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Book Review: Bicycling for Women
By Staff
Date: 3/3/2009
Book Review: Bicycling for Women

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
VeloPress, $18.95

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 gearheads.

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.
Publisher Velopress
6" x 9", 328 pages.
VP-BFW, $18.95

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