What drives us to get on a mountain bike and start pedalling? Di Carolin is sure that each of you has your own reason. But for her first column about what it’s really like to be a lady on the mountain, here we go.
I had just turned 35; I was single and was no longer riding horses. It was time to get out there and do something active and meet people. Running just wasn’t an option and swimming most definitely not (as the idea of being submerged in a chlorine filled pool, indoors surrounded by other people was horrendous to me). So being a big lover of the great outdoors and nature it made sense to take up mountain biking.
So one day my brother and I put my Dads’ ancient V-brake Schwinn 26er and his bike (I don’t recall what it was) into the bakkie and drove from Constantia to Tokai Forest, the bottom forest! Dressed in shorts, a T-shirt and takkies we cycled around amongst the trees for about 40 minutes and then declared ourselves exhausted and loaded our bikes back in the bakkie and trundled off home. Soon I was venturing a little further (a whole 8kms) around the neighbourhood, returning with a sore butt and exhausted. Next it was time to get my own bike.
Where else does an ignorant lady go when looking for a mountain bike other than good old Gumtree? I had heard that V-breaks were a thing of the past and that rotor brakes were the way to go. So after searching around I found and Avalanche that looked in good nic and had rotor brakes. So I paid the lady R3000 for the bike and proudly took it home.
Little did I know that I had been duped and had paid more than the bike was worth new! Also, unknown to the ignoramus I was at the time, the tyres weren’t tubeless, the brakes weren’t hydraulic, the bike weighed more than I did (ok I exaggerate slightly), the saddle was wrong for me (thus causing great pain during most rides and I had no clue about what a bike set-up was or if the bike was the right size for me. I rode on flat pedals with takkies and bought a pair of First Ascent shorts. A friend who had stopped cycling gave me some of her old cycling kit and that is what I wore.
So let’s look back at where things could have been improved now that I have been cycling for four years and have learned a lot of lessons through trial and error and advice from those more knowledgeable than I. Oh… and I’m still learning!
Budget: Probably most important is determining a budget? Think of what you can afford at the very most and then subtract at least 40%! Spend 60% on the bike and save 40% for kit and other essentials. But beware, being a woman you will inevitably see a lovely bike that looks so pretty, is out of your price range, but you just have to have it! Please try not to fall into that trap!
Remember you will also need to kit yourself out with a decent helmet (that fits properly and of course looks good!), shoes and cleats if that’s the way you choose to go. You also need decent cycling shorts. I do recommend bib shorts and a good brand like Assos, Craft, Pearl Izzumi or Castelli, otherwise you will be prone to saddle sores and throwing them away due to lack of durability. The chamois in my fist pair of shorts disintegrated in less than a year.
It is worth coughing up for good shorts if you are going to be riding more than two hours at a time. And a decent cycling top that fits properly. Again the above mentioned brands are worth the money spent. Personally, I think Craft tops are the nicest looking and use the best fabric. Gloves are important too, and so are spares! A tube, a plugging kit for punctures, multi-tool with a chain-breaker, yes chains do break at the most inopportune moments! Plus a chain link, that fits your chain, and some cable ties!
Buying a bike: First decide what you want to do with the bike! Do you want to ride socially on jeep tracks and not do anything too challenging; perhaps do some races in the near future when you get fitter; ride on single tracks and go and explore the country’s wonderful MTB trails it has to offer or do you want to bomb down downhill courses dressed in full body protection?
This will help you get the right bike, be it an XC lightweight racing bike, or a trail bike, or perhaps a downhill bike and believe me they are all very different! Other questions to ask! What size bike will fit you? What pedals will you use? Flat or clip in? There is no question regarding what tyres to use… go tubeless, unless of course you enjoy flagging down men to fix your flats for you. Again depending on what you want to do with the bike, tyre choice is important.
Wheel size: If you are on the shorter side, then go for a 27.5 and if you are taller then go for 29er wheels. Don’t let some dodgy sales guy palm off his old 26er stock on you!!
Components on the bike are important. Go with durability. Shimano SLX/XT! Unless your budget is limitless then go wild. The saddle is very important. Make sure it isn’t too big and bulky or you will get saddle sores if spending more than 90 minutes or so on the bike at a time. Gel covers are a no-no! The more you ride the more you will get used to your saddle. I recommend Specialized or Selle Italia for ladies specific saddles. And make sure you get the width of your sitz bones measured, to ensure that you can get a saddle that fits your body!
Second Hand or New: If you can buy new then go for it! If you want second hand you can still get a great bike in excellent condition. But go to a reputable shop! In CT I can recommend Bike Lane (www.bikelane.co.za) or the Gear Change (www.thegearchange.com) In JHB try the BikeBay (www.bikebay.co.za). Be warned that once the bike is second hand the warrantee is void. Choose a popular brand as they are generally better quality and if you can take someone genuinely knowledgeable with you to look at the bike. Plus you are most welcome to ask my opinion by email.
Bike set-up: Most bike shops will offer a bike set-up for you. Be careful! Ask what bike fit system they use and if the guy is trained. A friend of mine was given a set-up in a shop as a complete beginner and it was totally wrong! A proper bike set-up can save you from a lot of pain. I have suffered sore knees, cripplingly stiff shoulders, numb crampy feet and bursitis in my hip from bad bike set-ups! As soon as you have bought your bike and shoes go to a reputable place for either Ergo Fit (created by Jeroen Swart) and in my opinion the best option or contact Spook Groenewald at www.daisyway.co.za.There is also the Specialized Body Geometry Fit system and the Ergo Max system.
Totally Worth It!
It can be a daunting process buying a bike and getting set up, but ladies I promise you it is worth every cent spent and all the time it takes. Nothing beats getting fit and being out on your bike on a new trail alone or, even better, with mates. Please don’t hesitate to email me any questions. I will help where I can.
Diana Carolin has been a long time contributor to Full Sus, submitting race reports and articles on sports massage therapy, but now we’ve focused her talents on everything that is ladies specific in mountain biking. If you have any questions drop her a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @di_carolin.