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Fat Broad On A Bike: Don’t Hide – Ride!

By Sheila Ascroft
Sheila AscroftWhat’s a fat broad like me — 200 pounds of flab squatting over skinny tires — doing on the road? I’m cycling just like everyone else. And regardless of your size, you belong here too! If you like cycling, don’t let your mind cheat your body out of doing something fun and healthy.

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.

So what does it take to ride comfortably as a larger female? Just a few mental and physical adjustments I’ve honed over the years. Here’s what works:

Change Your Mindset

I realized if I waited until I was thin, I’d still be waiting to bike! Don’t let your size stop you from participating. Each ride is a chance to explore the limits of my body and mind.

Over time, you can work through any self-doubt and embarrassment by cycling farther and longer. My first 30 km ride 20 years ago was a revelation. You too can start with a simple goal and build on it. It can even be a short tour of your neighbourhood – just get out there, and then do it again!

Make Your Bike Right

If you have a hand-me-down or your current bike just hurts to ride, maybe it just doesn’t fit your body properly. Maybe all you need is a new saddle or shorter handlebar stem. You could go for a bike fitting at your local bike shop (Giles Bertrand at Cyclo Sportif G.M. Bertrand) or consult a professional such as Mary Paterson at Bike2Body.

Match your bike right

It’s important to match the bike to your planned use. If there are hilly dirt roads at your cottage, a single speed cruiser won’t fit the bill, but a mountain bike will. Don’t be afraid to test ride different types of bikes (hybrids, road, city, mountain) before deciding. (After buying (and selling) several bikes, I settled on a quality sport touring bike for long road rides and a low-end mountain bike for errands.)

Pick The Right Bike Shop

This is crucial. If you don’t feel like the staff is listening to your needs or taking you seriously, go elsewhere. Ottawa is blessed with many good bike shops so you can be choosy. Don’t be intimidated, you have as much right to buy a quality bike as the skinny guy beside you. Visit the shop when it’s not busy so the staff will have more time for you.

Besides the correct size of frame (if you’re quite short or tall, there will be fewer choices), make sure to ask if the frame material is appropriate for your weight. I have been riding ride chromoly steel or aluminum frames for 20 years with no problems.

Sit On The Right Saddle

All butts are different, but the right saddle does exist. If your butt hurts or you feel pressure on your private parts, the saddle could be the culprit. Mary Paterson, a professional bike-fitter, says that, “a saddle will be uncomfortable if the seat is too high.” Make the saddle level or slightly tilt the nose down. “I find people prefer the slightly nose-down position 95 per cent of the time.” Pointed too far down and “you end up sitting on the wrong part of the saddle.” A pointed up saddle puts pressure on the soft tissues at the front of the crotch.

Thankfully, there are more women’s saddles to choose from than ever and no need to let discomfort stop you from cycling. So what is best for your butt?

  • Avoid men’s saddles as they are too narrow for a woman’s wider pelvis and sit bones.
  • Almost any women’s saddle will do for a casual 30-minute ride, but if you want to ride longer then a saddle that supports your butt is vital. For a useful saddle chart, check out Terry Bicycles.
  • You need a saddle wide enough at the rear to support your sit bones (to feel them, sit on a curb); otherwise all the pressure will be on your soft tissue.
  • Some saddles may fit you well, but aren’t designed to hold your weight. You might feel the saddle sinking onto its rails – not a good thing. And that wide plush saddle may look comfy but it will be too squishy when riding. It will press on your private parts and hurt.
  • It takes three consecutive rides before you can tell if a new saddle is the right one. A hard saddle may hurt for the first two days, but then you come to appreciate its supportiveness. (Ask your bike shop if you can return the saddle if it’s not comfortable after a week.)
  • Don’t be discouraged. It may take a few tests to find your ‘right’ model. (My favourite is the Selle Italia Ladies Gel Flow.)
  • Any bike saddle will be more comfortable if you wear padded bike shorts.
  • Avoid chaffing and saddle sores by never wearing panties under your cycling shorts. Always wear clean shorts and remove them as soon as possible after the ride.

