Tips for Women Cyclotourists
Being a cyclist has its challenges, being a cyclotourist adds to those challenges, and being a woman makes it all a little harder. Here’s what I’ve learned as a woman cyclotourist, including:
- Developing a Bike That Fits
- Sitting Comfortably
- Equipment That Improves Riding Confidence
- Confidence Enhancing Techniques
- Riding Out of the Saddle
- Riding with Men
- Urinating Outdoors
- Buying Hygiene Products Abroad
- General Travel Tips
Developing a Bike That Fits
A bike that fits is hard to come by for almost all women as bikes and the equipment on them are sized for men. Women’s torsos tend to be shorter and our legs longer than men’s, so bike frames are usually too long for us between the saddle and the handlebars. Road bike styled brake levers are sized for men's hands, so most woman can barely grab hold of the levers to brake. And bike shops tend to send women out-the-door with handlebars that are too wide because few stock the narrower sizes that many women need.
My protests about fit problems were often brushed aside: uncomfortable saddles got excused with “You’ll toughen up,” poorly fitting cycling shoes elicited “It’s OK if your feet hurt while on the bike,” too-wide handlebars were “Just about right,” and when I repeatedly complained about falling off my bike because my shoe cleats didn’t release from the pedals, I was told “They need to be broken in” until finally they said “Maybe they are worn out.”
It’s not cheap or easy to be a woman cyclist as one has to experiment relentlessly. I’ve used 2 different pedal systems, 3 different styles of brake levers, 3 different widths of handlebars, 5 bikes, and more than a dozen saddles trying to get it right. For the last 10 years I’ve been riding on custom built frames from Bernie Mikkelsen in California who has a special, ridable “fit bike” (www.mikkelsenframes.com) that helps get the bike proportions right for many body types. Terry Precision Cycling (www.terrybicycles.com) specializes in building bikes for women, though they solve some of the fit problems by using a smaller front wheel which then doubles the number of spare tubes, tires and spokes you must carry if you choose to carry spares.
We use adjustable stems by Look to fine tune the height and reach of our handlebars and micro-adjustable seat posts to fine-tune the angles at the other end. Over the years, I’ve also experimented with taping on little mounds onto my handle bars and in my shoes to better understand what I needed that I didn’t have. I’ve done my best to combine the conventional wisdom of the cycling world with that of yoga and physical therapy to better understand good fit on the bike and I’ve drawn on the watchful eye of a massage therapist to further refine my riding position.
It’s an expensive and aggravating process for most of us to be comfortable on a bike. A lucky few people have the average body that bikes are designed for (like Lance Armstrong) but the rest of us have to cobble something together on our own and the only way to get there is to keep experimenting.
A good fitting bike saddle (seat) is a critical component for riding comfortably for weeks on end. I have yet to find my perfect saddle, but the Body Geometry saddles by Specialized are my favorites. I’ve ridden on a half dozen different saddles of theirs, including men’s, women’s, road and mountain bike models. Each new one I try is a little better but not good enough to keep me from eying the next new model.
I like a narrow-nosed saddle with a broad, flat backend. The narrow nose cuts down on the thigh flesh irritation and a flat rather than domed saddle shifts the pressure from the soft tissues to the bones. I even measured the distance between my “sit bones” and took a small ruler into the bike shops to measure the saddle tops. I ruled out any saddles that tapered or domed before my sit bones would make contact. And cushier saddles aren’t always the answer—I am often more comfortable on a firmer saddle than a softer one.
Some bike shops will let you ride a saddle for 3 to 4 weeks and return it for a full refund if it is in mint condition. That’s the best way to select a saddle—keep trying new ones until you find one you like. And experiment with both the saddle height and tilt to refine the fit.
-Padded Saddle Covers-
In 2008 during our 8th year of loaded touring, I resorted to buying a gel saddle cover at a European department store. I think the combination of aging (I was 57 then) and unintentional weight loss due to illness decreased my natural padding that I needed for comfort. It sits on top of my firm, split saddle so that I have uniform padding. I'm quite satisfied with the result and will buy another when this wears out.
Until 2007, I didn't wear padded bike shorts and instead rode in light-weight, pull-on pants with serged seams for greater sun protection and fewer stares when off the bike. I decided that if the saddle was a good fit, the padded shorts didn’t matter. I didn't wear underwear either because of the irritation from the leg bands.
