Friday, November 14, 2008

I Have a Theory

A couple of years ago Jenny and I were in our LBS getting a bike fit for our new bikes. The technician doing the bike fit mentioned that women typically don’t ever stand and pedal while they ride. I thought, no way, everyone stands and pedals it’s just part of riding a bike. Or is it? Over the years I’ve tried to watch for this and for the most part he was right! Women don’t stand and pedal even up tough hills. What’s up with this?

Last summer this theory was proven again as I watched the Olympic mountain bike races (on Canadian TV of course). The first night I watched the event was the women’s race. I noticed that all of them stayed in their saddles and ground up the steep switchbacks even as they passed each other. Very rarely did they get out of their seats and pedal.

The next night I watched the men’s mountain bike race on the exact same course and all of them were standing and pounding on their pedals up the same steep switchbacks. Of course there are men who only stay in the saddle and women who stand and pedal but for the most part this theory holds true.

So why the difference? If bikes had been around in Socrates time I’m sure he would have contemplated this situation at length and come up with a theory. Well, here are my theories.

Patience Factor
When I stand and pedal these days it’s because I’m running out of patience with sitting and grinding up a hill. My theory with hills is to sit and grind up hills until I just can’t stand it any longer then stand and mash pedals the rest of the way. It burns a lot of energy but it gets the whole climbing experience over with. A lot of the time I stand and pedal because I just don’t have the patience for sitting and spinning. I think women have a lot more patience for this.

Center of gravity
If you haven’t noticed men and women are built different. OK, I really hope you’ve noticed. Because of this their center of gravity is different. Could that make it more uncomfortable for women to stand and pedal? This is probably a weak theory but hey it could happen.

Boys grew up standing and pedaling
As a kid as soon as I learned how to ride a bike and had a little confidence I had one goal in mind. How far can I jump my bike and what kind of ramps can I build out of scrap wood in the backyard to jump my bike farther. Back then it wasn’t about riding distance but jumping distance. When you jump a bike you certainly don’t stay in your seat, at least not more than once if you know what I mean. Also, most boys grow up riding BMX bikes which are very small and don’t really lend themselves to sitting and pedaling. They scream to their riders “stand up and pedal so we can go fast”. Riding wheelies was also a right of passage as a boy. If you couldn’t ride a wheelie you just weren’t cool. You have to do this standing. Therefore, standing and pedaling quickly becomes a very natural thing for a boy who is looking to jump over anything and everything and ride wheelies in their neighborhood.

On the other hand Jenny can count the number of times she jumped her bike as a kid on, well..... no fingers. She can’t remember ever jumping her bike. The only time she ever remembers standing up and pedaling was when she had a friend on the back of her bike and they needed to get up a hill which probably wasn’t a very common occurrence.

The next time you are out on a group ride check this out. I think you’ll be surprised at what you see.

I’m sure there are tons of other theories out there and you probably have a great one of your own or maybe you totally disagree with me. If you’re brave enough to share your opinion I’d love to hear it

By the way, have a great weekend.


Jeff said...

I would think women sit more because they don't have factor, if you get my drift.

But I also agree that patience plays a big part in it. Women naturally pace themselves better than men.

331 Miles said...

I agree with much of what you've written, which address the 'intangibles'. On the tech side -- power to mass ratio. Women typically have less, and as such have to use mechanical advantage (gearing) to reduce their power output requirement; i.e. spin in a lower gear over a longer amount of time. Some men will stand and put out a burst of power over a short amount of time; for many women, that's not feasible.

Anonymous said...

Well from my perspective (me being a woman) I would agree partially.

The guys that I ride with do generally do a lot more standing than I do, but I do generally stand to get up a hill... hill depending that is. I know every hill around my house and which ones can be attacked and which ones should merely be survived.

I don't think the... um... numbness factor is the reason, because women have some sensitive bits as well, and while the effect of a saddle may be different, I still like to get my butt off of it as often as is feasible.

Barbara said...

I am a woman, and when I was a girl riding my pink-and-white Schwinn "girl's bike" with coaster brakes (mine even had 3 gears you shifted by doing a really quick mini-brake), I rode standing a lot! Certainly up hills.

When I got my first "10-speed" I was told that one of the reasons for 10 speeds was that you didn't ride standing up on these sophisticated machines. Now I find that I can't balance when I try to get out of the seat to climb.

Riding like a girl, I guess!

MG said...

As a female cyclist I often stand on my pedals either on a hill or when I need a quick accelleration. The other women that I ride with do not employ this technique and I cant quite get them to do it either. They claim that they are fearful that they will fall over if they stand. I guess I should review the laws of physics with them and angular momentum.

Bike Buddy said...

My husband used to try and get me to stand going up hills to use different muscles and be able to go a little farther. I typically ride in back because I'm slower, don't like to lead and, well, drafting! One day he was behind me on a hill and I tried to stand. Apparently, I ride like a girl:) He had to teach me how to ride standing up and now that I understand the concept and how to use it, I like it and use it much more often than before.