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Women's Cycling

Chorizo, wet weather training and saddle comfort: tips from the pedElle 2016 riders

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Last month we brought you the first of a three-part series of exclusive interviews with three riders participating in the Club Peloton pedElle 2016 women’s cycling charity event. PedElle 2016 is a three-day, 425km ride for female professionals from the property industry.  

We have partnered with Aspire PR to bring you this series and we’re thrilled to be catching up with riders Sam McClary, Sarah Jenkinson and Yvonne Smith ahead of the event which begins in Salzburg on Monday 23rd May. Read on for their training strategies, fueling tips, secrets to comfort in the saddle and more…

 

pedElle 2016 Rider Profile: Sam McClary

pedElle 2016

 

Sam, with less than a month to go before pedElle 2016 begins in Salzburg, how do you feel?

Desperately looking forward to getting out of the office and having only to worry about turning my legs and pedalling. If I’m honest, I probably haven’t cycled enough but hoping there’s some good muscle memory left in my legs from earlier in the year and last year’s adventures.

 

What kit will you be taking? What brands/favourite items do you rely on for comfort and performance in the saddle?

I have some AMAZING kit from Betty Designs which I love. And always get comments on. And people asking if the Kick Butt on, well, my butt, is an instruction. It’s great kit though. Not only does it look cool, the fit is great and the chamois is just right – not too much, not too little.

 

What do you use in the way of training aids – for example, power meters, rollers, turbo trainers? Do you have any tips for keeping up training in poor weather?

I don’t use any kind of training aid, which is weird because I love gadgets. Because I’m not racing anymore and just exercising for adventure and challenge I tend to just use how I feel as a training aid. If you can be honest with yourself about how hard you are (or aren’t) training then I think that is a great life skill. Tips for training in poor weather? Man up! Skin is waterproof.

 

Apart from chorizo (!), how do you plan to fuel yourself on the pedElle 2016 ride? What are your top tips for maintaining energy levels – and is there anything you avoid?

Is there anything else apart from chorizo? For the sake of friendships and potentially garlicky burps, I will also use other fuels. I’m really quite anti gels and the like, however, so for me it will be dried fruits – dates and prunes are my favourites – seeds (I can’t do nuts) and some dark chocolate for those dark moments. I’ll also have a greens drink in the morning and pop a vitamin c tablet in my first bottle on my bike. Recovery – apart from wine and Aperol Spritz (a traditional PedElle tipple) – will be a protein shake or chocolate milk. Not just to rebuild muscle, but also because it is a tasty treat after a long, hard ride cycle.

 

One of the biggest challenges on long multi-day rides is saddle discomfort. As an experienced pedElle participant, what is your advice to first timers for avoiding saddle pain?

Investing in a good saddle that works for you and finding the ideal pair of shorts is the key when dealing with saddle pain. Making sure you have been fitted on your bike and using correct form will also help alleviate any discomfort. And getting out of the saddle for a little wiggle never hurts. And of course, sometimes you’ve just got to break everything (EVERYTHING) in a bit.

 

pedElle 2016 Rider Profile: Sarah Jenkinson

pedElle 2016

 

Sarah, with less than a month to go before pedElle 2016 begins in Salzburg, how do you feel?

I’m feeling excited! We had a great training ride a couple of weeks ago in Surrey where 12 PedEllers turned up. There was a fun and supportive atmosphere in the group and lots of giggles. My knees have been feeling a little sore, especially as I’ve been doing more running recently too. So I’ve (slightly grudgingly) started some strength and conditioning sessions to strengthen everything up before the ride. This is particularly important now that we’ve been informed that the first day has 4000m of climbing over 180km with a few 20% gradients…!

 

What kit will you be taking? What brands/favourite items do you rely on for comfort and performance in the saddle?

Hopefully the sun will be shining so it will just be a case of shorts, jersey, sunglasses and a cap! I’ll probably take my Velotoze shoe covers in case it rains ­ I just love these. They’re like a swimming cap for feet and come in lots of bright colours. Lightweight and look good!

 

What do you use in the way of training aids – for example, power meters, rollers, turbo trainers? Do you have any tips for keeping up training in poor weather?

I’m pretty old school; a map and a bike. I don’t really like gyms or spin classes, so tend to just get on with it good weather or bad.

