Mindie Burgoyne biking at Rumbly Point
Travel USA

Can Fat Girls Ride Bikes?

Can overweight women – fat girls – ride bikes?

Assateague Island National Seashore - Chincoteague Virginia
Assateague Island National Seashore – Chincoteague Virginia

YES.  In this post, I’ll admit to being overweight and out of shape and tell you what others are too embarrassed to put in print about themselves.  I’m grateful for the handful of overweight women bloggers who guided and encouraged me with their posts on biking … and helped me to discover that fat girls can ride bikes.

The Right Bike Makes All the Difference

The yellow bike in the image above is my Trek, Shift 1 bike that I purchased five years ago when I was wondering if fat girls could ride bikes. 

I found the best information about choosing a bike came from my local bike shops.  I stopped in at 4 different shops on the Delmarva Peninsula.

The guy at Easton Cycle and Sport said he was confident that I could easily ride a bike.  Then he showed me the TREK Shift 1 model he had in stock.  He explained the benefits of a hybrid-comfort bike – and this bike in particular.  Then I asked him about bike racks for the car and he gave me another great lesson on how to transport bikes and tips for riding amid the stress of automobile traffic.  I didn’t buy anything that day, nor did I test ride a bike, because I was in my work clothes. But I had that TREK Shift 1 on my mind.

Then I went into ON the Rivet Cycle and Sport in Cambridge and spent 30 minutes getting encouragement and suggestions from the store’s owner. They are more of a bike servicing shop, but the information I received was invaluable.  He also touted the TREK Shift 1 as a good first bike for me.

ASKING THE EXPERTS AT MY LOCAL BIKE SHOPS AND TAKING A TEST RIDE

I also learned that bike shop people are the friendliest people in the world. I found almost everyone very supportive of my fat girl initiative.  They were so encouraging. 

I decided to test drive the TREK Shift 1 and buy it if I could balance myself on it.  I called the bike shop nearest my home (Salisbury, MD).  The lady on the phone (wife of the owner) said that she had a TREK Shift 1 in stock and that she thought it would be fine for a woman of about 200 lbs.  I told her I was on my way in.  When I got there, the salesman continued to encourage me to choose the TREK Shift 1.  But the shop owner’s wife said that the parking lot was still wet from an earlier rain and she was worried that the bike might get splashed.  She was not helpful, not supportive and grumpy. She said “no” to the test ride.  I thanked her and left the store.  But I was still not discouraged. 

Trek Shift 1 - Big Annemessex River - Marion Station MD
Trek Shift 1 – first day of ownership.

From the parking lot of that store, I searched other nearby bike shops on my iPhone.  It was 4:00 in the afternoon on a Friday and most shops closed at 5 pm.  I found Continental Cycles in Ocean Pines (30 miles from where I was) who had a TREK Shift 1 in stock and the guy on the phone said he’d not only let me test ride it that day, but he’d stay open until I got there.

I arrived in 30 minutes and he had the TREK Shift 1 all set out and polished for me …. ready for the test ride.  I hopped on and fell in love as I pedaled around the parking lots.  I came back in the store and purchased the bike, a helmet, a rack for the back with carrying bag, and a basket for the front.  I can’t say enough about the great service Continental Cycles.

 

Since that day I have cycled with girlfriends more fit than I and they are often huffing and puffing on their big, heavy bikes while I breeze along. The Trek Shift, was the right bike for me. 

Trek no longer makes the Shift series, but a similar bike – lightweight hybrid for women – is the Trek Verve 2 Women’s bike for $469. 

 

A WEALTH OF INFORMATION ABOUT CYCLING IS ONLINE

So I turned to Google and began looking at what other women did.  Who were the successful fatties riding bikes?  How far did they usually go?  What kind of bike was best?  What kind of equipment did they use?  How long is the average bike trip?  5 miles?  2 miles?  10 miles?  How many gears would I need and how do they work? <–still figuring this one out.

I discovered a few things.  Biking is less stressful than walking when it comes to pain in the feet and knees. This was good news.  I also discovered that fat girls can ride bikes, but the kind of bike one chooses is key.  There are recreational bikes, mountain bikes and road bikes (and many subsets of these).

Travel Hags on the Oxford / St. Michaels Trail
Travel Hags on the Oxford / St. Michaels Trail

SHOW ME YOUR BIKE  #showmeyourbike

Road Bikes are the most commonly seen bikes in stores these days.  They have thin tires, large wheels and are lightweight.  They are designed for riding on pavement.  If you live in an area with lots of paved bike trails or if you don’t mind sharing the road with cars, this is a good choice. These are the bikes for serious cyclists — like the ones with those stretchy outfits that go mega-fast on the roads, and sign up for those Iron Man tours and 100-mile trails. Obviously not for me.

