Mountain biking is too much fun to do sitting down – time to throw caution and your padded shorts to the wind!
Those of you who read my blog will know already that I am a great fan of Urbanist cycling pants. Then recently British brand Bike Nicks sent me their new cycling g-string to try (above) – lovely lacy pants complete with a integrated and discreet pad (its roughly the same thickness as a panty liner).
Those of you used to riding in shorts with a pad the size of a rolled up bath towel may shake your head in disbelief: but, in my experience, a padded g-string could well be all that you need for most rides. What’s more, they can be worn for the rest of the day with comfort and discretion – and they add a little ‘va-va-voom’ to your wardrobe. You can’t say that for the rest of your mountain bike gear, now can you?.
Here’s why padded pants are great for mountain biking:
The key to a comfortable undercarriage isn’t just your padded shorts: it’s your saddle and your ride position.
Arguably you can get away without a women’s specific mountain bike, but you really don’t want to be riding on a man’s saddle. A good cycle store will fit a saddle by measuring the dimensions of your bum (by which I mean sit bone width) – a process that is thankfully slightly less humiliating than it sounds. They will also make sure your saddle is angled correctly. Get this right, and you will be a lot less reliant on your shorts for comfort.
And we’re not road cyclists: those ‘queens of suffering’ ride in pretty much the same position for hours on end on bikes with no suspension and hard tyres: as a result they tend to be grateful for padded shorts within thirty seconds of setting off. Mountain bikers meanwhile, are out to have fun. And this means moving around the saddle in response to the challenges that the trails throw up (and down) – and we have suspension and big fat tyres to soften the blows. The result? We spend less time in the saddle (considerable time behind it, in fact), and when we are sitting down (on the right saddle) its an altogether comfier experience.
Mountain bike shorts are often sold without a padded liner. That’s not because we don’t need one – but it is an opportunity to think about how much padding you really need (and this is a highly individual choice because we all differ ‘down there’). But be wary of too much wadding – it can get in the way when you are trying to manoeuvre round the saddle (especially if you don’t have a dropper post).
Why not just wear pants? Well, the pad isn’t just there to act as a cushion – its other function is to absorb moisture that could otherwise result in friction and chafing. That’s why you should never wear pants with conventional padded shorts.
So, what’s it like to ride in a padded g-string? At no point do I feel sawn in half or rubbed raw: I do feel more agile and free to move around. And if they get wet through my shorts as a result of splashing through puddles, then they soon dry out because there is so little fabric (compare that to a soggy chamois!).
They are also great for commuting, nipping out to the shops, and travelling light on mountain bike trips. Oh, and there’s no VPL (visible pad line). Result.
Bike Nicks thong is £26.99 and available in black or pink. Fuller cut cycling pants are also available.
Vote for your favourite sportswoman of the year with Glamour, and help support the fight against sexism in sport.
With the annual back slapping fest that is BBC Sports Personality of the Year looming, it is worth reminding ourselves that for the last eight years the winner has been male – and only 13 winners in its 61 year history have been women.
With this in mind, Glamour magazine – one of the UK’s most high profile women’s titles – has drawn up its own visionary shortlist featuring female athletes who have, to quote ‘smashed it this year’. All we have to do is vote for our favourite (or favourites!).
Not surprisingly, I’ve voted for Sarah Storey and Lizzie Armistead – but I hope the list also opens up discussion: personally I wish Rachel Atherton – World Champion Downhill Mountainbiker – had also been included because she is right at the top of her game, wins everything she looks at, and is a superb ambassador for the sport.
Unfortunately, and as far as I am aware, there will be no swanky awards ceremony to announce the winners – a pity, as Glamour throws a very good party if the Glamour Women of the Year awards http://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/fashion/celebrity-fashion/2015/06/glamour-awards-dresses-red-carpet-2015-photos-glamour-uk are anything to go by. But who knows for next year (and if it happens, can I have a ticket please?)?
Finally can I just add that it is great to see such a high profile title as Glamour supporting women’s sport in this way, as part of their ‘Say No To Sexism in Sport’ campaign.
It is no secret that, in order to attract the big budget sponsors necessary to support our athletes and help encourage more women to take up sport, we need mainstream media to highlight the inspiring stories and incredible achievments that make women’s sport so special. Kudos to Glamour for leading the way. Follow the campaign at @GlamourMagSport.