 

How do you plan to fuel yourself on the ride? What are your top tips for maintaining energy levels – and is there anything you avoid?

I try to eat natural foods where possible and just keep eating and drinking every hour. I avoid gels after a bad experience in a triathlon. A few of the ladies have been exchanging flapjack recipes in the run up to the ride and I think home made energy foods are always a great shout! In terms of recovery drinks, personally, I find the best is a cold beer!

 

One of the biggest challenges on long multi-­day rides is saddle discomfort. As an experienced pedElle cyclist, what is your advice to first timers for avoiding saddle pain?

Invest in a good saddle! I have a female specific saddle -­ a Selle Italia Diva and have used it on many long distance trips including a cycle across America. This combined with a decent pair of padded shorts (I use various brands including dhb, Liv and Rapha) should be fine. Of course, sitting in any position for 8+ hours will always lead to some discomfort but I have never really had any big issues.

[This just goes to show how the only way to find the right saddle for you is to go for a saddle mapping session – the Selle Italia Diva was hellish for Vamper’s Victoria but clearly the right saddle for other cyclists. Read more here.]

 

pedElle 2016 Rider Profile: Yvonne Smith

pedElle 2016

Yvonne, with less than a month to go before pedElle 2016 begins in Salzburg, how do you feel?

I am taking the training very seriously as I want to be able to complete the event and not pick up any injuries. PedElle provided me with the programme and it is achievable if you are single-minded with a great husband (shout out to Julian!). Once a week, I go to a spin class and another day will cycle to work and back (50 miles round trip).

Over recent weekends, I have done different rides both days to get some variety. Sometimes endurance and sometimes hills and last Sunday was both! I got up Ditchling Beacon without stopping for the first time and I was thrilled. The family is still planning, accompanying me and encouraging me. Mentally very positive – need to keep pedalling!

 

What kit will you be taking? What brands/favourite items do you rely on for comfort and performance in the saddle?

I haven’t found shorts with sufficient padding yet! I have received the kit list so will go through that and borrow off my daughter Hannah or wander down to the many cycle shops in the West End. To reward my efforts I have bought a Queen of the Mountains T-shirt and one with “Girls on bikes – keep up” for relaxing in the evening. I have promised to ditch the rucksack with all the extra layers, tools, torch, whistle, food, book (in case I get a puncture and have to wait around) etc. as I become more confident.

 

What do you use in the way of training aids – for example, power meters, rollers, turbo trainers? Do you have any tips for keeping up training in poor weather?

What’s the saying – “There is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing and equipment”. I have only given up once and that was in Storm Kate. I love being outside and as I have a dog, you get used to carrying on regardless.

 

How do you plan to fuel yourself along the pedElle 2016 route? What are your top tips for maintaining energy levels – and is there anything you avoid?

I have actually started snacking on chorizo [like Sam!] when cycling and I prefer it to sweets. I don’t really have a sweet tooth. I have also bought Nuun rehydration tablets to add to my water bottle and these are not too sweet either. The usual – wine gums and Jelly Babies give you a lift and help you face the hills. I am ravenous a lot these days!

Multiple long days in the saddle can be quite uncomfortable. What is your strategy for staying comfortable on your bike over long distances?

I mentioned this earlier. I have bought chamois cream but when you are tender it stings like heck! Still looking for a solution and it’s one of my favourite topics of conversation with female cyclists at the moment. During the ride I move back onto the saddle going downhill and forward going up and this helps the balance and also gives a little relief to the under area!

 

 

In addition to paying an entry fee, the riders commit to raising a minimum amount for a number of children’s charities including Coram. To date, Coram has received £500,000 from Club Peloton events, making it Coram’s largest corporate partner. The funds raised by pedElle 2016 will go towards Coram’s adoption services, helping vulnerable children find stable, loving families.

