However, I came across a Facebook group recently for OWLS! That’s Older Women in Lycra. Here’s the group’s description: “Designed to EMPOWEROWL.bike (Older Women in Lycra) made with ❤️ for women cyclists UCA age 55 and older. OWLs are changing societal messages on aging…one ride at a time!”
From the article, “Such men have acquired their own acronym, and it’s entered the language. Mamils – middle-aged men in Lycra – are a recognised demographic who are a target market for advertisers, with considerable buying power and much to enjoy spending their money on, from beautiful carbon-frame bikes to stylish cycle-wear. But the Mamil only tells half the story. There are also what I call Owls – older women in Lycra – and we enjoy all those things just as much. And if that makes us objects of satire as much as the Mamils are… then fine.
British Cycling, the sport’s umbrella organisation, confirms that women cyclists – including a significant number of older women – are rapidly on the increase. BC’s women-only Breeze Rides – its scheme to encourage women to take up cycling – have attracted more than 13,000 women since the beginning of 2015. Of these, 59 per cent are aged 35 to 54 and 29 per cent are 55-plus. In the 50 to 59 age group in last week’s Ride London 100 – the biggest sportive in Britain – an impressive 26 per cent of entrants were women. Next month no less a 51-year-old than the Countess of Wessex is taking part in a charity bike ride from Edinburgh to London. A few years ago I cycled from London to Edinburgh myself, and it’s a hell of an undertaking.”
The OWLS race on Zwift and while I can’t join them yet–they race in the afternoon spot for the TTTs–I do appreciate that they’re there.
Might also be nice to just have a mature riders group for all people, including those who don’t identify as men or women.
A slower, longer Saturday morning group ride on Zwift. It starts at 930 AM ET and goes for 90 minutes.
Here’s the event description, “Building up your endurance but holding a lower pace? This is the group ride for you! Join Paul as he leads The Herd on Elizabeth’s iconic endurance ride. Respect the leader’s pace and ride with the yellow beacon. This is NOT A RACE! Stronger riders are encouraged to fall back and help sweep the riders struggling in the back. Join us on Discord during the ride: https://discord.gg/Dr7ZtPV (Please use Push-To-Talk) Check us out on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/zHerd/.”
What’s to love?
They do what they say they are going to do. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against smash fests or rides where people who can’t keep up get dropped, as long as that’s what they say they are. That’s true IRL and in virtual cycling. The Thundering Turtles is a slow, steady, 90 minute ride where people stick together. There’s a veritable army of sweeps, more than 6 I think on the ride I was on recently.
They also wait and regroup. It’s the only Zwift group ride I’ve known to do that. In France the other week we all got the castle–at about the halfway mark–and waited for the rest of the bunch to catch up. This week we waited at the top of the leg snapper in Innsbruck. It was fun to race up and then wait, without falling off and down the other side. It got pretty crowded up there.
The group also sprints and you can join in if you want. Or not, again because they regroup.
The banter is friendly and supportive. There are lots of different reasons people are on a slower paced ride. For some it’s a recovery ride after a tough week of racing. Others are just starting out. Some people are coming back from injury. And for others that’s just the speed they roll.
There’s space on my team which is competing in the Zwift Racing League’s Tuesday night series. We’re a D team. The races are at 730 pm and you don’t need to commit to every week. Indeed if our roster is full we might need to have some people sit out some weeks. Don’t worry. We’re a ways to go from that.
The team takes virtual riding seriously but we’re also about having fun. The goal is to learn and get better in a supportive environment.
I think it’s fun. Message me if you’re into Zwifting, think you might like to give racing a try, and you’re a Category D rider.
I’m riding the Tour of Watopia right now–having finished the Tour de Zwift last month, and in each event–in the chat waiting for the event to start, along with all of the cheers from various locations around the world–someone inevitably asks, “Is this a race?”
Answers appear fast and furious in the chat. On the one hand, it’s a tour, not a race. On the other hand, many people like to treat it as a race and think of themselves as racing. But thinking of yourself as racing doesn’t make an event a race and inevitably there’s conflict between those on the official line–it’s a tour, not a race–and those who like to treat the tours as races.
