I did my last properly tough mountain bike rides when I was 6.5-7.5 weeks pregnant. I wasn’t worried about hurting the embryo as it was so small at that stage and so protected inside my body. But a couple of weeks later I started looking around for tips and advice on mountainbiking when pregnant and all I could find was the advice “don’t do it”. But I also heard people say that about running when pregnant and yet I know many women do it safely and there’s even a book by Runner’s World on Running and Pregnancy.
So, I continued to ride and made adjustments. Every pregnancy is different, but here are my personal top tips on mountain biking in pregnancy if you want to keep riding:
1. Do what YOU feel comfortable and confident doing. Nobody but you knows how you feel on the bike in terms of balance and rough terrain. Pregnancy is supposed to affect your balance but so far I haven’t felt that. I am choosing to stick mostly to double-track, farm tracks, forest roads and well-surfaced ‘all access’ walking paths. I know I could ride my local blue route but for me the temptation to go fast or to jump off the obstacles is just too much so the only blue route I’ve ridden since the second trimester is one I’d never seen before which I was able to ride slowly and conservatively. I have also not used spds, wearing flats and keeping to slow speeds and nothing steep so that if I do have a wobble chances are I’ll be able to put a foot down rather than actually hit the deck.
2. Effort. For guidance on effort I used the advice in the pregnancy running book. I have stuck to riding well within myself at a steady pace where I am breathing slightly hard and just starting to sweat but not puffing or getting overheated. I have chosen routes without any steep hills mainly because I cannot comfortably use my core for power so I am sitting in a low gear using my legs only at high cadence. For those in the early stages of pregnancy it is worth knowing that even if you feel out of breath and struggling at 8,9,10 weeks you might still feel absolutely fine at 20+ weeks. My body struggled a lot with the hormonal changes in the first trimester and I was truly exhausted but after 20 weeks I got my energy back and felt far more able to ride again.
3. Water. Drink it. Lots. I have found myself feeling best when I’ve been drinking a HUGE amount more than pre-pregnancy. By the end of the pregnancy you will have increased your blood volume by 50%, not to mention all the other fluids you need in pregnancy so you need to stay hydrated. I’ve been sucking down a litre or more even on a very gentle 20k ride on the flat. I live in a cool country but if you’re somewhere warm make sure you’re taking on enough electrolyte to balance the fluid. This will be more than you needed pre-pregnancy.
5. Positioning on the bike. This became an issue for me around 18 weeks. I didn’t have much of a bump by then really but even still the angle of my pelvis had changed as well as the ligaments in my pelvis relaxing with the hormones meaning that after 1.5-2hrs in the saddle I was feeling sore and needing to sit upright to relieve the stiffness. I solved this with three adjustments…
First I swapped the stem on my bike for a shorter one. The stem is the bit that goes between the vertical steering tube and the horizontal handlebars (see photo). Stems come in various lengths; 50mm, 70mm, 100mm… the shorter the stem, the closer your handlebars will be to you and the more upright your body position will be.
Second was looking at the saddle….
If you loosen both the bolts that face down towards the ground you can slide the saddle back and forward on the metal runners you see in this photo to bring it closer or further away from the handlebars. Again, the closer to the handlebars, the more upright you will be, I moved mine forward about 1.5cms.
The third adjustment happens when tightening those same bolts again; the balance between the tightness of each of them will control the angle of the saddle, you can see in this picture that the front of my saddle is a little bit lower than the back, this keeps the majority of my weight on my actual sitting bones rather than anywhere more delicate!
For the two adjustments of the saddle, I took an allen key out with me on a 2.5hr ride and stopped 3-4 times to adjust a bit forward, a bit back, a bit up, a bit down, till I got the balance just right. This has lasted me so far from 18 weeks to 29 weeks in comfort.
6. Clothes. I’ve posted this already but I bought a set of cycling clothes from a cheap supermarket (Aldi) – shorts (knee-length, ladies size 16), a men’s large t-shirt and a men’s large jacket with zip-off sleeves – all for £30 total. The kit is a bit nasty (shorts very thin, jacket gets a bit sweaty) but I’ll only be wearing it for six months or so.
For a waterproof, I’ve been stealing my husband’s but it’s getting tight now too so I’m just using the softshell in the rain or just getting wet.
7. Frustration. I’ve struggled a bit with the frustration of sticking to easy trails and avoiding exertion and adrenaline (two key elements of mountainbiking normally) but I have found that even though I may be very un-inspired by the route I’ve got planned I ALWAYS feel better after I’ve been out. Also, I’m trying to think of these pregnant rides as scouting rides for routes that will work when the bump is a baby in a trailer or bike seat.
8. Knowing when to stop…. well, I now have less than seven weeks to D-day and haven’t stopped yet.. I’ll let you know…