Get The Right Gearing

Given the chance, get a bike with three chain rings. A ‘triple’ has an extra little chain ring with about 30 teeth. It’s called a ‘granny’ for good reason! It helps both the old and overweight climb hills.

Wear The Right Clothes

You need to wear cycling shorts for a ride longer than 30 minutes. The extra padding is more comfortable and prevents chaffing on the inner thighs. If you absolutely refuse to be seen in Lycra shorts, try wearing a padded liner under your civilian shorts or mountain biking shorts. Both will do the job for casual rides.

You also need a pair of cycling gloves. They provide a more comfy grip and reduce the pressure on the handlebars. A helmet is not legally required, but smart cyclists don’t leave home without one! (Besides the latest models are very well vented and will keep you cool.)

Unfortunately, many local bike shops just don’t carry sizes for big women. Usually, they sell ‘pro fit’ jerseys and shorts rather than ‘relaxed fit’. Still, if you find a brand you like, check to see if it comes in larger (such as Louis Garneau) and order it in. Any top that wicks away the sweat will work, but a cycling-specific jersey comes with three back pockets to carry that cell phone, banana, or sunscreen.

Try Mountain Equipment Co-op, which offers a good variety of sizes, although sometimes you may be wearing the men’s version of a jersey. (Who cares as long as it keeps you comfy on the road?)

You can also shop online for cycling clothes, but you’ll usually pay U.S. prices. Georgina Terry offers nice jerseys, shorts and skorts or try Junonia. Aerotech Design offers big-sized cycling wear for women and men.

Learn The Right Road Rules

Finally, a class may be just what you need to feel more confident cycling around the city. Consider Citizens for Safe Cycling; the instructors are well trained and offer a variety of CAN-BIKE courses for children and adults.

Happy cycling!

© Sheila Ascroft   (This article first appeared in Ottawa Outdoors Magazine, Spring/Summer 2009.)

Sheila AscroftI’ve been cycling for 20-some years and writing about it for the last 10. My articles have been published in newspapers and magazines — and now on the women’s cycling website! I’m a member of the Ottawa Bicycle Club and the Canadian Kilometer Achiever Program. www.sheilaascroft.com

52 comments to Fat Broad On A Bike: Don’t Hide – Ride!

  • butters

    Thanks for the post! I brought my first bike for 20 odd years yesterday and braved riding it home and tbh it really hit home just how unfit I am now, hills were an absolute no. But I am persevering, because apart from the 5% difficulty, the other 95% was pure joy, wind on my face fun!

    Weirdly, I brought a dutch style bike as that was what was recommended for my height and large frame (about 22 stone and five ten) but i found my boyfriends mountain bike had so much more oompf in it, and his bike was considerably cheaper than mine!

  • Gabby

    Thanks for the great advice and positive encouragement

  • denise mccleese

    I am 258 pounds, I was 267 so lost 9 so far. I am in Germany but have a bike at home in Virginia. Can’t wait to get it out. THANK YOU. My husband rides 32 miles at a time, My dream is to join him

  • Robyn

    I hadn’t been on a bike since I was a teenager, and started really riding when I was 44. I haven’t looked back. Now, 3 years later, I can ride 50 miles (maybe more if I attempted) I am still overweight, but my legs are solid. I haven’t noticed much weight loss but I’ve seen changes in my shape. Biking brings peace to an otherwise hectic life. It brought my husband and I closer and has strengthened our marriage.

