Women & Bicycles Demystifies Cogs, Chains, Cassettes

“So what happens when you hit a hill and you’re still in a high gear?” “You say swear words!” yells one woman. “Yes!  And what else?” Shifting Gears–a Women & Bicycles workshop put on by Proteus Bicycles in College Park–is all about the what else. Led by owner Laurie Lemieux, the workshop put the emphasis on asking questions, finding answers, and helping one another with a part of bicycling that’s as intimidating as it is necessary. Most bicyclists are eventually going to have to change the gears on a bike. Nevertheless, many bicyclists don’t for fear of getting it wrong, messing it up, or breaking something. Shifting gears, to the novice cyclist, looks and feels complicated, comes with lots of odd noises and jarring motions, and as often as not, has opposite results from what they intended. So we set out to tackle the greasy, clanky challenge. At the start of the workshop, we learned that shifting helps us keep better control of our bicycles, which makes us more confident cyclists. Here’s a little of what we learned:

The Basics

  • Pedaling feels easier in a small chainring and harder in a big one (chainrings, by the way, are the toothy gears that are attached to the right crank, aka, the thing your pedal is attached to). The correct chainring for you is the one where you can pedal comfortably on the terrain you face–and that’ll differ depending on your strength, fitness, and preference.
  • Because that’s not complicated enough, in the back of the bike pedaling feels easier in a big cog and harder in a little one (cogs are the toothy gears that are attached to the rear wheel; stacked together they’re called a cassette). Just like on chainrings, the correct cog for you is going to change depending on the terrain and your comfort and fitness levels.

Shifter Smarts

  • When you shift gears on your handlebars, the cables get longer or shorter, and the chain moves to a different cog (or chainring).
  • Your right hand controls the rear of your bike. (For both brakes and gears, Right = Rear.)
  • It’s okay to do most of your shifting in the back (with your right hand), especially if you’re new to this whole shifting thing.

Quick Cheats

  • Uphills and headwinds? Oh, geez. Use: small or middle front chain ring + bigger rear cogs.
  • Downhills? Wheeeeee! Use: Large front chainring + a range of rear cogs, while humming a happy tune.
  • Flat roads? Use: small or middle front ring + smaller rear cogs. Go ahead and use that big chainring if you are comfy!

What the heck is cross chaining?

  • Cross chaining means your chain is at an extreme slant from side to side. It can happen on any chain ring, and it means that you might be on your big ring in front and the biggest cog in the back, or son the smallest cog in front and back.
  • Cross chaining limits your shifting options, and puts a lot of strain on the chain (this is not a great idea).
  • If you notice you are cross-chaining, it’s a good indication that you could shift your front derailleur to give yourself access to more gears.

How and when do I shift?

  • When the terrain changes or a wind kicks up, or when pedaling seems harder. Are you going uphill? Facing a sudden headwind? Feeling tired?  That’s a good time to shift.
  • Try to shift before you get to the hill–shifting under pressure is hard on our bikes, and shifting when you are pushing hard is a leading cause of chains falling off. If you can shift before the hill starts, you win!
  • A great tip- if you are in your front big chain ring and see a big hill coming up, try shifting to your front small chain ring. You may find you have access to more gears on your rear cassette if the hill gets longer or harder than you anticipated!
  • When you shift going towards a hill, ease up on the pedals for a turn or two to lighten the load.
  • On a flat road, if the wind is behind you, or if you are going downhill- shift to harder gears. Downhills + harder gears = free speed!

What’s next?

Did you find this post helpful? Come try out those new gears skills on our next group ride, June 24, when we take on the rolling hills in the Women & Wine ride with Potomac Peddlers Touring Club!  

The Strong Women Ride Makes an Impact

Who’s ready to ride DC? This group.

In February, our Women & Bicycles program led the Strong Women Ride. This city is full of women who shaped history–and who were law-breaking, sanctuary-providing, kidnapping scalawags at the same time. We figured folks would jump at the chance to shake off the winter cobwebs and learn something new at the same time. Turns out we were right. So right, in fact, that we had to scramble to schedule a second ride in March! Both rides were big successes, with great weather, great company, and great education all at once.

Group in front of Belmont-Paul Womens Equality Monument

  So who were these strong women? Our three main historical women were the Rev. Paulie A. Murray, Dr. Carla Hayden, and Marion Pritchard. But along the way, we also stopped at the Lady Fortitude statue at Howard U, Anna J. Cooper circle (near her preserved home), the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality Monument and House, the Eleanor Roosevelt statue at the FDR memorial, and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

Rev. Paulie A. Murray

In the 1940s, Paulie refused to sit in the broken seats of the colored section of a bus. Her subsequent arrest inspired her law career. She would later become one of the first women Episcopal priests, serving in Washington, DC and focusing on reconciliation.

