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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

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

    • I’m also a large woman (220-230 lbs) and cycled 3800+ miles one summer. Back then I wore mostly men’s cycling clothes because I couldn’t find Women’s in my size. I was shocked when I stumbled onto evelynhillcycling.com which goes up to 5X. Her clothes are actually cute, too! Evelyn Hill Cycling bibs have the feel and look of a built in shaper. I was concerned it might feel to binding in the saddle but was pleased that they moved right along with me AND no chafing, woo hoo!!
      I also bought Women’s specific butt butter from them and that’s been great!

    • Tara Wood

      I have a question, I’ve recently lost 87 lbs and am now at 202, I’m 5’3″… I took up biking back in October of 2015 and everything was going along greatly, finally found a saddle that works for me for now, it’s a nice gel one but I hope to eventually get to where I can use the saddle that came with the bike. Anyway, my question is this… For the first 6 months of riding I didn’t have any more then the expected issues with back side soreness, the more I rode the better it felt but for the last few weeks my tailbone has been killing me whenever I ride! I haven’t changed anything at all and there is zero pressure on my tailbone at all but there it is, terrible pain when I get off the bike and it will hurt for days. I’m thinking that as I lose weight and get into better shape things are “rearranging” but I’m at a complete loss as to why my tailbone is hurting… Anyone have any tips or ideas so to why this is happening and what I can do to alleviate it?

    • Lee Cox

      Hi to all who travel this road with ‘too much of a good thing’!

      Just wanted to share how to measure the width of the space between the pointy lower parts of your pelvic bones to ensure a good saddle match for you. Place a generous piece of tin foil on a carpeted stair then sit down. Lean forward and mimic your riding stance. Raise your legs about 4-6 inches. Locate the deepest indentation on both sides (Maybe 2 peas could assist?!)then measure the distance between them. If you happen to have memory foam trade the tinfoil for it.

      The results are translated as such:
      Narrow = 99mm or less Medium = 100mm-129mm Wide= 130mm +

      The saddles are measured from edge to edge, across the top.
      Narrow = 130mm Medium = 143mm Wide= 155mm

      Should these stats apply to men only, I will endeavour to unearth the corresponding values for women. Stay tuned. (No pun intended!)

    • Rebecca Miller

      As all my old bike shorts started to wear out at around the same time, I made the dismaying discovery that women’s bike shorts are now all HIP-HUGGERS!! Just what I want – to feel like my pants are falling off, while my belly spills over the top of the pant onto my legs, during my entire bike ride. Does anybody know of bike shorts out there right now that ride AT THE WAIST, not below, with reasonable length inseam (my 2009 Pearl Izumi Gambit shorts have a 9″ inseam, so at least 7 or 8 inches)?

    • Annie

      ~ GREAT blog very motivating thoughts Don’t hide – ride. We have a lot of trails in Philadelphia and fun places to ride. I LOVE RIDING my Trek hybrid. I don’t care what ANYONE thinks.I am never going to see them again so who cares about my size. I am SO thankful my(big)legs work to keep my peddling along these magnificent vistas,historic sights and roads. Thanx!

    • I’m by any means overweight (but no longer long & lean) but I’d like to give my encouragement to those who are…I rode in the Niagara Gran Fondo & was at the back of the pack. A plus-size lady left me in her dust so bigger size doesn’t mean you’re slow!
      Love reading you stuff Sheila. (was that you who past me?)

    • Julia Kozak

      Thank you Sheila! I’ve been having a really hard time motivating myself to start riding again. None of my old cycling clothes fit and I’d been feeling pretty sorry for myself.

      I love your blog and the other comments and posts; they are so inspirational! I recently ordered new bike duds in a size for the current me and commuted to work for the first time since I had my first kid eight years ago. I was tough but I’m glad I did it.

    • Jennifer

      I’m a plus size girl (5’8″ and 240#) And have been wanting to get into cycling for years. I finally bought my first bike this week and I’m super excited! Thanks for your blog posts. They are great resources for someone like me, a complete novice!