    • Lucy

      Brought my first bike on Friday…. got on it today on our driveway ….what an experience thought I could ride, well I use to ride a chopper when I was 12 now at 44 why is it so difficult, seat really high cannot touch the floor weigh an extra 4 stone and I am now 32 years older, my husband who is supporting this fitness phase in my life quote “did you ever ride without stabilisers” Fanulous support after he had finished laughing 😂 my goal this week is to ride my new hybrid bike without looking silly and doing myself an injury – as my big goal is to get fit and complete local triathlon next year – small steps

  • verna

    76 and need a bike I can step thru. Have had a nice folding bike, but size is not really right. I am 6′ and 170. Appreciated all these comments. Any suggestions will be welcome

    • Patty

      There are so many beautiful step-through bikes out there. The blog “Lovely Bicycle” has reviews of many and can guide you to some of the dealers in the USA. You might write and ask Velouria who writes the blog if she has suggestions for a bicycle compatible with your height.

  • Julie

    Thank you so much for writing this. Years ago I was skinny and rode everywhere. I have a 1990 Giant mountain bike that was my best friend. Now I am 200+ pounds and wanted to start riding again. I just had my old friend tuned up and retired. I was Leary about starting again because let’s face it I’m a lot older and it was a little harder for me to get on my bike like I use to. My husband thinks I’m nuts and said big girls do not ride. I told him I’m going to try to see how it goes. I had some difficulties in my driveway but was still able to ride. This article I found when I googled “large women on bikes” really has given me the confidence to continue my quest to get back into riding! Thank you so much. -Julie

  • Barbara

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  • Meredith

    I really appreciated your post. I am looking for some advice. I am not only a heavy woman, 275, but I am also short, 5’3″. I was wondering what kind of bike to get. Some others have recommended a 29er Mountain bike, but is there a good option for a short woman?

  • Ronke

    Thank you for this article, it was helpful to me in so many ways.

    Esp not to be ashamed of being on a bike. I also found clothing that fits me on the bike.

  • Karla

    I just read this great article and so happy to see there are other women out there like myself. My husband and I just started riding two months ago, a way for us to exercise together. We have found a few bike trails and tracks to ride but find ourselves running out of steam during our rides. Can anyone give me suggestions how to boost our energy level while riding?

  • Hi, I just read you article and enjoyed it. I am 66 years old and decided to start riding for exercise and hopefully to lose some weight. I just purchased a Biria bike and am excited to get started. Happy trails to all of you!

  • Betty Jamison

    This has to be the best article I’ve read since I have been contemplating riding again! Thank you Sheila Ashcroft for thinking of us not so skinny ladies, I’m 59 & 182lbs. I know I’m going to enjoy reading your Newsletters!

  • Ginny

    You’re goal and willingness to share your problem is admirable and I hope lots of people will respond. I am in the same situation!

  • Amy

    So my husband has been riding for awhile as part of his regimen for losing weight the last several months and I’d like to get into riding again to at some point. I haven’t been on a bike in close to 20 years (I’m 44, so I was in undergrad in college last time I rode). I’m 5’8″ and about 400 pounds. I’ve been working on the weight lately too, walking more, and we got me a recumbent exercise bike for inside the house. I’m starting slowly with it too! Anyway, I guess I need some guidance on finding a good sturdy bike to ride around casually when we go fishing or just around the neighborhood. I can’t go on the long rides like hubby does yet so I’m looking for something I can just get some exercise with and share the time with my husband.

  • Vicki Briody

    Love the article! I’m a 340 lb wife/mom and I always struggle with my weight….as well as being Type 2 diabetic. I love to cycle and as a woman, I bought an Airen 1 Diamondback from Dick’s Sporting Goods (USA) and for plus size clothing……by far, the best selection for biking are the Falconi jerseys (in men’s for a normal sleeve or women’s for a non sleeved jersey) at: http://www.love2pedal.com I use them a lot to buy jerseys and such. The Falconi jersey really ARE generous and a 5x fits me nicely. Hoping this info helps any other plus size riders :)

  • abqgram

    That Zize bike looks good – but is it only availabnle by milk order?
    Also, my kids think I’ll fall and break my neck. I lived on my bike for my first 20 years(almost) but it has been 50 since I got on a bike. What do you think? Or suggest?
    After a fall or two I shoudl be OK I think.