Dr. Carla Hayden

Carla Hayden is the current Librarian of Congress, and both the first woman and the first person of color to hold that post.  During the Baltimore riots in the days after the death of Freddie Gray, as other businesses closed their doors, she insisted on keeping the libraries open so people had a place to go.

Marion Pritchard

Marion Pritchard was a Dutch resister during World War II. Special thanks to Marion’s granddaughters Abigail Pritchard and Grace Pritchard Burson, who shared stories of Marion’s resistance work with our riders. Our favorite story was one from near the end of the war. Marion was riding on rims, her bike tires long gone. With everyone starving, she traveled across a river to finagle some extra food beyond the meagre rations. On her way back, she was captured by a Nazi patrol. When questioned, she reportedly let them have it–she told them exactly what she thought of them, their regime, and their leader. The next morning, the soldiers drove her across the bridge where they had captured her. They returned her bike, and the extra food, and sent her on her way. After that night of darkness, she saw some glimmers of hope and humanity. After hearing these stories, the ride offered an option to show our own strength, with a ride to Meridian Hill Park that included the 15th street climb. Every rider who attempted the hill achieved the top… and a trip to cupcakes as a reward!

Climbing Meridian Hill like a girl. On a Brompton.


The 2017 Women & Bicycles Limited Edition Jersey is On Sale Now!

Women & Bicycles is a unique program of WABA. We are here to create a cycling sisterhood that empowers riders all around the region to achieve their goals on bicycles. You help us do that as a supporter. Now you can also wear your hear on your sleeve—literally. The Women & Bicycles 2017 Jersey is here! It is only on sale through March 12.  Get it now, because it won’t be offered again!
  • The cost is $65 per jersey.
  • Women’s and unisex cuts available.  (The unisex is the same as the current WABA jersey).
  • Sizes from XS to XXXL.  UPDATE on sizing: for jerseys, focus on your hip and your bust/chest size.  The women’s has a more shaped waist.  The unisex is a bit boxier.
  • Jerseys should arrive mid-May in time for the summer riding season!
All proceeds from the sale support Women & Bicycles and the work that we do.

Let me tell you why your support is important:

  • Bicycling, to us, will always be a justice-oriented work. Your support funds our education efforts in this community, teaching non-riders that bicycle riding is viable transportation. This year, we debuted How to Ride on a Dime, to teach non-riding residents and students that bicycle riding for transportation can get us to work and errands reliably, and as professionally as our peers who are stuck in traffic.
  • We build connection and community. You help us train mentors. The Roll Models continues to be one of our strongest elements of the W&B program. They exist because of women like you. Experienced riders around the area teach new riders to get around safely and confidently. Already this year, over a dozen new Proteges are being matched with Roll Models.
  • We have fun! You ride with each other because we introduce new friends. We had such an interest in the Strong Women Ride that we had to create a March encore ride. Future rides will take us out into Maryland, around the trail system, and into the suburbs of Virginia. It’s a blast to ride together.
Women & Bicycles is so proud to have you as our supporter. We hope you’ll share our excitement and snag a jersey so you can show your W&B pride. Happy riding, Betsy Tesi, Coordinator of Women & Bicycles  

Hains Point 100 Recap and Thank You: 2016 Great Tent Levitation Edition

On Sunday, December 18th, more-than-400 riders showed up to ride laps, give high fives, eat snacks, and win prizes for the 5th Annual Hains Point 100. All donations generated at this annual event benefits WABA’s Women & Bicycles program. Worries over weather evaporated when the day dawned reasonably mild.  The earlier cold snap made the mid-50s to low-60s weather feel like a lovely spring day.  Overcast skies meant that riders could ride their laps without wearying their face muscles without squinting into the sun… more energy for riding, right? The pit area closed suddenly at 2:00PM when a cold front dropped out of absolutely nowhere and levitated all the club tents at once!  All hands on deck saved the tents from certain doom, just as the temperatures plummeted from a mild 60 to the freezing windy 30s!  We sure are glad that our spirits remained higher than the tents.

