athletes · body image · cycling · racing · training · weight loss

Big women on bikes

In my recent post about strava and downhill segments, I said it was no big surprise the victories were mine as weight is an advantage downhill and I’m the largest woman out there on a road bike. I don’t think that means I don’t deserve them. After all, being small is an advantage uphill and yet we don’t say the fastest climbers don’t deserve their strava trophies because they’re small.

Here I’m using the bigger/smaller language rather than calling all larger people “fat.”  Language is tricky. See here for why.

I confess I’ve often wondered why you don’t see more women of size on road bikes. Unlike running, cycling isn’t a weight bearing exercise. Your weight isn’t a huge disadvantage when riding on flat roads. Weight does hurt going up hill. Hill climbing is all about power to weight ratio but absent hills, weight doesn’t make a big difference.

It’s also an issue accelerating from standing still but again, how often do you do that on a typical ride?

Yes, modern road bikes are light but they’re not fragile. After all, they’re mostly built for men. Here’s a good discussion of bike choices which notes though the frames are typically built for 185 lb men they’re tested to a much higher weight.

Searching for information about road cycling and larger women was itself informative. I got lots of information about cycling as a means to weight loss. There’s some of that for men too, of course. But lots of the men’s info was much more matter of fact. “So you’re 350 lbs and you want to ride a road bike, here’s some advice on wheel choices.” Larger men who ride even joke about their size. A Clydesdale club was even selling jerseys that read “Big Men Break Wheels.”

I’d like to be leaner but it’s not the reason I ride my bike. Short version: I want to get up hills faster.

I see a lot more larger women running than I see riding. Of course, there’s women of all sizes running but I have wondered what puts larger women off road cycling.

There’s the image, I suppose. Road bike riding is all about the young, lean men with the physiques of greyhounds. But it’s a mistake to look at the Tour de France bodies and think that’s what you need around here.

A friend (hi Natalie!) recently suggested it was the extremely unflattering posture one assumes on a road bike that made cycling tricky for larger women. Let’s squish all the abdominal fat and breasts together! I laughed but later I wondered whether she might be on to something.

It doesn’t help either that you assume the unflattering posture while wearing skin tight cycling lycra.

Here’s the thing. I consider myself very body positive. Hills aside, I’m okay with my large active body. But Natalie got me thinking. Even I don’t like the way I look riding my bike! I love my bike. I love cycling. I post a lot of pictures of me with my bike, usually with me standing beside the bike. But riding shots? Not so much.

It’s not that I don’t own them. If you race, chances are there are photos of you out there riding. I hate it when they’ve got the camera near the top of the hill! But I tend not to share them. Tellingly, the photo below is saved on my computer with the file name “chubbyme.”


Maybe I’d be less self conscious if there were more of us out there. Come play! It’ll make you feel like a child again.

Here’s a happier me on a bike shot. I’m a little lighter it’s true but I’m also wearing a flowing dress on top. It’s from Red Dress Day on the Friends for Life Bike Rally…


Here’s some inspirational plus sized women cyclists with their stories:

Krista Henderson is an award-winning, multi sport plus size athlete. She began her athletic career in 2004 when her Fitness Director recommended she “train like an athlete”, in response to her commitment of living an active and healthy lifestyle. This advice dramatically shifted Krista away from the diet and exercise mentality, where she constantly felt the need to “fix” herself by solely focusing on losing weight. This fresh new approach set Krista on a path of changing the way she lived which resulted in becoming happier and healthier.

Since then, Krista has earned her certification as a Johnny G Spin Instructor and Can-Fit-Pro Personal Trainer, has coached athletes of all body shapes and abilities and has competed in over 20 races (triathlon, duathlon, half marathon and rowing).Through this journey, Krista has learned some key lessons and is now on a mission to share them and inspire other plus size women, to live a healthy life by tapping into their inner athlete. The foundation of the athletic lifestyle is rooted in properly fueling your body, working out with a purpose and getting plenty of rest.


Fat broad on a bike

Being overweight and being a cyclist is not contradictory. I’ve been both for 22 years. Too many women are psyched out by those lean bodies dancing on the pedals up the Gatineau Hills. Cycling does not require a skinny body, it helps if you want to go fast, but it’s not necessary to enjoy cycling.

Fat girl on a bike

The image of a bike commuter, especially one with true bike style, is often one of a lithe woman wearing incredibly cute clothes, pedaling easily with cute Po Campo panniers. When I say I am a bike commuter, this is the image I like to think people have. The reality for me, however, is very different, but it is one that I do my best to accept with open arms. I am a fat girl on a bike.


