SLIDER

Bike Talk: The Female Saddle Issue Debate

23 August, 2017

You may have read in a previous blog post on Things Only Cycling Babes Know and wondered what I meant by #9: "Not shaving "lady bits" is the best prevention for saddle sore..." It has become well known in the community that female cyclist suffer most from saddle issues such as saddle sore, labial swelling, numbness, and infections like Vaginitis and UTI's. While these affliction's are quite common in female cyclists it seems too embarrassing for our community to speak up about it. While there are different thoughts of cause and effect of female grooming and saddle issues, it's important that our community has a dialogue about these issues that affect our bodies health on the saddle so that we can  help each other find solutions.

There seems to be two minds about female grooming and saddle issues, the first being that grooming is correlated to saddle issues and the second that grooming is not correlated to saddle issues but rather hygiene. The first thought, spurred by British Cycling, has their olympic women's team taking world-class expert advice to advise against bikini waxing, shaving, and hair removal creams. The rule to not groom was encouraged when the team had been suffering from saddle soreness and warned that a lack of pubic hair was contributing to this issue - a problem hampering the team's performance. Apparently, not grooming has lead to better performance and less saddle issues.

The second thought of saddle issues comes from a term the women's cycling community has liberally used to describe saddle discomfort as "Flap Mash", taken from Emily Chappell's article in Casquette magazine, The Truth About Saddle Sores. In the article, Chappell interviews journalist and writer of Saddle, Sore, Molly Hurford, who's professional investigative conclusion has lead her to believe that grooming is not the issue while its more about labial asymmetry and keeping yourself clean by getting out of your shorts soon after a ride and avoiding chamois cream if you don't groom all your hair.

Personally, I have no issue with pubic hair but I do think it has become a political statement and for others a fashion statement. I also believe there is a societal obsession with making women's bodies "better" or "cleaner" for public consumption. The beauty industry has tapped into this offering loads of products and services to achieve "perfection" and the cycling industry is no fool to this either. While women's cycling products are coming up by the dozens, I do not doubt marketing strategies to appeal to saddle comfort while also trying to keep their female customers happy. I'm not arguing that we should go au natural but rather that we take precautions on caring for our lady bits that can affect our overall health and enjoyment on the saddle.

If you are suffering from saddle issues, don't ignore it. Regardless of what school of thought you side with, what's important is to help you address these issues. Here are some ways to help you manage your lady bits health on the saddle.

Chamois cream:
Using a lubricate like chamois cream helps to reduce friction between our skin and cycling shorts. You can find women's specific brands of chamois creams that are developed specifically to help women maintain a healthy pH balance while fighting bacteria build-up. I personally am a fan of HER Chamios Butt'r and apply on my chamois and areas of the groin that may rub on the saddle or shorts. I've been using this product for years now and have never had an issue but every woman is different, so try a few till you find what works for you! For more on chamois cream, read up on the Best Chamois Creams from TWC.

Barrier
I hear from a lot of women that they suffer from inner-thigh chafing. This happens when the sides of the saddle rub against delicate skin. You can address this by using anti-chafing gels such as Lanacane that provides a barrier on the skin from bibs or shorts rubbing on the skin. Also keep in mind that shorts with seams can also create chaffing and rubbing so try to look for shorts that don't have seams around the chamois and your sensitive areas.


Quality Chamois and Kit
From the positioning of the chamois in the shorts to the seam positioning and fit, all these can have a major impact on saddle comfort. A common mistake by cyclists is that they wear underwear under their shorts. This prevents the technical fabrics in the chamois from functioning properly and will trap moisture to the skin, risking bacterial infection so go commando, this is what chamois is for. When looking for quality chamois, look for seamlessness and take note of zig zag threading in the chamois. Machines For Freedom claims that "polymide-carbon threading makes chamois fabric ultra fast drying, bacteriostatic, and reduces heat gain during long hours in the saddle." I would also add that their bibs are my absolute go to's, quality doesn't even go far enough about how great they are from how they look, feel, and perform on the saddle.