Is FINDRA mountain bike clothing for women really too good to ride in? Let’s find out.
FINDRA is a mountain bike clothing brand exclusively for women. It is designed and made in Scotland by fashion designer (and mountain biker!) Alex Feechan who invited me to review the range here. It is really refreshing to be able to ride in such lovely gear.
FINDRA is designed for women who ride and, while being fashion led, it is performance driven.
The range is based upon high quality Italian merino wool, legendary in sportswear for its softness, durability and natural wicking properties that help keep your body temperature comfortable during exertion. Other sportswear brands use it of course, but it is style and thoughtful design that sets this range apart. Frankly, I’ve never looked more stylish on my mountain bike.
When I started riding it was about a trillion years ago. Mountains were bigger in those olden days, of course. Some still had dinosaurs. And bikes were way more basic. A dropper post was something that happened when your quick release had gone wonky. Rear suspension was provided by your knees. Little thought had been given to the ‘what to wear’ question. Full on lycra? Too roadie. Moto-cross inspired ‘downhill’ baggys? A sure fire way to make any woman look like a slightly awkward school boy. Mix roadie shorts with a downhill top (or vice versa) – and listen for the echo of the squirrels’ laughter, ringing around the hillsides.
But just look at me now: super-soft Caddon merino cowl neck cycling jersey with extended length and cut for a female shape? Check. Betty merino neck warmer, which can be worn over your nose on cold days, or round your neck while you’re warming up? Check. And don’t forget the Ms Mo Bike Short in French Navy with stretch and contrast zip pocket THAT MATCHES MY BIKE! (the shorts are so good that I’m saving the review for a later post).
But how will my outfit stand up to the rigours of a sweaty, muddy bike ride?
Temperature control is a big issue for sportswear because feeling too hot or too cold can ruin your ride. This jersey passed the test – a chilly autumn day – with flying colours: I rode up and down hill, and never felt uncomfortable. Its light enough to wear alone on cool days, and then I would layer with a vest or jacket when temperatures really drop. It is seam free for comfort, and features longer length sleeves with integral thumbholes to keep the chill off your wrists (not a substitute for gloves though – I think the fabric would wear pretty quickly against the grips, and obviously you don’t get the level of protection that mtb gloves offer).
I love, love, love the cut – really flattering and easy to wear. And the extra length meant no gapping between my top and shorts. Another nice attention to detail – the sleeves are loose enough to be able to wear lightweight elbow pads beneath.
A merino cowl is aleady a winter ride essential for me: I’ve had a similar one by Rapha for some time. They are just great at keeping you comfortable during the warm up phase of a ride, or keeping your face warm on a really cold day. The FINDRA option is not only cheaper, but it also comes in nine colour options.
This kit also will also keep you warm when you stop for a post ride coffee and inevitably end up sitting outside either to keep your eye on your bike or to avoid dropping a trail of mud across the café floor. The striped Betty beanie hat made from 100% British lambswool comes into its own here too – a great way to keep warm and hide your ‘helmet hair’, and small enough to carry in your pocket when you’re riding (and nine design options!). Refreshingly you’ll also look like a stylish rider rather than a woman who has been dragged through a hedge backwards. Call me superficial, but I’ve had way too many years of the latter.
Finally, the wash test: Merino is tougher than it looks and it doesn’t mind getting muddy (though steer clear of brambles, which will shred just about any fabric that isn’t chain mail). But you do need to wash with a little care if you don’t want to end up with a top that will only fit a toddler and to maintain its durability. So, machine wash on delicate/wool setting at 30C, and I always use a wool wash detergent. Admittedly I’ve only washed this top once so far, but it came out like new.
Then get out there and enjoy some happy – and stylish – riding!
This post is a collaboration with FINDRA.
Photography Paul Mitchell
How to make bike shops more inviting for women? Ask Mary Portas.
I’m in a room packed with bike shop owners at the Zyro Cyclevision 2015 expo, listening to a talk by retail and branding expert Mary Portas, and it is Q&A time.
Shop owner: “Mary, what’s the best way to make bike shops less intimidating for women?’
Mary: “Scented candles?”
There followed a short pause while the audience – probably 90% men – took a moment to wonder if she was being serious, followed by some nervous laughter when they realised she wasn’t. So, Mary had arrived with her sense of humour dialled to super-sharp, as well as a shed load of great advice based on her extensive experience in brand communication.
