Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Another racing observation

Tuesday, 26 June

I'm feeling really bold today--and I haven't even had my coffee yet. Last time I ventured into the "why do they race/ride they way they do?" realm, I was told that my entry was a "pretty big blow to the NW women's peloton" and "most of it was inaccurate." Again, I'm just making an observation today, based on my limited participation in the sport. I don't think it's very controversial but someone will probably take offense (that's what blogs are supposed to do, right--offend?).

Perhaps more than most women, I race sometimes with men. Not just the weekly series events, but by racing on the tandem with multiple male partners (no comments, please), I get some insight into how men race and ride.

Last Sunday, though, I was in a group of experienced women racers for a very long time up some long climbs. And I noticed that they almost never get out of the saddle. Sit, sit, sit--uphill, downhill, just about all the time. Men complain they can't get out of the saddle enough when they ride tandem and they all wonder why I can't stand for a half a mile at a stretch.

I first got insight into the value of standing occasionally when I rode with an ex-pro up that long climb on the last day at Columbia Plateau (its reported length varies but it's at least 10 miles). Standing lets you rest some muscles and use new ones, it changes the way your weight is distributed through your hands and feet, and (sometimes this is priceless) it allows you some respite from pressure on the saddle. And on an extraordinarily long climb, well, it's something to do.

But there we were on Sunday, a group of maybe 20 women riding up a 4-mile climb, every single one of us in the saddle. The pace was not blistering and I thought it was a great opportunity to get out of the saddle. The only other woman who was standing occasionally was clearly on the rivet and struggling to keep her momentum up enough to stay on. Now, there's nothing wrong with sitting, and it made for an incredibly smooth group because bikes don't shift around nearly as much when you're sitting squarely on top of them. But the men I ride with would have been out of the saddle more than they were in it.

So, what's the difference here? Is it purely anatomical? There were plenty of complaints from the women about, um, saddle discomfort and a fair amount of shifting position ever so slightly to try to relieve pressure on particularly sore spots. Do women's bikes "fit" them differently so that standing is not as comfortable as it is for men? Are women not as confident out of the saddle? I would not for a minute believe that saddle manufacturers favor women's saddle comfort over men's (because nothing else manufactured for this sport favors a woman's anatomy).

Okay, so tell me I'm clearly not a bike racer because if I had all this time and energy for observation and getting out of the saddle, I should have been attacking instead and not just sitting in a super smooth group when there were only 60 miles to the finish. That still doesn't answer my fundamental question (based on unscientific data collection, I know): why are men so much more likely to climb out of the saddle than women? Maybe I should ask about the tendencies of cat 4/5 men because I'm, um, selective about my male tandem partners and they've all been cat 1/2. Anybody have any insights into this really burning question?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's definitely potential for some offensive comments here. Lets see what I can come up with, possible (mildly to very) insulting explanations for your observation include the following.

1.) The pro/1/2 men spend so much time with other men who wear lycra and shave there legs that they need to take every opportunity that they can to say "I'm not gay" (not that there's anything wrong with that). Getting your butt farther away from a 'post' is one such opportunity.

2.) Tempted to write something about the relative size difference of men's and women's butts here but even posting under anonymous, I would fear for my life.

3.) Well to be honest that's all I've got for now, but I'd like to see someone else fan the flames. Martha's got to drive up that blog traffic somehow.

andrew said...

Do a climb with a women's NRC race and I bet you are out of the saddle a LOT. Local womens racing doesn't have that killer edge that even local mens 3 does. I'd bet that you get that attitude at Toona or the old HP Womens Challenge.

STOKED I AM said...

This transcends the venue of the riding or racing and any need for a killer edge. In totally no-pressure riding situations, men (I think) will get out of the saddle a lot more than women. Does testosterone force men to ride with that "attitude" 100% of the time? They've all explained it to me as the need to reduce the pain and suffering of sitting in one position for too long.

andrew said...

Stoked. Guys can stand to be bored. Sitting and grinding out a hill is like watching the same TV show end-to-end rather than channel surfing.

P-Dog said...

all I know is you've destroyed my desire race womens anymore. Of course that being a guy thing was going to make it difficult as it was....

Allison said...

I have done lots of women's NRC races, including Toona and the old HP Women's Challenge. I, for one, don't stand more often in NRC races than in local races. I just climb sitting down. I don't think it has much to do with the race. I'm always telling Ted that he stands too much and kills his rhythm.

Old as dirt said...

I stand to get rhythm, though in the gear I ride I'd go very slowly if I sat all the time ;-)

cannondalegirl said...

personally, this girl's arms and shoulders get tired quick when i stand up to climb. does it take more upper body strength to be comfortable standing and climbing?

STOKED I AM said...

But it's the guys who laugh at me when I say I need to do upper-body work in the gym for climbing. Well, one of them, anyway....

Ted said...

Allison says me standing kills my rhythm. I try to explain to her that me standing is my last ditch effort of hanging on for dear life.

Argentius said...

A certain guy we know who climbs out of the saddle constantly, in a huge gear, says it's the upper body work at the gym that's allowed him to do it...

But then, he also will go up 10% grades in a 53x21.

Juicey said...

That's funny. I read your blog yesterday morning and then couldn't help but stand up a lot when I was riding tonight out to North Bend. It feels good to change the position and stand up - I'm surprised more ladies don't. Could it be a core thing? I would think you'd want to use your entire body as much as possible - especially when climbing - to prevent skinny biker arms.

Michele said...

I have to agree with the upper body strength and the last ditch effort to hang on. I rely on my upper body strength to overcome my less than stellar fitness while climbing. I alternate from sitting to standing and adjust my rhythm to match each position. It relieves fatigue and boredom and allows me to push a harder gear since I am a retard when it comes to spinning. ;) At Wenatchee my back injury required me to stand almost the entire climb, all of my pull ups, push up and dips are good for something. In general I find myself standing much more than my counter parts and these are really the only things that I can find to account for why.

RMc said...

How about this? Climbing sitting down, one has the tendency to ride higher rpms, and therefore lighter gears than standing up. Standing up, a rider has to move to a bigger gear to keep the same speed. Otherwise, the rider slows down because the rider cannot comfortably keep up the same rpms as when seated.

So: the end result is that standing requires more muscle, lower and upper body. The upper body obviously because you use the arms more, and the legs because a bigger gear is being used.

I might theorize then (and this is really only a guess) that perhaps women stand less frequently because it is the economical choice. If you don't have the extra muscle mass to spend standing on a bigger gear, you won't want to do it.