17 thoughts on “Big women on bikes

  1. Hi Sam!
    I realize it might seem overly vain but I was really worried about the thigh/belly/boob convergence, especially in Lycra. I was SURE it would be impossible for me to hunker down.
    Turns out, since I am squishy, things just find their place.

    Also riding with nice people who are encouraging rather than critical has been awesome!

    1. Natalieh,
      Even being a smaller woman who has done triathlons on and off for 20 years, after having children I too worry about the “squish zone” when I ride. I think any woman on a bike thinks about this until you get into the “fun zone” of the ride….then you think nothing of it.

  2. Hay, Sam – even if in the picture you file under “chubbyme”, you look athletic and you look like you can go like hell on that bike!

      1. I scrolled down to pretty much write Craig’s comment. That top picture especially looks ace – you look like you’re going at some speed, and judging by the massive grin, happy about it.

  3. For me there are a few things – one is cost. I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was sixteen and I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it. I was a lucky – a friend had an old cruiser that they gave me for free. It’s been a great way to get my feet wet and try out some trails and whatnot, but even with a free bike, once I bought a helmet and had it tuned up, then bought a rack for my car… well, the costs have been adding up. (Oh, and I have to say – bike stores can be intimidating.) I eventually do want a better bike (or at least something with gears 🙂 ) but, the cost holds me back. With running you just need some good shoes and a decent sports bra – both of which you can use for other things if you end up hating it. Another reason I hesitated was my fear of traffic. Sure, runners and cyclists both get hit by cars, but I initially felt a lot safer power walking and running on sidewalks. Plus. there are rules with biking as well – the ones everyone should know for safe riding, and then all the “unwritten” ones. The learning curve is a lot steeper. I love being on my bike, but I do think the entrance to comfortable riding is a higher bar than fitness walking or running.

  4. From what I’ve seen in dedicated fat fitness spaces, it’s a combination of thinking that wide bike seats are better for big butts, the bent over position of road & tri bikes making thighs bump into bellies & boobs, thinking that a thin little road bike won’t hold their weight (or will be more difficult to balance because of weight)….I don’t think most people even get to the lycra part of the equation.

    Just to put another fat road cyclist on the internet, this post from my blog has a picture of me in 2007 doing the MS 150 in Minnesota, USA:

    1. But that’s got to be gendered, right? I do see larger men out there. And the men’s clydesdale forums are just so matter of fact, “I’m a big guy and I want a fast road bike.” For me, I always knew the bikes could hold me b/c I ride a men’s frame and I’m within that size range if not the typical size range for a woman of my height.

      1. One size-plus-gendered aspect I’ve thought of: For me — in a fairly bike-friendly city — a lot of the most approachable biking spaces involve crossing several and/or traveling along at least a few busy, public streets. That opens me up to a lot more public viewing — and possible interaction — compared to running (where I have the option, if I so choose, on covering reasonable running distance on mostly residential streets).

        While running — on those mostly residential streets — I have been physically assaulted for being fat and female (well, they used the term “bitch”) more than once, and verbally harassed more than that.

        There is, currently, not a safe space in which I can be fat, female, athletic, and public (aside from a couple of yoga studios, which aren’t public in quite the same sense). In such a situation, I think it’s pretty understandable that I’m not willing to be *more* public in my active endeavors.

      2. Yeah, I get it. I’ve heard “fat bitch” in traffic a few times though I’ve never been physically assaulted. Given your history, it’s certainly understandable that you avoid exercising in non safe spaces. Wish the world were different.

      3. I’ve never seen a bashful big guy on a bike, and I’ve seen quite a few big guys. Of course, inside they might have been dying, but I doubt it! Men are invited to gender identify by doing sports, full stop; women are invited to gender identify by being thin and not taking up too much space. Bingo.

        Sam, remember the really big guy with the slightly poor form that kept passing us on the downhills on the back half of the Halton Gran Fondo? Every time he passed us I thought to myself, dude, we are going to waste you in a minute on that up, stop passing! But then I realized he wasn’t even really noticing us, just having his own good time. And I have to say, respect!

  5. One thing that I think is super important on the bike is clothes. There just aren’t enough options for woman of a larger size. Sure AeroTech has stuff, but really they only have shorts for large women, not bibs. If you ride a lot, shorts just aren’t that comfortable. I usually even up buying Men’s bibs, which also can lead to issues on the saddle.

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