Mountain Bikes have thicker tires and can ride on dirt, gravel, uneven road surfaces as well as smooth road surfaces.  They have good shock absorbers but usually smaller wheels which make them less desirable for the long “paved bike path” type of trail, but excellent for “off-road” type biking.  The biggest hill we have in our region is about 3 feet high.  I can’t see myself as the off-road type.  This wasn’t for me either.

Recreational Bikes are good for folks who want comfort and a bike that is easy to handle.  There are cruisers which do well on flat ground, riding around town, and going short distances.  You often see these at the beach. They have upright handlebars, wide seats (saddles) and sometimes only one gear.  They are made for comfort. 

Hybrid Bikes are another option.  They usually have the comfortable seat and upright handlebars, but also a tire slightly thicker than a road bike tires so non-paved roads are navigable.  They go faster than a mountain bike and have versatility and comfort as priorities.

I learned that a recreational bike  – a cruiser or hybrid would be the best choice for an overweight woman who is taking up biking. But if you wanted to ride outside of city paved roads and take on some hills and trails, a hybrid is probably the best choice.  So the hybrid was for me. 

Trek Verve 2 Women's bike designed for comfort and fun.
Trek Verve 2 Women’s bike designed for comfort and fun.

 

CHOOSING A BIKE

After checking out a slew of articles online about how to choose the right bike, I decided I’d turn to my local bike shops.  Here are three good posts about choosing the style that’s right for you.

REI Bicycles:  How to Choose
Do Fat Women Need Bigger Bikes?
Five Best Bikes for Overweight Females 2018

 

 

Travel Hag, Lisa L. wants to steal my TREK Shift 1. On the Oxford Ferry
Travel Hag, Lisa L. wants to steal my TREK Shift 1. On the Oxford Ferry

 

 

5 TIPS FOR FAT GIRLS WHO START BIKING:

  1. The Hardest Thing About Riding a Bike is starting and stopping.  Getting going can be a dangerous challenge.  Give yourself room.  Actually getting on the bike and starting to pedal takes a bit of maneuvering.
  2. Stopping is also something to practice…  not so much “how to apply the brakes” but what to do with your feet once the bike stops so that you don’t fall over.
  3. Make sure your seat is adjusted to the right height.  Your toes should touch the ground while seated in the saddle (according to my bike shop guy).
  4. Your butt is going to hurt… even if it’s a big butt.  Get yourself one of those wide padded saddles with the shock absorbers or get one a padded cover for the saddle.  This makes a huge difference.
  5. Wind can be as challenging as hills if it’s blowing against you.  It’s similar to rowing against the current in a kayak.

Once you’re on the road peddling away, the experience is invigorating and easy.  If you happen to live in a fabulous landscape like I do the rides can be inspiring.
I found that I loved riding a bike.  Walking seems so boring to me now.  There are so discoveries I made within a few miles of my home, and now there are so many places I want to ride.

Chincoteague Virginia Bike Trail
Travel Hag in training riding in the cart. Nature Trail in Chincoteague Virginia

 

TIPS FOR OLD HAGS WHO WANT TO START RIDING A BIKE

See a doctor first – I had just been to my doctor and talked about various exercise regimes.  I was given the all clear to bike as much as I wanted to.  But balance is an important part of biking, as is bone health and heart health.  It’s smart to consult a physician first.

Get the bike that’s right for you – If you get a bike that is not right for your body or your physical ability, you won’t ride it and will have wasted your money.  Do some research and talk to the folks at your local bike shop.  You’ll get the best advice from the professionals who sell and repair bicycles every day.

Join a local cycling club – Nothing makes a hobby more fun than being able to share it with others.  I have my own group of traveling girlfriends – The Travel Hags – and we bike together.  But finding your own local group can make the biking experience more informative and fun.  Google “cycling clubs [your state]” or ask your local bike shop about cycling groups in your area.

Have fun with mobile apps – I faithfully use Map My Ride as do most of my friends. But sometimes I use Cyclemeter GPS.  It’s a $4.99 app for the iPhone that does everything you want … tracks your route, your elevation, average speed, calorie burn, ride time and even allows posting to Facebook and Twitter.  Another fun app a friend shared with me is Strava for Cycling.  It gives you choices of tested bike routes in any given area.

Stay out of traffic as much as possible – This is my opinion.  In my day job, I drive between 1500 and 2000 miles per month on rural highways and state roads.  The number of drivers I see texting, talking on their phones, searching for music stations or God knows what else – while driving – is astounding.  There are so many distracted drivers on the road.  Drivers think bikers are watching out for them, and bikers think the drivers are watching out for the bikes.  It’s a recipe for disaster. If you are a beginner or someone who is simply biking for the pleasure of it, stay out of automobile traffic as much as possible.  Choose rarely traveled roads or exclusive hiking/biking trails.

