Overweight on Two Wheels, A First Experience

A while back I asked readers for their perspective on cycling when overweight as a response to some interactions I have had here in Huntington with people who believe they are unable to get on a bicycle. This was in conjunction with the locally infamous declaration of our fair city as the most unhealthy city in America in 2008. What I didn’t let on to was that one of those interactions was with my own sister Shannon.
Thanks to @WomenBikeBlogs and other unknown cyber connections I received a few responses. I have continued correspondence with some of them to help put together a larger post for later. Much of the information these cyclists were introducing me to was forwarded onto Shannon. Here is her story.
Shannon is leading the pack in black as they wait at a traffic light.

As a teenager I received a red mountain bike for my birthday. My father preached the importance of waxing the bike and other necessary maintenance. I remember getting the bike out and trying to get onto it. When I finally found my way onto the saddle and journeyed up the gravel lane and back I was scared to death. I didn’t feel light or free in the way I anticipated. All I heard was the gravel pinging against the metal frame and the crunch of rock as my bike waded through.

I took the bike out a handful of times with similar experiences. Then the contraption took up residence in the family shed. Biking was not my thing. I did however enjoy rollerblading. This did give me a light-as-air-dare-devil feeling. I loved to go to our local park, slap my blades on and listen to the world whistle by. I didn’t stop roller blading until my freshman year of college when I had packed on some pounds and thinking I was still my agile 15-year-old-self, went down a steep hill at night and landed knees first in a ditch. Haven’t been on blades since.

Fast-forward 9 years. I lead a very sedentary life and have gained a lot of weight since my activity filled, high school years. My days are filled with couch sitting or sitting in class or at work. I got this nifty idea that if my husband and I had bikes we will become instantly trim and insanely happy. After a few weeks of pressuring the husband he gives in and we get a mountain bike for him and a Schwinn cruiser hybrid for me–both from Walmart. At this point we are living in an upstairs apartment. My bike weighs a ton (a whopping 40+ pounds–which I feel is a ton).

After purchasing the bike it stay in our living room gathering dust because I’m too lazy to take it back down the stairs to attempt to ride. When we finally get our bikes downstairs I attempt to pedal through our parking lot. I swear all the children are laughing at me –ha, ha, fat girl who can’t ride a bike–. We ride, maybe a block… my body is hurting, I am so out of breath I think I’m going to throw up. I’m sweating and I want to curl into a ball and die. So I walk my bike back home, husband takes it up the stairs where they both remain for the next 2 years.

I finally give up on the bikes and post them on CraigsList. No one wants my bike but my friend makes an offer on my husbands. Around this same time, my oh-so-influential-older-sister (Stacy) has picked up this strange new biking lifestyle. Me, being the baby sister, I love to do whatever I can to look good in my eldest sister’s eyes. I had scheduled a trip down to Huntington to hang out with them in October but canceled because I was afraid she would want me to bike and walk with her (and other reason).

So, my baby nephew’s second birthday is coming up. I am able to get the time off work and am not in school this quarter so I jump on the chance to go to Huntington. I even offer to bring my bike down in hopes my sister can adjust it so it doesn’t feel quite so much like a torture device. Stacy mentions a women’s only group bike ride and asks me if I’ll attend. I want to please her, so I say yes.

With the bicycle adjustments made, I take a ride up and down the street and I am not so optimistic. I’m out of breath due to the Huntington hills and wrestle with the fact that I feel like I should be in a sumo suit to protect me from demise-by-bike.

On the day of the group ride I get up early so I can go out on the bike and play around. I begin by stretching for a good 20 minutes and get dressed up in layers. I make some final adjustments, strap on my helmet and off I go. This isn’t so bad.

My heart pounding and anxiety in my throat.. afraid I’m going to fail… OFF WE GO! The cool breeze feels good in my hair. Slow but steady. Stacy, then me, then London. Anxiety about hand signals but Stacy seems to be doing that for everyone. She calls out directions and words of encouragement. Pedal, breath, pedal.. oh it’s so pretty. Pedal, stop. Pedal, start. Maybe this isn’t so bad.

We get to the park to meet up with everyone. I hang back with London while Stacy plays hostess. About 15 minutes later we are off again, this time with more traffic, stop lights and all. All the women around me call out things like “car behind,” “pedal fast the via-duct is coming,” “bump ahead.” These women I had never met before, we were a team on this ride. Helping and encouraging, never leaving anyone behind. Once we arrived at our destination I wanted to keep riding, but I hung around drinking coffee and looking at shops. The trip back was more wearing and up hill. But at last, I made it!