When I heard from cycle parts and accessories distributors Zyro that she was giving the talk I had begged for a ticket: Portas’ creative reputation is legendary – and it’s been cemented with her Queen of Shops series on C4: indeed she kicked off her talk with this:
Mary Portas is often a controversial figure, and she’s not a cyclist – but she is an expert in retail. So what could she tell the crowd of bike shop owners?
The bottom line? Great retailing is all about customer experience: “Put people in the centre of your business,” she began. “Inspire them and they will come”.
Research shows that 61% of people prefer shopping in a shop to online – if the shopping experience is done well. What’s more, 40% will spend more money than they planned to in a shop, while 25% do the same on line.
However now that most customers’ initial research ahead of a purchase is done online, so the shop’s role is changing to being a place of discovery and entertainment where the staff are advisors and specialists.
“We remember physical experiences better than online ones,” she tells us, encouraging a ‘play’ approach that the Apple store, for instance, has mastered so well.
“Your sales team are your product ambassadors, and the shop is your showroom, so deliver something unique,” she continued. “And employ happy staff!”. In other words, you can teach someone how to service a fork fairly easily – teaching them to be an engaging, smiley, beacon of joy who customers can’t get enough of may be a bit more tricky. Finally, it is essential to acknowledge people as they walk through the door – I think we’ve all visited plenty of cycle stores where that just doesn’t happen.
‘Delivering happiness’ is a wonderful ethos that sums up modern retail: Rapha – with its feel-good videos and lifestyle ethos – has nailed this perfectly, so that shopping almost feels second to the community they have created (I fully accept that some cyclists regard Rapha merely as pushers of overpriced padded pants – but, as Portas pointed out, you can’t please the whole market. Just know who your customer is and concentrate on making them happy).
She also talked about investing in social media, bloggers and brand ambassadors who are recognised by their peers before you pay for advertising, and building a community using everything from local events and drop-in evenings, to booking one to one appointments.
THE WOMEN ISSUE
So what about women? Well, here’s why I believe getting women into your store matters: there are only so many men who will get into cycling and we’re heading for saturation point – women, meanwhile, are taking it up in droves. Also, we love shopping.
“Put women at ease,” Portas suggested (though not with scented candles, obviously). “Women enjoy shopping that is an intimate experience, that feels free and easy, and they like guidance. So, make your store user friendly and think about the language you use to describe your product” (I think Waterstones on-shelf book reviews, written by staff, do this well).
‘And take a look outside the industry and instead consider how fashion and beauty brands, for instance, sell to women, and how women get fashion advice.”
So, if you spot a bike shop guy (beard, a race T-shirt and an oily rag in his back pocket) browsing the shelves of Space NK, Top Shop, Pret a Manger, House of Fraser’s beauty hall, as well as Asos.com and Net-A-Porter online, put it down to some astute retail research.
*Footnote: This picture of Hannah Walker was taken for a project I worked on for the Matrix Vulpine women’s racing team launch. The idea was to put a put cycling into a women’s context, so we headed into upmarket beauty store Space NK to shoot some pictures. Although Hannah and I were officially working, not shopping, neither of us could resist leaving the store without perfume (Hannah) and a lipstick (me): the power of great retail!
We shot this little video of me riding my Epic for Total Women’s Cycling and Odlo. Enjoy!
Why best selling Betties are putting the sexy back into cycling pants.
(This post originally appeared on Total Women’s Cycling but is now updated here).
What’s a girl to wear ‘down there’ cycling? Lets face it, ordinary pants soon wipe the smile off your face, especially as it’s impossible to adjust wayward elastic at a red light when surrounded by commuters. And no one wants to ride with bulky cycling shorts beneath their J-Brands or Whistles work skirt.
Delve deeper into this dilemma and imagine you have secured yourself a cycling date with the man of your dreams. A couple of circuits of the park and a few beers later, then its back to yours and the realisation that it’s impossible to remove a pair of cycling shorts in a seductive fashion (this applies to both genders, by the way), especially when they leave a non-too fetching imprint of a gripper band on your thighs.
And then there’s your birthday: your other half secretly wants to surprise you with something a little bit ‘va-va voom’ – but needs the comfort man-blanket of knowing that he’s also getting you something practical for the bike. Surely there is an alternative to receiving a fluffy red g-string and a bottle of Muc Off?
Or what if you just like wearing nice pants and riding your bike? Or want something discreet but effective to wear beneath workout gear for your spin class?
