclists – true ambassadors for their sport and inspirational figureheads.
Victoria Pendleton of Great Britain, Marianne Vos of Holland, Anna Meares of Australia, and Kristin Armstrong of the United States are all hugely popular and successful cyclists who have consistently performed at the top of their sport. In the world of triathlon, Chrissie Wellington is arguably the best female endurance athlete as a four-time World Ironman champion. All of the aforementioned athletes are truly inspirational and maybe part of the reason that more women feel that they not only can get involved, but can perform in this sport with natural aplomb.
You do not have to be an elite female athlete to enjoy the sport, however, and more and more we are seeing women take to amateur cycling and doing it well – really well. So well, in fact, they are showing the men how it should be done.
Women are doing so well that the endurance community has even coined a term for the situation where a woman passes or finishes higher in the standings than a male counterpart. The term is “chicking,” and although it could be argued that it has undertones of sexism, I have not spoken to any female cyclist or triathlete who was offended by it. There is even a website that focuses on empowering women to enjoy chicking the men, selling merchandise with “you just got chicked” emblazoned on the rear for all who have just been dropped to see.
This sentiment harnesses a newfound level of banter and competitiveness between partners, colleagues, and friends, and is a sentiment that is to be enjoyed by all involved. After all there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition.
This is quite simple – get a bike and ride it. You do not need to ride competitively to enjoy cycling and there are many facets to be explored. If you are buying new, then I would recommend you get sized in a dedicated bicycle shop as they will advise you on which bike is best for you. If you plan to race then invest in a professional fit to get it set up properly for your biomechanics. If you are new to the sport, it would be better to borrow a bike or spend very little until you have decided on your level of interest. After that, you can lose a small fortune in this sport – trust me, my bank statement will vouch for this.
Choosing Road vs. Trail
Some people are happy to use their bicycle purely for light exercise or to complement their regular training. Others like to use it as originally intended, as a mode of transport that is low cost and sustainable. But if you want to really get involved, take your training to a new level, push your body to its limit until your heart is beating out of your chest in the constant pursuit of speed, then you are in very good company. For you, I would say it might be best to try out different styles of riding and decide which suits you best. The road offers the chance to ride fast, but large vehicles can often get a little too close for comfort. The trails tend to be a bit slower and allow you to build and test your technical skills and usually allow a softer landing if you fall (not always the case, I have hurtled towards a large rock at over 30mph. I am sure you can assume a victor in Cyclist vs. Rock!)
Join a Club
You now have a bike and a chosen style. The best way to find out about all of the elements of your sport is to join a club (a quick Google search will bring up what is available in your area). Cyclists are a traditionally guarded group, looking upon newcomers with an air of suspicion but attitudes have changed a lot in recent years and they have slowly realized that it might be better to embrace beginners and have more people in the sport.
Joining a new club and meeting new people can be a daunting task, the last thing you need is hostility so choose a club that puts you at ease. When choosing your club they should quickly welcome you to cycling and their members should be willing to help and offer advice. A club will have a multitude of riders who can give you the wealth of their experience and help you to avoid the pitfalls that they have probably been a victim of in the past. They will give you advice on training, clothing, gear, and races. A yearly membership is relatively low cost as are most of the locally organized races.
So you have got your bike, training, and clothing sorted. How do you start leaving the blokes in your dust? Well, there are a few ways this can be done, the most beginner friendly being a sportive. There are also time trial events, or even triathlons if you fancy a multi-discipline event. You could also just get your kicks on a club training ride or a ride with a friend or partner (that’s the beauty of being competitive, everything is a race). There are other cycling races to get involved in such as criteriums, hill climbs, or track racing, to name a few, but these are typically segregated into men’s, women’s and youth’s races.
There you have it, all of the information you need to help you get started and join this fraction of the gender war. Ultimately whether you “chick” get “chicked” is irrelevant. What is pertinent is that you enjoy yourself and continue to grow a much-loved sport. A little healthy competition between the sexes on the way is just coincidence, let the battle commence.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.