The next time someone spouts off any anti-women-on-bikes nonsense, here’s how to set the record straight. By AC Shilton
Since the first woman threw her leg over a bike and pedalled off into the distance, people have had a lot of thoughts about it.
Some opinions – like the idea that cycling would help in the advancement of women – turned out to be correct. Others, like the fallacy that wind passing rapidly through a woman’s mouth would cause “bicycle face,” aka the erosion of teeth and gums – were just plain wrong.
Today, we know that “bicycle face” isn’t a thing (though race face is, and it’s awesome). But other myths still linger. We asked physicians, pros, and industry insiders about the myths they hate the most, and then tracked down the facts to debunk them. Next time someone spouts some sort of anti-women-on-bikes nonsense, consider this your guide to setting the record straight.
1. Women Aren’t as Tough as Men, and Are Easily Intimidated
This one drives Olympian Lea Davison nuts. She’s actually had a bike manufacturer tell her “if we put aggressive photos of you – or other elite racers – racing or doing great things, it will scare women away from the sport.”
Uhhhh, what? Women are made well aware of the horrors of childbirth and yet many of us willfully sign up. So, believing that an image of a bike racer will scare us away from riding is downright offensive.
Furthermore, most women are smart enough to figure out that just because an ad shows a woman shredding doesn’t mean the bike can only be used for extreme riding. It’s like buying a bag of flour with a picture of cookies on it: Obviously the flour can be used to make cookies, but you can also use it for bread, pizza, or thickening gravy. We get it, y’all.
Furthermore, women are tough.
2. Women Who Cycle with Their Kids or While Pregnant Are Being Careless
Since judging another parents’ choices seems to be a beloved pastime, this one comes up a lot for moms or soon-to-be moms. First of all, exercising while pregnant, so long as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, is both good for mother and baby, says Cooke. And cycling is great exercise. Yes, you could be hit while riding or fall off your bike. That is a risk. But treadmills have risks. Walking has risks. Just getting in your car is actually one of the riskiest things people can do, as automobile accidents cause more fatalities each year than bike crashes.
“I get this a lot from everyone,” says Dena Driscoll, who commutes with her kids by bike. “I once got into a fight with a taxi driver about it [whether it was safe to have her kids riding on the road] that ended with us both shouting to be safe to each other.” To her, switching to driving would just put other moms and kids in danger as they had to contend with one more car. Plus, cycling with her kids is healthy and fun – she wouldn’t give up the time together riding to school for anything.
3. Women Need Women’s-Specific Bikes and Gear
It is great that bike companies have entire lines of bikes, clothes, and gear designed with female athletes in mind. However, “If you only consider products labelled ‘women’s-specific’ you may be missing out on the best thing for you,” says April Beard, who works on product for Trek Bikes. “Meaning, if it fits, meets your specific use, is the price you want to pay, and the style and color you like, for crying out loud, don’t be afraid to buy it!”
Similarly, yes, for most women a women’s-specific saddle is going to be the ticket to all-day comfort. But most is not all. “Something like 10 percent of women have a pelvis shaped more like a men’s, and vice-versa,” says Jenn Campbell, who also works at Trek.
4. Women’s Racing Isn’t as Exciting to Watch
You’d think this was the case if you compared the hours of TV coverage men’s racing gets compared to the meager airtime devoted to women’s teams. But it’s simply not true, says Jen See, a writer who has tackled this very topic for Bicycling. “People who argue that women’s racing isn’t worth watching typically focus on the speed of men’s racing and claim that the men are better athletes – stronger, fitter, faster – and consequently more worthy of attention.” But, time trials aside, bike racing is a tactical game, and the fittest person doesn’t always win. So saying that men’s racing is more fun because the athletes are fitter just doesn’t make any sense.
There’s even an argument to be made that women’s racing is more fun. “One of the things that makes women’s racing fun to watch is the race distances – they are short, punchy races that are in fact, too short for the fitness level of most professional women currently racing,” See says. “That means they have the fitness to attack. With men’s racing, where a Tour de France stage may run five or six hours, there is inevitably periods where not much happens and the bunch is simply covering kilometres. They are effectively riding to get to the bike race.” Not so with the women, who often go on offense from kilometre one.
5. Getting Your Period Slows You Down
Changes in your hormones throughout your monthly cycle can have an impact on your performance, but it’s not always in the way you might think. In her 2016 book “Roar” (Rodale), Stacy Sims, PhD, argues that actually the high hormone days right before your period, when progesterone and estrogen levels peak for the month, are the hardest days for training and racing. “As ironic as it may seem, your exercise physiology is most like a man’s during your period and the days that follow,” she writes. “And guess what? You’re stronger too.”
6. Cycling Will Make Your Legs Big
We cringe to even include this one – as if having big legs is something women should be terrified of. Let’s get this straight: Strong legs are awesome things, just ask anyone running away from the zombie apocalypse.
But back to the myth, which is a top Google search term about cycling. In theory, yes, working your leg muscles can lead to increased strength, and therefore increased muscle size. But a 2004 Harvard University study followed more than 18,000 women for 16 years and found those that cycled for four hours a week were 26 percent less likely to gain weight over the 16-year period. The other groups, meanwhile, gained an average of 10 kilograms over the timespan. Bottom line? Yes, you may gain some muscle, but overall you’ll end up slimmer and more powerful in the long run.