  • deborah brown

    I would like to start & have been looking for a bike to ride
    mainly on country roads -I am 5’2 200 pounds , I am a little
    nervous , and not sure what size would be best

  • Susan

    Has anyone ever ridden or purchased a Zize Bike? They are meant for plus size bike riders. \

    Just want some feedback.

  • Beth

    Thank you for this article! also the comments from other women riders. I’m 72 years, short and very heavy. Quit riding about 20 years ago because everything started hurting! Miss it a lot, and am desperate to get outside and do something. Currently searching for the right bike. It’s scary to think about riding again, probably falling a lot, but I gotta do it. Can’t stand not doing it. Thanks for the encouragement.


    • Terri

      Please consider a recumbent trike!!! I am riding all over the place on mine. http://www.terratrike.com I rode miles over the weekend with my grandsons…on dirt roads, in a pine forest, over rutted farm tracks. I would never be able to do that with my regular bike. I am 66, overweight, arthritic, fibro, CFS. BUT I can ride now. I rode 10 miles every day in the summer and now hope to do so again as soon as we get to Arizona. I don’t have to worry about falling over or getting exhausted balancing my two wheel bike on bad surfaces. Just my two cents worth.

  • abqgram/usa

    This article gave me hope! I’m in USA, new mexico.
    I used to ride a LOT! All the time. But it has been 52 years since I’ve sat on a bike.
    I am 5’3″, weigh 200(!) and have stenosis, arthritis etc. Probably cannot lift leg over a cross bar – since I even have trouble getting in and out of the SUV.(short legs and stiff ones too). My kids do not encourage me to ride. I am still pretty “athletic”. I would defy them but I need both to get a bike and I to re-learn. What if I fall, esp. in re-learning? I have trouble getting back up off the floor let alone being tangled in a bike! I cannot grip hard with my hands so that kind of brake would not work. Do they make the old kind of brakes (peddle backwards(?).

  • Ashley

    I’m almost 18. I’ve been riding an old 70’s cruiser bike for years. I’ve put miles and miles on the Tennessee country roads where I live, and I’ve lost a lot of weight cycling. I’m still a bigger girl though, being 5’9 and 220 pounds. Around my birthday I plan to get a new bike. I love the bike I have now, but its simply not a challenge and won’t take me to all the places I want to go. I have no idea about what of bike to get, but I’ve heard very good things about the nearby shop in Murfresboro.
    Thanks for the encouragement! I plan to keep cycling for a very long time.


  • Pat Bolger

    Glad I found you guys- going to ride again after many years . Any such thing as a bike coach? I am in New Jersey.

  • Lynne

    Oh, yes, I’m also diabetic. I know that biking is going to help me with everything.

  • Lynne

    Thank you for this article.

    I’m 66 and out of shape and weigh 220. I have CFS, Fibro and arthritis. My balance is very bad.

    I learned to ride a bike late in life and rode my 2 wheel one for a while in the winter in Texas, but was afraid to ride in our tourist town during the busy summer.

    When I was riding the 2 wheel bike, my tailbone would hurt me all summer after riding in the winter. I finally solved that by buying an Easy Seat split saddle. Much, much, much better. I bought a padded sheepskin seat cover for it and no more butt pain.

    I wanted to ride all year round (it was such a nuisance to have to get back into shape again after a lazy summer and I enjoy riding a lot) so I decided to buy a bike that I wasn’t afraid I’d fall over with.

    I bought an 8 speed Terra Trike Rover and I am very pleased with it. I’ve worked up to 7 miles around our slightly hilly village. I try to ride a little more each day. I’ve only been riding for 3 weeks now. We were riding a lot in AZ this winter, but I slacked off when we got home because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it back up the hill to my house.

    Just thought my experiences may help someone else.

    I do wonder how long it will be before I can just ride and ride and ride….LOL. But for now, I’m happy to be out there in the summer at all.

    Thank you for the encouragement.

