Women’s cycling

Cycling TipsFeaturedWomen's Cycling

From high heel-wearing casual cyclist to sweaty sportive rider: #thisgirlcan

Sedate to SportiveFrom sedate cyclist to Strava-obsessed sportive addict. Times change.

In a recent article about cycling participation in The Guardian, one paragraph in particular caught my eye.

“For several female participants in the study, being a cyclist – or choosing not to be one – was very much entangled with concerns and convictions about femininity, appearance and their inclusion in a highly visible minority transport culture – a sort of club. One, Rachel, new to cycling, described uncertainties about what to wear: “I swing between, should I go all in Lycra or should I go for a more girlie look.” Others recognized the dilemma but felt they handled it quite comfortably, and some fully embraced the cyclist look: “I’ve got the kit, I’m a cyclist, yeah.” There was also outright rejection: “The women that do cycle are probably more blokey than feminine.”

I understand those concerns about appearance and femininity.

Only 18 months ago I was cycling to work at a gentle 12mph so as not to get sweaty in whatever I planned to wear at the office that day. A skirt and blouse with heels; a dress; a pair of skinny jeans and a blazer. I was always safe in a helmet and a fluorescent sash at night, but I was adamant that the only way I wanted to ride was at a comfortable pace in my regular clothes. And I enjoyed it.

It’s safe to say my view of cycling has changed in recent times.

Why would I want to ride fast and get sweaty on my way to work? Why would I want to wear specific cycling clothes, and have the rigmarole of getting changed at the other end? Couldn’t cycling just fit in with my lifestyle?

A leather jacket and sandals used to be my typical cycling outfit...
A leather jacket and sandals used to be my typical cycling outfit…

Well, of course it could.

But it’s safe to say my view of cycling has changed in recent times.

Fast forward a few months, and a persuasive Matt – co-founder of Vamper – convinced me to put my name down for the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 mile cycling event. Quite how he managed it, I still don’t know; but sure enough, I entered the ballot – and was so disappointed to not receive a place that I immediately signed up for a charity spot instead.

It gradually dawned on me that to ride 100 miles – up some hills! – on my steel-framed single speed would be a challenge. I wasn’t sure Leith Hill was really made for a cyclist with a basket on the front of her bike. And I was fairly sure heels weren’t going to be the most appropriate footwear.

That aversion to sweat? Gone.

I realised I was going to have to make some concessions to practicality.

With Matt’s guidance, I settled on my first road bike. With a budget of £1,000, I wanted the best bike I could possibly find for that money. We decided that Sheffield-based Planet X was my best bet, and I opted for the Pro Carbon SRAM Rival 22 Women’s road bike.

Happy with my Planet X Pro Carbon SRAM Rival 22
Happy with my first road bike – a Planet X Pro Carbon SRAM Rival 22

I couldn’t very well ride a carbon road bike in heels, though, could I?

With some coaxing, I agreed to go the whole hog on the pedal front. I duly bought a set of Shimano SPD-SL pedals, and a set of cleats. They weren’t going to fit on my stilettoes, so I bought a pair of road shoes. And road shoes would not look good with a skirt, so I ordered a pair of padded bib tights. Which required a coordinating jersey… and a sportier helmet……

I couldn’t very well ride a carbon road bike in heels, though, could I?

I spent some time in a state of panic, practising clipping in and out on our private road until I felt reasonably confident that I could free my feet in case of emergency. And off we went. Me, riding a road bike, with gears, in Lycra.

I enjoyed it.

My hands hurt a bit, so I ordered a pair of cycling gloves. And a cycling jacket.

I enjoyed it all the more.

My first cycling event - the 38 mile Le Petit Depart in the Yorkshire Dales.
My first cycling event – the 38 mile Le Petit Depart in the Yorkshire Dales.

We put our names down for the 38 mile Le Petit Depart recreational ride in the Yorkshire Dales. I acquired a Garmin, and a cadence sensor. I started caring about Strava sections – and realised that I have a little bit of a competitive streak.

And by ‘a little bit’, I mean that it transpires my competitive streak is a mile wide.

I spent some time in a state of panic, practising clipping in and out on our private road until I felt reasonably confident that I could free my feet in case of emergency.