But aging took its toll on our skin and both my husband and I reluctantly returned to wearing bike shorts. He was getting more sores and whereas I had more mildly irritated skin. It seemed that we needed a fabric layer that moved with the skin to protect the now more delicate skin from rubbing. I wanted the least bulk possible so turned to Trek's shorts liners. Their product gives me the abrasion resistance I need with the coolest pad and short fabric possible. I do find that even with these light shorts that I get more fabric bunching at the leg-crotch joint than is comfortable and I must keep tugging the legs down because of it. Tighter leg bands might help but I don't want that pressure on my skin either.
Keeping your buttock flesh and clothes clean helps cut down on the skin irritation. We make bathing each night a top priority, even if camping, both for our general comfort and to minimize skin irritation problems. And if hand washing my clothes is a challenge, I still wash the crotch of my pants or shorts so I’m wearing a cleaner garment in the morning. I isolate the crotch fabric with a rubber band so I can wash only that portion of fabric to speed up drying as keeping the waist band dry can substantially reduce the drying time.
We use Erythromycin Gel for folliculitis (inflammation of hair follicles) on our buttock flesh. It is a prescription product and is very expensive in the US, but it is a big help for some skin types. (It can be purchased for a fraction of the price without a prescription in at least some European countries.) Avoid applying much else to your skin, like salves and creams, as they tend to transfer to your shorts or pants and make an even better breeding environment for bacteria and are hard to wash out.
100% Aloe Vera gel does provide a bit of protection for the buttock flesh without leaving a hard-to-wash-out residue on clothing. I found that a light application each morning on the saddle-contact-area of my buttocks and on my inner, upper thighs both decreased skin irritation and decreased body odor.
-Feel a Tugging Sensation?-
I kept feeling an unwelcome sensation, sort of a slight burning-pressure sensation when in the in the saddle. An experienced woman rider tipped me off: it was likely that pubic hair was getting tugged as I pedaled. The solution was simple: at her suggestion I used scissors for a little trimming and it worked like a charm. Once again, experimenting is the key. You’ll quickly learn how short and just where to trim to ride in the saddle with more comfort.
I also found that snipping most of the length off the string on tampons eliminated another source of unwelcome tugging.
Equipment to Improve Your Confidence on the Bike
I think many women riders are like me and suffer from a lack of confidence on a bike, partly because we don’t have as much strength as men and partly because our spatial skills aren’t strong. Weakness in spatial skills means it takes a little longer than men to size up a situation, like in traffic; and less strength means fewer options for implementing a quick decision. But equipment and knowledge can skyrocket your confidence.
A huge confidence builder for me is riding with a rearview mirror on my helmet or glasses. I like the metal mounted “Take a Look” brand for their durability. When I first took up cycling as a sport in my 40’s, I used a mirror mounted on my handlebars. That was disastrous as it revealed my poor coordination: when I couldn’t see what I wanted in the mirror, I turned the handlebars for a better look, which of course changed where the bike was going. Young lads have said “Just look over your shoulder” but that also stressed my steering coordination in my early years of riding. A mirror mounted up by my eyes means a slight rotation of my head is all it takes to get a broad look behind me and gives me the time and information I need for making decisions.
When in Great Britain and New Zealand where we had to contend with riding on the other side of the road, we did not switch our mirrors to the right side of our helmets. Technically that would have be the best position, but we decided not to as our years of patterning meant we'd automatically look up and to the left for a rear view scan. We decided that, especially for emergency situations, we didn't want to be floundering for a look back. It worked fine--we only need to turn our heads a little farther to see behind us on the other side--something we occasionally need to do anyway.
-Handlebar Width & Position-
Having handlebars that are the right size and in the right position for you gives you more control over the bike. If they are too wide, you give up arm strength by being in a weakened position. On road bike handle bars, you want your hands right in line with your shoulders for maximal strength and endurance, not wider. The pros prefer wider bars to maximize chest expansion when breathing hard but I don’t find that the bar width makes any difference in lung function at my level of riding.
Handlebar bags are a wonderful place to stash things but they compromise your steering and stability. The weight is too high on the bike at handlebar level and it makes it harder to steer. I ride with a flimsy little handlebar bag I sew out of nylon rip-stop that hangs between my aero bars. I can’t put much in it, so I don’t risk throwing off my steering yet I still have a place to stash a small tube of sunscreen, some wax for lubing my pedals, and a light snack.
