Saturday 31 March 2018

Canyon's grand ideas for women-specific bikes

Canyon recently hosted an experience weekend at Mercedes Benz World, in which they showcased their 2018 range of bikes.

Experience day at Mercedes-Benz World
I wasn't able to make it to the event, but I hear it was well attended, and it was great to know that they had a good selection of women-specific WMN bikes as well as women racers from their professional teams.

On the mountain bike side was the 2016 European marathon mountain bike champion, Sally Bigham, whom I recently interviewed for Total Women's Cycling about keeping fit while pregnant, while Tiffany Cromwell was there representing the road riding side of things.

The bikes the women ride were on show, and Tiffany took us through the Canyon Ultimate WMN CF SLX bike that she races with in her Canyon Sram racing team  - which leads me on to the women-specific road bikes that they produce.

Sally Bigham and Tiffany Cromwell
People still ask the question - is a women-specific bike necessary? Steven Shand, who I spoke to from Shand bikes, an independent manufacturer based in Scotland, said that it's not so much women-specific bikes that are needed but more person specific bikes. After all, everyone comes in all shapes and sizes! And Canyon have recognised that too.

Unfortunately, mass producers of bikes can't individualise bike geometry to each and every customer. Shand, and other independent manufacturers can, if you are able to pay through the nose for it. So Canyon have done what seems to be the next best thing - by producing a wide range of sizes for women-specific bikes.

In designing geometry they took into account measurements obtained from 60,000 data entries from women's bike fittings when understanding women's body shapes, and therefore the best estimate of the average woman's body geometry. From that they have designed bikes that hopefully can fit comfortably for women of different sizes.

Many people will already know some of this, but the studies by Canyon confirmed what has been talked about already regarding women's geometry compared with men's:

Women are typically shorter and lighter than men. Women have shorter arms in relation to their torso than men do (on average 2cm shorter); we have narrower shoulders in relation to our torso, and there is more flexibility in the pelvis. Interestingly Canyon found from their studies that that women's leg length compared with the the rest of the body is not much longer than men's legs in relation to their bodies. It had generally been said that women had longer legs and shorter bodies compared with men.

In any case, for the same level of comfort between the genders, this is achieved by the same angle between the arm and the torso. Women therefore need a frame geometry that includes a  a shorter reach than the equivalent men's bike to achieve this same level of comfort, because of our shorter arms.

Women's (L) reach is shorter to get the same level as comfort as men's (R)
Bikes tend to me built using the average size as the reference and then working up the other sizes from there. However, a size M unisex would be too big for a woman, and in fact the average sized bike for a woman is XS. So that is the reference size and then other sizes are built from there. For shorter women there are also the 2XS and 3XS sizes, as well as S and M for taller women.

So the good news for women choosing a Canyon bike though, is that there is a wide range to choose from, depending on your size, the type of bike riding you're doing, your level, and your budget.

The Ultimate is for top end road racing. The likes of Tiffany Cromwell and Hannah Barnes will have bikes in this range. With a lower stack on the headset you get a Sport Pro geometry to put you in an optimum road racing position.

Ultimate WMN range
For those into cyclosportives and long rides there is the Endurace selection which has a Sport Geometry. The stack is slightly higher than in the Ultimate range to allow you to be slightly more upright, and give comfort for long distance rides.

Endurace WMN range

For off-road rides there is an adventure bike which also has a Sport Geometry, the Grail. Don't ask me if it's holy, I haven't tried it yet!

If you get the 2XS and 3XS sizes they can be fitted with smaller sized wheels - 650 wheels, instead of the standard 700 - to give the bike better bike handling, and to avoid that awkward overlap of your foot onto the front wheel when turning.

With smaller wheels also comes the need for bigger gears than what you get with a compact, to avoid you need to spinning so much more than with bigger wheels.

So the bikes with 650 wheels will have a semi-compact rather than compact chain set.

So in fact, there's quite a range to choose from among the Canyon range. Gone are the days when there'd be just one women-specific bike. We actually have a few to choose from within a range, which can only be a good thing at a time when more women are getting into cycling.

I haven't ridden a Canyon bike yet. Hopefully I will get to try one in due course. The people I know who have ridden them have been happy with their ride - whether it was on the road or in cyclo cross, so I guess that's a good sign already.

Full details of the women-specific bikes in the range are on the Canyon website.