That aversion to sweat?

Gone. That’s what Muc-Off Dry Shower is for. And hell – if my hair is a bit messy at work, I can always tidy it up with the straighteners I keep in my desk drawer in case of emergency.

Riding casually is great - but riding hard is much more satisfying
Riding casually and looking nice is great; but riding hard is much more satisfying. Give me sweat and aching muscles!

Having a physical, competitive outlet has given my life a new direction. I worry far less about my appearance than I used to: I’m happy to have a body which is active and healthy. I’m happy to have strong legs that allow me to nail sections and keep up with Matt.

I like to sweat.

Sweating keeps my skin healthy, and it tells me that I’ve worked hard.

I like my legs to ache after a 17mph commute or a hilly sportive.

I like my cycling tan from a summer of long rides, and I like the tell tale oil mark on my leg when I’ve been messing about with my bike in the house.

I like road cycling, and I’ll never again be content to ride at 12mph in heels again.

“The women that do cycle are probably more blokey than feminine.” Riding hard, challenging myself, breaking a sweat and dressing the part don’t make me feel blokey, that’s for sure. I feel like a stronger woman than I did before – and that makes me feel better about my gender than adhering to any modern constructs of what constitutes femininity.

This woman can.

One of the greatest days of my life - completing the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 with Matt.
One of the greatest days of my life – completing the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 with Matt. Sweaty, achey, and utterly elated.
Cycle ClothingReviewsWomen's Cycling

Feelin’ fine in Fierlan’s Three-Quarter Cycling Tights



Only a year ago, I vowed that I would never be caught wearing Lycra.

“I’ll never be a Lycra road warrior!” I cried. “I’m perfectly happy to ride in my regular clothes. I want to look like me on a bike!”

How times have changed.

I only bought a road bike in April, after being somehow mind controlled by Matt who convinced me to sign up to the Prudential RideLondon 100 miler. I still don’t understand how he did it. But I’m glad he did, because taking up road cycling has been one of the best decisions of my life. And it made me realise that, while it’s perfectly possible to ride a bike in jeans, it’s much more fun to ride a bike in dedicated cycling gear. My bum certainly thinks so.

As a woman, I want kit which has been designed with women’s bodies in mind.

But that is not to say that I don’t still want to look like me when I’m out riding. I want chic kit. I want kit that is well designed, well crafted and high performance. And, as a woman, I want kit which has been designed with women’s bodies in mind.

Fierlan is a new player in the women’s cycling apparel market and they’re acing it with their focus on stylish performance apparel which is designed in the UK and crafted in Italy from the highest quality fabrics. I tested Fierlan’s Three-Quarter Length Cycling Tights on three rides of 15 to 20 miles each.


From one extreme to the other... My transition from dedicated streetwear cyclist to diehard Lycra wearer...
From one extreme to the other… My transition from dedicated streetwear cyclist to diehard Lycra wearer…


Style, Comfort & Performance

Fierlan’s Three-Quarter Length Cycling Tights are far and away the chicest bib tights on the market for women. I don’t know about you, but I can’t bear the look of most bib tights when I’m getting changed: that awful gap between my sports bra and the waist which shows off my untoned stomach. So unflattering. But the Fierlan tights are completely different: with their flattering and feminine crossover top I feel put together and pleasantly unexposed on the midriff front. As Autumn draws in, it’s nice to not have that gap, too. Style-wise, these tights are a hit even before I’ve put my jersey on. What else do I like about the styling? Well, the fact that the legs are so plain – and a really true black – is a bonus. These tights go with anything – you needn’t worry about clashing stripes or logos.

Fierlan 4

The tights are comfortable, too, which – even for someone as vain as I am(!) – is, ultimately, what we’re all looking for when we’re cycling. The best looking tights on earth will be quickly discarded if the pad is rubbish. But the women’s specific pad Fierlan have incorporated isn’t rubbish: the bright turquoise foam is comfortable, and after three washes hasn’t shifted or gone limp. (I have only ridden distances of up to 20 miles in them so far, so I can’t comment on the pad’s performance for a longer distance.) The MITI Lycra in the legs and body has a lovely robustness – it isn’t flimsy, they’re not remotely see-through and the cut means they skim rather than cling which makes them look rather elegant. The silicone dots around the leg hems prevent the legs from riding up as you pedal – and the longer length is flattering, too.