Happy people ride Hains Point! (Left to right: Daniel Hoagland, Programs Director of WABA; Mark Blacknell, WABA Board President; Betsy Tesi, WABA Coordinator of Women & Bicycles; Megan Jones, Organizer of the Hains Point 100)

Because of your generosity, we will be:
  • Training new Roll Models, who will be teaching other women to achieve their goals in riding bicycles as transportation around our area.
  • Teaching women interns to Learn to Ride On A Dime.  You don’t need a lot of money or special clothing to be a successful bicycle rider.  We will help women across the economic spectrum gain power over their schedule and increase their independence.
  • Hosting a February Strong Women ride, where we will discover monuments around DC dedicated to strong women who shaped our local culture and our country.
  • Continuing our partnership with the Potomac Pedalers Trail Club, and helping organize new rides in fresh locations like the Virginia suburbs.
  • Leading rides around the trail system that now surrounds our city (thanks to the WABA Advocacy team and the Trails Coalition!) so women can get places in greater safety.
  • And much, much more. Join the Facebook group and our W&B Email Bulletin to be alerted to every event!
The workshops, rides, and social events that we sponsor- thanks to members like you!- help us help each other.  W&B members have become mentors and friend-families to each other. This event is only possible because of the founder and tireless organizer Megan Jones. We owe a HUGE and immense THANK YOU to Megan for creating and organizing the best silly event in December.

(Really, Megan- thank YOU!)

Thank you to all of the riders, donors and sponsors for supporting another successful Hains Point 100 event.  We hope to see you again and again and again and again on next year’s circumnavigation of East Potomac Park!

The 5th Annual Hains Point 100 is December 18th!

It’s gray and cold and wet outside today, but soon you too can be as happy as these people:

That’s right, the 5th Annual Hains Point 100 is almost here! This year’s event will be on Sunday, December 18th, and you can find all the details at the official website: www.hainspoint100.com

Follow the event-

What is the Hains Point 100?

This fabulous event began five years ago when Megan Jones decided to ride 100 miles around Hains Point in East Potomac Park to raise awareness and funds for WABA’s Women & Bicycles program. Since then, hundreds of riders and their friends have joined in, lending their voices and leg muscles to spread the word about our program.

How do I get involved?

Participating is easy! Simply sign up to ride and the choices are up to you!

  • Ride 100 miles around the park loop (about 33 laps)
  • Ride 100 kilometers (about 19 laps)
  • Ride for  100 minutes
  • Have fun with 100 new friends (bike a few laps, take photobooth pictures, eat pie!)
  • High-five 100 people
  • Tweet 100 times with the hashtag #hp100
  • Get 100 people to donate
  • Bring 100 friends to the event
  • The possibilities are endless…

Anything else?

Still on the fence, huh?  Nelle and I can help! Look, here’s a handy checklist of reasons why you should ride:

  1. Choose-your-own-adventure ride. Start when you want. Ride as long as you want. Stop for snacks and prizes.  Pet people’s dogs.  Ride funny bikes.  Drafting is legal.  Time trials are legal.  Slow rides are legal.  
  2. It’s impossible to get lost or off-track.  The route goes around Hains Point… and around, and around. No electronic devices needed… but if you ARE on Strava, it will be hilarious.  
  3. Did someone say snacks? There’s potluck snacks… and I even hear there’s a pie guy coming.
  4. Look at all the awesome ride sponsors! Must. Win. Door Prize.  
  5. Ride with the finest of D.C.’s bike advocacy community, including all those people you’ve only gotten to see on Facebook or in the news. And you’ll bond over the fact that we have survived 2016, and we are still kicking it in DC, riding our bikes in circles in the wind around a peninsula in December.
  6. This is a locally organized, sustainable, homegrown, organic event, coordinated by one very dedicated supporter of the Women & Bicycles program.  
  7. You’ll get bragging rights for riding 100 somethings around Hains Point.
  8. What a great opportunity to practice your counting. One hundred miles is 33 laps! 100 Minutes is 100!  One minute is 60 seconds!  Do you have kids who like to count?  The Hains Point 100 is the perfect event for them!
  9. Normalize winter riding! Mittens, gloves, fun scarves, reindeer horns on your helmet…
  10. Your donations to the Hains Point 100 will help get more women on bikes. One hundred percent of the ride proceeds will be donated to WABA’s Women & Bicycles program, helping to fund another year of dedicated outreach.

