Women Are Better Riders
by David Balkin
David Balkin’s theory is, not only that women are naturally better recreational riders, but that they have the opportunity to kick start a renaissance on wheels
“I was and still am hoping that a huge resurgence in bike riding is possible but that’s only possible if women take the initiative. I thought this (long overdue) article could be a catalyst but the bike intimidates/humbles everyone from Lance on down and women as the more easily/casually intimidated of the species don’t recognize that the bicycle was specifically designed with them in mind — that is once the manufacturers found out that they were as good at this revolutionary machine as the men and they got a lot of flak over it but didn’t care about the social implications that gave women unprecedented freedom; they just wanted to sell more bikes. Not surprisingly, once the car took over, the men banned women from getting driver’s licenses. Those dark ages are forgotten and woman’s rights are now ingrained in our culture but today’s women are missing an incredible athletic/responsibility opportunity by not taking the bicycle as their own and allowing it to show them what it does just for them.”
At the elite level all riders are dialed into perfecting their technique, at this level, as the stronger of the species, men rule. But in the recreational world the opposite is true. Women riders are more suited to the bicycle, mentally and physically, than male riders.
The bike is the great equalizer. Science tells us it’s the most efficient device known in converting human energy into motion. Science also dictates moving through the air is 70-90% of the resistance felt when pedaling. Reducing drag to its minimum, the world bicycle speed record on flat land by a single rider is 81 mph; that’s on something that looks like a two-wheeled caterpillar. FYI, that critter has a theoretical top speed of 90 mph. A tandem bicycle of similar design went 61mph, also a world record. The only possible conclusion is weight and aerodynamics are a virtual mountain range to big riders and a slippery slope for the small.
Women as the smaller of our species take these built-in advantages to another level. Being stronger than men is not their genetic calling. Most don’t have a psychological hint, let alone a complex that tells them that raw strength rules. They do not pound the pedals or grind big gears, but intuitively work with the bike and ride more smoothly right from go. For the few women who do not come by that motion naturally — once told – find that once is enough.
It is technique more than strength that opens the world to great recreational riding. Women quickly allow the bike to do what it does best. Less weight more than makes up for less strength as the aforementioned tandem record proved.
Check it out sometime. After a long charity or group ride, take a look as riders peel themselves off their bikes. Give everyone a couple of minutes and the women look fresh enough to have just come from a party, while most of the men still look cooked. Cycling is flat out easier for small people, especially those of the feminine persuasion.
It does not take a Harvard degree to know that women are different in lots of ways. It is evident on a bike where less weight, improved aerodynamics and greater endurance create the ideal trifecta. It is just basic math that these factors combine into the successful riding equation — looking good on a bike.
In many sports form is a matter of individual preference, and awkward, yet effective styles abound. Baseball sluggers hit home runs from all sorts of weird stances, but in cycling there is only one right way — and form dictates how well you ride.
Upper body movement is clearly not the way to propel a bike; that is what the pedals are for. “Horsing” the bike is an acceleration technique used by sprinters, but for the rest of us, it is extraneous movement. It is an action men revert to when all else fails. Women, apparently, don’t think like that. Women intuitively know that good form is its own reward, and without the burden of too much raw strength, their path to the better way becomes quickly clear. By not overpowering the bike, they sit lighter, pedal more easily and conserve a lot of energy. On a bike, the only real need for upper body strength is to hold on. The rest is overkill.
Women are also dialed-in to the form-fitting stretch gear that disciplined cycling demands. It is no surprise that women appear far more comfortable wearing Lycra than men. The best a Lycra-clad guy can look in public is strange, while most look ridiculous, some freaky. No guy wearing tights and in his right mind walks into a local tavern after a ride unless accompanied by a small army of similarly-dressed compatriots. As a result, too many men make do on the bike with more presentable looking, and less effective gear that simply gets in their way.
With health concerns rising and gasoline prices soaring, you might expect an American renaissance in cycling. That is clearly not going to happen unless women take the lead. This essay includes my fervent hope that they will – and a little push of confidence in that direction.