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Weekend bike project: spraying a saddle to match your bike

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I had no intention, really, of getting into road cycling. But when I was roped into signing up for the Prudential 100, one thing lead to another and before I knew it, I was accepting delivery of a good entry-level carbon road bike from Sheffield-based Planet X. I didn’t want anything garish and heavily branded, and the low-key decals and black frame seemed suitably restrained. I was content with my choice and I wasn’t particularly interested in any road bike customisation. But after experiencing some serious saddle pain, I took myself down to Cyclefit in Holborn for a pressure mapping session. I came away with a fantastic Bontrager Ajna saddle, but unfortunately, at the time, Cyclefit only had the white version in stock. To their credit, they were happy for me to go back when the black version was in stock to swap it; but work was so busy that I just couldn’t get back into central London. So I left it, and settled for white. But it’s been bugging me since August. With nothing else white on the bike, it just seemed to stick out like a sore thumb. Comfortable, yes. But aesthetically pleasing? No.

Road bike customisation
Before: bright pink accents on a black bike. All good! Oh… Apart from the white saddle, which DOES NOT MATCH AT ALL.

And then I had a flash of inspiration.

Fabric dye.

I did a bit of research, and discovered TRG Super Color Spray, for use on leathers and synthetic leathers. £7.24 from Amazon. I bought a can. And, finally, we have outdoor space at our new house, and we had a bright, dry, breezy day. I took the plunge. I removed the whole stem, complete with saddle, and drove it into the grass. I carefully draped an old cloth through the rails, and stood back, and sprayed, and marvelled as my comfortable-but-not-aesthetically-pleasing saddle developed a glossy jet black lustre. I was anxious in case it didn’t work, wouldn’t dry and would cost me a whole new saddle… But it did dry, and it looks superb, and finally, my bike looks the way I want it to. WIN.

Road bike customisation
After: everything matches! It looks so much more slick…
Road bike customisation
Finally, it looks just the way I want it to…
Cycling TipsWomen's Cycling

Rediscovering your cycling mojo: how Victoria got her groove back

Cycling Mojo
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I’ve been feeling tremendously weighed down lately. I lost my cycling mojo.

You know how it is: we’re in the depths of winter, and the days are woefully short. The only daylight hours are spent in an office, thinking about how nice it would be to spend some daylight hours outdoors instead… You arrive home from work later than you’d like every day, in the dark, and it’s time to start cooking dinner. While dinner’s cooking, you’re doing the washing; catching up with parents on the phone (who are in danger of thinking you’ve dropped off the face of the earth); dealing with all the paperwork that came through the letterbox that day; tidying up and cleaning the house. And before you know it, you’re eating dinner at nearly 9pm, and can’t wait to collapse on the sofa for an hour in front of the TV. And winter weekends? You spend the whole working week thinking, this weekend, we’ll get out for a good ride.

while you don’t want to call yourself a fair weather cyclist, you realise you’d rather be inside stripping walls and painting ceilings than battling the elements.

Saturday comes.

The weather is atrocious. The wind is howling, it’s pouring with rain… and while you don’t want to call yourself a fair weather cyclist, you look at all the work that needs doing in your new house, and realise you’d rather be inside stripping walls and painting ceilings than battling the elements.

Tomorrow, you think. Sunday will be better.

Sunday comes, and the weather’s still a bit crap. But you know you have to get on your bike. So, you bundle up, and you drag yourself out, to be buffeted by the wind. It’s grey, and a bit dreary, but you flog yourself on. Your nose runs. Your eyes run. Your ears start to ache. And finally you arrive home with a sigh of relief, knowing that you had to do it but thoroughly glad it’s over.

Then, suddenly, the days begin to lengthen. Not much, but enough that you wake up and it’s daylight. And if you can get away from the office at a reasonable time, it’s not quite dark… And your energy levels just start to rise. You wake up a bit earlier, and finally, you look out of the window in the morning and think – I can’t wait to get on my bike today. And you do it. And it’s fabulous. And your cycling mojo has returned.

You’ve got your groove back.

Cycling TipsReviewsSportivesWomen's Cycling

The Prudential RideLondon – Surrey 100: 10 things we wish we’d known

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With around 25,000 participants and covering 100 miles, the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey sportive is a daunting prospect for many cyclists. This year we took part for the first time and we wanted to share our top tips for the event – and the things we wish we’d known beforehand.

The Ballot

When entering the ballot, be realistic but not pessimistic about the time you expect to finish in; we both overestimated by a long way (two hours!) which put us in much later starting groups. An earlier start will probably mean a faster ride with less congestion.