  • Allison R A

    Hi all.
    I join in the ranks of “Fat Broad on a Bike”.
    Avid cyclist thru the 80’s, eventually quit due to time and road constraints (single parenting, bad roads, long-term injury with continuous pain).
    Recently, at the age of near 50, and approx 250 lbs, with a huge improvement to that long-term injury, I decided to motivate myself to fun by cycling in a Bike Tour (MS Bike Tour).
    It was awesome! So organized and supported…and the “training” or cycling I did before it to prepare helped…just by remembering how fun it was.
    I’m not lighter, and don’t know if I will become lighter, but I’m told I look fantastic, and feel good, and now have that mental option to know I can do it, and enjoy it.
    “Renew your 2-wheel love-affair”.

  • Can anyone tell me where i can buy plus size biking shorts with the padding in the butt. I live in ns and can’t seem to find any. one bike shop had a xxl but not they weren’t plus size xxl. loving buy but butt hurts

  • Tracy

    I love this, love this, love this!!! I was tickled when I saw the title so had to read. I love to ride but due to self neglect I have not. I just purchased a stationery bike from a garage sale and I love it. But, my butt does hurt lol. I went to the good ole internet and low and behold there were 10 pages of articles about the issue..I laughed so hard. I am 46 5’8 268lbs with M.S. and I am NOW focusing on me and my health. I will start slow and start with things that I enjoy. My goal is to purchase a bike to ride outside. So thank you Ms. Sheila for the words of encouragement. This girl is very appreciative. I hope someday to be an inspiration to someone…Happy cycling!

  • Monica

    I’m very excited for this blog! As a 5’11, 223 lb woman I love to cycle! I’m looking forward to purchasing my first professional cycle! Thank you for sharing much need information

    • Ally Stevens

      I just wanted to put my experience on here about bikes I have ridden and what happened when I actually bought an more expensive bike AND a Women’s specific from Trek, it made all the difference. I started riding my bike in 2001 with my family and it was my husbands old Trek that was a hybrid. We started out going 10,12,15 miles and the bike seemed ok for what we were doing. Then I started to want to go out on my own a lot and go farther. So I went in search for a bike that was a trek and a bit more for road riding. I had a really hard time since I am 5 10 and 235 lbs and large framed…not just because of the weight…I’m a city girl built like a farm girl. At the time, Trek didn’t have a women’s specific frame for my size, so I ended up buying a mens Trek 1200 for $900. YIKES! on the price I thought, but I like it. I kept that bike for 8 years and had trouble with my hands going to sleep, my neck hurting and my butt hurting too. I went to get fitted finally…didn’t really help much. Fast forward to last year, 2011 when I finally made the decision to buy a better Trek bike and I was SOOO HAPPY that women’s specific NOW had a frame for my size!! I bought the bike in July of last year a Trek Madone 3.1 for women. It has made all the difference in my riding. My body is closer together now on the bike not stretched out and my neck doesn’t start hurting until I’m on mile 40 or more and my hands also have been so much better! I have to say. The price difference and the better components on the bike have made it so much easier to ride, climb hills and go farther. SO if you are having trouble with similar symptoms make sure you have a bike that is right for you a

      • Casey Brower

        Where did you get fitted for your bike? I just got a new one but it was only $90 and I don’t think it is right for me for most of the same reasons you had but I’m short and weigh 230. I’m pretty muscular kinda built like a man. My issue is my butt and crotch kill me after only 3 miles. I even have padded shorts but those don’t seem to help much. Any suggestions would help. Thank you!

  • Cathy

    Thank you so much for your encouraging blog. I am 60 years old and overweight, and I just bought my first bike since I was 20. I have set it up in my living room (CycleOps) right now to get my legs strengthened before going out on the road. My goal is to ride the Wild Goose Chase in North Carolina in October. I know I will do it and be healthier in the end. Thanks again!

