Sunday, May 15, 2005

Training Ride

Sunday was a ‘training ride’ for the Starved Rock bikepacking trip which will take place over Memorial Day weekend. About 80 miles each way will be on crushed limestone paths. This ride was an opportunity to try out/adjust our bikes, gear and basically have an opportunity to remedy possible problems before the longer ride.

Just like on the Frozen Snot Century, I woke up at our meeting time and scrambled to pack my gear. This time I wasn’t very dehydrated and not hung-over though–so I began the ride much more chipper than in February.

I think we rode about 95 miles yesterday with probably half of those miles on the crushed limestone. Add in the ride to and from the start point, and I’ll just call it a century. I had two primary concerns: First, the limestone really freaked me out because I am ridiculously cowardly about riding on non-paved surfaces. The slightest bit of instability terrifies me, and I was considering buying a set of 32mm tires for the ride. My second concern was how my bike would handle (especially on the limestone) when its rear was weighted down with gear. So I loaded my paniers with law books to simulate my camping gear.

We headed out into the wind and the ride was fun. I wore a tanktop and most people wore a jersey and jacket and more. After about 20-25 miles someone noticed that my tires looked low, so we stopped at a park for peeing, cookies, tire pumping and general shenanigans. Kevin touched my tires and scolded me for riding them so low and said that I needed to work twice as hard to ride the bike than when they were fully inflated. Oops. I guess he had a point, because I threw on my merino wool shirt (thanks again Frick!) shortly afterwards because the tanktop wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Almost immediately afterwards we hit the limestone path–and it was fine. My imagination about the path consistency was completely wrong. For some reason I was imaging crumbled reddish sandstone just slightly smaller than pea gravel (this stuff absolutely sucks to ride on!). Instead it was pretty fine whitish limestone that packs down pretty hard. While my bike didn’t roll as easily on it as pavement, it handled almost the same. (Apparently if it rains this will not be true and biking will be much harder). The only time the weight made my bike feel very different was when we climbed steep hills, and when I turned onto steep curb-cuts. So my major equipment concerns are alleviated. WooHoo!

Some people cut off at various points because they had other commitments back in Chicago. In our group of nine I was the only woman for about half of the ride–and the pace stepped up. This was fine with me, and we could have gone a mile or so faster. On the hilly parts of the ride the boys started teasing me about my law school books and asking if I regretted bringing them. No–not really. I wasn’t lagging and I wasn’t tired, so lugging the books was just fine with me. I now have no doubt that the ride to and from Starved Rock won’t be too much of an ordeal for me. None of the other riders carried heavy gear and they were remarking how fast we were going, so I’m pleased with my performance. It was also slightly amusing to be weighted down with Catherine McKinnon’s Sex Equality, and still easily keeping up with the boys.

I did realize that I will need to swallow my pride and get some better gear though. It’s time for me to get bike shorts. After about 60-70 miles, I can feel the edges of my underpants rubbing uncomfortably–and going commando in non-bike specific clothes makes me nervous about other seems chafing me. Plus, my helmet presses into my forehead to leave a red mark–this isn’t a big deal for short rides, but about the same time I became aware of my underpants, I also started getting annoyed at my helmet and developed a wee fetus of a headache. I should get some rain gear. The possibility of spending an entire weekend of biking and hiking while wet seems just too miserable to me. Gearing up must happen in the next week. Oh yeah–I should probably also install a water bottle cage, too–maybe I should get a handlebar-mounting system because I usually don’t drink enough water on rides. If it is right in my face maybe I’ll remember to drink more often. Hmmmmm. If I’m really industrious, I’ll also slightly adjust the cleat on my right foot to angle my toes inward just a wee bit.

Finally, I really need to readjust my bike and/or get a new handlebar stem. I still reach too far and am stretched out more than I should be. The last twenty miles or so I couldn’t get my arms/hands comfortable and my elbow joints started feeling weird. The bike has an adjustable stem–in order to bring the handlebars closer–they also have to go higher. I want them closer and lower, instead. I might try to swap the stem from the Julep and see how that rides. I can bring my seat about 1cm more forward–but then there won’t be room for my seatbag. Damn it, damn it.