Disappointed that you didn’t get a place in the Prudential RideLondon ballot? Don’t worry – get a charity spot instead and raise money for a good cause. There are a huge number of charities with guaranteed places, all vying for cyclists to ride for them. They’ll typically ask you to raise a minimum of £500 – £750, which is pretty achievable for such a physical challenge!

100 miles is a long way. It makes a huge difference to flagging spirits and tired legs when the communities of Surrey turn out in droves to cheer you on.

Are you sitting comfortably?

On the run up to the Prudental RideLondon event, make sure you are completely comfortable on your bike. I was caught out with the wrong saddle which could have been rectified had I arranged a saddle mapping session in good time, but if you’re in the London area, these things book up fast ahead of such a major event. Be comfortable on your bike and don’t try anything new on the day!

If possible, stay locally the night before the event to reduce stress – it’s an early start! Local hotels – including the major chains – are really accommodating to cyclists. We stayed at the Radisson Blu New Providence Wharf and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful: a handwritten note in our room wished us luck, we were able to keep our bikes in the room with us, and an extra early breakfast was laid on to ensure riders had something to eat before setting off. Much easier than a long journey at an ungodly hour.

Remembering registration

You must register for Prudential RideLondon the day before the event, and we would recommend allowing plenty of time for this exercise. This year’s registration was at Excel – allow lots of time to get there, because it is vast. We wouldn’t want to be parking 15 minutes before registration closes – it might take you half an hour to reach the hall from the car park! (Also, parking is £15 – and that’s a flat rate. Ouch.)

Diversion due diligence

The morning of the ride, bear in mind that the closed roads make reaching Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park something of a challenge. We stayed locally the night before and cycled – if you do the same, ensure that you allow plenty of time to get there because you might not be able to take the most direct route depending on diversions. Reaching the park was a little bit more stressful than we had anticipated!

It’s a rare opportunity to experience Central London and the Surrey Hills free of traffic, in the company of other cyclists. Relax and enjoy it!

BFF finding

If you plan to ride Prudential RideLondon with a friend, be aware that you will most likely be allocated different start time and different zones. You can’t do anything about this, but don’t worry: provided you’re not setting off hours apart, it is easy to meet up just a few miles into the ride. We chose to meet just after St Paul’s church in Shadwell where it was easy to pull off the main road and wait.

It can be nerve wracking to set off ‘alone’ – or, at least, without your buddy. Don’t be afraid to make conversation with other cyclists in your wave – remember that everyone’s in the same boat and plenty of people are feeling nervous. A chat will calm your nerves! And don’t be afraid to ask for help from fellow riders –  and someone will help you, like the wonderful guys who helped me when my chain suddenly dropped off 90 seconds before my wave was due to depart…

Hub hubbub

The feed stations and hubs are fantastic and a great opportunity to replenish your water (and energy powder) supplies. We wished, though, that we had packed a greater variety of snacks in our pockets; Clif Bars are decent fuel but get very boring (not to mention dry) on such a long day.

Rather than telling our supporters to watch us from Kingston bridge, we wish we had realised that the hub at Hampton Court would have been the ideal spot with the opportunity to stop and say hello. Indeed, if you can meet someone at a hub, they can even supply a range of snacks – we envied the guy we saw tucking into a tupperware of pasta provided by a friend!

Elevation reconnaissance 

We live in Surrey and we thought we were fairly familiar with the route. However, Box Hill – though famous – is not the challenge on this course. We wished we’d done all the hills before the event so that we knew exactly what to expect. Newlands Corner is not the most well known hill on the course, but it’s a tough climb; try and have a go beforehand to familiarise yourself. (The descent does make it worthwhile, though. We promise.)

Rapturous reception

100 miles is a long way. It makes a huge difference to flagging spirits and tired legs when the communities of Surrey turn out in droves to cheer you on, so engage with them – a wave and a smile will let them know you appreciate their support, and will help keep your spirits up.

Post-ride fatigue

At the end of the ride, we wished we had arranged transport for our bikes, either back to Excel or even back home. We were very tired, I was very saddle sore, and the traffic was daunting after a day of riding closed roads. If you haven’t arranged transport, bear in mind that you can always get a cab to take you and your bike where you need to go – but it will be very busy and you might have a long wait…

The Prudential RideLondon is a day to remember

Finally, go with the flow! There might be hold ups along the way due to accidents, or overcrowding – don’t fret about your finishing time, just soak it all up. The Prudential RideLondon event is not a race – it’s a rare opportunity to experience Central London and the Surrey Hills free of traffic, in the company of other cyclists. Relax and enjoy it!