Keeping your riding situations within the comfortable limits of your ability will do a lot to improve your confidence on the road and some gadgets can assist you. Riding with an altimeter to measure accumulated elevation gain, an incline gauge to measure the steepness of the grades, and the odometer on your cyclocomputer all help you monitor your effort expended. With that information at hand you can more quickly learn your limits, predict your reserves, and judge when you need some serious rest. Check-out the "Instruments" file under “Gear” on the homepage for more information on these devices that can help you avoid overextending yourself.
Confidence Enhancing Techniques
-Focal Distance & Barriers-
It’s counterintuitive, but when passing between narrowly spaced barriers, don’t look immediately in front of the wheel at the gap or the barriers but instead look down the road 20’ to 50’. Also, if you are trying to avoid hitting something, don’t look right at it but beyond it. Where your eyes go, you tend to go, so if you look directly at a rock you are more likely to run right over it. And if you are passing through a narrow opening and you look right at the sides of the opening, you are more likely to hit them.
It takes nerve, but practice looking beyond these obstacles rather than directly at them. Practice maneuvering through or around relatively easy obstacles out-of-traffic to break yourself of the habit of looking directly at them. As you build your confidence, gradually move on to more challenging obstacles to refine your skill.
-Focal Distance & Slow Speed-
Focal distance is especially important when trudging up steep hills at slow speeds. The slower I go, the more unsteady I am and that can be dangerous in traffic on hills. I am more stable if I look far ahead rather than right down at the pavement, which is where I tend to look if I am anxious about the traffic or struggling with the physical effort.
I’ve also found I am more wobbly when climbing at slow speeds if I am riding right behind someone because they are blocking my focal distance. Also, the lead rider is probably also a little wobbly and looking at someone wiggling does nothing to improve your balance. So, on a difficult climb I either take the lead or drop back far enough that I can have a long, unobstructed view and nudge myself to keep my gaze high, not right in front of me. Shifting my gaze farther up the road can instantly improve my stability.
Especially when riding a loaded bike, I have only a handful of power starts in me for any given day. Power starts are what I call starting up from a dead stop on a hill. They require a lot of burst strength and few women have much of it to spare. But learning to read the road can greatly reduce your need for power starts. Now I am extremely selective as to where I stop on a hill and though Bill and I always ride close together, I sometimes pass him by if I don’t like his choice of stopping place.
Study the subtle variations in the slope of the road surface as you ride to see where relatively flat spots appear on steep hills. A driveway or intersecting street is a gift as you can always find a bit of advantageous grade for restarting. The outside curves in the road will often provide a little platform for launching with little effort. And on a little-traveled road, starting on the high center and aiming at an angle up hill can also reduce the muscle effort needed to get underway.
Picking your spot to stop for an easier start is a skill to be developed. Every start is different because of the width of the road, the amount of traffic, the steepness of the grade, your load, the quality of the surface and how tired you are. But being clever about where you stop on a hill can make the difference between effortless coasting into a start or not being able to get going at all. And yes, I still sometimes misjudge and have to push my bike up to a better starting place.
-Faster Rather Than Slower-
In some dicey riding conditions, it’s actually better to ride faster than slower. In gloppy mud, sand, snow, and rough surfaces the fear of falling makes me want to slow down but slowing down often increases rather than decreases the risk of dumping over. Nudge yourself to maintain more speed than usual when riding on difficult surfaces so your momentum can work to keep you upright (and keep looking well ahead).
Working out a verbal code with your riding partners makes one more confident on the road. We’ve settled on almost always having codes with 2 words and making them very distinctive. Rather than “Clear Back” and “Car Back” which requires hearing both words to get the correct message, we use “Car Back” and “Clear Rear.” Some of our codes are founded on little jokes so wouldn’t have universal appeal, like “Bollard Down” means a post or something previously attached is loose on the path. “Double Up” tells the following rider that oncoming cars are passing and we may need to stop suddenly. “Stopping” is self explanatory, as is “Walker Up” or “Bike Back”. Being able to communicate easily with your riding partner allows you to ride close together without being a menace to each other.
We also use hand signals for turning, slowing, and stopping. Additionally, we have a gesture with a fist near the head with the thumb pointing backwards to mean “Car Back” in case the lead rider doesn’t think the follower has noticed the approaching traffic. Hand signals are especially useful when you are too far apart or it’s too noisy to be heard.
