Fat Biking - Creating an Inclusive Community for People of All Sizes on Bicycles

***Extra Special Guest Blog Post***

This week’s post is co-written by myself (Marley) and Kailey Kornhauser, a super-rad fellow fat biker from Oregon. We met on Instagram and presented a session together at the WTF Bikexplorers Summit on Fat Bikers. Hope you enjoy!

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This past weekend was the 2nd annual WTF Bikexplorer Summit in Vernonia, Oregon. We were lucky enough to have our session on Fat Bikers and body size inclusivity in cycling accepted and we presented to a packed house of over 40 people of all shapes and sizes! We covered a lot of ground during our hour long discussion but promised our session attendees that we’d post a list of additional resources on Marley’s blog afterwards.

So for the benefit of those who weren’t able to attend the summit and for those who want to relive the glory that was (including coordinating crop tops), we’ve compiled an overview of our session, including our session outline, handouts, and additional resources. Feel free to scroll down to the Resources section for some great reading lists, Instagrammers to follow, and suggested brands to support.

So much good stuff and so little time- we definitely could’ve talked about this all weekend.

(For real, we will come talk with any bike or outdoor brands who want to discuss this topic more in depth. The average size of a “woman” in the US is now between a 16 and 18, and men average close to 200lbs. Lots of folks who ride bikes also don’t necessarily fall into the rigid gender binary, so how about some non-gender specific gear while we’re at it? Current products and gear don’t work for this HUGE audience and we’d love to help make it better, more functional, safer, and better looking. Get at your girls. Email Marley here, and Kailey here..)

Session Outline

Introductions

Land Acknowledgement

Ground Rules

Written Exercise & Discussion

The Nitty-Gritty: Gear, Equipment & Clothing

Resource List

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Introductions

Kailey Kornhauser likes to ride her bike slowly across long distances. When she isn’t riding her bike to the cinnamon roll shop or grinding some local gravel, Kailey is a forestry PhD student at Oregon State University. Kailey used to think that if she biked a lot she would lose weight. Then Kailey rode her bike a lot and didn’t lose any weight. Finally, she realized that she loved her body, and it turns out you don’t have to be thin to ride bikes. 

Marley Blonsky also likes to ride her bike slowly, but across shorter distances than Kailey. She can often be found bike camping, eating ice cream or playing in the garden. Marley is a sustainability manager for a large logistics company where she helps companies manage their carbon footprints from shipping. Marley rides her bike in Seattle for transportation, fun, and because the bus and car are slow and frustrating.  She is an active transportation activist who wants to see safe, equitable access for all people, regardless of gender, income, race, age, or body size.

Land Acknowledgment: The WTF Bike Summit was held in Vernonia, Oregon, which is on the traditional lands of the Chinook and Clatskanie People. As white people, we felt it was important to take a few minutes at the beginning of our session to recognize that the land we were on was stolen from the indigenous people who lived there previously and the history of colonialism. To learn more about land acknowledgments and whose land you are on, please visit https://native-land.ca/

Session ground rules

Our session started with a community agreement to follow a few ground rules

  1. Fat is not a bad word.

  2. No Diet Talk.

  3. No body shaming.

  4. Beware of coded language.

  5. Celebrate your body for what it can do, not what it can’t.

We took turns going over each of these rules, explaining their importance and getting agreement from the group. We also asked the group if there were any additional agreements they would like to be added before we proceeded, and from there, we were off to the fun part of the talk! 

We also had a quick vocab lesson about the fat spectrum and privilege. Both of us identify as “small fats.” This terminology comes from the Fat Lip podcast where they’ve got a helpful primer on the fat spectrum.

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We both range in size from an 18-22 (XL-2X) depending on brand and garment so for the most part, can walk into stores and find clothes that fit. This includes some athletic wear, but not usually cycling specific wear. We did want to call attention to our privilege in this area, as there are SuperFat people and InfiniFat people who cannot walk into any store, let alone REI, Target, or order clothing online and have it fit, even from the plus size department. 