Prudential RideLondon

FeaturedReviewsSportivesWomen's Cycling

Macmillan Cycletta Surrey: Vamper.cc rides and reviews this women’s sportive

Ready for offAn encouraging turn out at Loseley Park - women's cycling is gaining traction, in part thanks to events like the Macmillan Cycletta.
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Sunday morning, 06:50. The alarm clock is sounding. Crumbs. The day of the Macmillan Cycletta has arrived.

After a week of torrential downpours and grey skies, I opened my eyes to bright sunshine peeking through the blinds. My heart soared: the Humanrace Macmillan Cycletta Surrey event would be beautiful on a crisp, bright September morning – it was worth getting out of bed. (Not words I often mutter.)

Team Vamper has nailed these early Sunday starts now: rucksack ready by the door packed with Torq Gels (Raspberry Ripple), Clif bars (Choc Almond Fudge), track pump, toolkit, waterproofs… Bike cleaned and checked, front wheel already off to load in the back of the car…

We’re like a well-oiled machine on cycling days. It’s a shame it doesn’t extend to any other day of the week…

Arriving at Loseley Park it was thoroughly exciting to see so many women readying themselves for a morning of cycling. We’re still so outnumbered in the cycling world that when so many keen female cyclists converge in one place it’s something of an eye opener. The non-threatening atmosphere which allows women to enjoy riding free of testosterone-fuelled bravado is one of the best things about the Macmillan Cycletta events: I opted for the 50km classic route, but I can well imagine that the 20km beginners’ course would be a fun and gentle introduction to sportives for new riders.

Macmillan Cycletta
A crisp, clear start for the sportive riders at Loseley Park. Women’s cycling is gaining traction thanks to events like this.

The classic route took in some beautiful Surrey countryside in its loop around Shackleford, Puttenham, Rushmoor and Elstead. The elevation was enjoyably challenging in places; I wasn’t in the mood for climbing a lot of tough hills, but I certainly didn’t want an easy ride. The only thing that let the route down were the terrible road surfaces: for a county which prides itself on its cycling credentials, Surrey needs to give serious consideration to the terrible state of many of its roads.

Macmillan Cycletta
The Classic 52km route took in some of Surrey’s prettiest countryside (and worst road surfaces…)

I was keen to average 15mph on the hilly course and hoped to complete the route in around two hours fifteen minutes, so I was very pleased to finish with a moving time of 2:14:28 and average speed of 15.1mph. I’m working on building stamina and speed on climbs but at the moment, they really slow me down; I do too much cycling in flat southwest London…

Overall I finished 8th out of about 150 on the Classic route. Next year I’m aiming for 1st! I was highly impressed with the speed at which riders’ results were announced: by the time I was back in the car, I had received a text message with my finishing time and a link to the complete results from Results Base. For someone as competitive as I am, that’s a great feature of any event. (The event photographers SportCam deserve a shout out, too – great pictures!)

Macmillan Cycletta
Vamper’s Victoria taking in the sights along the route.

The Cycletta village was excellent: well equipped with plenty of loos, several food stalls, a Liv mechanical support tent and information desk. I was, however, a little dismayed by the tannoy announcements before the ride which seemed to assume participants wouldn’t have had the gumption to check their bikes for problems beforehand. I was also a little disappointed that the same announcer explained that the emergency telephone number provided could be used, not only in the case of emergency or mechanical fault, but if anyone felt a bit tired… Which doesn’t really seem like the right attitude. Yes, the ride should be fun; but cyclists should be encouraged to prepare thoroughly and stick it out, and I don’t think lack of preparation or sticking power should be assumed – it does a bit of a disservice to the cyclists. I’d like to see a move away from the soft approach to women’s cycling; do women really need tweeness and cake and reassurance that someone else will check their tyres for them? I don’t think they do. But that’s a minor gripe: what Cycletta events do well is provide an unthreatening and encouraging environment to ease women into sportives – and for that they should be applauded.

