In the summer months, I commute to work by bike. Well, to be specific, by Bixi, which is our local bikeshare program here in Montreal.
One of the nice things about bike commuting in an urban environment is that it doesn’t actually require a lot of specialized gear. Most days, I just hop on a bike in whatever I happen to be wearing, and go. But there are still a few essential items that every urban cyclist should own. And finding them in petite-friendly sizes isn’t easy.
A bike helmet
Montreal doesn’t have a law requiring cyclists to wear helmets. But I wear one anyway as a matter of course, and so should you. After all, you’ve only got one brain, and concussions aren’t laughing matters.
But, when you have a freakishly small head, as I apparently do, finding a bike helmet that fits is easier said than done. Most bike helmets come in “unisex” (read: men’s) sizes, and are meant to fit an average head size. MEC, for instance, lists 45 “women’s” helmets on its site — but only one of them is actually a women’s-specific model. The others are far too big.
For a few years, I had this Bell Athena helmet, which is a women’s-specific design that could be adjusted with a dial to fit a head size of 53-57cm:
The plastic on it wore out a couple of years ago, and I replaced it with a Giro Verona, which is very similar in fit and look. It’s also a women’s helmet, with an even better size range: This one adjusts to fit a head circumference of 50-57cm. I especially like that I can dial it down in the summer, and then loosen it in the colder months to fit over my tuque:
Overall, I can single out Giro as a company that has a pretty good range of women’s-specific helmets to fit smaller heads. (My ski helmet is a Giro, also.) But shop around, because different companies have different styles and fits.
Whatever you buy, look for a helmet that feels comfortable and fits securely, without moving around a lot. It won’t protect your head in the event of an impact otherwise. Most so-called unisex helmets won’t be a good fit for petites with small heads, so keep an eye out for women’s-specific models that can be adjusted to fit a smaller head. Note that most size charts will specify this.
Also, personally I prefer a helmet that’s well ventilated to avoid sweat when I bike; helmet hair can’t really be prevented altogether, but there’s no sense in making it worse than it has to be when I’m on my way to work, after all.
These are strictly optional. But I like having a pair of fingerless cycling gloves for my commute. They protect my hands from the dirt and grime that is so often found on the Bixi’s handlebars, and they give me a little extra padding to help me squeeze the brakes on downhills.
It’s not easy to find cycling gloves to fit small hands. My hands measure out to a women’s XS glove size, so there aren’t a lot of options. Kids’ gloves are worth a look, if all else fails. But I was lucky enough to find these MEC Metro cycling gloves a few years back available in size XS. They’re technically unisex, but they’re only a little bit big on me. And they’ve been great.
For an even smaller fit, try the MEC Bolt, which is a women’s-specific cycling glove that actually is a bit snugger. They cost a few dollars more, but have a few more bells and whistles, like a leather grip:
In the colder weather, of course, I just wear my winter gloves when I bike.
A helmet and gloves — that’s all I need to Bixi to work. If you’re using your own bike, of course, you’ll need a good lock, lights, maybe a patch kit… but none of that gear is petite-specific in any way.
As for clothing, I just bike in whatever I’m wearing. I have a particularly short skirt or dress on that day, I may opt to add a pair of shorts underneath, but there’s no need for cycling shorts. In fact, with their padding, they’d be the worst option to wear under street clothes. Just opt for shapewear or regular shorts, and change at the office. Heck, I even find it easier to cycle than to walk in high heels — though I definitely recommend wearing shoes with some sort of strap, so they don’t go flying off accidentally at a stoplight.
Finally, what about the bike size itself? I’ll cover bikeshare and Bixi in a separate post in the future. If you’re buying your own bike, you’ll probably want to work with a reputable shop to get you sized properly, since most standard frames won’t fit a petite woman very well. There’s a good guide available here.
Whatever you decide, cycling is a great stress-free way to get around the city — one I highly recommend to women of all sizes.