Riding Out of the Saddle
I have no great love of riding out of the saddle but am convinced that it's worth doing anyway. One benefit of the standing position is that the angles of the joints at the knee and hip are different than when pedaling seated so in standing you are recruiting a different mix of muscle fibers. That means more of your muscle tissue benefits from the strengthening opportunities while riding if you use both positions and overall, you have a little more strength. On long riding days you should have a bit more endurance if you mix up your riding position because you won't be using the same muscle fibers all the time--some will always be getting a little recovery time.
The same notion of recovery time applies to your crotch too. Always sitting in the saddle means always having pressure in about the same places. Yes, using aero bars and consciously shifting your contact points will help, but there is still that matter of steady pressure. Having a pedaling rhythm that includes regular, even if brief, stints out of the saddle will get a little more air circulation in the crotch area, get a little more blood circulating through the compressed tissues, and reduce the abrasion on your skin--all good things when you are riding day after day.
The standing position also strengthens your medial quads, the front thigh muscles closest to your inner thighs. Check-out the inner thigh muscles bulging just above the knee on video of Tour de France riders or other buff male riders to know which muscle is the medial quad (women don't bulk-up as much as men so the muscle definition is harder to spot at a glance on women). Seated riding tends to enlarge the lateral, or outer of the 4 quads, but not the medial quads. Only riding seated leads to an imbalanced tug at the knee joint that can be the source of some knee problems in cyclists. Doing some out of the saddle pedaling will help balance the pulls on the knee joint. The medial quad is used the most in that last effort to completely straighten a bent knee so in addition to strengthening it while standing to pedal, climbing stairs or hiking up steep slopes will also do the trick.
A side benefit is that standing while pedaling builds more arm strength, something most women can use. I think it also strengthens some of the torso postural muscles too which are important for standing alongside or safely pushing a loaded bike.
We've both also found that out of the saddle riding gives a welcome release to the psoas muscle--a huge muscle that crosses the hip joint in front and often gets short and cranky in cyclists. Riding out of the saddle isn't as effective as a targeted psoas stretch, but for both of us it is a good intermediate solution for keeping the complaints from our psoas's from being show-stoppers.
Some very experienced riders will tell you that it is not possible to ride out of the saddle on a loaded bike--wrong! Another one of those silly cycling myths. Bill's been riding at least 25% of the time out of the saddle for the last several years and I spend some time each riding day out too. Ironically I can quite confidently ride out of the saddle when my bike is loaded but flounder when it's unloaded as the ideal body position is different when loaded and unloaded. I spend so little time riding unloaded that I can't easily switch to standing while pedaling unloaded.
Traditionally out of the saddle riding is used to make up for the lack of low gearing on steep grades but that is a terrible time to develop your technique. I kept trying that and being frustrated because it was too, too hard. Finally I realized that a 4 or 5% grade was the ideal training situation for me. I could shift a couple gears to create more resistance and then pop up. Since the grade wasn't too steep I could plop down at any time and fiddle with my gears to get the right resistance for that power level and not risk dumping over as was the case on steeper grades.
It won't feel good when you being riding out of the saddle because you are strengthening less often used muscles. My legs keep shouting "Sit down, you're killing us" when I committed to acquiring the skill, so build up slowly. For the first year or 2 I'd count the number of strokes while up, at first settling for 10. I gradually nudged it up to 60 strokes any time I popped up, though I didn't do it each day. Slowly I got stronger despite my haphazard training approach and I over came my resistance to the riding position. Now I can pedal while standing for minutes at a time and easily do so on 10%+ grades.
Do let the bike rock from side to side in response to your pedaling when out of the saddle though keep your body relatively still. Let your body position shifting occur more in your arms than in your torso. Like when seated, keep your breast bone lifted, your shoulder blades down and drawn slightly towards your midline, your neck long, elbows bent, and your hands relaxed. If your loaded bike is on the verge of wobbling, riding out of the saddle may exacerbate the wobble. If my bike wobbles when I'm in the standing position I ride seated that day. I think it's a combination of the particular load on my bike, like having extra food stacked high on the back rack, and the wind conditions. Having too much weight in a handlebar bag will make the wobble worse too.
Riding with Men
Men have more testosterone on their side allowing them to both build strength more readily and retain it longer. Almost all women touring with men will have a strength disadvantage and to keep up, women have to ride smarter. Using the above mentioned gadgets to measure distance and difficulty are big aids in knowing the limits of your ability and when to negotiate for shorter routes or rest days. And getting smarter about ‘reading’ the slopes to minimize power starts is a great way to conserve strength.
