Life by bicycle

1960 - my mom proud on her first new bicycle
1960 - my mom proud on her first new bicycle

She by bicycle - every day is Women's Day

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Uta Schulz

Women by bicycle is our motto for Women's Day. Many women already cycle - but touring women by bike meet female cyclists on tour less often than male ones. Our posts on weonbikes.com are full of practical tips for everyone travelling by bike. How women can go cycle touring with little transport weight, alone and still safe will soon be discussed on our blog. Today: bicycle frames, saddles, menstruation when cycling and women's mobility.

Interview with a cyclist

"Mom! Bikes and women: What does that make you think of?" I asked my mom a few days ago in preparation for this Women's Day post.

"That it was always difficult to ride a bike with a long skirt. But I knew exactly how to do it best: hold the skirt edge from just one side of the skirt on the handlebars with your hand. But only then with the petticoat... was her first reply. She always liked to wear long skirts.

She learned to ride a bike the way many children did after the war: on her big brother’s men’s bike with diamond frame, which was way too big of course, no way to reach the saddle! She stuck one leg through the frame underneath the top-tube towards the pedal. Reaching with her arms over the top-tube to the handlebar, in an angle to get the foot on the other pedal she went down the street. That's how it was.

She had an old used bike when she had to ride to middle school in the next town. And then she gets enthusiastic: "When I was in 10th grade, my mother took me to the department store. She needed a new bike and I was allowed to choose a completely new bike for myself." She remembers sneaking around a sports bike by Diamant, an established German bicycle producer. It was a sports bike because it had 4 gears - sensational! It cost 400 marks, a month's salary. "My mother came and asked which one I liked. I was so in love with the gears... ‘Oh, you know what?,’ she said, ‘We have to pay off the bikes in installments anyway. A few months more doesn't make much difference.’" That was in 1960. We find a photo in which she happily presents the new acquisition. The bicycle with the 4-speed derailleur made by Diamant accompanied her for 30 years. Then it moved to the basement when she was given another bike.

There used to be “ladies’ bikes”. Bikes for women?

The ladies’ bike has gone out of fashion. Today it is called a bicycle with a wave frame, with a low step or step-through. Rightly so, because such a model has less to do with gender than with body size and purpose. If you can no longer swing your leg elegantly over the saddle, the step-through is your solution. Child seat on the back? Very practical if you don't have to balance your leg over your offspring. It's really easier to get off quickly. Beginners in particular save themselves many a fall with the low step frame.

Even if they often become real packhorses, bikes with wave frames are less torsionally stable than bikes with diamond or trapezoidal frames. While the classic diamond frame is avoided in everyday life, it is all the more popular for sports and transport - and by all genders. Traditional cargo bikes often even had a double top-tube. Today there are countless robust models with a lowered top-tube.

But what makes a bike for women?

Bikes that are specifically aimed at women are designed for certain physical proportions. For example, for relatively small hands: The grips are narrower, and the brake levers are closer. This ensures significantly more comfort. So, if you have small hands, the handlebars of a "women's bike" might be right for you.

The seating position depends on the purpose: If you are driving three small children through the city on a cargo bike, you will definitely want to sit upright so that you can maneuver easily. When cycle touring, on the other hand, you sit at an angle of 40 to 50 degrees so you can endure a really long time in the saddle. With this seat angle, the frame height is calculated using the formula inner leg length x 0.67. This value is of course not set in stone: For long tours, the frame can be slightly larger than for a city bike that is as agile as possible. The next measurement is the saddle height.

When it comes to the saddle, there are big differences between the sexes, right?

To a limited extent. The shape of the saddle depends on the seat angle. Even more important is the sit bone width. You have to measure it and choose your saddle width accordingly. Now here’s the difference: In men, the genitals press on the saddle nose; in women, the pubic arch presses on the saddle nose. Conclusion: For both sexes, the nose of the saddle should slope down slightly to relieve pressure.

And another difference: the coccyx is more flexible in women and reacts more sensitively to pressure. A saddle should therefore not be too soft or too narrow at the back and not rest on the coccyx. However, this only really matters when you are sitting upright.

As you can see, there is very little about the bike that is made specifically for women. Women don't generally have shorter legs or smaller hands relative to the body. They are only statistically slightly smaller. Smaller men also benefit from models that manufacturers have designated as lady bikes.

Every body is different. If you want to sit in the saddle for a long time, you should measure accurately. Now let's get to a tangible difference, shall we?

Periods and cycling

Menstruation by bicycle

Without underwear?

My favorite topic of cycling pants: I roll my eyes: "Under no circumstances should you wear underwear under your cycling pants!" Really? Well, I'm a woman. I wear cycling pant and - period or not - I always wear quite thin seamless underpants underneath (usually those from Decathlon). I've sat in the saddle all day for several weeks in this combination without ever getting sore. Saddle and posture are much more important. And a dry butt.

Blood

Blood is not good. Blood is wet and sticky, especially menstrual blood. If blood gets between the skin and the pad, sore spots are inevitable. Especially when there's no hair. Pads and shields therefore only work to a limited extent when cycling during your period.

Before I sing the praises of tampons and menstrual cups, here is another alternative that works quite well: natural wool on panty liners. Natural wool is pure unprocessed lamb’s wool that is not degreased yet, great to prevent sore skin. The wool fits fairly tightly at the entrance of the vagina and does not slip. The solid blood particles get caught in it. The moisture is absorbed by the panty liner, which remains almost dry.

I find the good old tampon more comfortable. Stow the cord so that it does not rub anywhere. A menstrual cup seems to work just as well when properly fitted, but I haven't yet tried them myself. That's because I don't want to have to wash them out while cycling.

Menstrual Moods

That takes care of the technical problem. Much more exhausting is the diminished physical condition and the often bad mood at the beginning of the monthly period. It doesn't necessarily get any better on holiday, because women then it’s even less welcome than usual. My tip at this point for female cyclists with periods: take it easy. Pedaling during your period is good, but physical stress makes little sense on heavy days and only makes you more exhausted.

The mobility of care

I don't just want to dig out this topic relevant to women once a year for Women's Day, but rather integrate it into the articles on active mobility in our blog. So you can look forward to a longer post on the topic. If you don't want to wait that long, you are welcome to browse the research work of Katja Leyendecker (1) and Ines Sanchez de Madariaga (2), from which I quote briefly here:

Cycling with children may on the surface look like an individual's, family's or household's choice, but deeply underlying this choice is the structural-political dimension of urban design (Hillman, Adams, and Whitelegg 1990). We know from Aldred (2015) that the simple act of imagining travel with children brings forth a more careful look at street environments and softens the respondents' outlook and expectations (including that of the hardened UK cyclist), with separate infrastructure being overwhelmingly favored.” (1)

“The workforce and the decision making in transport is predominantly male: In the transport sector, men are 80% of all workers and 78% of managers (Eurofund 2018:7). Feminist urban planners have extensively written about the linkages between decision making and unfair spatial distribution [...].” (2)

Mobility is part of independence

Again, this is not gender specific, but it does affect women. Just 5 years ago, a fatwa was issued in Iran banning women from riding bicycles in public. Worldwide, it is women who do the vast majority of all care work and women who are most affected by the lack of humane transport concepts.

So, get on your bike and share the most beautiful, safest, shortest and most practical bike routes with each other. Talk about bike transport. Give someone a bike or a bike day! Just don't give up until everyone's riding bikes. Because cycling makes you happy.


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