Some people think that any time there are two or more people riding bikes, it can be treated like a race. Now that’s obviously false because group rides are definitely not races. It’s rude to treat a co-operative group ride like a race. That’s bad form both in the real world and in Zwift. Group rides are not races. In Zwift, there are ride leads, with a yellow beacon, who ride at the front, and sweeps, with a red beacon, who ride at the back. In the real world, it’s also dangerous to treat a ride like a race.
Some events are clearly not races, see group rides above, and other events are clearly races. Events organized as races and as advertised as races–are definitely races. In Zwift, races use Zwiftpower for official results. There are rules that need to be followed, such as riding in the right category, sharing correct weight information, having a verifiable power source, or you risk disqualification. There are also rules for that particular race such as points for fastest through a segment, or first to the top of a KOM. For my guide to beginning racing on Zwift, see here.
Zwift’s Tours are not the usual group rides–no leads, sweeps, or advertised pace–and they also are not races.
Here’s the description, “The Tour of Watopia is a multi-stage journey on Zwift. All 5 stages will earn you double XP, shorthand for Experience Points. Collect enough XP and you’ll level up in the game. With new levels, come new in-game routes, products, and/or clothes.”
Q: Will there be races during the Tour?
A: No, but you are welcome to run/ride as fast as you like. These are group events and event results won’t be displayed at the end.
There’s actually a philosophical point here about the meaning of terms, and ‘race’ is ambiguous between meaning something that individuals do and an ‘event.’ Some people want to say that you can’t individually race unless the other person, or persons, you’re racing against agree to race. One way for sure to know they’ve all agreed is that you are taking part in a racing event.
You might know the frustration of not racing when others think you are. I used to be amused by guys passing me on the bike path and occasionally making comments about my go-fast bike going slowly, when I thought what I was doing was obeying the bike path speed limit of 20 km/hr. They thought we were racing and I thought I was riding inside the rules of the road.
On my former bike club’s weekend social rides we didn’t race–except for town sign sprints–and people who treated our club ride like a race, pushing the pace past our advertised speed were invited to come out for weeknight races. If you want to race, we have races, but this isn’t it.
Back to the Zwift tours, I think they are a bit like Grand Fondos–mass participation cycling events with the motto, let the racers race and let the riders ride. I blogged about the MEC one here, the Niagara Falls one here, and the County one here.
Zwift has a fair bit of activity that falls in the middle, things that aren’t official races and aren’t group rides either. For example, the leaderboards for KOMs and sprints when you’re just riding in the world, compare your time to everybody else’s. You might be trying to get the fastest sprint time while others are riding through the segment as part of their recovery ride. You’re racing in the sense that we might say we ‘race for the bus’ if we’re late in the morning. You’re racing but the bus isn’t.
Like Gran Fondos they provide for competitive opportunities for people with a competitive streak who don’t want, for whatever reason, to take part in organized races.
That’s my progress so far in this year’s Tour de Zwift.
Actually, checks the app, I’ve done 8 since that screen was captured and now I have just 2 and 4 to make up. But also only 4 days to go!
What’s the Tour de Zwift:
From Zwift: “Chase adventure throughout the worlds of Zwift. Ride each stage once, or ride every route in each stage with the community beside you. Hop on the saddle and tear across fast flats or take a tour over dirt and up mountains, all the way to the tops of punchy climbs. Choose your journey and bring your inner explorer to life! The biggest party on wheels is about to start and you’re in! With 24 routes to explore, the adventure combos are endless! Sign up for can’t-miss events with the global community, go badge hunting, and unlock exclusive Tour swag.”
It’s definitely not a race, though lots of people informally “race” it.
From the FAQ:
Q: Is this a race?
A: No. You decide how your journey unfolds. As long as you finish the stage you’ll receive credit.
I’m definitely not racing since I’ve been doing the Tour rides on my recovery days after racing in the ZRL Tuesday series with TFC Dynamite and the Thursday night WTRL TTT series with TFC Phantom. I have been trying to stay with other riders though as these rides have double draft enabled and it’s lots easier to ride in a group as a result.
I’m good at signing up for things but sometimes completion can be an issue. Hey there Zwift Academy!
So, what’s my plan? This week is make up week so I have signed up for Let’s Get Dirty, Stage 4, Wednesday night at 730 pm and Stage 2, Mountain Madness, Sunday night at 8 pm.
