This post was written June 2013, I have updated it December 2018
There’s – little – difference between a man and a woman when it comes to strength. A man is often physically obviously stronger. A woman often mentally. There are, however, significant differences: being a woman requires other items. This is a post for woman in the saddle. Yet, when we are both strong, but on other fields, woman do need other stuff than man.
The balance is ever so slight
In the beginning: A cycle short is to be wore without underwear. Specific care about shaving pubic hair is personal and that is each to her own, I think. Yet, I kept having troubles. Is it the short? Or the saddle? A Brooks saddle seems too hard, not giving at all. The flat bolts which keep the saddle to the frame are slightly protruding. Warm weather, sweat and continuous cycling are debt to it as well. When I buy a cycle short, I make sure that the front part is not too thick. Over the years I have tried several brands but none was comfortable for long-term cycling. The lack of water to wash the short in and the synthetic material are just not beneficial.
In the end: Padded cycle shorts, for sure, they reveal too much – and in my opinion are a no-go in many countries, including all Islamic – when you wear no loose trousers over them. They also fill up your front and sitting area in such a way that it suffocates, where it should be able to breathe. Of course, I am not a designer if it comes to cycle-shorts, but try the cheaper variation of fitness shorts. Seams are running in places not disturbing the saddle area, the waist line is often designed not to cut your stomach and material often soft and natural, thus using it as underwear is only logic. And I always wear a longer short, baggy trouser or legging over it. Eventually, underwear such as cotton shorts were acceptable to ride in, as well as ultra thin seamless – yet synthetic – every day underwear (so-called hipsters).
A lot of bumping and sweating wears out bolts, nuts and hooks
It wears a bra out: being exposed to the sun covered only by one thin layer, on a back dripping in sweat. It will make the iron hooks start to rust and eventually break. While the bra is still fine I find it a pity to throw it away, only because the hooks are broken, so I stitch a newer ‘hooks and eye’ part on. This ‘hooks and eye’ part I had taken from another old bra I did not wear anymore, but you can buy them as well (in shops for underwear). In the end: I found this to be a good brand: ShockAbsorber.
The MoonCup comes in very handy
In the beginning: it took me some while to get accustomed to it but once I did it’s so comfy that sometimes I forget about it. This is the way to go if you don’t like to use Tampons. The benefits are extraordinary: you never have to buy anything, Tampons might be hard to find, and you never have to carry extra load, however light. The Cup has to be washed each time and occasionally you need to leave it in boiling water for 10 minutes or so, to disinfect it. That’s all. According Cup itself you can leave it in for about 4 to 6 hours. But I leave it there up to 8 hours and overnight, and that’s fine, it depends a bit on your blood flow. You won’t feel it when you’re on the saddle either. It’s not smelly, unlike hygienic pads.
Are there any negative sides to the Cup? Yes, there is: when you remove it above a squat toilet, move away from the hole. Because sometimes the Cup might slip out of your hands and will fall down into the hole where you just peed and emptied your bowels. That’s to overcome, but not if many more people did this before you and no flush to remove that stuff. So make sure if it slips, it will fall on safe ground.
In the end: still the only comfortable, non-stinky, hygenic and cheap way to go. I have not bought a new one yet, so the Cup really last. I learned that to wash the Cup is best done with clean water (not stale reservoir water), I guess you understand why…
Switch from soft to hard and be better off!
In the beginning: Saddles are different for woman. Smaller. And be sure it’s a hard one. At first a hard saddle looks a bit daunting, but after a while, you get accustomed to it. I started out with a Terry Liberator which was not too soft when new, but after 12.000 kilometers, it seemed to become softer and not as firm anymore. A Brooks was shipped in and as soon as I sat on it, I didn’t need a bulky padded cycle short anymore. How unimaginable this might sound…
In the end: Well, I do have a lot of troubles around the saddle area, it’s irritated very often. The bones in my bottom hurt often too. I guess have to deal with it? After a few years, on advice of a friend, I changed the position of the saddle – more backward – so the bottom bones do not rest on the protruding bolts of the saddle. I clean the saddle area – the bottom part, middle part and thighs – after every ride, with soap and water, to avoid bacterial irritation. When I was back in the Netherland, I tried about 5 other saddles, but Brooks was the best, and I did not exchange Brooks for another brand.
Mirror mirror on no wall. We all want to look good, sometimes
I find cycling doesn’t make the female more charming (and doesn’t have to). Is it when I am dripping in sweat, encrusted with earth, being unwashed and really smelly that I look most interesting? Ha, nevertheless, I use sunscreen, but I don’t bother with the rest of my body. Wear a hat and always a cream as your face is constantly exposed. Cycling forms muscles and make the body and face rather bony, so do eat a lot of croissants and doughnuts. Stuff that face ; ) with oils, creams and fatty food (in moderation, that is, compared to your energy flow).