Hurrah! Here comes Bettie to solve every one of these pressing women’s cycling issues!
Created in Texas, Bettie is, basically, a really nice pair of pants with a slim (think panty liner) cycling chamois inside. The pad is flexible, breathable, quick drying and moisture wicking. It’s also invisible beneath clothes. And, while I wouldn’t recommend these pants for a day on your road bike, they are brilliant for any other type of riding: I’ve worn mine for mountain biking many times. Hey, I’ve even got QOMs in them (though frankly my legs are taking ALL the credit for those). The pants also feature extra stretch round the leg openings to avoid chaffing. They are easy to wash and quick to dry (much quicker than conventional cycling shorts!)
They are also quite beautifully to behold: silky fabric with mesh side panels and a ruched detail mid-back gives them a lingerie look and feel. There are ‘sister pants’ too: The Brigitte is a hooped black and white design with a bit more of a vintage look.
At £42 Bettie is, price wise, a world away from an M&S pack of five. However wear them as an alternative to cycling shorts and they start to look like a bit more of a bargain: so much so that I’m reliably informed that they are now a best seller at Velovixen.
In short, if you’re a lingerie lover and a cyclist, then they’re a bit of a must have. Buy them here:
* Further update, prompted by a friend who failed to realise that you need to wear shorts over the top of your Betties …. You need to wear shorts over the top, you really do.
Getting the inside line on the new Hoy Vulpine range with Jools Walker at the London Bike Show.
The first time I met Jools Walker – cycling style blogger at Velo-City Girl and ‘Head Girl’ at stylish cycling apparel brand Vulpine – was at a Sweaty Betty bloggers event on the Kings Road. It was a frenzy of trying-on and not enough changing rooms and somehow we ended up in the shop basement, in our underwear, gleefully giggling amid piles of luxury sportswear. I hasten to add that we’ve managed to stay fully dressed every time we’ve met since. Our paths have crossed at the launch of Brithish Cycling’s campaign to get more women cycling, the Vulpine cycling fete, the Total Women’s Cycling Awards, the Matrix Vulpine team launch and the social ride in Richmond Park, and now at The London Bike show where the brand was launching Hoy Vulpine, a new collaboration with cycling and Olympic legend Sir Chris Hoy.
Jools was holding fort at what turned out to be one of the biggest stands at the show: a huge floor space featuring a fairly minimal amount of carefully displayed garments (think luxury retail). The promise of a Costa Hot Chocolate soon lured her away, and we grabbed ten minutes for a catch up about the new launch (whilst been shot by a photographer who had – fashion coincidence – turned up wearing a Vulpine jacket). Hoy Vulpine was born when Chris Hoy – GB’s most successful Olympic athlete of all time – approached Vulpine – GB’s most successful small, British cycling apparel brand founded in the last three years – about developing a range together. Once they had picked themselves up off the floor, they collaborated on a collection that includes bib shorts and jerseys alongside t-shirts, shorts and socks, with garments for men and women. They haven’t wasted the opportunity to use the Hoy name prominently – it would be foolish not to. While still based on performance fabrics as well as style, the garments are a little more keenly priced than those in the original label collection – £26.99 for a t shirt, £69.99 for a jersey, £79.99 for bibs. It’s also going to be available at Evans (from March) as well as online at Vulpine so while you might not be getting the full-on luxe merino of the main label, you are getting the benefit of economies of scale. I love the colourways and the design details – there’s not a garment that I wouldn’t wear. At the risk of sounding like a woman obsessed with zippers, I liked the choice between a full zip and part zip on the cycling jerseys, and the use of gripable zip pulls that you can use whilst wearing gloves (and angled rear pockets for ease of access). The bibs feature a full bodice rather than just straps: it gives a more streamlined look. And there’s even a zipper garage (a little flap at the top of the zip) that stops the top of the zip digging in to your sternum (I deliberately checked for this because I have a similar pair from another brand which lacks the zipper garage, and so digs in). And the lovely contrast zips – did I mention those?
Post hot chocolate, we headed back to the stand. Matt Stephens had just turned up and happily posed for a few photos. The next day Greg and Kathy LeMond visited and did a little shopping, and Chris Hoy was on the till (or at least very near it). Me? I came, I saw, I got the same T-shirt as Jools because she always looks great: it’s a no-brainer, really. See and shop the full range here. photos: Paul Mitchell.