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Thursday 29 March 2018

Paris Vélib - the love affair is over!

Last weekend I went on a whistlestop trip to Paris. For once it didn't involve me cycling from London to Paris, but when I got there I had planned, as usual, to use a Vélib bike sharing bike as my mode of transport.

The reason for my visit had been to do reconnaissance of the route for the Paris marathon, which I will be doing in about 10 days' time. Given that at this stage of my preparation it would not have been possible to run the whole 26.2 miles, I decided to cycle most of the route using a Vélib, and then run roughly the last 6 miles.

Being based in the south-east of the city, near the Bois de Vincennes, I had hoped to pick up a bike from near my hotel, ride the route from there to somewhere after the Eiffel Tower and then run the rest of the route through the Bois de Boulogne, up to the finish on Avenue Foch in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe.

I could then pick up another Vélib somewhere off Champs Elysées and then ride down the famous avenue, carrying on along the route all the way back to the Bois de Vincennes.

I had been looking forward to this alternative duathlon tour of Paris by bike. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. It appears that I had missed the memo about Vélib bikes!

I set off from my hotel and ran to the docking station at Avenue Gravelle on the edge of the woods, where there were lots of bikes. However, the console for getting membership and renting a bike was down. There was just a blank screen and nothing else. I then ran on to other places near Charenton - the same result. Then I found another docking station at Porte Dorée where it said that you could pick up and drop off bikes if you already had membership, but other functions at the docking station would be available "in due course". Not having membership I then ran on to Michel Bizot, Picpus, Daumesnil, Reuilly, a number of places within a 2-mile radius. No functioning docking stations for love nor money.

Finally, after 3 miles of running I rang the helpline to ask what was going on. The operator was polite, but she was not helpful. Apparently the system had changed since my previous trip to Paris last summer, and she strongly recommended that I download the app which would tell me which docking stations were working.

But what difference would it make now, given that I had already visited practically every docking station near me and none of them were working. If the app was going to let me know that the nearest functioning docking station is on the other side of town, would there be any point in downloading it at all?? I explained to her that rather than it being a question of me having or not having the app it seemed that there was a more general problem of so many of the Velib docking stations not working. This was also underlined by the fact that I hadn't seen many people actually riding a Vélib!

I think the lady was a little bit frustrated with my complaining and in the end just said that I should download the app after our phone call, and by way of supposedly appeasing me and getting me off the phone she told me to go to a docking station at the nearby rue Dugommier where, according to her, that one was working.

So I ran to Dugommier which was a short distance from where I was, but just like the other docking stations this one was dead in the water too!
Finally, after three miles of running I gave up and took the Métro to Bir Hakeim, near the Eiffel Tower, from where I began my 8-mile run to the finish of the Paris marathon.

During my run I enquired at a few bike shops to see if they would rent me a bicycle, but they weren't doing rentals. At one shop when I mentioned how Vélib didn't seem to be working, the shop assistant replied knowingly, "Yes we know!"

It was only when I returned to my hotel and was browsing the net that I saw the news reports that Vélib had not renewed their contract with their erstwhile supplier JC Decaux, and had instead gone with a new company, Smovengo who had completely messed things up.

These reports dated from January of this year, and stated that things would be resolved by the end of March. But on the day I was there, which was pretty much the end of March there was nothing showing that things would be working any time soon! Out of interest, I did look into downloading the Vélib app, but the feedback was terrible, with people saying that this was the worst app they had ever downloaded and that it was full of bugs! Oh dear!

So Vélib has gotten seriously into trouble. I have enjoyed riding these bikes since they were first introduced in 2007, and that was one of my favourite things during my trips to Paris - just being able to ride freely around one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Vélib had even been seen as the benchmark for many other city bike-sharing systems around the world.

And now, this error of decision-making has led to a costly problem for their image, and who knows if they will recover from it! It has definitely been a case of it wasn't broken, but they tried to fix it!

A few dockless bike-sharing systems have come along (though I am not sure about using those yet) and I note that many people have gone and bought their own bikes. I am not sure if I want to use Vélib even once it's up and running again, as I would want to feel confident that their systems are robust. It is such a shame that this has happened. The best thing this can do is to serve as a case study to others on how to do collateral damage to your brand!

Back to my run - it was very pleasant in the Saturday afternoon sunshine in Paris, and the city was as lovely as ever.

