Is exercise a chore? Do you think “drat, I’ve got to go to the gym” Is it boring? When we were kids, we didn’t drag ourselves through exercise, we played. We had fun. For me, the key to sticking with an exercise program is for it to be something fun, something to look forward to. Something that in itself is a reward.
Bicycling does it for me. The sensation of speed, the freedom of covering long distances under my own power, the pride of getting stronger and faster are all more powerful than my overall loathing of exercise.
This diary is important to me. I'm overweight. After losing weight years ago when I first discovered cycling, I gained weight back and I weighed 261 pounds last May. I'm down almost to 191. Through careful, healthy eating and enthusiastic exercise, I've lost almost 70 pounds. I still have a long way to go.
I realize that this diary is a bit frivolous, when public employees in Wisconsin and across the nation need our support. This diary is long, and it doesn't begin to cover all the questions it should. But I hope it helps.
Many overweight people are hesitant to get on a bike. When I got my first bike as an adult, I weighed over 260 pounds. Here’s the stuff that ran through my head:
I’m going to be a fat lady on a bike. I will be a ridiculous spectacle. People will point and laugh. They will shout mean things. They will make gaging sounds because I will gross them out.
Ok, I’ll admit it. It happened. A couple of times. Mostly laughter/rude comments from teenagers. And probably more people responded like that than I ever knew about.
But guess what? It doesn’t hurt that much. Who cares if some brainless teenage boys think I look funny? Who cares about remarks and laughter I can’t even hear? And it doesn’t happen nearly as much as I feared. Honestly, people don’t notice me as much as I think they do.
And probably far more people than I ever knew thought: “Wow, that’s terrific. Good for her!” I know that’s what I think when I see somebody BWOW.
I even worried my weight would be too much for the frame. Though most bikes are designed for riders under 250 pounds, they will hold much more. You might be more likely to blow tires with more weight on the bike, but you won’t crush the bike frame itself.
See my first Intro to Cycling diary about the fear of scary bike shops -- the short answer is, most bike stores are pleased to be helpful and want to earn your business. They will not treat you like a criminal because you're fat. If they do, walk out and go to another shop. Go to a real bike shop, not a chain retailer.
Some readers have already brought up issues of balance. I worried about it a little too. But if you learned to bike as a child, you really will pick up the skill again very quickly. Start off just riding around a flat, open space (church parking lots on weekdays, school parking lots on weekends). Ride for short periods of time, gradually building up your confidence and skills. Ride around the block. Then twice. Then around the whole neighborhood. Build your skills and your confidence at your own pace.
Cruiser bikes, which are designed so you can have both feet on the ground while seated, are a good choice for people with balance concerns. So if you feel off-balance, put a foot down and steady yourself.
Another common fear is having to get off and walk up hills. When you have a good bike and understand how to use the gears, you'll discover that with practice no hill is beyond your power. But until then, there's really no harm in walking up hills. You will not be graded on your performance. But keep coming back to that hill. Keep trying and you will make it to the top and earn the thrilling ride to the bottom.
Fear of falling - I didn’t fall off my bike until I tried clipless pedals for the first time (the kind you click special shoes into). A couple of times I just couldn’t get my shoes out of the pedals and I fell over sideways with the bike on top of me. With regular pedals, it’s pretty easy to put a foot down and catch yourself before you fall.
I had some scrapes and bruises, but it didn’t hurt much, or very long. My helmet protected my noggin. Always wear a helmet!
Another concern is spandex - do you really have to wear those terrible tight shorts? Won’t that make me look even more like a freak? At first, when you’re going on short rides for less than an hour you’ll just need comfortable pants. You’ll want to tie back your right pants leg so it doesn’t get greasy or caught in the chain. I don’t like biking in jeans, even for short distances. They’re not flexible enough and make me chafe in all the wrong places.
