Hypocrisy isn't exactly the word I'm looking for†, but there is some inconsistency I can't quite put my finger on in the way overweight people are berated for not exercising and at the same time, not supported in their efforts to start. If you've ever walked into a Sports Authority and realized not a single item of clothing was in your size, or been eyeballed at a gym, you'll know what I mean.
Cycling is a great way to exercise if you're overweight. It's easy on your joints. However, if you want to transition into longer bike rides, the discomforts that are experienced by all bikers will be visited on you threefold. My point is: if you stop having fun, stop. Don't push yourself until your hands are numb and the skin on your rear is broken. Rest and start again when your ailments have healed.
As an overweight cyclist you will be putting more stress on your wrists, rear, and knees. I've made some suggestions for how to handle these pains on the bike touring page. In addition, you should plan your trips to be fun and easy so that you want to ride more and more.
Hills and Wind
After you've climbed a few hills, you will notice that you seem to climb them with more effort than lower-weight people, but you descend the hills with greater speed. I find neither of these fun; once I get up to 20 mph or so, I start to wonder what my brains will look like splattered on the bike path. So that I can go for a long haul, I try to plan trips with gentle or infrequent hills.
Look at a topographical map before you ride to see how many hills you'll be crossing. Or, know your terrain. Biking 50 miles in Wisconsin feels like biking 100 in Illinois. Hills make the workout more intense, but they're hard on your knees. I dare say that a longer ride on flat terrain is better for you physically and mentally than a short ride killing yourself over hills.
Check the weather report for wind before you ride. Before I got a speedometer on my bike, I discounted the affect of wind on my bike as a figment of my imagination. Then one day I realized as I was biking into the wind I went about 4 mph slower than when I had a tailwind. Your ride will seem effortless and more fun, but you'll still be getting exercise. One option is to get a ride or take public transportation directly into the wind and ride back with a tailwind.
Saddle sores are cysts in the saddle area that can be painful and deep under the skin. They come from clogged pores, ingrown hairs, and chafing. I mention these because you can bike for quite a few years before you hear anything about them, and then it's probably because you already have them. As overweight people already have enough body issues, it's easy to see these as some sort of punishment from God. Don't panic, serious bikers get them. To prevent them, wear biking shorts, use an anti-chafing product like Body Glide. Wash your shorts after every ride with soap or detergent and hot water. Scrub your saddle area after every ride with soap and hot water, but not hard enough to scratch or chafe the skin. Hot baths are good too.
I found some posts on the Team Estrogen forums that recommended laser hair removal. Some recommended shaving, but for others shaving just caused ingrown hairs. They also recommended using the sort of donut-shaped pads used for corns, in gel rather than foam, to put over a saddle sore so that you could continue riding.
Support companies that make quality clothing for overweight people. Vote with your dollar.
It seems like many companies think that people over a certain size need only 100% cotton workout clothes, which fill with sweat, get heavy, make your skin wet and chafed, and don't cool effectively. My impression is that it is more difficult for women to get larger-sized workout clothes, because some bulky body types are considered athletic in men (like linebackers.)
- Women's Extended Sizes at REI
- Aero Tech Designs Cycling Shorts sell "Big Man" and "Plus Woman"
Aero Tech Review: I ordered two pair of Womens Pro Plus Cycling shorts. They appear to be of excellent quality. Sizing was consistent with other plus sizes I've used in the past. The crotch chamois is smooth and the compression feels good. I was a little disappointed at first, because when I took one pair out for the first test ride, I noticed a one inch tear in one of the leg seams. However, Aero Tech exchanged them no questions asked. They sent me a pair within a few days with a return envelope so I didn't have to pay shipping for the exchange. So, I can say that their customer service is excellent as well. They are labeled as machine washable, which I also like. I'll post another update after I've worn and washed them a few times.
Update (12/8/2011): I've had these shorts for several years now, and they have held up well. I don't wear them constantly, and I bought 3 pairs to rotate, so my several years of use may equal your one year. Still, I will buy them again. They haven't frayed or fallen apart and they feel good on the bike.
- Team Estrogen Plus Size Clothing (women)
- Terry Bicycles (women)
- Sheila Moon†† (women)
- Sierra Trading Post†† Sort of an outlet store for outdoor and athletic clothing, which sometimes carries plus-size items.
My Dad, a life-long bonafide athlete, highly recommends recumbent bikes. He says he'll never go back to a standard bike. These are the bikes that you sit in like a chair, with your feet sticking out in front of you. They take all of the pain out of biking. You are sitting in a chair-like seat, and you don't put weight on your wrists. The only problem is that they can be impractical for biking in the city. They are more difficult to bring to a stop and they are too low for cars to see easily. But, they are great on bike trails. I have a recumbent stationery bike in front of my TV so I can bike all year round.
Update (12/8/2011): I have made the switch. I now ride a recumbent tricycle. I enjoy cycling more than ever! No saddle sores, no sore wrists. The bike I chose is a Catrike Road. Recumbent tricycles are more expensive than conventional bikes, so I bought mine used off Craigslist.
The other thing I love about the recumbent trike is that I can't fall off. I have moved to Madison, Wisconsin in the last few years, and the bike traffic here is pretty heavy. Sometimes I have to break suddenly to avoid a hotdogger. The trike stops on a dime and I can't tip over. This sort of ride would be great for someone new to biking. It's also ideal for an individual with balance problems, which I sometimes experience on my own two feet!
My boyfriend went for a lower-priced trike, the Sun X3 AX. It looks like a chopper motorcycle, and when we pass kids on the bike trails they always exclaim "Cool bike!" He also bought his on Craigslist which saved him quite a bit of money. You'll notice that his bike looks like a more traditional bike, whereas mine looks sort of weird with the two wheels in the front. His is called a "delta" style trike and mine is called a "tadpole" style.
I recommend a white or silver helmet with lots of air holes and a light colored top. I wouldn't recommend going on long rides shirtless, because you may sweat off the sunscreen and be more uncomfortable the next day with a bad burn. But then, I burn within minutes, so your mileage may vary.
It can be tempting to go without a helmet because it makes you feel hotter. After doing some admittedly unscientific research of the effectiveness of bike helmets on the internet, I have concluded that the jury is still out. I tend to be of the school that if you get hit by a car, you're probably screwed regardless of whether you are wearing a helmet. As a compromise, on long rides I usually wear a helmet in traffic, and take it off to cool off when I'm on off-road bike paths.
Biking with Groups
It's only fair that the gear being toted is distributed in inverse proportion the the fitness or weight of the group members.
† Mike P. suggests "cognitive dissonance."
†† Also suggested by Mike P. and spouse.