Reflection/Discussion Questions

Kailey then led a reflective writing and discussion session that asked session participants to think critically the following questions: 

  • What do you love about your body?

  • When do you feel limited by your body?

  • How can you be an ally to people of all sizes as a leader in the WTF bike community?

  • Riding a bike is a physical activity - there is no getting around that and there are some very real limitations for people in a larger body, or who have disabilities/chronic illnesses, etc. How can we create spaces that are welcoming and accessible to all that allow anyone who wants to to enjoy the fun/freedom/power experience of riding a bicycle?


Talking candidly about these tough topics felt so powerful, healing, and honest. We unfortunately only had an hour for the entire session and had some other topics (like gear and clothing) to get to but discussions definitely continued the rest of the weekend. 

Candid conversations about our bodies on bikes

Candid conversations about our bodies on bikes

Gear & Resource List

General gear & Personalize Recommendations

Before preparing for our WTF session, we had not thought extensively about weight limits, partially because we are small fat people, but also because the industry doesn’t talk about these limits. 

It can be challenging to find many of the structural weight limits on bicycle company websites. This article by Peggy Hughes explains how to determine your own weight, gear weight, total weight, and the structural weight limit a bike can support. Hughes also talks about bike wheel weight limits in depth. She explains that while structural weight limit of the bicycle itself is important, wheels often have an even more restrictive weight limit. Bikers in larger bodies may want to consider wheels with strong rims and a higher amount of spokes. Other things to take into consideration are bike frame material (steel vs carbon vs aluminum), component material (including the seat post), and options to switch out the stock components for comfort.

Additionally, Specialized provides an example of what to look for when searching bike manufacturer pages for structural weight limits. Many structural weight limits (rider plus cargo) are somewhere between 240-300 pounds. Take a look here for a good overview of structural weight limits for many brands. 

Another factor to consider is the rate at which a fat cyclist will go through components. For instance, cyclists in larger bodies may wear out brake pads or pedals at a faster rate. Besides costing more, this does not pose much of a problem, but who wants to pay more when it feels like being fat already costs more?! However, fat cyclists may want to consider keeping extra components on hand to save themselves a trip to a bike shop. 

Kailey leads discussion at the Summit

Kailey leads discussion at the Summit

Our Specific Gear

Kailey 5’2 Size 1XL-3XL tops, XXL or 18-20 bottoms

Bibs:

  • Pearl iZumi Women’s Pursuit Attack Bib up to size XXL (I like it because the straps clip in between your boobs, the length of the leg is nice and doesn’t run up, the chamois is thick)

  • De Marchi Women’s Leggero Bib Short up to XXL (They are shorter than the Pearl iZumi and I do get a thigh muffin-top from them but it isn’t uncomfortable, they have a thinner chamois and have continued to be a go to for longer tours)

  • Terry Breakaway Shorts up to XXL (I stayed away from shorts for my first few years of riding because I thought they would cut into my stomach or always be falling down but they actually are the comfiest bike bottoms I have, medium thickness chamois, pretty short compared to my bibs but again it feels comfortable)

 Jerseys:

I mostly wear T-shirts when I ride, simply because it is a preference. I have found some XXL jerseys (Pearl iZumi), they usually ride up for me and I don’t use the pockets anyways 

 Sports Bra: 

Everyone is different but for me the Lane Bryant Wicking High Impact Molded Underwire Sports Bra was a game changer. 

Bikes: 

  • Specialized Diverge (structural weight limit is 240, I may well be over that limit but have not had issues after about 2,000 miles of riding) 

  • Surly Troll (no weight limit) says f f f fatties fit fine on the fork, indicating that the bike can fit fat tires but I like to think it’s talking about me

Saddle:

I am very fortunate in that I have liked the saddles that have come on both of these bikes. I especially like the Women’s Myth Expert by Specialized

Bikepacking gear:

I’m unable to fit my underwire sports bra in any of my revelate bags so I strap it to the outside of the handlebar roll bag and it works great! 