When you’re ready for the fun of longer rides of an hour or more, fear not the spandex. Bike shorts are a butt-saver for longer rides. Who wants to have to stop because you’re buttsore? Who wants to have chafing and sores on your butt? Bike shorts are not just spandex, they have special cushioned pads designed to keep your nether regions comfortable.
Yes, a fat person is going to look ridiculous in bike shorts. Many people think skinny people look ridiculous in bike shorts. But it’s important to wear the proper gear for your sport. Would you expect a serious runner to run in flip-flops? A swimmer to train in jeans and t-shirt? A hiker to wear an evening gown? Bike shorts are the appropriate gear for the sport. Wear them with pride.
Your local bike shop may not offer shorts in large enough sizes, but several online retailers (junonia, for example) offer plus-size athletic gear, including bike shorts. Isara has a helpful and amusing blog review of aerotech capri bike shorts.
If you truly feel uncomfortable wearing something so revealing, there are some work-arounds. Women can wear a skirt over bike shorts (and there are some jaunty kilts for men!). There are even special shorts with built-in overskirts (terrybicycles.com has cute ones), but they’re much more expensive than necessary. Any loose, knee-length or shorter skirt will do. I enjoy biking in skirts, because I can hop off my bike and go into shops without feeling self-conscious. Men and women can either buy mountain bike shorts, which have a built-in overshort or wear looser shorts or pants over the bike shorts. I find overshorts can actually increase chafing for me, but I don’t have the sam problem with pants.
Again, a helmet and front and rear lights are important safety equipment and not (in my opinion) optional. I know most of us didn’t grow up wearing helmets for bike riding, but I work on the hypothesis that I only have one head - I need to protect it. Reflectors are not enough. In any kind of dim conditions, turn on your lights so you’ll be more visible.
But if it’s such great exercise and such a great way to lose weight, why did I gain it back? I gained it back because I’m a compulsive overeater, and saw exercise as a rationale to eat whatever I wanted. It didn’t help that my husband could do less exercise, eat more, and not gain weight. If I ate as he ate - having ice cream for dessert, stopping off for coffee and donuts, eating pizza - I gained weight. And because I got in a spiral of self-hatred, blame, and eating to make myself feel better I kept gaining. Gradually, I had less energy for cycling and forgot how fun it was. The pounds piled on.
There is no license to over-eat. No matter how much you exercise. Think about it: do Olympic athletes overeat? Not if they want to remain competitive!
I have friend who is an ultra-runner. She doesn’t just run marathons. She runs 100+ mile races in the mountains. You’d think if anybody could eat anything they wanted, it would be her. But she doesn’t. She’s very careful about what she eats. She was overweight in the past and doesn’t want to slip. So she counts calories and only indulges her secret desire for cake after she’s run a major race.
Another friend was a typical party boy. He loved pizza and beer. He was always hefty, but stayed active. By the time he hit 40, it started catching up to him with threats of diabetes and heart disease. He started biking, and soon became captivated with the sport, quickly moving into a very competitive racing team. But even competitive racing doesn’t grant him permission to go back to unlimited pizza and beer. He’s very careful about what he eats to keep in competitive shape and optimal health.
I hope as I take the weight off this time (queen of yoyos, here!), I will take their example and know I will always need to be careful about what I eat.
Biking is a terrific way to have fun while exercising. If you get regular exercise, you’ll be more successful losing weight and keeping it off. But you must match it with healthy, careful eating.
Second in a series of Introduction to Biking.
Other topics include:
* How to get started if you haven't ridden since you got your driver's license
* BWOW (Biking While OverWeight - Today’s topic!
* Finding the right commuter bike
* Safety and sharing the road
* Panniers, trailers and baskets
* Rails-to-trails movement
* Equipment and repair
* Community rides
* Community issues
* Bike porn
Response to the series has been terrific, and we can look forward to contributions from other very experienced members of the community on such topics as effective cycling and sharing the road, technology and mechanical issues, and ride sharing. Let me know your ideas!