Sans bike at Bir Hakeim bridge

No introduction needed!

Quirky (or Gehry) architecture in the middle of the woods!

Advance publicity in the Bois de Boulogne

Underneath the arches - aka Viaduct des Arts, near Gare de Lyon

The only thing is that I ended up being quite tired in the end as I ran 11 miles!

A lack of a bicycle meant that I couldn't recce the route in the way that I had planned, so on the Sunday I walked 5 miles of the route from Gare de Lyon to Eiffel Tower.

Notre Dame peeping through on Ile de la Cité

Place de la Concorde as I walked along the river

Alexander III Bridge, at Invalides

That meant that over the weekend I only officially previewed the last 13 miles of the marathon route.
In fact, the running around looking for a Vélib I did on Saturday had inadvertently included various parts of the eastern section of the marathon route!

So all that was missing was the initial part from Champs Elysées to Bastille, which is an area I like to think I know, after having ridden and walked there countless times both on visits and during the time that I lived in Paris. So I guess the reconnaissance didn't work out too badly in the end.

It was a good weekend, but sadly it was also the moment when me and Vélibs went our separate ways!
I guess I'll bring one of these for my next trip to Paris!

Related posts
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Sunday 11 March 2018

Wise words for International Women's Day

Last week was International Women's Day, so it was a good occasion to get a few cool women cyclists to air their views on what this day means to them.

There were a lot of women who have a spectrum of opinions on this day, which was first commemmorated unofficially some 100 years ago. Some wonder if we need such a day. After all,, every day should be international women's day. Others, and I am sure there are men who think this, that there should be an international men's day.

For my part, I think that it is a bit gimmicky, but I guess it doesn't do any harm, and it is not a bad idea to celebrate the achievments of inspirational women. But really, if we could live in an era where you don't have to always be saying "this is the first woman to do ......" or "isn't great that women are now being paid the same as men or being given equal prize money for such and such a cycle race" then a day like Internationa Women's Day would be less relevant. So until that day comes, I see no reason to stop celebrating 8th March!

Some views from some of my fellow sisters in cycling:

Sarah Strong, writer for Bikes and Brains blog

"International Women's Day is important and necessary for various reasons. For me it is commemorating past struggles for equality, celebrating women who may not have had proper recognition in their lifetimes, but also to highlight that we are still trying to combat prejudice, to highlight those undertaking this work, and to acknowledge them.

"In the centenary year of the Representation of the People Act there is particular historical weight, and a chance to see both how far we have come, and how far we still have to go."

Peggy Crome, Super Vet triathlete

"International Women's Day is a day to celebrate women’s achievements, especially in the previously thought, impossible fields. Personally, I am proud to have been competing in, and completing triathlons since 1984/85, and being among the first females in Great Britain to attempt a triathlon.

"In my first event there were 57 men and just two women.....we not only took part but we finished ahead of many of the men.
International Women's Day is also about continuing the fight for equality in all fields."

Hannah Bussey, cycling journalist

"International Women’s Day is a celebration and memory of all the inspirational women out there that have impacted positively on all our lives, male and female. There are the obvious women such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Rosa Parks whose strength to make the world better inspires me daily, and I can only hope to have an inch of their power of determination to make things right for us all, but today I focus on the enormity of what they achieved.

"There are also the women whose names I don’t know. The ones striving daily who are discriminated against for their gender. The ones writing blogs on women. The women pushing glass ceilings, the ones who juggle work and family and still ensure their child has the right snack at the right time, and the right socks dry because that’s important to their child. The women who stay home and raise their kids - the hardest job of all.

"The women who decide that they don’t want kids and that’s none of our business; the women that do want children, but don’t or can’t. The women who are happy with their body - high 5 you sister - or the women who aren’t because the media portrays misleading imagery that we feel we must live up too.

"The women who show their faith, and the ones that decide it’s not for them. The women of colour who deal with race and gender discrimination. The women who perhaps weren't born as women, but who cares, you are now.

"All these women are today in my thoughts a little more. And to all these women I say you rock sister, you are stronger than you realise and your ripple effect reaches far. Thank you."

Geraldine Glowinski, stalwart of London cycling

"Every day should be equality day despite gender. This particular day is good to focus on the strong, brave people who have and do bring about change for women."

