The Fat Girl’s Guide to Cycling

20 Aug 09 - Sports + Recreation - Toni - 15 Comments

If your answer to “When’s the last time you rode a bike?” is “childhood,” this is the guide that will help you feel like a kid again.

Why is cycling great for fat girls? “Because it’s not a weight-bearing activity, bicycling is a wonderful way to get into an exercise routine without stressing out your knees or hips,” says Georgena Terry, founder of Terry Precision Cycling, a company that designs bikes and accessories to fit women’s bodies.

For those completely new to bicycling, look for a local shop that offers lessons for adults, like The Bicycle Riding School near Boston or the Bay area’s Velo Girls.™ Check with a local cycling club or fitness center to see if they can offer recommendations for reputable shops or private instructors. As for what style of bike to get, there’s no need to break the bank on ultra-light performance bikes. “A hybrid style bike, with a straight bar and wider tires helps with the feeling of security and comfort that is so critical for beginning riders,” says Terry. ” The bike should feel like part of your body — you’re the one in control, not it.”

Whether you’re a newbie or nervous about getting back on a bike after years or decades away, start small and keep things simple. Terry suggests starting out on flat surfaces and trying 20-30 minute rides, gradually building up to longer rides on more challenging terrain. Look for local “rails-to-trails” or similar bike-friendly paths. “Beginning riders often feel safer since they don’t have to cope with traffic,” says Terry. Before heading out, practice in an empty parking lot to get used to the feel of starting, stopping and turning.

Terry addressed one burning (ahem) issue: coping with a sore bottom after those first couple of rides. “Every new cyclist has experienced this problem,” she says. ” Some of this is due to the need to get accustomed to the saddle (seat) and some can be due to a poorly fitting bicycle or saddle. Wearing proper cycling shorts with padding in them can really help.” If your sore backside isn’t better after a few rides, look into your fit on the bike (leaning too far forward can put pressure on sensitive areas).

On the subject of bike seats, unless your bike is really old or really cheap, you should be able to buy one that feels right for your body. When it comes to saddles, bigger and softer isn’t always better. “It’s like sinking into a really plush sofa,” says Terry. “It feels great at first, but after a while, you just can’t get comfortable.” Look for woman-specific seats, which are a bit wider and shorter than those for men. For cushioning, gel is the way to ride because it absorbs road shock and dissipates pressure. Remember not to go overboard: “A saddle with gel where your sit bones touch the saddle is perfect,” says Terry. Saddles with holes in them – like these, first patented by Terry Precision Cycling,  are typically better than those without because the hole also takes pressure off sensitive areas.

Have someone at a bike shop adjust your saddle and your fit on your bike; even small tweaks can make a big difference. Terry says the saddle should be level when viewed from the side and from the top it should point straight ahead, not canted to one side or the other. As for your positioning on your bike, too low to the ground (which feels safer to many riders) means pressure on your knees and a less efficient ride. “Beginners can cheat a bit and lower it some so you can at least have your toes touching the ground,” says Terry, but the ultimate goal is to raise the saddle so your leg has a very slight bend in it at the bottom of a pedal stroke.

Before hitting the road, trail or path, keep these safety considerations in mind when cycling:

* Wear bright clothing!

*Helmets can be a touchy subject for some; because they protect one of your body”s most valuable assets, we at FGG highly recommend them. Here’s a summary of state and local laws regarding bike helmets.

* Ride defensively.  Plan for the unexpected and assume that cars do not see you, and carry a cell phone and ID in the event of an accident.

* Remember that in most states, you’re expected to follow the rules of the road, so ride on the right, signal your turns and come to a full stop at stop lights and stop signs.

If you don’t yet own a bike or want to find a new one, check out Terry’s tips on finding the right bike for you.  To learn more about Terry Precision Cycling (major kudos to them for their line of plus size apparel!), check out TerryCycling.com, and connect with Terry via Twitter or her blog.

If you cycle, tell us about your experiences, tips and tricks, and share your fearless cycling photos in our FGG flickr group. If you’ve been wanting to get on (or back on) a bike, what are you waiting for? Get out there and try it – just be sure to come back and tell us how it went!

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emily says:

Thanks toni for the feedback- yep, have a tire gauge- will try it out! I have noticed some places online who sell bicycles targeted towards “larger frames” but wondered if that was a marketing gimmick or if the “regular” bicycles were inadequate in some way. Love the blog!

Toni says:

Emily & Becky – I’ve got feelers out to find your answers to this question. I’ll share a bit of what I do in case it’s helpful:

Emily, I do notice a distinct difference between inflation to the touch vs. when I get on my bike (I ride a hybrid bike w/knobby tires and weigh around 230). Do you have a tire pressure gauge? Note the max tire pressure on your tires (it should be listed in raised print right on the tires) and avoid going above that so you don’t get a blowout.

More on this in a separate update post–great questions!

Becky says:

I’m wondering the same thing as Emily. I don’t want walking/running/hiking to be the only outdoor exercise I can do easily.

Emily says:

I won a new bike at my company picnic and I’d love to ride it, but I’m extremely afraid of breaking it (or popping all the tires) at my weight!!! I can’t figure out if the tires flattening out when I sit on it are because they’re not inflated fully (they feel like it to the touch) or if it’s because I’m too big for it! How do I figure that out?

Tee says:

Michelle: I double dog dare you to go out and buy a bike this weekend. Check Craigslist. Comfortable, used, nothing fancy. I picked mine up for under $200. I’ve seen them for as low as $25 bucks.

Toni says:

YESSS. I challenge and encourage you to make it so. I really think, especially given what we’re all about here at FGG, that moving past fears of how others might perceive us is crucial, especially when it comes to unadulterated fun. :)

Michelle says:

I know, right? Adding to my psychosis is my fanatical road biking neighbor.

I’m thinking 2010 might be the year of the bike for me.

Toni says:

All right, you two. This needs to not be a thing. Stat.

Michelle says:

“Fat girl on a bike” thing? OH YEAH. It’s half the reason I don’t own a bike… silly, but… yanno, a lot of my hang ups are admittedly silly.

Toni says:

I will hold you to that vow and rally our readers to join the challenge. I’ll post a pic or two of me riding, too.

You know, I’ve never once considered about the “fat girl on a bike” thing; I wonder if other women worry about that? That’s a hurdle I could address in a follow-up post. I love it so much and it’s one way I can actually glide, and have grace, power, and speed given my injured ankle that I never care who’s watching and when I see anyone on a bike, my default response is, “Awesome! Good for them!” I’m tucking this away for a future post w/pics of us cycling and input from readers we get on this guide.

On the soreness: it’s always gone away for me after that first ride of the season.

Tee says:

Alright, I am vowing in front of all the world to get on my new (last year!) Twiggy bike before the summer is officially out.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3005/3048654960_5d69625e78.jpg

I admit I’ve been afraid of butt soreness, but I’ve also been hesitant to draw attention to myself: “hey, fat girl on a bike!”

But if I do it, I expect everybody else reading to try it too!