This is a pretty common problem with women and road bikes. Women overwhelming tend to have longer legs/shorter torsos than men of the same height. However ‘standard’ bikes are based on men’s proportions. This means that women can purchase a bike that fits their legs–but the top tube is too long, or they have to buy a frame that is much too small and get an extra-long seat stem–and still maybe have to reach too far. (The 45cm frames will often only have a top tube that is 1cm shorter than the 49 or 50cm–grrrrr.) I think the bike manufacturers are inexcusably dropping the ball on this. Almost everyone who purchases a 45, 49 or 50cm frame will be a woman, because these are the frames for people 5'4" and shorter. Knowing this, why can’t the bike manufacturers slap on a stem to bring the handlebars closer? Given that women also don’t have the same upper body strength as men, the current configurations are a recipe for massive discomfort. Grrrrr........ My upper body strength is much more considerable than most women, and the extended reach bothers me–what must it be like for scrawny-armed women? Inexcusable.

Anyway, if it isn’t apparent, I am super-excited about the Starved Rock trip. Even without the extra gear or bike adjustments that I hope to make this week, I feel good to go on this trip. I just hope it is warm and sunny instead of raining too much.


At 2:48 PM, Blogger Sascha said...

"what must it be like for scrawny-armed women? Inexcusable."

We buy WSD bikes--built to better fit our proportions.

Also, you will probably drink more water when it warms up. I have trouble drinking enough in cold and temperate weather.

At 10:54 PM, Blogger jojo said...

I know that WSD bikes solve these problems. What I don't understand is why bike manufacturers just continue pumping out the vast majority of bikes to fit men's bodies.

This makes no sense for the smaller-framed bikes that will be bought almost exclusively for women. Especially when it can be accomplished with something as simple as a different length stem. grrrrr.

No matter what the temperature, I don't drink enough water. Usually my water cage is empty or holding ridiculous things. Even in summer I don't generally bring a bottle at all unless I expect to ride 20 or more miles--and then often I don't even touch it. Very. Bad.

At 12:55 AM, Blogger Tanya said...

Ya I hate the top tubes built for man-reach distance too. I am tall for a woman so I think my frame is 56 or 57 cm but my arms aren't long enough! I had the stem swapped for a really short one but it still doesn't quite seem short enough. I vote custom built for me bike next time I buy one. :)

At 9:59 AM, Blogger Sascha said...

They pump 'em out for the same reason we can only find a limited amount of clothing for women and everything else. Because there are 100 male bikers for every one of us.

I just pulled that statistic out of my ass. I don't know what the actual stat is, but it's significant. Example: bike teams here have 10-30 women on them with only a few racing at any given time yet they probably have over 100 guys on the roster. Of course, I'm talking the bigger bike teams.

It's the same reason that we get bikes in one color and manufacturers don't offer us more options on bikes in general. There aren't enough of us to make it worth their while.

This all goes back to the discussions we were having about the Raleigh catalogs. We are not the primary biking demographic, sadly. I think we're lucky that there are a few clothing/bike companies that *do* market to us and that we should patronize them as much as possible, like Terry and She-beest.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger jojo said...

DC--I absolutely understand what you are saying. At the same time, the bike manufacturers should take a longer view of the situation, because they will reap what they sow: If women get on entry level road bikes and aren't comfortable, they are more likely to quit. If it weren't for my super-bike-infused social circle, I wouldn't know what WSD was.

Being stretched out too much is quite uncomfortable and without knowing that the fit of the bike is the problem, some women are probably going to be discouraged. Instead of upgrading in two years, there are women who will be back on their hybrids.

Once again, when the companies market almost exclusively to men, it is disingenuous for them to hide behind the fact that the market is mostly male. The fact that they don't even take simple measures (shorter stems, shorter-reach brake levers) to accomodate women (and smaller guys, too!) is bullshit.


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