Marley  5’2 Size 1XL-3XL tops, XXL or 18-20 bottoms (we’re basically the same person)


Bottoms: This totally depends on the season and purpose for biking for me. When commuting or going shorter distances in the winter, I’ll wear cotton leggings or fleece tights(because they don’t make plus size wool leggings), or jeggings. In the summer, I’ll wear a dress most days. 


When I’m bike touring, I have a pair of Novara XXL leggings I love that are sadly no longer being made, but I will wear them until they are threadbare. I also have a pair of Terry 2X shorts that are alright. The pickings are slim and I’ve basically decided I won’t be cute on bike tour.


Tops: I don’t wear bike jerseys. They weren’t made for people with large breasts and curves. Instead I wear normal tops or dresses. I’ve recently been wearing a lot of Columbia base layers on tour because they layer well and protect from the sun. 

Bikes: I ride a 42cm 650b Surly Straggler with a Brooks B17 saddle. It’s strong and has been my go-to bike for nearly every adventure for almost five years. I recently bought a Marin Pine Mountain 1 for mountain biking which is a fun bike, but it’s a bit too large for me. 


Bikepacking/camping gear: I’ve found that as a fat woman, my clothes take up more space than my smaller friends. I’ve tried using the Ortlieb frame bags/butt rocket system but found that I like using the old school pannier system better. For a sleep system, I use the REI Joule bag, which is a tight fit around my hips, but it works for now. If I was a size or two bigger, this sleeping bag would not work for me. 

Brands we Love & Support*

SheBeest - up to 3xl

SuperFit Hero - up to 5XL

RSport (triathalon specific, but has padded chamois for cycling)- Up to 6X

Eddie Bauer - Up to 3X

REI - Up to 3X (not necessarily in cycling/performance gear)

SportivePlus - up to 5X (Canadian brand)

Prana - Up to 3x (we’re both wearing their stuff in the first photo!)

*We’re not making any money off of these brands…no affiliate links. But if any brands (ESPECIALLY BIKE brands want some fat people to test gear, we’re here for it!)

Fat Outdoor Resources

Fat Activism Resources

  • Some fat history: 1967 first “fat-in” in Central Park, over 500 in attendance, protesting and burning diet books, 1969 National ASsociation to Advace Fat Acecptance was founded and still exists today, 1972 The Fat Underground formed by radical fat lesibians 

  • She's all Fat Podcast

  • The Fat Lip Podcast

  • Facebook Groups: Fat Girls Traveling, Fat Girls Hiking, Big Girls Climb Too

Coordinating Crop tops!

Coordinating Crop tops!

I went Mountain Biking!

We’re talking real deal, single-track, flow trail, front-suspension bike mountain biking! I know it sounds crazy and that’s because it absolutely was. But it was so much fun and I can’t wait to go again.


My new bike - the Marin Pine Mountain 1

My new bike - the Marin Pine Mountain 1

It all started with the WTF Bike Explorers Summit back in August. I took a CX Bike, the Masi CXGR bike that is on loan to me from Masi Bike. Even though I got the smallest frame they make, I still had to frankenstein the heck out of this bike to get it to fit me – putting a 650b wheel on the front with a big tire, leaving the 700c tire on back, shortening the stem. It still wasn’t great, but it was good enough to ride some trails (or so I thought.)

I totally thought this bike was more than sufficient for bikepacking (and it was), but I was immediately super jealous of everybody else’s setups. They had big squishy tires, lots of clearance, and suspension. Most folks were riding hardtail mountain bikes with front suspension and flat bars and loving it.

For some reason I was convinced that they didn’t make bikes like this to fit me. But here at the Summit were lots of other small people making it happen. Holy shit, there is a rad adventure bike out there for me, I just need to find it! And so the search was on.

Turns out, the search didn’t take very long at all.

Once I got back into town, I put the word out that I was looking for a hardtail bike. Through an online bike forum, I was pointed to a local shop that was blowing out all of their inventory to make room for winter gear. All of their bikes were 40%, making the bike I was interested in $700 – practically an unheard of price for this bike.