In the end: I always carry lipbalm with a suncreen factor, suncream with a high factor for the facial area and wear a cloth or sort of turban to prevent suncreen dripping in my eyes, and to prevent sunshine directly on my face. I am actually not so sure suncreen is all that good? I clean my face every day with water and soap and apply cream. Some suncreens clog the pores and this prevents sweating, which is impossible not to give in to the urge to remove the plasticish layer on your face. I usually also cover my neckline back and front and more often than not, wear garments that cover me up.
Let scars not shatter all over your cycling body
Tropical circumstance comes with bites from all sorts of insects. Insects who will leave you behind itching. Itching which will lead to open skin. Put iodine (high percentage) on it as soon as possible so flies don’t like to nibble from it as much, thus infections has less change to grow. Don’t listen to your own inner manual telling you to be your own doctor, or to others who got so-called great idea’s (unless they truly are a nurse or a doctor).
In the end: I learned to go to the doctor with an infection, although with some reluctance. Somehow they are specialized in bacterial matters, and they know better what to do and what not. I usually wait a week until I visit a doctor, by then the wound has got bigger and the pain remarkable. Long term cycling can make the immune system feeble and thus healing capacities are prone to be weakened. Though I dislike antibiotics, they seem to be the only answer in such cases.
More than just your average talcum
Prickly Heat can be annoying and when a balm or cream won’t ease the itching this powder may help. It gives an extra clean feeling too, and when bathing in cool rivers it makes the skin tingle with a heat sensation (if you’ve got the right powder).
In the end: I left this product behind and only bought it in countries with extreme heat (India with 50 degrees was a nightmare to my saddle area skin!)
In the beginning: This balm is good for dry lips, for cracked lips and rough skin but also for your bicycle. When things need to be oiled or you want it to be more shiny, add some multi functional cream. I use this cream on the inside of the pump too, since the pump is stiff every time I need it. Any kind of greasy balm is preferred over special lip balm (except suncreen lipbalm) because it last much longer, is cheaper, easily available and it won’t give off easily.
In the end: I prefer any greasy balm over petroleum jelly. Glycerine, cocoa and shea butter, natural oils and creams with beeswax are all natural products. unfortunately, these are not easy to be found in less westernized countries. I was presented with cocoa butter in Senegal and found glycerin in Sudan.
When things really get wrong in the saddle
Tape it. And skin doesn’t rub anymore. I had to tape the area between my inner tights with tape so the skin would not rub. Use cotton tape and not paper-like tape, as I did in India, and tore the skin off. Leaving me behind with a huge open blister… made matters only worse! In fact, I have had many incidences where I had to tape my skin, yet it did not prevent from getting a more irritated – and open – skin. Rest is the best resort, besides the habbit of cleanliness (as far as this is possible).
Sweet dreams for a mellowed woman on the road
Whether the hotel has thin walls, the neighbor’s just too loud or all the village dogs are barking, this mutes it all. Make sure you always have these with you! They’re expensive everywhere out of Europe and hard to find. You really need a good night sleep to be able to enjoy the activity of the cycle day ahead of you.
In the end: I prefer foam plugs over wax plugs. Wax plugs might have caused minor infections to my inner ear? Wax plugs also tend to keep their shape and performance much longer than foam plugs, thus causing them to get extremely dirty, while still using. I used foam plugs even while camping in the Chilean desert, as the ocean could be terrifying loud. Once, a seal kept me out of my sleep, and then earplugs come in handy too.
Scrub those dead skin off, be shiny throughout your journey
Same stuff as we got in the West, only here it’s a big piece without being stitched into a ball. Easier to wrap around your soap and keep it neatly separated in the rest of your toilet bag.
Never liked aggressive, but apparently it can be soft too.
In the beginning: if it comes to skin, I prefer natural products over these battle-alike facial products. But things chance. Being forty and getting way too many pimples and open pores, I decide otherwise. Cycling on the dusty roads for hours leaves your skin deadly dirty. My skin, sensitive but though, need to be cleaned, scrubbed, soaped (though soap free) and tackled thoroughly. This is the only product, along with (if available) soap-free wash gel, night cream and 50+ sunscreen. It’s forceful ingredient being: salicylic acid. This product is a real good one too (but expensive), get more info on Paula’s Choice
In the end: not wanting to carry much cleansing products, I start to clean my face with simply soap and water. This does the job too, is a lot cheaper and easy to get. I always apply a greasy cream when I go to sleep, although this is not beneficial for the sleeping bag, leaving a dirty greasy layer behind on the fabric. It might be for this reason that my sleeping bag ripped?
Interview with Heike about some these matters.
More about the padded cycle short:
Most overrated item when it comes to cycling!
There is no benefit form a padded cycle short for me. Such a big lump of synthetic padding in your crotch isn’t comfortable. Imagine temperatures above forty degrees, hovering up to a fifty, nicely hot and steamy just isn’t the best thing for those parts of the body. Perhaps due to my synthetic saddle, maybe too much rubbing due to wrong saddle height, but I got serious irritations. To a certain degree where sitting on the saddle really hurts me… If you can do without them, do! I cycle now with fitness shorts, the tightness does the trick for me: no rubbing, no uncomfortable padding and no seam lines.
Perhaps my gearlist can give you some ideas about what to take and what not.