Fierlan 2
Simple, elegant and flattering, the three quarter length also keeps knees warm on cool Autumn days.

Fit & Sizing

I usually wear size 12 clothing and the Fierlan team advised me that a Medium would be the best fit. They were right, the fit is spot on – close fitting but not skintight. As I’m somewhat top heavy with a 32G bust, the crossover top doesn’t provide a huge amount of coverage; but it still meets up with my (very heavy duty) sports bra and there are no gaps. It’s far superior to the style of all the other bib tights I’ve worn, and for anyone with a slightly less – erm – ample upper half, shall we say – you’ll be well covered. The tights are available in sizes XS to XL and you should feel confident ordering your usual clothing size.

The crossover style top of Fierlan's Three-Quarter Cycling Tights is much more flattering than the usual suspender style.
The crossover style top of Fierlan’s Three-Quarter Cycling Tights is much more flattering than the usual suspender style.

Value for money

The Fierlan Three-Quarter Length Cycling Tights are currently in the sale and you can snap a pair up for £60.00, which is extremely good value. They’re beautifully made, flattering, comfortable and sophisticated. And for the cooler days we’re now experiencing, that extra leg length will keep your knees warm which is no bad thing.

Reviewer stats

Height: 172cm

Weight: 69kg

Measurements: 99-77-100

Cycling activity: 80-100 miles per week, in moderate British conditions.

Cycle ClothingFeaturedWomen's Cycling

On the prowl for bold and beautiful women’s cycling kits

QOM Prestige

I’m rather envious of the boldly coloured and highly patterned kits that Matt finds. The world of women’s cycling apparel tends to be rather more sedate – at least in the UK – and I’d love to see that change. I’m all for simple and elegant kits – but sometimes, you want to make a real splash. This is my roundup of the best kits from international brands if you want to turn heads on your next ride.


I’m all for simple and elegant kits – but sometimes, you want to make a sartorial splash and stand out from the pack.


First up: the Leaf It Out jersey by Jaggad may be a unisex cut, but it looks great on both models – and that monochrome nature print is super cool. Smart and versatile – it would look great with any of my bib shorts, and the longer length sleeves are a nice in-between length for mid season. (I do wonder how flattering unisex cuts are to top heavy female cyclists like me… I’m not entirely convinced it would work for me, but it looks fabulous on the model!)

Jaggad Leaf It Out


Next up: SWOON. I’m crazy about all the Fondo kits but the Disco print is my favourite. The colours are fantastic; it’s one of the most eye-catching kits I’ve seen. And, it’s a women’s-specific cut – even better. (I honestly don’t think I can afford to lose my waist in a straight-up-and-down men’s jersey.)Fondo Disco



Although the Black Sea Skinsuit is another unisex offering, I’m sure you’ll agree that the female model looks even better than her male counterpart. This is one good looking bit of kit, and I love it. Gorgeous colours and sharp detailing from Warsaw CyclingWarsaw skinsuit



If you follow us on Instagram, you will have seen me sporting a rather natty cycling cap from Aussie brand Queen of the Mountain. I’m crazy about the bold geometric print of the Prestige kit, and the slogan is pretty awesome, too. QOM Prestige



And finally, I’m hankering after the smart black and white Kaleidoscope jersey from Tenspeed Hero. It’s graphic and bold and smart and it would be fun to switch things up with contrasting accessories in different hues. We like.

Tenspeed Kaleidoscope



Have you seen any eye catching women’s kits? Please share in the comments – we’re always on the lookout for women’s cycling brands! I’ll be adding to this list as time goes on, so check back in a few weeks.

– V



Cycle ClothingReviewsWomen's Cycling

Vamper reflects on the Proviz Reflect360+ women’s jacket

Proviz 360+The reflective capabilities of the Proviz 360+ are second to none.

When it comes to wearable reflectives, the launch of the Proviz REFLECT360+ range is game changing. In daylight the garments are silvery grey; fairly unremarkable, you might think. But in direct light – a camera flash, a headlight – jeepers! The transformation renders even the most cynical speechless.