Welcome Our New Women & Bicycles Coordinator—Betsy Tesi

betsy-tesi_0002-edit Hello, awesome women of DC (and beyond)!  I am excited and grateful and a little nervous to be taking the reins of WABA’s Women and Bicycles program as the new Coordinator.  Women & Bicycles was started in 2013.  In those days, WABA came to realize that fewer than 26% of the cyclists on our roads were women.  There was plenty of space on the roads!  Women & Bicycles was born to help us connect with, teach, and empower each other to conquer these roads. Since then, we’ve hosted a few hundred events, and our Facebook group has grown to over 5,000 women. You might want to know who I am and how I got into this whole bicycling thing. First off, the most important questions:
  • Road bike?  I ride a BMC that I call “The Badass Mountain Climber” for all the mountains I climbed on that thing in Oregon, where every ride was a hills ride.  I love it to the ends of the earth and that is my over-25-miles bike.
  • Commute?  Yes, I bike commute year round, multimodal style.  That means I use buses and trains as well as the bike, which is a folder bike named “Zelda”.
  • Bike I most regret selling?  My mountain bike.  Sure it was too big, but it was fun.
  • N+1 dream? a standard bike to which I could hook up a trailer so I could try to trailer-train my puppy.
  • Where do you store all these?  Mostly in my tiny apartment… together with my spouse’s bikes, one of which is technically a frame and which lives in the upper shelf of his side of the bedroom closet.  Doesn’t everyone have a tri frame in their closet?  No?  Just us?
I’ve lived in the DC area since 2001.  Despite two stints in Connecticut and Oregon, I keep coming home.  I love this city, the Nats, the museums, and our shared hobby of whining about the congested traffic.  When I first moved here 15 years ago and discovered I395, I said so many swear words that a friend decided to introduce me to bike commuting.  He fixed up a beater bike, taught me the rules of the road, and a few months later, I bought my first grown-up bike with lots of gears.  I’ve been bike commuting ever since. A few years ago, with a new work schedule, my old routes just weren’t working out any more.  My new roads were steep, fast, and scary.  I was lonely… and worse, I was getting bored of my old favorites.  Luckily, around that time, the bell on my commuter bike broke, and so I went on Mission: Bell Replacement.  In shop after shop, I found boring, quiet bells, and worse yet, I kept getting mansplained by these guys who would tell me I could not put a bike bell on my BMC roadie.  It didn’t matter that I kept explaining that the bell was for my commuter! Finally, frustrated, I walked into a shop where this petite woman greeted me… and actually understood what I was looking for.  She knew what it was like to have a small voice, so when I said I needed a nice loud bell, she understood what I actually needed. And that saleswoman told me about this group, Women & Bicycles. That afternoon, after I finished installing my new bell which was shaped like a teapot and which I named “The Bell From Hell” for its delightfully horrid and shrill tone, I joined the Facebook group.  I saw a message for this new event, a “coffee club”.  Well… I like coffee.  I like people.  Let’s see what this is all about. At that first club, there would be four of us.  We all commuted.  We all cram too many bikes into very small apartments.  Several of us had recovered from big injuries.  We all like breakfast food.  Here were people like me!  Over the last few years, our group has grown, and become the sort of community I want all women to have in a bicycling community: -if I have gear questions, someone else has had that same issue and has discussed it.  In fact, sometimes, someone had some gear that was ready for a new home.  I got my first pannier, basket cover, and women-specific bike shorts through our group. -if I’m going on a big ride, chances are someone else is too and we can meet up and have riding buddies. We’ve even played hooky together to ride some of the great trails around our city. -some rides are women-only.  It’s so great to have the option of being “just us”. -if I need a new bike, someone will ALWAYS enable me and encourage me to go ahead and get that bike! -best of all, when my first commuter was finally ready to move on to a new home, within the group, someone was able to get that bike to another person who really needed it.  We help each other out. That’s what I want W&B to be- it’s ALL about the bikes… the racers, the fun rides, the beater bikes and the fancy commuters.  Bikes are why we are HERE, reading this blog, right?  I treasure our growing diversity in age, race, income, occupation, and orientations.  When I roll up to coffee club at Pleasant Pops, I am as comfortable rolling up on a CaBi in jeans as I am on my folder bike in a dress as I am on my roadie in spandex shorts. Women & Bicycles is a positive community founded to help us help each other.  We are here to be the best, most respectful, supportive, vibrant, fun-loving, equality-supporting, allied, cheerful community in WABA, in DC, and heck… on the internet! I am so glad to be here to help.  Sign up here to be notified about rides, events, workshops, and social gatherings for us over the next year.  And of course, please reach out if YOU have ideas for great things to do together!