Macmillan Cycletta
The Cycletta village – well equipped and friendly.

Macmillan Cycletta Cheshire is still accepting entries for the Sunday 27th September; if you think it sounds like fun, sign up here. I’ll definitely be putting my name down for next year’s events.

Cycling AccessoriesReviewsWomen's Cycling

Cyclefit pressure mapping puts an end to saddle pain

Pressure mapping Victoria
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It’s really quite difficult to have a good conversation about saddle soreness while tiptoeing around some anatomical minefield. So I’m not going to tiptoe around, because I think female cyclists – hell, all cyclists – need to be able to have much more frank discussions about what goes on downstairs while you’re on a bike. Enough of the coyness.

I only took up road cycling this year and I did not know what saddle soreness meant.

A year ago, I was happily pottering about London on my single speed, never going further than ten miles at a gentle pace. I had a Selle Italia Gel Flow saddle on my bike which was perfectly comfortable for short distances (and that was wearing jeans, or dresses – not padded bib shorts.)

So, when I began feeling a bit sore on my road bike using the standard-issue saddle it came with, I immediately ordered another Selle Italia Gel Flow, which comes highly recommended by a lot of female cyclists. For rides to work, a distance of around 9 miles? All ok. Perfectly comfortable. I made the right choice! Or, so I thought.

A few weeks later, I went out on a 65 mile weekend ride.

Suddenly, that cushioning seemed less helpful. At the end of the ride, I was thoroughly sore: I had small lesions in my soft tissue, which were deeply uncomfortable.

Hmm, I thought. This is unexpected.

So, I read up online and it sounded as though chamois cream would be the answer to my prayers.

Boy, how people seem to love chamois cream! Apparently, no matter what you’re riding and in any old bib shorts, if you’ve embrocated thoroughly you’ll be assured of a comfortable ride.

Bullshit.

For my first recreational, group ride I slathered on the chamois cream and thought, right! Here we go. The pinching and the bruising and the lesions will be gone with some lubrication. Well, 20 miles into the ride and there was nothing I could do to find comfort on my bike. By the end of the 38 miles, I could barely sit down. I was in so much pain. Chamois cream was not the answer to my prayers.

By this point I was pretty sure that I’d made the wrong decision with my saddle purchase. I read around the subject, not finding much guidance at all, and thought, ok – if the combination of padding and the cut out section is not working, perhaps something firmer and without a cut out would be a good move.

I attempted to book a bike fitting session at a local, well-known store in South West London. No response. So I went into the store, and had a conversation that went something like this:

“Hello. I’m struggling with my Selle Italia Gel Flow. It’s really uncomfortable – can you recommend an alternative?”

“Err. There are a few women’s saddles. You might want to try a different one.”

“Yes, I thought so too. I was hoping you might be able to advise me… I’ve been wondering if a bike fitting would be useful.”

“Err. Let me get the guy in charge of bike fittings. He might know more.”

(Enter new guy)

“Hi. I’m struggling with my Selle Italia Gel Flow. It’s really uncomfortable – can you recommend an alternative?”

“I sell loads of the Gel Flow. Every woman who’s bought it loves it. Your saddle is too high.”

“Errm – I don’t think it is….”

“It is. Everyone puts their saddle higher than they need it. That’s causing the pain. It’s a great saddle, you shouldn’t be having any problems with it.”

“Right. Well, let’s just say that I am. Could you recommend an alternative for me to try?”

“Well, I could, but there would be no point because what you need is a bike fitting.”

“Ok. In that case, may I book one?”

“We’re booked up until the end of August.”

“Ahh. That’s a shame. I actually emailed to try to get an appointment a couple of weeks ago but didn’t hear anything…”

“Really? Well, I never saw the email.”

“Ok…. So, you can’t fit me in for a bike fitting, and you won’t recommend an alternative saddle…”

“No, there’s no point because it won’t be right and you’ll just come back for another. You need a bike fitting.”

“Right, but you can’t give me one. I think we’re done here. “

I left the shop in a huff. Being unequivocally told that because this particular saddle suits some other women, it will be comfortable for me is utterly ridiculous advice. We’re all built differently. One woman’s sit bones are not the same as another’s.