Soreness was less than expected on the next day. Surprisingly the palms of my hands brought me the most pain and lasted the next two days. When I returned home, I went riding a few blocks one afternoon. Riding by yourself is very intimidating for a newbie. I think if I was more comfortable with biking, solo wouldn’t bother me. Right now I feel a need for extra eyes and words of encouragement.  I never realized before that the roads around here (Mid-western Ohio) do have some incline to them–they aren’t flat. The things you notice on a bike!

Some of the group after the ride, Shannon in black, London to her right.

The day after my short ride the rear tire was flat and it remains this way. I’ve watched the video’s on how to change the tire, purchased the new inner tube but I am waiting for my husband to bring home the right size bolt remover thingy to get the tire off. I hope to add riding to my list of leisure and stress reducing activities. I loved the high I felt the rest of the day after my group ride. “I feel like I could climb a mountain.”

If you have some advice or encouragement for my sister, please leave it in the comments. If you would like her to keep writing about her cycling experiences as they occur, and I know I would, let her know. Anyone who has ever tried to do something new or taken on a health challenge can sympathize with the need for support. It sometimes feels more simple to give up and give in, but the longterm costs of such a choice are insurmountable.


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16 thoughts on “Overweight on Two Wheels, A First Experience”

  1. Shannon,
    My husband started riding with me in July, wanting a way to lose weight and get in shape. He made me promise not to “ruin it for him” by pushing him too hard and I promised I would.
    He panted and sweated through what was for me an easy 6-mile flat ride. We kept doing that for a few weeks, then gradually added mileage. It wasn’t much of a workout for me, but I was exercising and I was enjoying it.
    Soon, he was ready to upgrade to a faster bicycle and he even got shoes that snap into the pedals.
    For a guy who hadn’t been on a bike in YEARS, this was amazing. By the end of the summer, he’d done a couple of 24-mile rides and I pushed him to start working on hills.
    We’ve been riding on indoor trainers and getting out whenever the weather is a bit warmer.
    He has lost 20 pounds by adding exercise and making really modest adjustments to his diet. He’s pretty proud of his accomplishments.
    Oh, and did I tell you his age? He turned 67 today. He’s 17 years older than I am, but I’m telling you I have a hard time keeping up with him on the flats now. I can still kick his butt on the hills, but expect him to give me a run for my money by this summer. He tells anyone who listens how much fun it is to ride — way better than being in a gym.
    Keep it up. Think about upgrading to a lighter bike — it makes a huge difference and it is worth it for your health!
    Thanks for sharing your story. I have done some long bike tours — 30-75 miles in a day — and I’m here to tell you that weight is not a good measure of how athletic someone is. There are people way bigger than I am who can absolutely kick my rear end on a bike ride.

    1. I really want hubby to ride with me.. eventually because I think it would be a fun couple activity. He is adamantly against it. But I’m thinking that once he sees me doing it more he will come around. There are a couple things I’ve thought about upgrading already, like my handle bars. If I stick with it a lighter bike is definitely an option. Thanks for sharing your story Monica.

  2. What an awesome story. I’m not very good at going outside my comfort zone with physical activity, but I’ve learned the value of baby steps… just because I’m afraid of running because I’m so awful at it, it’s better to get out there and run for 5 minutes than to sit on my ass and do nothing at all. So, yeah, every little bit counts! Hope you keep on trying it, because leisure biking is one of my favorite activities, makes me feel like kid again =).

    1. Running is a scary word :). I think that’s going to be my new moto: “Just a few minutes on the bike, why not?” I’ve heard from several people that biking makes them feel like a kid again. Although my kid biking experiences were not pleasant, it does still give me that light-as-air feeling and I love that!

  3. Good job, Shannon! I hope you get your tire fixed so you can get back in the saddle soon! I look forward to more posts from you.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story! Years ago I decided to take the plunge and do a 5-day group ride called the Michigander, http://www.michigantrails.org/michigander-bicycle-tour/, ALONE. None of my friends or family would ride it with me so I decided to sign up anyways. I followed the training schedule, working up from 3 miles to 25 miles. It was a great motivator for staying on the bike. Still, I was so nervous about the ride then on my first night with the group I sat down next to a woman who was easily 85 years old. We started talking, the week before she had ridden the width of the state of Michigan. Her bike didn’t have shocks on it. She didn’t bring a sleeping pad for the campsites throughout the week. She had biked all over the world, solo. When I first saw this woman my instinct was to help her with her food tray. (What a fool I am!) 100s of people participate in the Michigander. Of all ages, shapes, and sizes. I was inspired by so many of them! I learned a lot about cycling on that trip–it is an utterly all inclusive sport. It has NOTHING to do with weight or age (an 80 year old man finished the ride after me). It’s just about staying on the bike and enjoying yourself. I ride slow. Very slow. Some people on the ride would finish the day’s 40 mile ride in 90 minutes. I generally took 8 hours. Not only am I slow but I would stop for second breakfast. (REally, riding definitely works up an appetite!) I would stop for everything. I quickly found a group of others who also liked to take it slow and we stuck the 5 days out together. Anyways, if you enjoy riding you keep at it and know that you can do it on your own terms.