True confession time: I bought the bike after a five minute test ride, before ever really going mountain biking. At this point, I hadn’t even been on any beginner trails or taken a class. This could turn out to be a really dumb purchase, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

After more mansplaining than I needed about bike fit, I bought the bike and took it home. It then sat in my apartment for 3 weeks before I got up the courage to use it.

My first ride on it was at Duthie Hill Park. I’ve heard about Duthie for years now but never made it out there now. Holy cow have I been missing out. It is amazing. Beautifully built trails (well, the one I went on repeatedly was beautiful, but I’m assuming the others are as well), great signage, and easy to access.

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As an absolute beginner,  I rode the Bootcamp trail twice, which is the easiest trail there. It’s a one-way cross-country style trail, with lots of berms and turns. According to the stats, it’s 0.9 miles long, with 64’ of ascent and -69’ of descent.

Even though I had no clue what I was doing from a technical standpoint, I had a lot of fun. It was exhilarating to feel a rush of adrenaline from biking again. I can’t even remember how many years it’s been since I felt that!

The following weekend I went with a bunch of friends to Leavenworth, Washington to an out-of-town cyclocross race. I’ve only actually raced once, at Single Speed World Series PDX in 2016, but I still love hanging out and being cross-adjacent. This year, our group of friends rented a house in Leavenworth and spend Saturday mountain biking and Sunday racing/cheering our friends. With my new bike, I could actually join them for the mountain biking!!  

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The plan was to do a shuttle system –two people would drive us all up to the top of Tumwater mountain, then one person would meet us at the bottom and run a second car back up to the top. The thinking was that this would let us get a whole bunch of runs in on some of the most awesome trails in Washington.

Turns out things don’t always go according to plan.

The drive up to the top of the mountain took much longer than anticipated. Like 2 hours longer. One care even bailed on the way up and 4 riders rode half the way up. Not the worst idea and they made it up in the same time as the car.

Once we made it up and reassembled bikes, we got some last minute mountain bike tips from more experienced riders. I learned to put my weight back, brake lightly, and let some air out of my tires. Ooh yeah squishy time.

Finally, we were off to ride.

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Our group of ten varied greatly in skill, from my total newbie status to way more advanced riders on full suspension bikes. To not hold up the entire group, we split into a few groups, agreeing to meet up periodically on the way down, mainly before big turns.

I was by far the slowest in the group, but I went at a pace that I was comfortable with, especially given the advanced nature of the terrain we were on. (The trails we were on ranged between a Blue and Green rating, but they were technically the most difficult I’ve done.) For reference, we rode Freund Canyon and For the Boys (stupid stupid name.)

For some of the advanced riders, I think these trails were probably really easy and an opportunity to practice getting high on the berms. For me, it was heart-pounding, holy-shit I’m going-to-die-any-minute if I make a wrong turn kind of fun.

 As we progressed down the mountain, I learned to trust my instincts on the bike, trust the bike, and had a lot more fun. Going up and over little features was a blast, and I definitely see the appeal of mountain biking. Needless to say, we only went down once and retrieved the car later.

The variety of terrain we went through was striking – one minute it felt like we were riding through an alpine meadow and the next we were on a berm on the side of a mountain about to fall off. We rode through burned out forest sections and onto the side of a ski hill. It was fascinating and made me super curious to do more.

Overall, I’m incredibly happy with my purchase and can’t wait to do more. I have yet to load it up for bikepacking, but am confident that it will do the job.

No Fatty Left Behind - WTF Bikexplorer Summit Breakout Session

If you follow me on social media, you’re probably very aware that I spent the last week at the WTF Bikexplorers Summit in Whitefish, Montana. I’ve been gushing about this thing for months and now that it’s come and gone and been one of the best weeks ever, I have a lot to say about it!

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Hoo goodness, where to even start?! I don’t think I can even begin to write up my experiences of the week, as I could do a whole post on the food, my new friends, the Whitefish Bike Retreat facilities, the sessions, and the cool bikes that weren’t mine.