In direct light, the Proviz REFLECT360+ glows like a beacon. It reminds me of chemistry lessons where we would study the bright white light of burning magnesium. The Proviz 360+ is positively dazzling in headlights.

With the nights drawing in, I’ve found myself in a highly reflective mood lately.

I’ve been reflecting on the dangers of cycling as the evenings darken; that worry, as someone who is both a cyclist and a motorist, of just how many things compete for our attention on the road and how we owe it to one another to make journeys as easy as possible, by ensuring we can be seen.

The Proviz REFLECT 360+ reminds me of chemistry lessons observing the bright white light of burning magnesium.

And I’ve been looking at reflectives to add to my cycling wardrobe.

You’re unlikely to ever see me in hi-vis yellow – I want to be safe and I want to be visible, but I don’t want to be garish.

Bright enough to startle the deer in Richmond Park? Quite possibly.
Bright enough to startle the deer in Richmond Park? Yes. Visible to motorists at night? Definitely.

I want motorists to be able to see me in low light on the awkward roads of London with their hit-and-miss cycle paths and narrow lanes. I’m not one of those militant cyclists who thinks I shouldn’t have to make myself seen because I have the right to be on the road: we’re all fallible. I believe cyclists have a duty to make themselves visible in the same way that car drivers have a duty to turn on their headlights when it goes dark.

I’ve been reflecting on the dangers of cycling as the evenings darken; that worry, as someone who is both a cyclist and a motorist, of just how many things compete for our attention on the road.

But what you want to know is how it actually performs, right?

Chest pockets - handy for work passes, debit cards and tissues.
Chest pockets – handy for work passes, debit cards and tissues.

Comfort & Performance

I’m a sweaty sort of person. I’m generally reluctant to cycle in any sort of water resistant clothing because I worry it will steam my torso until it resembles a dim sum, but I can safely say I did not feel like a steamed dumpling after my 10 mile commute in the REFLECT360+ jacket.

The fabric is lightweight and surprisingly breathable, and the jacket has a ventilation flap across the shoulders to help keep you cool. What’s more, it has zippered under arm ventilation which you can unzip for extra air flow.

Sweaty cyclists of the world rejoice!

There are just two downsides: the first is that the sleeves are unlined, unlike the body of the jacket, so don’t feel very nice against bare skin – a bit clammy on the arms. For my evening ride home I wore merino arm warmers which solved the problem. I doubt I’ll be wearing the jacket with bare arms over the coming months, so it’s a minor gripe. The second is that although the reflective fabric is incredible in the dark under headlights, in low light the grey is very un-visible, so while it’s a great jacket for night time riding, it’s not so good for wearing on dull greys or at dusk.

Freedom of movement is excellent thanks to the redesigned raglan sleeves. A large back pocket coupled with chest pockets for debit cards and tissues mean you can keep your commuting essentials handy.

On the bike, the jacket is very comfortable. It doesn’t pull across the shoulders, it’s nice and long, it keeps water out and the fleecy collar feels lovely.

Testing out the reflective capabilities of the 360+ in Richmond Park. Whatever will the deer think?

I usually cycle at around 6.30pm. At the moment, that means I set off while it’s light, so the reflective element doesn’t really come in to its own. In a few weeks’ time, it’ll be a different story and I’m really looking forward to standing out on dark rides home.


Fit & Sizing

The REFLECT360+ women’s jacket is generously sized – particularly in the skimpy world of cycling apparel – so there’s no need to order a size up.

I’m 5’7” and a curvy size 12 in non-cycling clothes.

If I’m buying Castelli I always order size large. In DHB, I’ll always go for size 14 (which is still quite snug). But the size 14 Proviz 360+ jacket is plenty big enough – in fact, I could probably wear a 12 comfortably. But as winter draws in and there are more layers to fit underneath a jacket, I don’t mind having a bit of extra room. The sleeves are rather long, as you can see from the photograph; however, the Velcro straps around the wrists allow you to cinch them higher up if need be. (It’s worth noting that the sleeve length increases by 2cm for each size up in the range.)

The 360+ is cut to allow freedom of movement while cycling. It doesn't pull across the shoulders and it's long enough to keep your bum dry.
The 360+ is cut to allow freedom of movement while cycling. It doesn’t pull across the shoulders and it’s long enough to keep your bum dry.