First, I rode in a meet up with Australia’s Queen Bees. Their Friday afternoon lunch hour ride (in virtual France) was 8 pm my time Thursday and that worked out perfectly. It actually ended up being a nice mix of Canadians and Australians. I didn’t want to race the usual Thursday night TTT as we’re all in various stages of recovering from covid here at my house. There was lots of chatter on text and on discord in the meet up and I’ll definitely ride with them again.
They also have awesome, real life, kit.
Saturday I had planned to ride Wahoo Le Col’s team recon race since my TFC Team, Dynamite, will be racing in the ZRL series Tuesdays. “The Wahoo Le Col team has organized a Saturday racing series for men, and a separate (new!) series for women, where each week’s race uses the route that will be raced in ZRL 3 days later. Women’s event Saturdays at 3pm GMT/10am EST/7am PST.”
I started but I’d already ridden 25 km with Sarah’s ZSUN team for their Saturday morning base builder ride, quickly realized that I’d recovered enough to ride my bike but not enough to race, and decided to sit and have coffee instead. Excellent choice.
And then the ladies of the Herd, on their Sunday Sip ‘s Spin ride also decided to do a ride over of the Tuesday ZRL race course, Neokyo All Nighter. Yay! It was a great group and a nice easy-for-me pace.
Tuesday night it will be and TFC’s Team Dynamite racing on that course. I’m looking forward to it!
For most of my cycling life, I’ve ridden with men. Aside from brief stints riding in Australia and New Zealand where there are enough women riders to form our own groups, I’ve ridden with the guys. But even there when I looked ahead to groups of older cyclists there weren’t as many women. I remember when I started racing occasionally with the Vets in Canberra, Australia, during my first sabbatical year there in 2007-08.
You don’t need to be that old to join. “Started in 1993, the ACT Veterans Cycling Club was formed to cater specifically for veteran racing cyclists in the Canberra area. Veteran category for cycling is 35 and over for men and 30 and over for women.”
I don’t remember how many racing categories there were–lots, I know. And lots of older men, though not very many older women. There were jokes about needing a doctor’s note to continue racing after 80.
During my first race I let an older Italian-Australian man draft me. I was impressed that he was still racing at his age and I thought he needed my help to finish. If you’re a cyclist you likely know how this story ends. At the very end, he sprinted past me and beat me in the race. His wife, who was getting the post race tea and biscuits ready, said, “Oh, he does that with all the new people. Never let him get away with drafting.” I laughed.
We joked that in my category it was women over 40 and men over 60. But even then I wondered, where are the older women cyclists?
Now I am one of the older women cyclists, I’m really wondering.
I’m racing on Zwift with Team TFC. I’m the organizer of a team, in the Zwift Racing League series, Team Dynamite. We’re an all genders team, in category D. But I am the only woman.
In lots of races on Zwift there are open categories A-D and which category you’re in depends on your power to weight ratio. But the women all get lumped together in E category. If I race with the women, I’m competing against women who would be in the open A, B, and C category. As a D rider I don’t stand a chance. Some races have Women’s A-D categories but not very many.
There are lots of younger, smaller, speedier women racing on Zwift but to race with people of my size and power, I need to race in the open or mixed categories which really means racing with men.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like my male teammates. They’re a great bunch and they manage to be encouraging without being condescending, they’re helpful without mansplaining, and they are kind and funny. But sometimes I wonder where the D women are and where the older women are.
I joke about being Smurfette!
Of course, not everyone likes racing. There’s no need to feel defensive if it’s not your thing. But the proportion of men to women makes me think there are women who would like it, if they knew racing at all levels was available, if they understood the range of styles of bike racing there are, and they knew they wouldn’t be alone even if there aren’t that many of us out here.
Her description resonated because of osteoarthritis pain and cycling being a thing that helps make it better. Me too!
“I’m just a lifelong cyclist who, in my 60’s, developed severe osteoarthritis, and the only thing that would alleviate the pain was riding my bike. Riding in the winter didn’t help because the cold negated the effects of the riding. I had heard about Zwift for years but didn’t have room for the setup. In 2019…new house, more rooms, enter Zwift. This is my journey.”