I once read that women’s upper body strength is about ½ that of men’s, whereas our lower body strength is about 2/3’s that of men’s. And I am acutely aware that if we’ve laid-off for a few days or are in very challenging winds or mud, it is my arms, not my legs that suffer. For that reason, I am a great fan of riding on aero bars which are designed to reduce wind resistance when riding.
Aero bars let me transfer the support the my upper body weight from my hands to my forearms as the forearms rest on pads and just as importantly, the changes in the angle at the shoulder joint recruit different muscles to do the supporting job. By letting my weary arms have 2 radically different riding positions, I have a much greater capacity in my arms to keep going. Except in strong winds, I don’t ride in the aero bars for long spells but instead use them for short breaks.
Deconditioning is also a challenge for women as we lose our muscle mass so much more quickly than men. I strive to go no more than 3 days without riding if we lay over for sightseeing as the inevitable deconditioning increases my risk of injury when we resume riding. My knees and back are the most vulnerable to injury as I lose strength, with most injuries coming from muscling my loaded bike around obstacles, stairs, and curbs. We usually build-in some day-ride sightseeing if we are laying over in a city for extended sightseeing to slow my rate of deconditioning.
I've learned that it takes me about 10 days to really bump-up my conditioning level, like for riding in the mountains. That's very discouraging considering it only takes about 3 days to lose it, but that's the way it is. If I'm conditioning for the mountains while in the mountains, following a hard-easy-hard day routine works for me. In the Pyrenees in 2008 we'd ride a pass one day, then hike the next day, as the passes were so close together. After 10 days when we came to the toughest pass, I was ready. I was then able to do 2 passes back-to-back, though 1 rest day wasn't enough after that.
I think of bike tires as having bra ratings on them. Aggressive tires with lots of knobbies in the center of the tire that are favored for off-road riding (and are standard issue on most mountain bikes) require an aggressive bra. Even on nice, smooth pavement those knobbies will put enough continuous bounce into the bike to make me want an aggressively compressing bra to keep my breasts from bouncing too. Of course, if you have great suspension on your bike, it might be not so much of a problem.
Our first bikes were mountain bikes with the requisite knobbie tires and I hated the pounding that came with street commuting on those tires. We quickly switched to “city slicks” that were silky smooth and life became civilized again. I discovered that a regular bra was again fine for riding with my new tires.
For touring, we ride on tires that are a hybrid: the center riding surface is smooth but there is a fringe of knobs on each edge of the tire. Those knobs aren’t felt on pavement but if we get into sand, snow or mud, the knobbies give a welcome extra grip. Those mixed personality tires are the best of both worlds and allow me to wear a quicker-drying street bra rather that the slow to dry, jog-bra-styled models.
And for me, quick drying is high on the specifications list for any cycling garment. Clothes need to both dry quickly on the line and while I am wearing them. Climbing up steep grade, or even a more moderate grade in rain gear, means instantly sweat-saturated clothes. And wet clothes set you up for a chill on the down hills or during rest breaks. I am especially particular about the drying speed of the clothes closest to my skin, and that includes my bra. The hefty fabrics and heavy elastic of sports bras mean slow drying. Non-cotton, every day bras that are more lightly constructed dry much more quickly, on or off my body.
For traveling, take 2 different styled bras. I didn't 1 year and suddenly the style I'd worn for 2 years became irritating at the strap-cup junction. I developed a rash that took a couple of weeks to clear. Both bras rubbed in the same place so it was hard to give the skin a rest during the day to heal. I finally discovered that the bra was wearable when turned inside out and that relieved the rubbing.
Some regions are wonderfully civilized and have free, clean, public toilet facilities in every village, and in other areas you may go months without seeing such a thing. The first trick of course is learning where to find the facilities if they are available and you have to crack the code in each area. In addition to the truly public toilets, large grocery stores in some countries have free facilities, as do some train stations and tourist information offices.
But I’ve found those conveniences to be the exception and not the rule and peeing in the bushes is the standard for almost all of our days on the road. Obviously, I start by looking for the perfect combination of privacy-providing vegetation without any nettles, thorns or other irritating undergrowth. Unfortunately, that isn’t always available. When the privacy factor is low, I park my bike on the opposite side of the road from where I've decided to pee as a passer by will naturally gaze in direction of visually interesting parked bike.
A small folding umbrella I carry for sun shade on my bike frame is also useful for a little added privacy in a pinch. And sometimes I have to settle for the marginal visual shielding provided by our strategically placed loaded bikes on a road barrier. In my final site selection I also try not to urinate on rock slabs as that is a set-up for wet feet.
