How to (not) ride like a girl

What does it mean to “ride like a girl?” Does this suggest women should embrace girly stereotypes like pink bike baskets, wearing skorts, or riding cruiser/comfort bikes? Or is it just an easy excuse to lag behind our male counterparts on hills? Whether these stereotypes are facilitated by the bike industry or by the women (and their male companions) who ride, some female specific cycling myths need to be busted. Let’s leave the pink cruiser discussion for another day and address a few common assumptions that derailĀ even the most serious riders.

Myth #1 I can’t climb without a granny gear

My first road bike was a triple with a granny gear. When I upgraded to a compact double crankset, I quickly realized that riding uphill with granny is like riding the trainer: It’s all about going nowhere fast. I’m not advocating for standard gearing for everyone, as those with knee problems might do best with a low impact granny. But I’m betting that most women could easily handle a compact double. Here’s why.

Compact gearing very nearly mimics the gear ratios used in a triple. But with less rings, you’re not only saving weight (a huge boon for moving mass uphill), but also using a drivetrain that’s much easier to set up and tweak and often much lighter and easier to shift.

This leads to the next false assumption.

cyclist climbing hill on bicycle

You don't need a granny gear to reach the top

Myth #2 Hills will always defeat me

The first rule to becoming a better climber is to stop saying that you suck at climbing or hate climbing or whatever the self-defeating phrase is that you mutter when the road tilts up. Replace it with something positive. Recall an image of pro cyclists grunting over a Swiss mountain pass. Adopt Jens Voigt’s famous phrase “shut up legs!” as your own. Whatever you do, keep the positive self-talk coming. This is the hardest part of climbing. If you can master this, you’re more than halfway there.

The second part of becoming a good climber involves looking at your gearing (as mentioned above) to decide what works best for you. If you’re having pain associated with climbing, invest in a bike fit to ensure that your bike is set up correctly and that you’re engaging the correct muscles. Then hit those hills. The best way to improve is to keep climbing them over and over. Make it a game. Time yourself on a long hill and track your improvement as the season progresses. Don’t be afraid to stand up. Split up a long hill by adopting a rhythm of standing and sitting.

If you’re overweight, what better excuse to lose the extra pounds that are literally weighing you down? Sure you could buy lighter wheels, but ultimately it’s your power to weight ratio that determines how quickly you’ll reach the top.

Next up: We’ll debunk the myth of always getting dropped and why carbs are a girl’s best friend. Stay tuned!

3 thoughts on “How to (not) ride like a girl

  1. I actually have not stood up to grind up hills…since I was 15 yrs. old. I know several guys who don’t stand up at all to grind up mountains. They just drop into granny and grind up. These are experienced cyclists and bike tourers also. Across Canada, cycling with loaded panniers.

    So it’s a great skill to have but any guy or gal, shouldn’t feel less, if they aren’t comfortable cycling standing up…

    • Thanks for commenting, Jean. I agree that a cyclist shouldn’t feel pressured into using a specific gearing. I don’t get into much bicycle touring here, but I do agree that having a granny is beneficial there. I would just like to see more females encouraged to use a compact double and to understand that they can achieve similar gearing with this setup.

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