Fat Girl on a Bike

First post by new occasional guest blogger and generally awesome woman Andrea Parrish–Spokane-based co-owner of Savor Sweets and Hydra Creations, photographer, and all-around netgeek.

BikersWhat I generally think when I hear the phrase “bike commuter.” Photo taken in Portland by me.

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.

Let me be clear. I don’t consider the term “fat” to be a derogatory term in this context; it is descriptive. I am 6’4″ tall, wear a dress size 28, and at last weigh-in I was at 375 pounds (down 25 pounds from the heaviest I’ve ever been). And I commute by bike.

Biking at this size comes with a variety of interesting challenges, admittedly. I had to send my bike in to the company to be repaired because the metal that holds the seat post ripped in half a few years ago. I’ve had to get my back tire rim replaced, because I kept popping spokes on the pothole-filled streets of Spokane. The internal hub that holds my breaks needs to be re-packed at least once a season. Clothes that easily go pedal-to-office are, at best, difficult to find.

Even with all of that, though, I absolutely adore biking. The feeling of freedom, the sense of accomplishment, and even the stares I get as I pedal by. I am a fat girl on a bike, and I love it. Biking allows me the chance to get in a workout in the time I would normally spend driving. Biking gives me the impetus to pay closer attention to my health. Biking is the one thing that is easy to fit into my (sometimes far too busy) schedule.

Biking ShadowsWhat I see when I am bike commuting. A bit of a difference.

There are a few things I have learned that make biking easier, no matter how large or small you may be. First of all, leggings, tights and a cotton camisole will become your best friends. Skirts are amazing to bike in, but only with leggings to provide some coverage and comfort. A good camisole can also serve as your base layer. If you are like me and have to switch shirts when you get to work, because biking more than a mile or two means you will sweat, no matter how hard you try not to. A good cotton camisole means you can change shirts easily, no cramped bathroom or private office required.

Second, a good local bike shop is absolutely invaluable. I ride a Kona AfricaBike, which is a three-speed cruiser bike with a basket, a step-through frame, and a covered chain. Over the years, I have ended up replacing the rim, adding a back rack, adding panniers, and switching out the bike seat. Two local bike shops have helped me get the bike adjusted, sized, and repaired time and time again. They never flinch when I bring in my bike with the latest weird problem, they just do their best to fix it. I’ve never once had a local bike shop make me feel “fat.”

Bike Style has no size. Being a fat girl and a bike commuter at the same time means that I face some interesting challenges, but those challenges are worth solving.

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16 Comments to "Fat Girl on a Bike"

  1. jaspenelle2 says:

    I just wanted to say that as the person who got me back on my bike in the first place and is more then willing to “talk shop” about it with me when I have problems, you are a complete inspiration to me and a cycling superhero in my eyes Andrea.

    (Also, I biked in a skirt for the first time today and you were right, it was not nearly as horrifying as I had the mental image that it was going to be.)

  2. ceceev says:

    I too am a large woman on a bike,.I weight 226 pounds,. Actually I am in a race on Saturday and w ill be racing against someone who is 100 pounds and another woman about 160. Of course the race is a lot of uphill…. these hips do not want to go up hill! LOL!. I am really racing against myself and going to race against my old self-limiting beliefs when I was 356 pounds. If you want the back story you can go to http://www.cece-steppingbeyond.blogspot.com

  3. Rock on, Andrea! I find it hard not to be self-conscious when I’m surrounded by straight-sized cyclists, but my heart leaps with joy whenever I see another woman who looks like me out on her bike. Thank you for making your voice heard, and thank you Barb for giving Andrea a sounding board.

  4. ceceev says:

    I came in third in the time trial. First place weighed in at 105 pounds….and beat me by 20 minutes…..2nd place weighed 180 and beat me by 8 minutes…then there was me! I had a difficult but rewarding day on the bike. Wish these races had “athena women” categories too! To see the back story, you can go here. http://www.cece-steppingbeyond.blogspot.com

  5. Jenna Emerson says:

    Great post Andrea! I’m so glad to see you’re doing so well — you go, girl!!

  6. Dana says:

    Thank you so much. Just purchased a new bike today and am already feeling healthier. I, too, am of size and appreciate the kind LBS owner who assisted me & my husband today. Cab’t wait to read more of your posts.

  7. Devi says:

    Thank you so much! I too am a large girl. I was a former skinny girl that due to an injury, and too much self loathing an pity, ballooned up to 260 on my 5,9 frame. I have a great Peugeot and I really want to get back out there, but to be honest I am afraid of people staring at me. Thank you for giving me courage!

  8. Road Holland says:

    A few months ago we were asked by a woman about larger sized Cycling Clothing…. at the time, She was considering buying one of our men’s jerseys and we even considered putting the women’s collar print into the men’s jerseys so that it would still look somewhat feminine. Since we were starting production on our new women’s long-sleeve we made the decision to make the jerseys in larger sizes because it really didn’t sit well for us that options just weren’t out there for larger women who wanted stylish jerseys (made for them!).

    Right now our Harlingen jersey is available in sizes XS through XXXL. And unlike many plus size jerseys, our larger sizes are still proportioned to fit the shape of a woman.

    http://roadholland.com/shop/products/The_Harlingen_Road_Black-45-3.html

    I saw that you have written on this topic before, so I wanted to fill you in on what we were up to.

    If you’re not familiar with Road Holland, we’re a 2 year old company based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. We started the company after not being able to find the kind of serious and stylish cycling wear we wanted at a price point which offered good value for the money. Since our founding, we’ve expanded from just 4 styles to 9 and have enlisted a small group of high-end dealers around the country (and 1 in Israel) to stock our jerseys. We make our products in Miami, Florida.

  9. ladyfleur says:

    Have you looked at Zize Bikes http://www.supersizedcycles.com/? They are designed for heavier riders. I’ve never seen or used them, but I thought the concept was smart.

  10. Lluvia says:

    My question, is where on earth do you find fat girl biking clothes? I am not talking all tour de fat here, but I want some cushioned bike shorts/pants and a quality wicking type bike top (long enough to cover the butt when riding, that come in a size 26/28. Any Ideas interwebs?

  11. This question comes up again and again. Bike clothing manufacturers need to get into the act and understand that people who bike come in all sizes and shapes. For wicking and antimicrobial properties that help with the sweat, it’s hard to beat lightweight merino wool unless it’s a really hot day. Plus you get a top you can wear for other purposes besides biking.

    I’ll ask Andrea if she can comment on what she rides in and where she finds bike clothing. Check TeamEstrogen.com to see what size range they carry–woman-owned business.

  12. Rume says:

    Phil – I was there at the opening this wekeend and walked it before that last week. It’s really going to fast become one of the best parts of the city’s parks network – I’m convinced of it. Mike Gridley, the city attorney who used to work for the UP railroad and who knows his way around those big federally entwined organizations is pretty much singlehandedly the reason it is there today. There were a TON of people who were involved financially, volunteer, etc, and they are all huge heroes. But if it weren’t for Mike’s creativity and knowledge of how to get through the bureaucracy the chance to have it wouldn’t have happened. So give him a shout out when you see him (if you do).I’m glad to live nearby, and I totally agree with you that it’s way easier to be comfortable when you’re not worrying about the kids being next to traffic. I also met a gentleman on the trail the other day who is in a motorized wheelchair and lives in the Kathleen Corners apartments right behind Holy Family School. He told me he was literally contemplating trying to find a place closer to the Centennial Trail but now he goes out his back door and he can go for miles uninterrupted (and has).See you on the trail!

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The quest for the intersection of Style and Comfort