"I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammeled womanhood." - Susan B. Anthony 1896
I've been reading a lot about the importance of good running shoes. But I haven't seen anyone writing about the importance of buying the right size bicycle. Just because you're not pounding it into the ground with your feet doesn't mean you shouldn't care. If you're into cycling at all, you're going to be spending a lot more time with your bicycle than you will with your running shoes.
Men and women both have different problems with badly fitted bicycles, but the most common problem for both sexes, among people who only ride occasionally, is the distance from the seat to the pavement. It's almost invariably too low.
Most people who start out riding sit on the bike like they were, to quote one cyclist, 'about to go to the toilet.' Basically people squat on the bike. The feet can reach the ground without having to tilt the bike to one side or another, but it puts more strain on the knees.
There have been a lot of studies about the effect of cycling on men, especially with regards to male fertility. You don't hear much about the effects of cycling on women. If you're a woman you sure feel them, but there aren't a lot of studies out there on the subject.
It's true there's a vas deferens between men and women. (That joke never gets old, at least not to me.) To quote the WOMBATS website (Women's Mountainbike And Tea Society), women often have shorter torsos and longer legs than a man of the same height. Just because you and your boyfriend are the same height doesn't mean you'll be comfortable riding his bicycle.
A few things to bear in mind if you're shopping for a bicycle:
- Women have wider pelvic areas. The "sit" bones on a man are closer together than they are on a woman, but most bicycle seats don't take that into account. So while a man can sit on a bicycle seat and have his weight supported by his skeletal structure, a woman who sits on the same bicycle seat is having a lot of pressure put on a very sensitive area of the anatomy. Ouch. A woman's bicycle seat is generally shorter and a bit wider.
- If you're buying a road bicycle, remember that a man's shoulders are generally wider than a woman's shoulders. If you're on a city bike, a hybrid, mountain bike, any bicycle that has one long handlebar, this isn't an issue. But a woman on a man's sized road bicycle can find herself holding her arms at a wider angle than can be comfortable. This sort of detail can matter after you've been on the road for a couple of hours.
- For both men and women, there are times when it pays to be average, and buying a bicycle is one of them. If you're under 5'4", then there aren't as many choices out there. (I'm sorry, I don't know what the upper range of average is. I've read 5'9" but that seems a bit low.)
If you're short, the best option seems to be a Terry bicycle. (Personally, I found the Terry's gear shifting affected my tendinitis, so I ended up going with a Bianchi Eros. But most bicycle sellers will point you toward a Terry.) Regardless of the brand, any bike seller worth the name will want to work with you to make sure you get the right size.
Obligatory note: I am not a professional cyclist nor do I know anyone who plays one on T.V. I used to hang out with people who thought nothing of cycling several hundred miles a week. (Note: I said 'hang out' not 'ride with'... a more accurate term would be 'ride behind'... far, far behind...)
If I sound preachy it's because I think it's really, really cool to go for a long bicycle ride out in the country where there aren't a lot of cars but there is a lot of nature. You get to see things you never when you're driving a car, plus it's easy on your knees and you can get a workout while sitting down!
I know a lot of people are suffering from BIBD and similar disorders. But it's spring! Any minute now it's going to stop raining and it'll be good riding weather. Any minute now. Anyone up for a bike ride?