Biking While Having Your Period
Menstruation is a fact of life for more than half the population for a large portion of our lives. While every person’s individual experience varies (and often changes throughout their life), typical periods last three to seven days and can range from light spotting to heavy bleeding that can impact a person’s ability to do daily activities.
For those of us who ride bikes often, it’s inevitable that we’ll find ourselves at some point or another needing or wanting to ride during our period. I’ve been a daily bike commuter, adventure cyclist, and bike camper who has bled through all of it and am here to share with you my successes, failures, and tips for a more positive experience.
Importantly, before I get into these tips, I want to emphasize that there is no one right way to manage your period on your bike. This is clearly a very personal decision. All of our bodies are different so please do what works best for you!
All the suggestions below are things that I have found useful but your experience may differ. Please share any additional tips and tricks in the comments on social media!
In the days leading up to my period, I experience a lot of tenderness in my breasts, which is a sure sign that my period is about to start. To help relieve discomfort from rough roads jostling my chest, I switch to a high impact sports bra, which reduces movement.
Around this time, I also make sure I have a few tampons in my bike bag just in case Aunt Flow shows up while I’m out and about. I typically store these in my bike repair kit, alongside my tire levers and patch kit so I know exactly where they are every time.
I’ve also been surprised more than once by spotting while on a bike tour or after a particularly strenuous ride. There is evidence to suggest that intense exercise can change your hormones and thus your menstrual cycle, so be aware that you may bleed at unexpected times.
Once my cycle has started, priority number one for me is to make sure that there’s no leakage going on. My preferred method of ‘catchment’ (for lack of better terms) is a menstrual cup - a flexible, medical-grade silicone cup that sits inside the vagina and collects menstrual fluid. I’ve had success with this through multiple types of biking, but have heard from some folks who experienced spillage while mountain biking.
Other popular methods include using tampons, wearing specifically designed period underwear, and on especially light flow days, simply wearing bike shorts with a chamois. While researching this article, many people pointed out an important tip for tampon wearers while on the bike: be sure to tuck the string away from your clothing, as the capillary action of the cotton can draw the fluid out of your body and onto your clothes.
I would advise against a pad or panty liner, especially if you’ll be riding for a length of time, as the extra material can bunch up against the saddle, causing chaffing.
Gentle exercise, such as riding a bike, for me actually helps to relieve many of the discomforts that accompany my menstrual cycle. I’ve found that a slow spin around the neighborhood helps with bloating, cramping, nausea, and the general malaise I feel each month. Convincing myself to get on my bike while I’m cramping can be the biggest hurdle to overcome, but once I do, I’m usually pretty happy I did.
Science seems to agree on this point, generally advising gentle exercise that feels good to you.
Staying fresh and clean on your period is not only good for your mental health, but can prevent awkward or uncomfortable situations. I recommend showering as soon as possible after your ride, changing your tampon or menstrual cup, and putting on fresh clothes.
Sometimes, however, especially if you’re bike camping or on a long ride, this might not be an option for you and a shower might be a few days away. I always pack baby wipes as part of my hygiene kit for bike camping and use these liberally to clean up after a ride. I use baby wipes because they're easy to find when traveling, they’re typically water based, and have a light or non-existent scent, but specific hygiene wipes for vulva pH balance also exist -- use whatever works best for you. Don’t forget a small bag to pack up your trash as well!
Periods aren’t fun but they’re a fact of life for many of us. For avid cyclists, not riding bikes during our period simply isn’t an option, so learning to live with it as best as possible is essential. I encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you explore this area and recognize that during your period, your body is experiencing hormonal shifts which can also impact your athletic performance.
Keeping track of your period symptoms throughout your entire cycle can help you to better predict your cycle and get in tune with what works for you and what doesn’t.
I’d also love to hear any tips or suggestions you’ve found to be helpful for biking while on your period! Please share them on social media by tagging @cascadebicycle.
Read our previous posts about biking while having your period here.