Gema Fernandez Hernando, cycling commissaire for Spanish Cycling Federation

"For me it's about getting the same rights as men in every part of the world, and in all aspects - at work, in sport, and at home. Nobody is superior to anyone else.

"One of my heroines is Marie Curie and this is one of my favourite quotes from her:"

'Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.'

Emily Chappell, director of The Adventure Syndicate and ultra cyclist

"For me, International Women's Day is a time to celebrate all we've achieved, and also to think about how much further there is to go. I'll also be feeling very grateful (as I do every day) for the amazing women I have around me, who inspire and encourage me to go further than I thought I could, and support me through the times when my self-belief flags."

Rebecca Charlton, journalist, presenter and broadcaster

"International Women's Day is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the people that inspire us, and those who have been instrumental and vocal in the positive changes we've seen over the years, impacting the lives we lead today.

"When I was growing up both my mum and dad raced mountain bikes and trained on the track, and I was told that anything was possible. I had such strong role models and was given every opportunity do the activities I liked. I want every young child to feel like every door is open to them if they work hard enough, regardless of gender or background.

"I was proud to host the launch of the OVO Energy Women's Tour on the eve of International Women's Day this year, where Chris Houghton, CEO of OVO Energy, and race director Mick Bennett announced equal prize money for the Women's Tour, to match the men's Tour of Britain. This is a huge step in gender parity and it's important to recognise the progression that has been made on a day like today.

"I shared the stage with Lizzie Deignan, Elinor Barker, Orla Chennaoui, Emma Pooley, and Ruth Cadbury MP. When I first worked in cycling I knew less than a handful of women in the industry; now we have so many female voices.

"It's an exciting place to be for the future, and these strong, female sporting role-models, journalists, presenters and MP are more visible than ever, which I hope inspires even more girls and boys to feel anything is possible at any age. It's never too late to start something new."

Ayesha McGowan, US road racer bidding to become the first black female pro racer

"International Women's Day means celebrating women for all the things that bring them together and set them apart."

Grace Garner, Professional cycle racer for Wiggle HIGH5 

"For International Women's Day, a picture of our grandma and her friends in the 50s (second one from the left). Women's cycling has come SO far, I should think they would all be proud!"

Tuesday 6 March 2018

So how is my Paris Marathon training going?

Last autumn I signed up for a couple of challenges that I hope to take on this year. One of them was the Etape du Tour, and the other one was the Paris Marathon.

As the marathon is taking place in April I have been focusing mainly on running. And it has definitely been a focus!

Preparing for the Paris marathon has been a quite an undertaking, not least getting in the regular training and staying injury free.
It won't be my first attempt at running 26.2 miles (42.2km), but the previous times when I ran a marathon I was a sprightly young lady in her early to mid thirties as opposed to now, roughly fifteen years later, with joints that get that bit stiffer and creaky. Plus I need more time to recover after exercise, and am just an tad slower than I used to be.

Although I have done a lot of running in my time, in recent times my running training has just been limited to 3- or 4-mile outings, the odd Park run, and then once a year a longer event like a half-marathon or 10-mile race that I would plod round.

Running 26 miles just seems such a long way, and a long time to be on my feet. What am I going to do for four or even five hours while I pound the pavements? I might get bored! For the first time I may have to break a life-long habit of not wearing headphones just so I can get through the challenge. Yes, challenge is exactly what it will be! It's quite handy that the setting for the challenge is in a lovely place like Paris, which should make the task a less arduous ordeal!

I also rely on the fact that the two London marathons that I did were such a long time ago that if the running experience was not good that trauma has now been erased from my mind! I vaguely recall crying as the finish gantry on The Mall came into sight, but that might have just been relief that I had managed to get through it in one piece! I also recall the volunteer who gave me my medal avidly congratulating me as though I had won, when I had probably finished in around 13,000th place!

So here I am, just over one month away from the big day in Paris. Training has been going okay. I have not followed a set training plan from on-line or a magazine, preferring to start my training early - back in October - and running on feel. The aim was just to get up to running 13 miles by Christmas, and then to run 20 miles by early March at the latest.

I have achieved that, but it wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty - especially the 20 miles I ran along the River Thames a couple of days ago without properly carboloading! While doing my training I have been doing cross-country league races with my clubs in London - Serpentine RC and South London Harriers - so that has made it complicated to juggle.

