Don't Worry! You Don't Have to be Skinny to Ride a Bicycle
There are a lot of myths about weight and cycling. One of the most common and irritating myths is that you have to be skinny to ride a bike. This simply isn't true! In fact, if you're overweight, cycling can actually help you lose weight. Don't waste your time worrying about your weight – just get on your bike and start riding! You'll be happy you did.
Becoming Overweight & How the Bicycle Helped Me Lose 50 Pounds
I left high school as a 6'1", 147 pound 17 year old. When I left high school, cycling sort of took a backseat in my life. Military, college, dating, bars. They all contributed to me putting on a few pounds and losing my interest in getting back on the bicycle. I raced everywhere and anyone I could as a tween and teenager, but by the time I hit 25, I was sporting a hefty 225lbs and working nonstop. Balance and health were definitely not at the top of my list.
Then one day, I connected with some friends on a trail in Orange County. Out on the trail, a mountain bike passed by and I immediately knew I had to give that a try. I went to the closest bicycle shop in Laguna Beach and left with a Specialized Hardrock. I figure that was the mid-90s.
Mountain Biking Hard!
I took it out to the same trail I saw my first mountain bike and in who-knows-what sort of riding gear and definitely flat pedals, tried to ride it from the parking lot to the trailhead and up the trail. I made it maybe a 1/8th of a mile before I was certain my heart was going to explode.
To be honest, that first ride wasn't fun but it was the kick in the pants I needed to remind myself I'd let my health go, and my ability to ride a bicycle or perform anything with significant cardio requirements was seriously compromised.
Just Keep Riding!
I didn't give up. But I also wasn't going to punish myself and I wasn't going to let the person I'd become dictate my level of confidence and grit. I also was determined that on that coastal mountain trail, I was going to enjoy the process of learning to ride in the dirt and to become a healthier version of myself.
I spent weeks on my own. Learning to handle the bicycle in the dirt and ruts. Learning how to be more efficient on the climbs. Picking out cactus from my shins.
Over time I became connected with other riders and that gave me more opportunities to learn and grow. It also gave me a sense of shared experience and friendship. Those last to this day.
Fat Guy Goes Cyclocross Racing
Cut to a few years forward. I've traded out my Specialized for an Ellsworth, bought a Yeti CX bicycle, and even tried to approach my local bicycle shop for a bro deal. (Don't get me started on sponsorships.)
So now I'm ready to race. I'm feeling good. I've shed about 50 pounds from my highest weight (225 down to 175lbs at 6'2"). I'm feeling like I belong in the cycling world. I'm gonna race!
I do my research and find this quirky race thing called cyclocross. Feels in line with my personality. A little odd and full gas for 30-90 minutes. Seems legit. I go to the event on race day. First race since I was a little dude. I'm thinking about how on earth I'm going to dismount and get over those barricades. I hadn't practiced dismounts at all.
I head out to the start/finish line and walk right to the front of the pack lined up. I'm kitted out. Feeling nervous. No friends. 100% solo. But I've known cycling since before it was even a "cool sport" so I feel OK that I'm where I belong.
Now, cyclocross organizers like to have a little thing they call call-ups before each race group. Call-ups are basically your moment in the sun for having performed well in the season or at a previous race. So you get a slightly privileged starting position and Mr. Microphone gives you a shout-out.
You can see where this is going. Here's me standing at the front of the pack, wheel ahead of them all, and the guys expecting their call-up behind me. So I hear one of the racers ask one of his buddies "Who is the wooly mammoth?" (I had enough hair on my legs for every racer to be fully wooly.)
Unforced error on my part for being at the front of the race line-up, but I have to be honest that it hurt to not be accepted for a moment. Hairy and, by racer standards, large.
I'd go on to have a fun day (after getting behind the rest of the pack) and I'd race a number of additional cross races over the coming seasons.
But that first one always stuck in my head. Why?
I'd Lost Weight Riding My Bicycle - But It Didn't Matter
In retrospect, what I realize is that even though I'd quite admirably lost a number of pounds riding my bicycle and was arguably in decent shape, it's the comparisons that cheat you from the real joy of life. I'm bigger than or I'm smaller than...While factual, totally useless when it comes to enjoying riding your bicycle.
How Does Weight Loss Relate to Customizing Your Bicycle?
I carry that story forward to this day and through our mission to get more people riding their bicycles. At Dispatch, I want to break down the barriers that are preventing it from happening. From worry about fitting in (Newsflash: Just about none of us are going to be racing the Tour de France anytime in our lives.) to simply making the ride a little more fun by customizing your bicycle with a headset cap that is most meaningful to you. (As one of our customers says: "I look down every time I'm riding and see my cap and just smile.)
Ride Your Ride!
My point is this: Ride Your Ride! Get out there. I started with 1/8th of a mile. Pathetic but done. I ended up racing bicycles for GT Bikes, many, many races (Leadville 100, Silver Rush 50, Firecracker 50, RAGBRAI, Laramie Range Enduro, Sea Otter, and so many others) and I still hop on my bicycle to head out to clear my mind and unfuck myself. It's a lifestyle and it's a beautiful activity aboard a truly amazing machine. You should start there. Scale be damned!
About the Author
Brian De Groodt is the owner-founder of Dispatch Custom Cycling Components. In his 50+ years of riding and working in the bicycle industry, he's seen a thing or two, been a place or two on a bicycle and started or run a bicycle business or two. Take it for what it's worth, but do be nice and ride your ride!