(To get an idea of other folks’ experiences at the summit, check out the hashtag #shredthepatriarchy on Instagram, especially those tagged at Whitefish Bike Retreat.)

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Instead, I’m going to write about the breakout session I facilitated on Saturday morning, “Creating Size Inclusive Spaces & Communities (aka No Fatty Left Behind.”)

First, an acknowledgement. As a white cis-gendered woman, I have a position of privilege in the bike community (even though sometimes it feels like I don’t.) As a blogger with a decent sized audience, I have a responsibility to use this privilege to help break down the systems of oppression, including racism, transphobia, colonialism, ageism, sizeism, fatphobia, and a bunch of other isms to make the bike industry more welcoming and supportive to all. To that end, I will call out injustices when I see them and may end up calling out brands/friends/colleagues in this process. Hopefully we can all be in this together and get better together to make the entire industry more welcoming, positive, and supportive for all.

I was really really really nervous to suggest this as a topic for breakouts. I didn’t think it would be well-received or that people would come. For one, I was one of maybe 2 or 3 visibly fat people there. But after I announced the topic at dinner, I had upwards of ten people come up to me and thank me for bringing up the topic. And while in the end, the session wasn’t super well attended (which is totally cool because there were so many other important conversations happening at the same time), the discussion we did have was really freaking beautiful and inspiring and affirming.

The name and inspiration for my session was taken from a hiking group that I joined this spring, Fat Girls Hiking. Fat Girls Hiking is a body-positive community group that goes on group hikes that are welcome to all genders, all sizes, and all skill levels. They host a number of hikes across the US where people of all body sizes and shapes are encouraged to join, where nobody is too slow or too fat.

From my involvement with this group, I have seen the joy and inspiration that has come from being with a truly inclusive community that is size inclusive. I firmly believe that the biking community could learn a lot from these best practices, so my breakout session was an attempt to spread some of these ideas and to have a dialogue with other leaders in the biking community about how to do this.

As I’ve discussed before, there are some very real challenges to being a bigger person on a bike, including finding a bike, clothing choice, and finding people to ride with. One additional challenge is the fear of acceptance – will the people I want to ride with accept me? Will they drop me? Will I be able to keep up? Will I be the slowest person? On and on….

As ride leaders (or potential ride leaders), there is a lot we can do to help newer or less confident riders who may have larger bodies feel welcome at our rides, on our teams, and in our shops (or in our community spaces.)  Actually, these tips go for everyone – we all have body insecurities and these tips will go a long way towards making everyone feel a lot more comfortable.

Setting Group Expectations

I like to think that these are general best practices for all groups, but at this point, nothing surprises me.

  • Set a pace for the ride and stick to it. If you say on your event that you’re going to be going 10-12 mph with regroups after hills, go 10-12 mph and actually regroup.
  • Have a sweeper at the back of the group. This rider should know where the group is going, have some mechanical skills and be a friendly person to encourage anybody who gets dropped to finish out the ride.
  • Consider having 2 pace groups for larger rides or those with varying speeds. Start/end at the same spot but perhaps the faster group does more hills.
  •  Let the slowest person set the pace. Confirm they’re ok with this, but it can make for a fun change of pace.
  • Publicize the route ahead of time so folks can preview it and plan ahead for any hills or breaks if necessary.
  •   It’s ok to ask participants to refrain from diet talk, body shaming, and weight loss talk

Swag, Team Kits & Industry Influence

  •  If you are in charge of ordering team kits, make sure a large range of sizes are available. If you’re unsure what sizes are needed, ask people! Fat people know what size we need – it’s ok to ask us!
  •   Order from and support brands that are size inclusive. Perhaps before ordering, ask a company if they carry plus-size apparel, even if you don’t need it. If they don’t, consider asking them why.

There was a ton of other great conversation and discussion that happened. Unfortunately, my brain is on overload and I forgot a bunch of it. I would love to hear your thoughts about any and all of this, and any suggestions you might have for how we can be a more supportive community.

Xoxo,

Marley