Thursday, 28 April 2011

Bikes and Bits: Don't get your knickers in a twist!

Lately I have been complaining a lot about my bike, it's too big for me and I get sore wrists and shoulders on long rides. I can cope with this because I'm too lazy to sort out a different bike, I just whinge a lot. However, last year, on a ride to Knowle, I experienced discomfort on my bike which I never want to go through again: an attack of the nether regions! That's right, I got some serious vulva pain and I want to (over)share my experiences of how to avoid it. Riding a bike without giving your sensitive areas proper consideration can be exceedingly uncomfortable and very off putting, so it's worth addressing, especially if you are new to cycling.

There are loads of saddles marketed to women but lots of them are ridiculously huge, jelly like contraptions which are not suitable for long rides. Then there are those that are marketed to women as a confidence trick; they are exactly the same as the boys' version, just a bit shorter in the nose and more expensive. This article, which I think is American, offers lots of good saddle selection and general bike fitting advice. I use a Brooks B17 about which I have no complaints, in fact I have a possibly misguided faith in my leather saddle as helping to protect from vaginal complaints by virtue of it being a natural, breathable fibre? Leaving saddles behind though, in my experience the first thing you need to get right is underwear, whatever saddle you use.

Regardless of what style of pants you wear, the bottom bit of your knickers that sits over your vulva is usually double layered; what I think is essential for cycling is that this double layer of fabric is stitched down on all sides. Sometimes the fabric will be unsecured at one end or at the sides and over time it will crinkle and wrinkle and, when you are cycling, will form an uncomfortable, lumpy layer against your labia. (My downfall on the way to Knowle).

Laura advises that as a teenager, she occasionally made the mistake of long rides in a g-string. Do not do this. The bigger the knicker, the less you chafe. On longer rides, some people have trouble with seams rubbing as well. To avoid this, and fabric bunching up, we usually go for seam free undies. Biking can result in, ahem, a hot and sweaty undercarriage; pants made from natural fibres like cotton and bamboo can help keep things daintily irritation/thrush free. Cotton can be quite thick, however, and so one of the worst 'lumpy labia' offenders. Watch out for that.

Of course, you can always go for cycling shorts, especially if you're starting to go further. They're designed for minimal chafing, and come with a special pad, called a chamoix (because it used to be made of goat leather) that cushions your genital area and bum. If you're shy of the lycra warrior look, they're perfectly comfortable worn stealthily under regular clothes. You might feel like you are wearing a nappy but it won't be obvious to others, we promise. One thing to look out for when purchasing shorts is the elastic on the end of the leg, if it's too tight you get uncomfortable little sausages at the tops of your thighs. Cycling shorts should be worn without underpants, but keen users recommend slathering your bits in vaseline or any number of specialist anti-chafing potions like nappy rash cream.

Hopefully this will help you have a pleasant vaginal experience while out on your bike, although, as far as I'm concerned the mythical bicycle instigated orgasm is a patriarchal fantasy designed to stop women cycling on 'moral' grounds. Sorry girls, can't help you achieve that one!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Femme Pédale’s Spring Fling - here's the plan

We start off with a few miles along the Rea Valley/No. 5 Sustrans route enjoying the lovely Cannon Hill and Hazelwell Parks. At Lifford Lane we get off the No. 5 and take a nice little shortcut that brings us out in Kings Norton, avoiding the busy bits of Cotteridge.

We keeping going through Kings Norton along Primrose Hill and approximately 5 miles after leaving MAC we’re in the countryside. We keep heading south along Icknield Street until we get to the excellent Coach and Horses pub. They’ve got a lovely garden and seem very bike friendly (eight bikes there this Sunday, not including ours!), so, seems like a nice place to stop for a drink and a munch.

Having refreshed ourselves it’s left along Weatheroak Hill and Hill Lane, then up Chapel Lane and Middle Lane heading north towards the city. Once we get back to Kings Norton we cut back to Lifford Lane and then we’re on the No. 5 again back to MAC (the slightly rubbish map shows the countryside section of the ride).

The route is around 15 miles and we’ll be setting a nice gentle pace. There are a couple of ups and steep downs, not recommended if this is the first time you’ve got on a bike in a few years, but otherwise fine. We’ll be checking your bikes, especially your brakes, before we set off, so you’ll know that everything is in good working order.

How does this sound? Any comments from our gracious readers are very much appreciated. If you don’t feel so confident about things like junctions and roundabouts please let us know (on the day is fine), we will support you in whatever way you like, from buddying up to get across, to completely stopping traffic. There’s nothing big or scary on this route, but one thing I’ve learnt recently that’s worth remembering is that you always feel a lot more confident cycling in a big group. And it’s more fun!

So remember…

May 7th – 1pm – Midlands Arts Centre

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Who needs Venice

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure in taking part in a canal bike ride organized by Val from Pushbikes, Sparkbrook Neighbourhood Forum and Saheli. For me at least, it was not a pleasant start to the morning: I forgot that the clocks had changed overnight. Halfway through my toast realization dawned, cue frantic cycling and confusion due to not checking where I was meant to be going. Oopps.

I was just about in time to help with some seat post adjustments and dérailleur tweeks, and then we were off. We split into groups to account for differing pace and experience; the group I was in was joined at Fazeley Street by another party cycling from the Midlands Arts Centre and we continued on together, enjoying the old-industrial beauty of Birmingham’s canal network. Interrupted only by a puncture, repaired at lightning speed by Rob, we made our way smoothly into Salford Park (I almost fell off my bike but I don’t think too many people noticed).

The two groups re-joined, and after a yummy lunch courtesy of the organisers, it was back on to the canals. As all 30 riders cycled the final stages together the sun finally came out and there was that great care-free balmy Sunday feeling in the air. It felt really excellent to be cycling in a big group away from all the pressures of traffic, and to be cycling for the pleasure of it rather than to get somewhere on time.

So, big thanks to Val and Pushbikes, Sparkbrook Neighbourhood Forum, and Saheli – who actually provided a lot of the bikes used on the ride. It's so great to learn about a women's organisation that is doing such important work and sees cycling as a part of this. It made me really happy that so many women were out on the ride, especially those who weren't regulars on two wheels. It's really enjoyable seeing others making the transition from cycling being something that is scary and hard work to something that they can feel confident about and enjoy.

Also, a heartfelt thank you to the lady who leant me a pair of gloves!