  • Emily Lepage

    Enjoyed your post Ally. Yes, finding clothing for us “healthy” women (while not having to use “long” men’s sizes) is difficult. I have had some luck with Brooks and I have a nice jersey from Sheebest that is not fitted and one from Specialized that is fitted but roomy enough. Terry’s seem to run small especially through the bust.
    Since my last post, I have successfully managed to overcome my fear of riding on the road and this past summer rode in 5 road events as well as I took my first bike tour for 7 days which was wonderful. I am doing indoor cycling – Spinning – 3 times a week this winter in order to improve for next season’s cycling.

  • Ally

    Love Love Love the name of this site! I am 5’10 and weigh 235 lbs.(although I have been eating because of the holidays I may be a TEENIE TINY bit more) I loved reading over your site. I have been a cyclist for 10 years now and just got my first Madone. I never thought that a bike that was expensive would be any different to ride than a cheaper one and BOY was I wrong!! I climb hills easier and ride smoother and the long rides are so much more comfortable. I also could only get a mens bike 10 years ago because of my size and now I was able to get a Women’s specific. It made All the difference. People see us bike riders as odd or strange because we enjoy to ride 15,20,30..etc but there is such a peace and self gratification when you’re riding along and then finish that 15 miler or longer ride and you say to yourself, “I DID IT!!!” Don’t let size stop you! Also, Has anyone out there found a site that makes cute jerseys or t shirts for cyclist that are a little “healthier”? We like to look cute too! : ) Thanks for your site and Have a Merry Christmas!!

  • […] Fat Broad on a Bike: Don’t Hide–Ride! (on Women’s Cycling, Canada) […]

  • Suzanne

    Great article, being a new cyclist and usually the biggest girl in the group this was all great advice and encouragement!

  • Moni

    The Seat!!! It’s the best seat ever: http://www.thecomfortseat.com/

    I’m a big lady and love it. My boyfriend is a regular sized guy who’s been biking for years and worked in a bike shop when younger and he loves it too.

    I got used to it right away, my boyfriend said it took him a couple of weeks because he had to change the way he balanced on the bike.

    It may not look cool to those who care, but that won’t matter at all after trying it.

  • Emily Lepage

    So nice to read cycling comments from older riders. I am 66, started riding 6 years ago. (trail riding) Now that I am retired, I am trying to get over my fear of road riding so I can eventually participate in tours and group rides. There is not a lot of encouragement available to new older female riders.
    I have enjoyed the comments on this site!

  • Theresa

    Thank you. I have just started (again) after 20 yrs of not cycling! Doing it for the exercise, to lose weight, and to enjoy the outdoors.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Thank-you for this! I do cycle because it helps me lose weight, but I’m also cycling to get into shape &, most of all, because I enjoy it. The tips are really helpful for me since I’m still a fairly new cyclist. I haven’t biked since childhood, & I can’t figure out why I ever stopped! :D

  • Peig

    I need a new seat–the women’s “Avocet” that worked when I was 130 lbs. doesn’t work 70 lbs. later. Does anyone have any advice?

    • Sheila


      I also used to use the Avocet and loved it. After trying many, many other saddles, I fell in love with the
      Selle Ialia lady gel flow. It has a cutout in the centre, surrounded by gel and works great especially on long rides.It is not cheap but lasts a long time. I was surprised how well the shape worked.

  • Joojoo

    Hey I am a fat lady cyclist too! 230+ of bike-riding fat. Sometimes my Trek roadbike and some times my Cannondale hybrid. I agree about bike and seat fit -very important for comfort

    • Ang

      Hi Joojoo,
      I’m buying my first road bike, and was hoping to attempt to keep up with my hubby. I’m about 230 as well, and was wondering how you liked your trek and cannondale?

  • Ellen

    What Sheila says is true. I’m 62, 160 lbs. and short, started cycling 4 yrs ago, haven’t lost weight, but have gained lots of pleasure, confidence, strength, and kms on my bike. (Kudos to a superb bike shop, too.) It’s great exercise and a great way to see things you may not have noticed before. One day you may be surprised – and thrilled – to see below you a hill you never thought you could climb, at a distance you never thought you could reach. And there’s no shame in walking when you need to – walking’s good exercise, too.

    Thanks, Sheila.

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