Let’s assume you’ve got the bike, a trainer, a towel, some water bottles, a fan, a heart rate monitor, and the rest of the Zwift set up. Tunes are blaring too, if that’s your thing.
You’ve got an account and you log in. What next? What’s a beginning Zwifter to do?
I’ve been Zwifting for awhile now and there’s still lots to learn and new tricks to try. It’s an incredibly rich virtual experience but it can be overwhelming for newcomers.
Here are some of my suggestions of ways to approach the increasingly complex world of virtual cycling. You do you, of course. Find your own way. But here are some things to try to get started.
Avatar: Of course the first thing is designing your avatar. You get to choose your avatar’s hair and skin colour. Other factors, such as size, match the numbers you’ve given Zwift. At first you won’t have a lot of choices about shoes, helmets, sun glasses, and kit. You get those by accumulating kms, leveling up, and doing events. My avatar wears the pink hat I got from completing Zwift Academy this year and a pair of Pride socks I got from doing one of the Pride rides this year. We’ve blogged about avatar selection before, since we have some issues, see here and here.
Friends: You can follow your friends who Zwift and allow others to follow you. Or not. Zwift’s privacy settings allow you to opt for ‘private’ in which case people need to request permission to follow you. I like it that Zwift notifies me when friends start Zwifting. My Garmin watch even allows me to give them a “ride on” from my watch. You can follow me if you like…
Challenge: The very first thing you might want to do is select the Everest Challenge so that you can work towards getting the Tron bike. Why? The Tron is the fastest all round bike on Zwift. I have the bright pink version but you can change the colour. You can’t buy it with drops. What are drops? See here. Short answer they are the virtual currency of Zwift, drops of sweat earned for effort that you can spend on new bikes, wheels etc. But the only way to get the Tron is to select the challenge and complete it by climbing 50,000 m.
Ride with a pace partner: A good way to get a sense of your pace on Zwift is to try riding with the pace partners. I usually ride with Dan Diesel the slowest of the pace partners and Sarah rides with Coco Cadence who is just a bit faster. Dan weighs 82kg and rides at 125w (1.5 w/kg) and Coco weighs 65kg and rides at 165W (2.5 w/kg). That makes sense as Sarah races in the C category and I race in D.
It’s Zwift so everything is expressed in watts per kilo, or wpk. Cycling is a weight specific sport and it’s all about weight to power ratio.
“Your speed in Zwift is controlled by your power number, the level of effort you’re putting out at any given moment. Power is measured in watts and you can always see the watts you’re putting out by looking up in the top left corner of Zwift. If you remember back to physics class, it takes more effort (power) to move bigger, heavier masses around than lighter ones. And that’s why we look at power not just as an absolute number, but as one relative to a rider’s weight: watts per kilogram (power-to-weight ratio). To work out your power-to-weight ratio figure, simply divide your power output (in watts) by your weight in kilograms (kg). For example, a 125lb/56kg rider with a power output of 195 watts, is riding at 3.5 w/kg. Don’t feel like doing the math to find your number? Zwift automatically calculates this for you in game.” from Zwift
Why? The pace partners allow you to practice riding at a steady pace and you get extra drops riding with them. I enjoy practicing moving around in the pack, dropping off the back, catching back up, and then riding through the group.
FTP test: The pace partners are a good way to see what pace you normally ride at but if you want a more precise answer, and you might, you can do an FTP test. Why? “FTP – your “Functional Threshold Power” – is the wattage you can stay below and sustain for longer durations, while going above it causes fatigue to occur very quickly. The number is an indicator of your fitness, and also helps shape your training zones, racing, and group ride category in Zwift.” (from Zwift) Zwift will automatically adjust your FTP as you get more fit but it’s also good to do the actual tests for accuracy.
Group rides: You can ride alone on Zwift or you can join in on a group ride. Here’s a list of some of the tides I like. Read the descriptions on the Zwift companion app. Pick one that suits your pace. Why? You don’t want to be a flier, someone who rides off the front and pushes the pace above the one that’s advertised. Rides aren’t races. The big advantage of the group rides is going faster together. The ‘together’ bit is key. Rides have both a yellow beacon, the group leader who sets the pace, and a red beacon, who serves as sweep and helps the dropped riders get back to the main group. Some rides have a red fence as well that marks the front of the ride. Why ride in a group? I like the motivation of riding a certain distance at a certain time and I enjoy the social aspect of group rides. There’s some texting back and forth but also, there’s voice chat that happens on Discord.