A short fast run over mud, wearing spikes is just as taxing as a long slow run on smooth ground. So doing these back to back on the weekend just means my legs are shot during the week! As the long runs have gotten longer, the Saturday cross-country league races have had to be run slower just so that I could have a bit left in the tank for my Sunday run!

Since getting past the 12-mile mark things have become more sketchy for me in terms of risk of injury. Throughout my adult life I have suffered from either patella syndrome, ilio-tibial band syndrome, Achilles tendinitis or calf strains.

So as the training runs have lengthened, this has steadily become a greater and greater exercise in injury prevention and damage limitation! I am spending a lot of time (and money) at Crystal Palace Physio Group to get in regular massages and keep my muscles loose. The foam roller, a tennis ball and a golf ball have become my best friends. Yoga has also been the order of the day, though I have tended to do that at home because when attempting it in a class I felt so self-conscious at how rigid my body is compared with all those supple women of a certain age!

Then I have reintroduced the post-run sitting in freezing water routine to my regime. That moment when I hit the water is massively unpleasant, takes my breath away, makes me squeal, I worry I might get hyperthermic afterwards, but it is character building (apparently) and healing!

There have been good parts in this marathon preparation though. It has made me vary my runs that bit more and go to new places. Instead of just running the usual parks in South Norwood and Crystal Palace, I have also added in Dulwich Wood, Dulwich Park, Cator Park, Beckenham Place Park and Shirley Hills.

San Silvestre 8k in Buenos Aires 
Wherever I have travelled I have kept my trainers nearby to get in a few miles. So I ran to work when I worked in Central London, I did regular runs around the Royal Parks, including Richmond Park. Of course when I recently travelled to Argentina I ran - around Buenos Aires, Bariloche, Mendoza, even doing a running race while there.

I also did a running race in Tortona, near Milan and plan to do some running in Paris when I recce the route. I even did a run en route to join my second claim club, East Hull Harriers, up in East Yorkshire! It had been tempting to just peel off the motorway to go running around some National Trust land in a place called Sharpenhoe, near Luton!

My biggest issue now is that I will run out of time to go to some of the other interesting places I had hoped to run in. I haven't yet done the South Downs or the Box Hill area yet, and I was also hoping to do a bit more stuff north of the river like Hampstead Heath or Hackney Marshes. There's nothing like a marathon to get you out discovering new places!

The other great thing has been in this era of social media (which didn't exist when I last ran a marathon) it has been great to connect with other people. There's a Facebook group for Londoners who are running the Paris marathon, a group for all women who are running the Paris marathon, as well as equivalent groups on Strava. These are great ways to stay motivated while training, get tips and advice if you have doubts, and even make new friends.

Catching up with Mariana in Buenos Aires 
When I went to Argentina I managed to meet up with one of the girls from the Facebook group, Mariana who lived in Buenos Aires. It was great to be able to catch up with one of the Paris marathon girls on the other side of the world.

I look forward to seeing her when she is in Paris, and also when she comes for holiday in London.

So how is my marathon training going? Well, it's not too bad. I haven't had any injury or illness, apart from a cold a couple of weeks ago. There have definitely been moments where I thought this is all a silly idea and I won't get through it - particularly on those days where I felt really tired just doing a 3-mile run! But in the end I just had to really hang in there and believe in my strategy.

I have put in a few miles, so I am almost good to go. I just need to not break my leg during a ski trip that I've got planned, or pull a muscle during that final 20-mile training run! The coach trip to Paris (without Brendan!) is booked, my lodgings are sorted, so I just need to show up at the Champs Elysées on 8th April. But even now I'm not taking anything for granted!

Some might ask, why do a marathon? It's so time-consuming, there's a risk of injury, it can be painful physically and mentally. It's hard to fit around everyday life, it can be expensive when you add in the cost of equipment, travel, accommodation, entry fees and medical bills to prevent or treat injury. After all, I have done a marathon before, so it's not like I have anything to prove.

I guess the answer is that I do have something to prove. These challenges can't be taken for granted. Also my pet hate is living off my achievements from many years ago. I feel much happier celebrating something I achieved last week than trying to milk off something I did more than 10 years ago!

So as long as I am getting older the bar will naturally be getting higher, and so there will always be something to prove! Perhaps it is part of the mid-life crisis phenomenon but hey, I say if it's keeping me off the sofa, I'm happy!

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