I made a small, light weight rip-stop nylon pouch for keeping
a packet of tissues and proper coins for the region’s pay toilets handy. Few of
my riding clothes have pockets (we don't tour in cycling jerseys) and this way I’m never caught without toilet
paper, whether using a public toilet or going in the bushes. (In addition, I
safety pin a half-width of a colored bandana onto the strap for a handy
nose-wiper. White hankies turn a nasty brown shade after too many bouts with
sunscreen and rust-tinged wash water.)
Though I briefly tuck used tissues under my shoe if there is risk of them blowing away, I never leave my tissues in the wild and always take them with me. I keep a small, distinctive plastic sack in my handlebar bag so I always have a temporary storage place handy for used toilet paper. The plastic wrapper on the tissue packs also make for convenient stashing of used TP.
Urinating outdoors in the rain is tough as it is hard not to get my backside and clothes wet from the rain in the process. I hope for a break in rain or some sort of shelter before relieving myself. Just taking inner gloves and rain gloves off in the rain means they are going to get wet, so a little shelter is a huge help. If I’m out of the rain, then I can unzip my jacket for tail coverage and to prevent accidentally tucking my wet jacket into my pants. Pulling the layers of rain pants and long johns down separately allows me up to cover my rear end with the inner-most layer just as I begin lifting up to standing. With practice, I’ve gotten so I can get my pants down and up again with very little skin being visible.
I did explore both single-use and reusable devices that allow women to urinate standing up. I quickly decided that the hassle of keeping them up wasn’t worth the advantages offered. The single-use paper products meant carrying a huge stash, which was impractical for extended touring abroad. The reusable product created the problem of using precious drinking water to rinse it or stashing it soiled. And we’ve learned that on whole it is easier for ‘squatters’ to duck out of sight than ‘pointers.’
I keep a small bottle of shampoo (like a hotel's complimentary bottle) in my handlebar bag for hand washing. Public toilets often lack soap and it's nice to have our own product handy. Waterless gel products for hand cleaning aren't readily available abroad and so we have stopped relying on them but use them as long as our supply lasts.
Buying Hygiene Products
Feminine hygiene products are readily available abroad, but like everything; don’t wait until you need them to buy. Unexpected bank holidays, special local holidays, Sunday closures, lunch time closures, and ‘too small a town to have a store’ can spoil your best laid shopping plans. Our policy is to buy everything before we need it, not when we need it.
General Travel Tips
To keep your long pants from dragging on wet and dirty rest room floors when you use the toilet, sew a pair of snaps on the inside hem of each leg. Position them so you can easily narrow the pants leg diameter to little more than the size of your ankle to keep them high and dry when you drop your drawers. Position them towards the front half of the pants leg to make them easy to reach.
Test out the noisiness of your comfortable shoes on hard floors before you travel overseas. Having stealthy shoes has allowed us to sneak a peak in the backs of churches during services and prevented embarrassment from clomping or squeaking around in places of silence.
Ask, and ask again about holidays so you don't get stranded without food, lodging or access to public transportation. Even invisible, intra-country boundaries can mean everything is closed in one community and open in the next as the people respond to local festivals. We ask often and still don't ask often enough to avoid the inconvenience of closure glitches.
Compression socks were an immediate hit with me when I tried them in 2009. A Portland bike shop owner recommended the "Skins" that he carried for athletes that ran about $40 a pair. He recommends that just about everyone get the XXS size. I also bought a pair of hosiery-type compression knee-hi's from Nordstroms lingerie department for about $10 and I liked them as well. The Skins are heavy-duty and footless with only a stirrup, which is nice for keeping my toes free and I don't feel like I need to wash them with every wearing. The hosiery-style socks are lighter weight and cooler and I think the compression in my feet and ankles is helpful, especially when flying.
I wore the socks when we made our 10+ hour international flight in March 2009 and they definitely kept the familiar leg and ankle swelling under control. I also felt perkier than usual in the hours after flying, which may have been due to the improved circulation. I wear the compression socks on our harder riding days and their use has eliminated the leg discomfort that disturbs my sleep after those rides. I would have to ask Bill to massage my legs for several nights in a row so that I could sleep, but that massaging isn't necessary when I wear the socks during the ride and in the evenings. They have earned a permanent place on my packing list.
That’s it for me—I’d love to hear your tips that I haven’t discovered.