Maintain
Grooming is a personal choice. While waxing or shaving may look nice on the beach, it can become a nightmare for irritation, friction, snagging, chaffing, and infected bumps. While it seems that maintaining a trimmed nether region is preferable to avoiding saddle issues according to Total Women's Cycling on the subject intimate grooming, if you're going to shave or wax, keep in mind to take care of delicate skin after removing hair to avoid follicle infection with a layer of antibiotic ointment and don't forget to apply chamois cream on the chamois and on your lady bits too.

Saddle Fit
Prolonged pressure between the body and saddle is obviously an issue for "Flap Mash"and while resolving it with our bodies natural barriers is one way to handle it, perhaps a change in saddle and positioning on saddle is needed too. Although finding the perfect saddle is a challenge, there are numerous bike shops that have saddle libraries for you to test. Keep in mind that although one saddle might work for a handful of ladies, it may not work you. I highly recommend getting a saddle fit along with a bike fit. This will help you manage your sitting position (60 degree horizontal recommended) on the saddle and save you a lot of trouble from these afflictions.

As one woman out of many, my saddle experiences have not been as bad as many others for all the years I've been riding. I have a before and after cycling personal routine to keep my lady bits healthy from diet, supplements, and hygiene and it has served me well for many years. One issue I use to come across more as I started road cycling is numbing before I bought my Selle Italia Diva Flow. I've seen many women with this saddle and they also boast great comfort on it. For most of the part, your saddle comfort is based on the type of riding you do so do your research and start here on How To Choose A Saddle.

So, to groom or not to groom? While saddle issues are no fun, it's important that we learn to care for our bodies on and off the saddle. The debate between grooming is one that will linger between experts, journalists, and the industry but it's up to us to decide what is right for our bodies. Their is no one-size fits all solution and while speaking up about our personal afflictions is embarrassing, it can provide great comfort knowing how to care for yourself and that you aren't the only woman that suffers from these issues. As far as if you should groom... well, that's up to you.

Image Courtesy @MachinesForFreedom

Guide To Conquering Climbs

17 August, 2017

Hills, some people love them and some seem to hate them. Climbing isn't everyones favorite but many seem to ask, how do I improve my climbing skills? When I began cycling, I had no idea there was wrong and right way of climbing, I just adjusted my gears, set my mind to it and rode up with searing pain in my legs. When I began road cycling, I discovered that climbing was an art and much of your skill is in your mind as in your bike and body. Today, developing my climbing skills have helped me to become an enthusiastic climber so to help you overcome your climbing fears, here are a few tips to help you conquer the mountains.

Positive Thinking
I put this one first because self doubt seems to be the biggest challenge most of us face when looking up a hill. Climbing is as much a mental effort as it is physical. One way to help you muster up the courage to climb is by speaking to yourself positively. I have a mantra I use when I climb "I can to this. I am strong. I can conquer. I got this." These short out spoken affirmations help me to not just control my thoughts but also my breathing. When your mind, breathing and body are in sync, you are much likely able to achieve and conquer a climb.

Breath
When climbing, you'll be breathing hard but you shouldn't lose control of your breath. When climbing, try to sync your breath with each pedal while keeping your effort at a comfortable level. You'll want to keep your breathing in check as your effort level will be influenced by how you control it.

Loose Hands
I remember someone telling me to climb like I was pretending to play a piano on the to of my bars and to focus my pedaling with my glutes (while sitting). You don't want to move your entire body into a pedal as you need to distribute your weight and effort into the back of your legs, were the pedal power is. So relax into a climb by tucking but slightly flaring your elbows, loosen your face grit, and relax your shoulders down and back as you pedal and breath in sync while keeping your fingers playing your bar tops like a piano.

Gears
Depending on your bike, having the right gearing is key to attempting even some of the biggest climbs. Not using your shifts properly can either drop your chain or break it so you'll want to know how to properly use your shifts. For climbing, shifting in a gear that you can spin easily into before you go up harder can help you as you begin to feel increased pressure in your pedal, as the pressure increases shift again. To conserve your energy on a climb, keep your cadence high and use the easiest gear that will allow you to maintain your momentum going up, you'll need to keep this in mind on long rides. For more tips on using your gears, read up on this article on How To Use Your Gears Cycling Uphill.