    • Kim

      Love this blog. I lost a ton of weight a few years ago, and then gradually put it back on. Cycling is definitely more healthy for me than running, at 5’7″ and 180. My partner and I love to tour on our bikes and our last 7 or 8 vacations have been cycling vacations to places I never thought I would see! I thought I would try a Moon Saddle, but was having difficulty getting used to it, so have gone back to my regular saddle. Not so bad afterall, I guess. I would be happier 40 lbs ago, but it would not stop me from cycling, that’s for sure. Can’t wait for the next trip. Indoor cycling is as boring as anything. When you are in a new place, there is so much to look at that you forget how many kilometres you have done. Most to date? 143 in one day. Pretty proud of that really.

      • Sheila the psychlist

        Wow Kim. You’ve ridden 143 miles in one day? That’s way impressive. You’ve got what it takes – not just to bike but to lose the weight too. It requires the same amount of focus. Keep trying different saddles and eventaully you’ll find one that “fits” comfortably.
        Thnaks for your reading!

    • Lorna

      I have a saddle issues.. that is, I’m 264 pounds and just 5 foot. I would love to be able to ditch the car and walk and cycle more but I can’t even sit on the exercise bike at the gym because it really hurts my privates! I’m talking 10 seconds and I’m off. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t think I could find my ‘sit bones’ in fact I did got to a bike show once and sit on a machine that’s supposed to make indents of those bones. Not surprisingly, the whole thing was just squashed! Funny for the attendant but not so funny for me. Does anyone out there have the same problem – or – has anyone overcome this issue? Sometimes I feel like strapping an arm chair to the bike and just ride that!

    • Sheila the Psychlist

      I’m really glad that you have all been inspired to get on your bike – whatever klind of bike you use. Here’s a link to another inspiring story of a fat guy who found his life through cycling: http://velonews.competitor.com/2012/06/news/a-bicycle-and-a-few-friends-lead-a-big-man-into-an-even-bigger-world_226368.

      • Sheila

        I’d suggest giving a recumbent a try as you are literally sitting in a chair. Or, you might conisder an adult three-wheel bike which has a big comfy seat. As you progress, you could consider a wide seat on a mountain bike.There are also gel pads that fit over the seat as a n extra cover and help. Whatever, don;t give up! Cuycling is too much fun to miss out on!

    • Lynne

      Hi Folks,

      Don’t Hide, Ride! Lovin’ it.

      Have a new eBike that I really like and at the same time I am struggling through numerous beginners challenges.

      Am overweight and very out of shape with little core strength. Also am 5’1″ and just barely can touch the ground if I lean the bike a bit.

      Ebikes are a bit tough to adapt to in the ‘starting to pedal’ from a stop phase. Found out that if I start out on the bike going slightly downhill that helps give me some time to get both feet set on the pedals and find my balance. Learned the hard way to ride on grass first. ; )

      How can I use up all the battery energy 3 times to initially break-in the lithium-ion battery?

      Is that a big deal? Will it really shorten the battery life if I don’t do it? I’d need to ride 10 miles or more to run the battery down even one time. I think it will take me awhile to work up to 10 miles. Any one else doing this?

      I know that many people do not consider ebikes to be real exercise or real biking. But believe me at this point my ebike challenges me. Some day hope to commute to work.
      Would like suggestions or encouragement. thx.

    • Fat chic wanting to really ride!

      Thank you so much for these posts! I am plus-sized and I love to ride for recreation. I would love to use cycling to improve my fitness. This is the only info that I have found for fat, female riders. I love your message and all of the great tips in your blog. PLEASE write more! You definitely have an audience. I would love more info about the specific challenges of riding when you aren’t that long and lean cycle god/goddess body. I have done quite a few 30 to 40 km rides and even a couple of 100+ rides but that was long ago and with no specific advanced training. I would really love to see a cycling program like the running program, Couch to 5k; something to take me from the couch, to circling the neighborhood to a 30 km ride again!!! Your experience, expertise and awesome attitude make you the perfect person to inspire other “Fat Broad’s” on bikes! Thank you!

    • Judy Peters

      try cyclechic.ca they have clothes for women in plus sizes – gorgeous clothes!!!!

    • Vicki

      Don’t hide – ride…I love that! I’m up there with you around the 200 mark & I let that get in my way after many years away from commuting & recreation cycling. I got back on my friend’s bike while camping & it was like something awoke in me…my passion for riding was reborn. Love your blog. I look forward to reading more.

    • Just because you are a woman, don’t be afraid to try a man’s saddle. I’ve tried different women’s saddles and they all chafed my inner thighs. I now use a Terry men’s hole in the middle saddle. It is the only one I’ve found that is good for longer rides.

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