Left to my own devices, I read up some more online, and saw that the Fabric Scoop is really popular with a lot of riders, male and female. A nifty little calculator on the Fabric site tells you which saddle you should go for based on your body type and riding position. Aha! I thought; perhaps this will do it!

The saddle duly arrived, and it looked so smart, and I put it on my bike, and I rode to work. Not bad. Not amazing, but no worse than the Selle Italia, that’s for sure. It was a little bit hard, but nothing was pinching or chafing, and that was a definite improvement. So – foolishly!– after a day of commuting on it, I decided that this was what I would use to ride the Prudential 100.

(I know, I know. But I was stuck between a rock and a hard place at this point, with only 48 hours to go until the event).

The day of the Prudential arrives. I lube up with my trusty chamois cream and pull on my most comfortable bib shorts.

By mile 40, I’m wincing.

60 miles in, I feel like I’ve been kicked, hard, in the crotch.

80 miles in, I fear I may never sit down again.

100 miles, holy cow, my entire undercarriage is in agony. Bruised and aching and just wretchedly sore. (However, still no lesions!)

So, what now?

Well, as luck would have it (though, if luck really had it, I would’ve found all this out a month before the Pru…) a fantastic article appeared on The Guardian’s bike blog by Helen Pidd, recommending the saddle mapping sessions on offer at Cyclefit. The author had been encountering similar difficulties with the Selle Italia Gel Flow and had been given a new lease of cycling life at Cyclefit – which gave me hope.

Cyclefit has centres in Manchester and London so I immediately went online and booked a session at the London centre, near Holborn.

A Cyclefit session ain’t cheap: the two-hour saddle mapping costs £150. But before we go any further, believe me when I say that this is money well spent.

My session was with Jimmy. He popped my bike on a turbo trainer and placed a saddle pressure mapping cover on my existing saddle (the Fabric Scoop) which sent images of the pressure distribution to a computer screen. He set me to work pedaling steadily so that he could see where the pressure was causing a problem.

It was immediately apparent that the saddle was so completely wrong for me that there could be no hope for it. No amount of angling would make it comfortable.

Cyclefit

The image on the left shows the pressure on the existing saddle: my sit bones, which should be bearing the brunt of it, were barely making contact. Meanwhile, my soft tissue was taking all the weight: no wonder I was in so much pain.

I then sat on a strange little clear plastic cushion filled with a substance resembling mayonnaise. This gauged the width of my sit bones. (If I’m honest, I couldn’t actually have told you where my sit bones were before, never mind how wide they might be).

Jimmy fetched a saddle corresponding to that width, set it up on my bike with painstaking precision, and set me pedaling again. There was a big improvement: less movement in my pelvis, less pressure on the soft tissue, and more contact with my sit bones.

Progress.

He fetched the next size up, and suddenly, we were there. Stable pelvis, no contact with soft tissue, and both sit bones in full contact, taking the pressure that bones can withstand so much more effectively than flesh.

Cyclefit
The Bontrager Ajna saddle

Finally, he switched my handlebar stem for one 1cm shorter to reduce my reach.

I found myself in some sort of cycling nirvana.

Finally, I was sitting in comfort, feeling supported, stable, and not constantly shifting to find a (marginally) better position.

The following weekend I tested it for real on a two-hour ride, and it was a revelation. No chamois cream required, no shuffling after ten minutes in the saddle; it was just comfortable.

Interestingly, Jimmy made similar observations about the Selle Italia Gel Flow saddle to Helen Pidd’s technician: the amount of padding is problematic because it doesn’t support, it caves to the pressure. After about six weeks of use, the creases in my Gel Flow saddle already demonstrated the absence of support. It just goes to show that popular opinion is not important where saddles are concerned.

I’m now sitting pretty on a Bontrager Ajna 154mm saddle. It comes in three sizes, and this one is the most appropriate for my sit bones. It might look like a torture implement, but its flat profile and minimal padding serve to reduce pressure on sensitive soft tissue. It’s a winner.

So, if you are struggling to get comfortable in the saddle, do yourself a favour and book a session at Cyclefit. You won’t regret spending the money when you can sit comfortably, I promise.

Cyclefit
Happy bum, happy cyclist: a happy Victoria after the successful pressure mapping.