Pedal Push
Speaking of pushing, your heels are your power. Keep your feet flat and push with your heels as if you're scraping them into the ground, as apposed to your toes. By pushing through your heels you transfer all that power from your glutes, hamstrings, and calves into your pedal stroke. 

Weight Balance
Shifting your weight on the saddle while climbing is also an art. Shifting your weight forward and back on the saddle can provide you a fresh set of muscles to use and prevent them from burning out. While sitting on the back of your saddle balances your effort between your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, moving forwards emphasizes the use of your quads, while leaning in or "gnawing" on your bars will help distribute weight to the front wheel and prevent it from losing traction with the road as you pull on the bars to help move power on your pedals. Standing up out of your saddle will help push your weight into your pedal. When standing out of your saddle, shift once into a harder gear, keep your weight centered in the bottom bracket and your hips over the saddle, placing your hands on the hoods, gently pressing side to side into the bars. While you'll be using all your body weight to climb, the standing position uses more energy and speeds up your heart rate, so it's advisable to stand only when you need to. 

Know Your Limits
If you find that climbing hills is just too much or painful, there is no shame in knowing your limits and walking it the rest of the way. Pacing yourself on a climb is key, even if that means setting up goals on a climb like reaching a post, stopping for a bit and focusing on the next goal. 

It's always helpful to have someone who is skilled to ride with you to give you tips. Once you've built your skills, you can then focus on building your strength and speed to help you fly uphill. The best way to get better at climbing is to just get out on your bike and climb up as many hills as you can. Doing reps can really help you overcome your fears and build your strength and confidence. Best thing to keep in mind during your training is to work out your weaknesses, once you're able to work them out, you'll be a climber in no time.

Image Courtesy: Machines For Freedom

Rides + Events

10 August, 2017

Ok ladies, now let's get En Route! I shared recently that I have been brewing up this women's cycling
group for some time now and it's time we roll on to the actionable part and spread the good word together. I have teamed up with Machines For Freedom as a Machines Community Leader and my local bike shop Bikeway as supporters to get us ladies on the road representing the Hudson Valley.

On the first Saturday of each month we ride to explore beautiful places in the Hudson Valley on our bikes and meet new friends. Rides will focus on building fitness, improving climbing and bike-handling skills with a reward of a cafe break gathering mid or post ride.

Rides + Events (2017)
September 9 
October 7
November 4
December 2

DETAILS
First Saturday of Every Month

8:30 am - Meetup

9 am - Rollout

LOCATION 
692 Route 6
Mahopac, NY 10541
(845) 621-2800

ROUTE
These rides alternate between trails, hilly and flat routes, 40-100 km, with a mid or post ride cafe stop. Please regularly check my Facebook event page for updates on En Route's Strava routes and dates.

THE FINE PRINT
We're a laid-back group and encourage all levels of experience. if you’re unsure whether or not one of our rides is for you, please contact us or come along to a Saturday ride.
 No rides on rainy days.

It is a 'no drop' ride with a social but average pace of 13-16 mph. Please note all of these rides are not supported and are undertaken at your own risk.

We recommend you cycle on a road bike and are a confident rider with cleats (optional). Please also bring a helmet, carry a pump and tube for any punctures and nutrition to get you through the ride if you require it.

For more rides and event updates, follow along on our Facebook page Hudson Valley Women’s Cycling Group. To get some tips on how to ride with a group, check out my post on a Beginners Guide To Riding In Groups.

*DISCLAIMER
By signing up for a road ride, or any other event organized by this group, you are acknowledging that you are aware of the risks, dangers and hazards associated with any outdoor activity and freely accept and fully assume all such risks, dangers and hazards. In addition, you further agree to release and discharge the Organizers of all liability arising from your participation in the group activities. Release Agreement here

Why I'm Starting My Own Cycling Group

07 August, 2017

I live in rural New York. Only an hour outside of the Big Apple in the lush green rolling hills and wide open lakes with scenic views for miles. I have always classified myself as a city girl but I'm much of a valley girl now since leaving the hustle and bustle of the big city. I started cycling in cities and have always advocated for women's cycling there, however, my life is much more different than it was two years ago in the valley and I am noticing a trend in the rural areas that bicycle advocacy does not get to see, the lack of female cycling communities.