The REFLECT360+ is long enough to cover my bum and generously cut to accommodate winter layers.
The REFLECT360+ is long enough to cover my bum and generously cut to accommodate winter layers.

Value for money

The Proviz REFLECT 360+ retails at £109.99. For a garment that provides good water resistance and incredible visibility at night, we think it offers great value for anyone who will be cycling in the dark this winter.


Reviewer stats

 Height: 172cm

Weight: 69kg

Measurements: 94-74-97

Cycling activity: 80-100 miles per week, in moderate British conditions.  

Cycle ClothingWomen's Cycling

MEAME London offer: 25% off last minute Christmas purchases for Vamper.cc readers


Boutique urban cycling brand MEAME London is offering a 25% discount to our readers for last minute Christmas purchases.

MEAME London cycling jacket
MEAME London apparel features clever reflective detailing concealed in elegant, tailored garments for city cyclists.

Vamper.cc readers can order clothing and accessories with the discount xmas2015 until Christmas Day. Last orders for guaranteed Christmas delivery must be received no later than 11.30am on Monday, 21st December.

We recently attended MEAME’s festive event at the East London Design Store where we chatted with founder Megan Aylott over mince pies and prosecco: we love the brand’s pared down aesthetic and impeccable tailoring. Watch this space for a forthcoming review.

[dvgallery id=”2537″ vertical=”no”]

Cycling TipsReviewsSportivesWomen's Cycling

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


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.

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

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

Happy bum, happy cyclist: a happy Victoria after the successful pressure mapping.
Cycle ClothingReviewsWomen's Cycling

Vamper.cc finds satisfaction in Morvelo Women’s Timeless Bib Shorts


Tested to the brink on the Prudential with serious saddle discomfort and period pains, these are some of the most comfortable bib shorts on the market.

The world of bibs is vast, isn’t it? By luck rather than by design, in the five months that I’ve been building a cycling wardrobe from scratch I’ve found some winners. The bibs I’ve purchased so far include Castelli Velocissima, Castelli Sorpasso, DHB Aeron Pro Halterneck, RH+ Panther and Morvelo Cacciatore.

I bought the Morvelo Women’s Timeless Bib Shorts for reasons of sheer vanity ahead of the Prudential 100. I already owned Cacciatore, which are my favourite pair – but with Giro d’Italia pink text and a Tricolore trim, they just didn’t coordinate with the jersey and helmet that I really wanted to wear for The Big Ride…

So, down to business: are these bib shorts a good buy?

Yes. And here’s why…

Chamois Comfort

Of all the brands I’ve tried so far, Morvelo chamois pads are the best. And surely the funniest to look at. They are very, very comfortable with soft, smooth fabric and excellent contouring that I find helps alleviate pressure on soft tissue. The pad doesn’t shift and ventilation is good. I’ve only washed these twice so far, but my Morvelo Cacciatore bib shorts are still spot on after more than 30 washes.


tremendously effective, and also quite amusing – Morvelo’s suggestively-shaped chamois…


Overall Fit

Notes: I’m 5’8” (1.72m) and a curvy UK size 12.

I ordered size Large and they’re a comfortable fit: snug and supportive but not restrictive. I have quite a long body but the straps don’t dig in to my shoulders. The legs are very long which is ok for me, because I’m quite long from hip to knee (with rather short calves). For shorter riders the leg will probably be too long.

The bib straps are comfortable but given the choice, I would much prefer shoulder straps that join the shorts on either side, rather than meeting at my sternum. It’s comfortable to wear, but I like to have my jersey unzipped a little way and the white strap often ends up on show. It’s quite bizarre.



Sharp. The monochrome colourway makes these bib shorts versatile – I can wear them with all of my jerseys. The longer length leg looks sleek and smart and the Morvelo logo over the bum means there’s something for the cyclists you leave in your wake to admire…

Value for Money

Worth every penny. Good bib shorts are rarely cheap and it’s one of those essential items that it is worth spending a bit of money on getting right. Morvelo are not the most expensive bib shorts on the market but the quality takes some beating. Highly recommended.