Wear a helmet  –  Anything – a large pebble, a small animal, a tire blow out, a simple pothole – can cause you to fall down on a bicycle.  Hitting your head on the ground can cause life-long consequences.   This from the NY Dept of Health says it all.  “When your head hits the ground, your skull stops but your brain continues to travel, crashing against the skull. The impact of the brain against the skull bruises and damages delicate brain tissue. It often results in lifelong changes in the way you think, act, feel and move.  Helmets absorb the shock of the impact, and prevent or reduce the severity of the crash between the brain and skull.” It’s not worth the risk.  Wear a helmet.

Views From My Bike

My first 3 months of riding took me all over Somerset County, Maryland – Marion Station, Rumbly Point, Quindoqua, Shelltown, Upper Fairmount, Rumbly, Frenchtown, and Crisfield.  I also biked the trails at the Assateague National Seashore both on the Maryland and Virginia sides.  And, of course, there was my urban bike excursion at TBEX in Toronto.  In three short months, this fat girl had biked over 1000 miles.  

Fat girls CAN ride bikes.

 

 

 

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

If you like this post, SUBSCRIBE by email for updates (free).

Get the Travel Hag E-Newsletter (Free subscription)

Archives

16 Comments

  1. Nice article. Could just be the angle of the photo but your helmet seems tipped rather far back. Should be parallel to the ground/eyebrows.

  2. Mindie, This is a wonderful writeup to encourage overweight women to begin an exercise program and enjoy the sights while doing so! Thanks!

    • Thanks, Judy. I don’t know if I’d like biking if I lived where you do. I’m loving these flat, no hill roads here myself. But I bet a ride in Berryville would be beautiful. Someday I’m hoping to do the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Georgetown.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this article. I’m 64 and fat with a host of health problems. I’ve needed to find an exercise I can do that will have little impact on my joints. I bought a beach cruiser awhile back but have been terrified to ride it. I’m afraid I’ll fall off or everything will start hurting and I won’t be able to ride or I’ll look so ridiculous that I’ll feel like a fool. But your article makes me realize how easy this will be and I know I won’t regret it. It’s nice to know that fat girls can ride a bike!

    • Stick with it, Eileen. I hope you’ve been on that beach cruiser. I still find biking is low impact and way easier on my feet and joints than walking is. Hope you’re having a wonderful summer.

  4. Thank you for this post! I am 38, a former Marine, out of shape at this time of my life and recently signed up for a 150+ mile Ride to Conquer Cancer in the DC/Baltimore area this September. I committed for many reasons, and I’m nervous for just as many! Reading this made me feel better – that I am not the only Fat Girl trying to break into this sport. Thank you so much for your honesty! Also, maybe by September you would want to join our team? 🙂

  5. Thank you!! I am a fat girl, mother of 3 boys, and wife and have been considering bike riding for exercise and something we can all do together. I live in Easton, so your advice really is valuable!! I will check in again to let you know how this week goes 🙂 Thank you for sharing your experience and giving a fat girl hope!

  6. You’ve come a long way baby! So nice to read– we all learn so many new things–and DO so many new things constantly in life. Often we don’t know we did it! By the way… I’m heading to Toronto in a couple weeks, mainly to see the Bata Shoe Museum (weird “wanna” but it’s been on my short list)… and will also now sign up for that same bike ride!!!
    Linda

  7. Terry Christiani

    Mindie,

    Thank you for a great post. My husband and I got new bikes for the first time in 20 years. Our first real ride was on the Sammamish River Trail (http://www.traillink.com/trail/sammamish-river-trail.aspx) here in Western WA. We did 13 miles round trip and my husband had our granddaughter in a bike seat on the back of his bike. While challenging for a first ride, it convinced us both that we want to keep riding. We are both overweight and out of shape but we still had a wonderful time and are looking forward to our next ride. Cheers!

    • Congrats, Terry. Glad you had a great experience. That trail looks wonderful. I’d love to bike in WA someday. Thanks for stopping by the blog. Keep in touch about your biking excursions.

  8. You crack the hell out of me.. you go girl!! Bike for me no..I like the pool!

  9. This summer was the first time I’d biked in years. It was a bit challenging at first (no one warns you how much your butt will hurt!) but I was surprised by how quickly it got better.

    • So true, Jess ….. true that your butt hurts (big time) and true that it gets easier all the time. Keep biking and thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  10. Mindie, this is a wonderful and important post. I am so happy you wrote it. I will come out and ride with you some lovely time.