Women Cycling Myths Debunked

Jennifer Purdie
by Jennifer Purdie
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Women Cycling Myths Debunked

The number of female triathletes continues to rise. USA Triathlon reported a bump in female memberships in 2015 compared to previous years, and you can find women-only races throughout the country. Yet, you still hear female-cycling myths floating around, and they can turn women off from the sport.

To separate fact from fiction, we’ve asked some experts to debunk what’s true and what’s not.

Myth: Cycling makes your thighs bulk up.
Answer: Untrue

“When you see a cyclist with bulky thighs, they are not doing cycling alone. They have added weight training to their routine,” says Jennifer Rulon, fitness author and top age-group triathlete.

It’s nearly impossible for women to bulk up like a man because of their lower testosterone levels. “Body type also plays a huge role in ‘bulking up’ your thighs,” she says.

Myth: It’s all men on the road.
Answer: Partially true. You can find women cyclists all over the world.

Cycling by gender is almost split down the middle. Females make up 43% of riders, according to People for Bikes. “Probably the biggest thing I’ve seen is that women are encouraging and supporting more of each other into both cycling and triathlon,” says Elizabeth McCourt, athlete and founder of the McCourt Leadership Group, an organization that provides corporate and team coaching. “There are more women-specific rides and races, which I do think plays an important part in the upward trend.”

However, it is true that men dominate cycling as a stand-alone sport. U.S. competitive cyclists remain overwhelmingly male, making up around 87% of the competitive athletes according to USA Cycling.

Myth: It’s dangerous.
Answer: True, but…

Cycling comes with an inherent element of danger. You can take precautions to keep yourself as safe as possible and not use it as a deterrent to stay away from biking.

Tom Holland, fitness expert and 23-time Ironman, provides simple steps you can take:

  • Be visible: Wear brightly colored clothing from head to toe and consider investing in blinking lights, both for the front and the back of your bike.
  • Know your routes: The more you know the roads you ride, the better.
  • Be smart: Avoid rush hour and heavily traveled roads. Try not to ride at times of low light like dusk or when the sun is directly in drivers’ eyes, and stay away from roads that have little to no shoulder.
  • Obey the law: Don’t run red lights, come to a full stop at stop signs and don’t make illegal turns.


Myth: Pregnant women shouldn’t bike.
Answer: Untrue (as long as you have doctor’s permission)

Cycling is actually a preferable alternative for pregnant women to higher-impact sports like running. “If you were an avid cyclist or triathlete pre-pregnancy, safe low-traffic roads or the stationary trainer are great ways to keep that cardiovascular system pumping, keeping both you and your baby happy and healthy,” says Jenn Gaddy, DPT, and USA Triathlon-certified coach. She cautions you to stay attentive to your body and monitor your heart rate.

As always, talk with your OB-GYN before beginning any exercise program. If you’ve never cycled before, your doctor may suggest not starting until the postpartum period.

Myth: Biking doesn’t reduce body fat.
Answer: Untrue

“Any type of cardiovascular moment, such as running, walking, swimming and cycling, will burn calories. Burning calories will in turn burn fat,” says Rulon. If you find you’re not burning fat, it could be how you’re cycling. You should consider the duration, intensity and frequency of your cycling sessions and monitor your nutrition. “MyFitnessPal is a great tool for an athlete to track the calories they consume.”


If you’re concerned that you’re not burning enough fat, Rulon likes to have her athletes do the following four workouts each week. You do one workout each day for four of the seven days in a week.  

Workout 1: Short bike ride (30–45 minutes)
Workout 2*: Interval bike ride (30–45  minutes)
Workout 3 : Medium-length bike ride (45–60 minutes)
Workout 4: Long bike ride (60+ minutes)

*For the interval workout, pick one of the following:

Interval workout option 1:

20 minute warm up (If new, do one interval).
1 minute hard/1 minute easy
2 minutes hard/2 minutes easy
3 minutes hard/3 minutes easy
5 minute recovery

Interval workout option 2:

20 minute warm up
1 minute hard/1 minute easy
2 minutes hard/2 minutes easy
3 minutes hard/3 minutes easy
10 minute cool down

About the Author

Jennifer Purdie
Jennifer Purdie

Jennifer is a Southern California-based freelance writer who covers topics such as health, fitness, lifestyle and travel for both national and regional publications. She runs marathons across the world and is an Ironman finisher. She is also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. You can follow her on Twitter @jenpurdie.


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