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10 Things Not to Say Around a Woman Cyclist

By Andrea Champredonde

Despite the title, this article is not destined for men alone. While it is the masculine contingent that typically free falls into these faux pas, it can be a learning moment for everyone.

I have been into bicycles and cycling my entire life. Everything from working as a salesperson, builder and mechanic in shops, to racing road, track, cyclo-cross, mountain bikes and writing cycling content and working with professional teams. I know my subject, and I know there are other women like me out there. But I’m not claiming to represent all women. The following “experiences” are my own, but perhaps some of you out there will find common ground. Let’s get into it!

Woman cycling
What should you refrain from saying around a woman cyclist? © Profimedia

Excuse me, sir!

Most women go through moments where our hair may be longer or shorter. Shorter hair is definitely easier for active people, and throwing a helmet on your head defeats the purpose of attempting to maintain your coif.

When my helmet is on, it isn’t too difficult to mistake me for a male rider on the road, especially from behind. It happens fairly frequently. Don’t assume every short-haired cyclist is a man. The length of our hair does not define our femininity.

Can I speak to a mechanic?

I’ve worked in plenty of shops. I love to work with my hands and am mechanically inclined. As a cyclist, learning how to work on my rig was a question of necessity, economy and interest. Becoming a bicycle mechanic was a natural choice and progression.

Kudos to shops that hire female mechanics. Perhaps you too had to learn to temper your reaction and response when customers come up to the counter and ask, “Can I speak to a mechanic”. Hello, there is one right here, in front of you, wearing the shop apron, a tool in our hands and grimy hands and fingernails. What do you not get? Open your eyes and your preconceived notions of what a gender a mechanic should be.

Do you need help with that?

While most women appreciate chivalry (call it what you want) or a simple kind gesture by anyone to give us a hand in times of need, there is an obvious difference. It is better than the contrary, meaning no one gives a second thought to helping their fellow citizens of the world.

But I am more than capable of fixing my flat on the side of the road. Yes, it’s hard sometimes to get the tyre to roll over onto the rim with today’s stricter tyre standards but it’s the same for you. Thanks. I can handle it. Now that I have politely declined your offer, please be on your way. I don’t need supervision.

How many guys does it take to change a tyre? I used to ride with a group of guys every weekend. One cold winter day, about four of them were trying to help another guy change his flat. I stood by and watched until I got cold and stepped in. I got the tyre in place in about thirty seconds, pumped it up, and we were on our way. It’s all technique and not strength.

Did your boyfriend or dad get you into cycling?

Why do some people think women need a male in their lives to get them into cycling? News alert! We have minds and interests of our own, and are more than capable of deciding for ourselves to ride a bike, join a group ride or register for that next Gran Fondo.

Aren’t you afraid of getting big thighs?

Seriously? You are asking me that? Most hard-core female cyclists I know have lean, muscular and great looking legs! I’m not doing so badly if I can say that about myself (positive body image, yes!); but I am envious of some of them. Since I’m not a pro rider, I clearly don’t put in the same amount of miles and won’t get the same results. That’s par for the course.

So, no, I am not afraid of getting strong, muscular thighs. Disappointed, yet not afraid. A hearty “good for you” goes out to every big-thighed female cyclist out there. We come in all shapes and sizes. Keep those pedals turning, ladies!

You’ll never get a husband if you ride like you do

Remember those same guys I used to ride with on weekends? I was told this more than once. They all wanted to stick their nose in my personal business and continually told me that men did not want to be with a woman who was a stronger rider than they were.

There are heaps of men out there that respect and appreciate athletic women everywhere. They are comfortable in their manhood and love the fact that their wife or partner is a bad-ass on a bike, and rightly so. I never listened to them then, and you probably haven’t either.

By the way, I met my husband on a bike. Having a partner that shares your favourite activity is great. We ride together and no one is rushing home to be “on time” for the other.

Women using their bodies to market bike stuff

Okay, this isn’t something anyone said to me in particular but it is something I see regularly online and in social media. Zip up your jersey, my dear! Read the innuendo in the comments. Do you really want to be treated like an object and be the butt of inappropriate jokes?

Do I want to look like an Easter Egg?

This is not a comment anyone has ever made to me either but more of a reflection on society. Why, why, why do many cycling brands create women’s clothing that make us look like Easter Eggs? Maybe one day our civilization will move away from gender colour labelling. Until then, please offer more colours than pink and purple.

And can we talk about pockets? Many women-specific cycling jerseys only have two pockets and not the standard three. Do we need to carry less than our male counterparts while on our bikes? Or maybe they think we just don’t ride as far?

The slower group ride leaves in half an hour

Are you talking to me? Really? You know nothing about me or my level of cycling, yet you assume because I am a woman that I need to ride in a slower group. What’s up with that? I bet I can drop you on the climb but why don’t you let me show you what I got first before you go making judgements?

Are there professional women’s road racing teams?

And you call yourself a cycling fan. Have you been living under a rock? Yes, professional women’s road racing teams exist and are thriving, thank you. There are 14 WorldTour women’s teams and an additional 49 teams racing at the Continental level! That’s a lot of women riding fast on their bikes. It’s fantastic that young women around the globe now have professional female road racers and champions for role models. It will only encourage more women in the future to join the sport.