In the mid Hudson Valley, we have a cycling club and a few bike shops that serves the entire community. As friendly and inviting they are to the community, female representation lacks and from my perspective, women need to see it to be it. While I do enjoy being part of my local club, volunteering at events and rides, I often travel down to NYC to join women's cycling group rides and events. Often on these rides, I wonder why can't we have this type of community in the HV. Is it that we aren't asking? Is it that we don't have the resources? Perhaps its both and lack of leadership.

Recently, I have been reaching out to a few industries about forming a women's cycling group in the Hudson Valley and got the response I was hoping for. I also took it to Facebook to a local women's group and also got a warm welcome. While reaching out on social media is helpful and reaching out to my local bike shop has been welcomed, there still lacks a broader network of support. This got me thinking, while cities have a lot of support from industry and organizations to support women to be active in their communities, I don't want women in rural America to be forgotten.

It's easy to forget that women in rural or suburban areas care about their communities but we exist and we want a level playing field too. Starting a local women's cycling group seems intimidating, however, I feel that I have the platform, skills, and drive to do it. My goals for organizing group rides is to bring women together and grow women's cycling and exploration all over the Hudson Valley. Being #OUTSIDEISFREE and for women, nature is the most level playing field we have to be free and be ourselves together.

So here I am working to develop a women's cycling community in my backyard. If there is one thing I have learned while being a women's cycling advocate and blogger, it's to stay persistent. If there is ever a place to advocate for cycling, it's in those forgotten parts of the country. I hope you will follow along with me on this journey. More at Hudson Valley's Womens Cycling.

What You Need To Know About La Course 2017

19 July, 2017

With only a day away, I'm more excited about watching the pro-women race La Course by Le Tour de France than I am about the actual Tour de France. Although this year will look differently than the previous stage in Paris held along the same final circuit on the famed Champs Elysees, having an extra day on the tour is a baby step to what I'm hoping for an extended tour for the future of the women's peloton.

This year, La Course has expanded its format from a criterium held on the Champs-Elysées in Paris to an "innovative" two-day format. They will climb the prestigious Col d'Izoard on stage one on Thursday, July 20, and then will take part in a new time trial format in Marseille, Saturday, July 22, with the riders going off in the order they finished on the mountain.

With these new changes, there have been issues rising to the public view that stems from resentment from cycling fans that women's cycling gets the short end of the stick. Sponsorship, visibility, long-term viability are all issues faced by all professional cycling teams, except that the women's teams have it the worse. While the ASO defends it's changes to La Course, we continually find the women's race piggy backing the men's stages with less support.
So why should we care so much about this race? The Tour is the most prestigious race of the year and a has great platform for promoting the women's pro-peloton. There is no denying that women's cycling is underrepresented in the grand scheme of professional cycling. While women's representation in professional cycling is beginning to gradually change, paving the way for media coverage, equal pay, and support of women's cycling still has a long way to go. As fans, we can help change the game.

How? A while back, I posted about how we as fans can Support Women's Pro-Cycling with resources on the many ways to help. We are in a great time of progress for women's cycling and can do a little more to help make a difference in the smallest ways. Most importantly, watch the women's race. Whether you're watching on tv, online, or in person, showing our support for the women's race is a big win. Promoting women’s cycling and putting on a great show that will fire up the crowds as much as the people watching at home is really what women's cycling wants to accomplish.

How to watch live? Check the listings below and your local listing air time to see how you can watch live and check Pro Women's Cycling on more ways to watch and engage La Course. According to PWC, if you don’t have access to any of these, there should be streams herehere or here.

If the race isn’t broadcasted live in your country, follow along online via La Course by Le Tour, @lacoursebyTDF@UCI_WTT#LaCourse#UCIWWT for live updates.
To get you up to speed, excited, and angsty in a productive way, here are some links to get your enthusiasm flowing:

Cycling Podcast: La Course
The New La Course: Details and Rider Responses
Women and Tour de France: Why we are so much more than cycling accessories
5 Big Things That Need to Change In Women's Cycling
Condoms, chicks and La Course: the Tour de France still has a sexism problem
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