Book Review: Bicycling for Women
Bernhardt’s interactive book covers a wide scope: women’s bodies, their bikes,
and their biology. Knowledge is power and Bernhardt packs enough information on
bike fit, training programs, heart rate zones and nutrition to propel a casual
cyclist to the next level.
By Stephanie Chase
Bicycling for Women by Gale Bernhardt
When I first started cycling and made the decision to purchase
an actual road bike, I walked into the bike shop blissfully unaware about what I
needed. All I knew was that I required something with curved handle bars and
skinny wheels. I walked out with a women’s specific frame (size small) that was
fitted with a 110mm stem and 42 cm handlebars.
A few years later when I moved from touring to racing and began looking
at actual race frames, I quickly learned that I should have and could have felt
quite a bit different on the bike. I was constantly shifting around, shrugging
my shoulders and stretching my back to get comfortable. Just because I was a
small woman did not mean the woman’s small bike was a good match. With narrow
shoulders and a short torso (I’m 5’5) I found a shorter stem and handle bars to
be much more comfortable and effective for my riding. For my next bike, my seat
post was raised and my stem dropped.
While my story is not unique, it illustrates a few issues that confront women
when entering cycling or advancing as cyclists. It’s taken five years to learn
about the measurements of bikes and my own physique, a process that could have
been much more efficient had I been armed with the first part of Coach Gale
Bernhardt’s Bicycling for Women.
There are a lot of pieces to women’s cycling in addition to getting the right
bike fit and Bernhardt’s interactive book covers a wide scope: women’s bodies,
their bikes, and their biology. Knowledge is power and Bernhardt packs enough
information on bike fit, training programs, heart rate zones and nutrition to
propel a casual cyclist to the next level.
Part I covers the basics for entry into cycling: finding the right bike,
goal-setting, cycling programs and strength training. Starting with the bike,
Bernhardt cautions women that they don’t have to buy “women-specific” bikes.
They just need to buy bikes that are properly fit for their bodies, and to get
that fit it helps to understand the bike’s measurements and one’s own
measurements. For those who prefer to figure out their needs and dimensions
before getting overwhelmed in a shop, Bernhardt translates the numbers of bike
sizing with some simple equations and illustrations. Easy diagrams illustrate
both bike and body measures, and Bernhardt walks through the steps of what to
look and feel for in finding a good fit.
While those who pick up the book may initially be looking for training
programs - as Bernhardt is a USA Cycling Level I certified coach - chapter two
presents five comprehensive guides for different goals and activity levels which
can be used by both women and men. However, Bernhardt cautions all the plans
assume some athletic base and conditioning prior to starting. The programs are
meant to help guide and develop those who are looking to get more out of their
riding whether it be training for a three-day tour, getting ready for a century
or bettering their climbing.
The appendix and glossary are packed with worksheets, charts and definitions
that are easy enough for novices to understand and wonky enough to satisfy
But the real benefits of Bernhardt’s book lay in the second half of Bicycling
for Women, which she devotes to women-specific issues. Instead of calling women
“different,” Bernhardt “prefer[s] to celebrate the ways in which women are
unique rather than considering these qualities are inhibitors.”
And in Part II she touches on the particulars of subjects that influence
training and goals: nutrition and diet, physiology, and aging. And then there’s
biology. Menstruation and pregnancy play influential roles in women’s lives and
should be addressed in a well-rounded approach to women’s cycling. Unfortunately
for me and fortunately for my coach, Bernhardt debunks my long-held,
unscientific belief that menstruation can inhibit or slow down training. It’s
actually the opposite, she demonstrates by looking at correspondence of estrogen
levels to aerobic capacity. And when estrogen levels peak, it’s prime fat
burning time. Additionally, Bernhardt addresses the effects menopause, and
osteoporosis can have for women cyclists.
For those inspired to either pick up a bike for the first time or itching to
push themselves further, Coach Bernhardt provides a well-rounded guide to the
unique world of women’s cycling.
Gale Bernhardt has coached and instructed athletes since 1974, and was selected
to be the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2004 Olympic Games. An elite-certified
USA Cycling Level I Coach, she has also served as the Chairperson of the USA
Triathlon National Coaching Committee for five years. Bernhardt has traveled the
world as a USA Triathlon World Cup coach. Bernhardt is the best-selling author
of Training Plans for Multisport Athletes, Triathlon Training Basics, and
Workouts in a Binder(r): Swim Workouts for Triathletes.
Bicycling for Women by Gale Bernhardt
Paperback. Illustrations, charts, tables throughout.
6" x 9", 328 pages.
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