The logistics of stopping to pee have always been complicated for women cyclists. Professional triathlete Caroline Livesey discusses the issues and offers some free flowing advice. 

by Caroline Livesey

I love tea. And I mostly cycle with men, which I am sure is true of a lot of female triathletes given the demographics of the sport. You would be forgiven for not seeing the connection between these two things straight away- bear with me. So acute is my tea addiction that I send begging postcards from my home in Spain to friends and family in the UK to ship my favourite tea.

Mornings typically consist of 3+ cups of strong brew. So once I organise myself to get out on a post-swim ride, I am way beyond optimum hydration and can last about half an hour before I have to pee. So, given that most rides are 2-6 hours, wee stops are inevitable.

Men are no different, but it is ok for them to just whip it out at any wall, hedge or junction while waiting for a gap in traffic. Men will often piss anywhere they have something to aim at. With some regularity, I arrive at the top of a climb a minute or so behind my husband to see a steaming dark patch on the road. (Yorkshire’s very own hot springs.) Yet still I get the “Really??” face when discomfort gets the better of me and I shout that I need to stop.

On my regular routes I have venues pre-identified where I stop so often they probably smell like public toilets. And a few are public toilets; a rare treat preserved for when I am riding solo (or with other ladies) and don’t have to deal with eye rolling when I take a 20m WC detour in a Yorkshire village. On most occasions, peeing outside is inevitable so here is a short list of things to consider when deciding where to do the deed:

  1. The obvious one is that the venue has to be hidden from the road, although there is a balance between being hidden from the road and being off-route. I bet I’m not alone in suffering ‘pee-guilt’ thanks to the bike rattling impatient guys ramp up if the pee stop takes too long. Dare to take a leak behind inadequate cover, and you are made to feel like a flasher. (Double standards as some don’t bother to try concealing their willy-waving.)

2. I always look for a bike prop – a wall, tree, lamp post, fence, gate. Anything really, but you don’t want to be lying your carbon steed down in the (probably urine soaked) mud. And don’t go for a hedge either, thorns have a nasty habit of sticking in your saddle, and then migrating to your arse at a later stage.

3. Firm ground is kind of important. I remember stopping in the hills in Cyprus and with the first two considerations ticked off I thought I was onto a winner. It was only when I walked into the field to get behind a hedge that I realised I was walking on soggy clay. It was too late to do anything about it, so I did the deed and staggered out of the field. I then spent the next 5 mins sitting on my backside picking bits of clay out of my cleats with a stick before I could clip back into my pedals. The husband was particularly unimpressed that day.

4. A good view. Yes, I know. It’s superfluous. A bit like a bell on your TT bike, or compression socks. But if you can do your open-air squat while gazing out across a beautiful valley, it is well worth it. I often have true, joy-to-be-alive experiences when in that lucky position. Maybe it’s the potent combination of relief and total stillness in stark contrast to the noise and sweat of the rest of the ride.

5. An absence of stingers. It’s fairly obvious to check for nettles, thistles or other dangerous fauna before crouching. But check the flood zone too. I will never forget nearly going face first into a South African ditch in fright having crouched and then looked down (eermm…wrong order) to see a small scorpion beneath me. I had nightmares for weeks about where it might have stung me. Imagine trying to explain that to a medic.

6. Do a CCTV check. It’s not really a drama in the UK where rural security rarely calls for gate cameras. However, in other parts of the world having a camera overlooking your property entrance is commonplace. I recall a clip of a poor lady taking a squat in a property entrance going viral online. While some men might own the fame, I think most ladies would be mortified. I certainly ramped up my camera checks after that.

Having chosen an appropriate spot, you then have the clothing-kerfuffle. Seriously, only a man can be responsible for the design and continued popularity of the bib-short. I know there are female-friendly “normal” bike shorts out there, but sometimes we just don’t have a choice. Chances are the team/club/sponsor kit you want to, or have to, wear has been designed in a “unisex” bib short. And by “unisex” they mean “mens”.

To wear bibs with dignity we have a few options. If we wear them over the shoulders we risk having to get semi-naked to get them off. This is far from ideal, especially behind a low stone wall in winter. Plus, all the kerfuffle adds to the pee-stop-time, and ensuing pee-guilt.

If for speed we opt to not wear the bibs up then we can either cut them off permanently and sew in some elastic, or try to perfect the roll-and-tuck. To cut them off seems like ruining perfectly good – albeit male-oriented – shorts. Tucking them in results in a spare tyre (no, not the useful kind) around your middle. And if we are honest, the reduction of excess bumps is one of the reasons we go cycling in the first place. So, having spent many hours mulling this over and doing a mixture of these things, I have developed the “female bib short hack”. It will change your life.

Male-folk have a long way to go before showing anything resembling comprehension of the pee stop logistics of their female riding partners. The peddling of pee-guilt is frankly, piss poor. Next time you are cycling with guys why not suggest they hold a deep squat in sympathy while you are peeing?

And ladies, speak up before the bladder is too full. Don’t let pee-guilt persuade you to keep riding. Start looking for suitable venues early and protect your waterworks from pain and discomfort. Always stop at a loo-with-a-view and take a few moments to appreciate the beauty and freedom of pissing in the wind.

Caroline Livesey is a professional triathlete and engineer. For more go to www.carolinelivesey.co.uk

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