Workouts: You can do workouts on your own in Zwift using your trainer’s ERG mode and the Zwift library has lots to choose from, including some for new and expectant parents. You can do workouts individually or as part of a series with specific training goals in mind. And you can also choose to workout as part of a group event. The nice thing about the group ones is that everyone stays together regardless of the watts you put out.
Route badges: One approach to Zwift that many people take is riding all the different routes and collecting all the badges. See Cate’s post on badge hunting. Different worlds are available to ride on different days and you can usually find a new route that matches what you want to do that day, at first at least. After a time you might find yourself with only the biggies left, like the PRL Full, which is 173 km and 2290 m of climbing or the Uber Pretzel which is 128 km and 2335 m of climbing. True confession: I haven’t done any of the biggies. The most I’ve ever ridden on Zwift is 60 km though I keep thinking I would like to join my teammates on their regular weekend metric centuries.
Do some races: Once you’ve got the hang of riding in Zwift you might want to try some Zwift racing. Here’s some of my fave races. Before you start out, def do an FTP test and join in the right category. You’ll also need to join Zwift Power which is the official results site for all Zwift racing. It also does a bunch of analysis of your riding and your strengths as a rider which you might find interesting. Why race? You might find it fun and motivational–I do!–or not, in which case, move on. For most of us it’s recreational gamified bike racing meant to be fun. Where else can you deploy the burrito power up, which makes you undraftable for 10 seconds! Here’s an explanation of the Zwift power ups.
Join a team: If you like racing and want to get more out of it, then the next step is to join a team. Sarah is a member of ZSUN and I’m a member of TFC. There are lots of them! Both teams participate in race series and host social rides. TFC also hosts two regular race series, the event the team was named after, The Friday Criterium, and Mad Monday. It’s a great way to meet riders from all over the world and find people who share your approach to training and racing. My favourite team event is the team time trial.
Meeting up: Another kind of ride you can do on Zwift is the meet up, which just as it sounds involves inviting other riders and meeting up with them. You can elect to just see your group in the world, and you can elect a banded meet up so you stay together regardless of putting out different amounts of power. Some people organize meet ups with people they know and ride with in real life. Others use them to ride with teammates to scout out race routes in advance.
Giving ride ons: When I first started riding in Zwift I had no idea what those things were that were filling up my jersey pockets! Turns out they were ride-ons given by other Zwifters. I wasn’t sure at first how to give ride ons, or if that was a weird thing to do. Now I am the Queen of Ride Ons and know how to give ride ons to lots of people at a time.
Ride on fit feminist friends! See you out there on the virtual road!
Also, what would you add to this list of things to try? What’s your approach to the world of Zwifting?
I successfully met my challenge of riding 5500 km in a year. I did the final 20 km this evening to make it to 5500 km for the year. I wish I could say I finished up doing a race or some significant challenge but instead season 2 of Witcher was involved.
I originally thought that 5000 km was a reasonable goal and I’ve been trying to get there for years. Usually, most years, I top out at 4000 or so even in years when I’m doing the Friends for Life Bike Rally and riding in the southern US for a week or two in the winter.
It’s also arbitrary in a bunch of ways. For example, I’ve not been counting casual errand running or bike commutes. There’s no good reason why not except that I don’t use my Garmin for casual rides and so those rides aren’t tracked automatically.
Then along came Zwift and the pandemic. That made a huge difference to how far I ride in a given year. Last year I made it to 5000 km for the first time ever since I’ve been tracking these things. This year same thing. At some point in the middle of November I hit 4600 km and knew I’d easily make the 5000 goal. Instead, I decided to increase my goal to 5500 to make it a goal I’d actually have to work for rather than one I would just casually and easily float past.
What was the upside of the stretch goal? Well, it kept me riding regularly through the holidays. I rode my bike on the trainer Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Yes, I might have preferred walking outside with Cheddar but we had rain over the holidays and my knee wasn’t quite up for for very much walking.
Thanks for everyone who rode with me at the end. Hi Jenny! Hi Sarah! Thanks TFC teammates!