    1. “40 miles in 90 minutes” seems insane to me. Every biker (commuting biker or for sport) that I’ve ever known has been rail thin and biked fast. Reading about other body types biking is very encouraging to me. I think I’m going to look around at some of the training plans and see if I can’t find something like couch-to-5K plan for biking. Does anyone know of something like this for biking? Thanks Christina for sharing with me :)

      1. I know, it was insane! My friends and family were terrified for me. You should know that I wore padded shorts and had a huge gel seat and my butt still hurt. I also couldn’t get down stairs too quickly for a while after that week. :) After my first 10 mile training ride I had jelly legs for an hour. I live in Florida now but in most states there is some type of cycling calendar that keeps tracks of rides. The Michigander was a long one, most are a day long with different options: 10, 25, or 50 miles et cetera. They usually have SAG stops on the route with drinks and snacks, and back up support for medical or bike repair emergencies. In my experience they run around $25 and include a t-shirt and some sort of meal at the end of the ride. They’re usually organized to benefit some sort of charitable organization too. Feel good all around! I like the Rails-to-Trails because these routes are flat and sometimes paved.

        Even though I love to ride I am not an execiser by nature, it has to be a part of my routine to get other things done. So I have made some little rules: church is 1.5 miles away so we always ride there. Things like that. Then we almost always wind up taking a detour to check out a neighborhood. Also we only have one car so there are times when riding is a necessity. On your stair issue, if you have a bike rack in your apartment complex maybe it would be worth locking it up outside. Apartment stairs have held me back before too. Alright, good luck and happy riding!!

        1. I’ve moved to a one floor apartment so I no longer have the stair issue, just the “I have a one-bedroom apartment and no room for a bulky bike (or two bikes)” issue. I just finished making some adjustment to my seat and handle bars to make it more comfy but haven’t gotten out to see if it helps. Thanks for the response!

  5. Hey Shannon, you did so good that day riding I had no idea. Great job, girl. Us “ladies of stature” sometimes find it hard to exercise, especially when the other people out there exercising are already trim, fit, and experienced. But, I’ve learned that a year or two is not that long, and the health benefits of good nutrition and regular light exercise is so much cheaper than a trip to the doctor. So, take it in pieces, maybe try a bit of easy walking while you wait for the bike to be repaired. When getting back into exercising, I like starting with walking, as I can take it as slow as I want. By simply focusing on distance, I still reach my caloric goals no mater how long it takes to get there. In 2010, I started with trips around my large block, around 0.3 miles (via Google Earth), and when that got easy, I just added loops around the block till I reached about a mile. When it got warmer, I started walking and biking places, making the destination the goal. There were a few times I over-did it and had to bug a friend for a car ride home, but most of the time I got there and back without issue, and felt pretty good about it. I’m back on track this New Year, exercising and working on controlling my compulsive eating issues, and have been making steady progress. Tiny steps, every day, building good habits.

    1. I also have compulsive eating issues. I have looked into OA (over-eaters anonymous group) but have been thus far too chicken to go. My eating approach has always been unhealthy. When I was younger I could get away with it because of the massive quantity of activities I was in. Not so much now :). My baby walking steps lately have been to take my dogs around the cul-de-sac (sp?) at least once a day. Maybe I’ll start gradually increasing that amount. Good idea. :). I really enjoyed riding with you Eve and hopefully next time I’m down yonder we can do it again!

  6. All I am going to say is Keep it Up!!!! You have done the hard part, and now you just need to keep getting on the bike! Keep letting us know how things are going as well, may the wind be always at your back!!!

  7. Where do I start! Stacy sent me here as she thought I would enjoy this, and oh she was right on! Thank you for sharing your story, so real and so easy to relate to for many people. I think if you found that the key to making it easier was having a little group then maybe trying to start a group might be an option? I used Craigslist to get a group of mums together for play-dates and a year later we all remain friends and see each other. You have inspired me to try to locate a group or try to start one if I can’t find a suitable one. We all need support and that’s why I started my blog, I know I need the accountability and the community feeling its bought me.

    I just got my bike yesterday and today I shall be going on my first ride. I’m so incredibly nervous but also excited, I’m doing this for fun and for my son any health benefits are just icing on the healthy cake. I’ve made a huge commitment to not drive a vehicle for 12 months and to cycle everywhere I need to go…which is going to be intense. I just knew that if I committed to anything less I wouldn’t stick with it, I would drive more and more and eventually my bike would be another expensive clothes hanger. So I’m simply not driving, anywhere, period.
    When I was young I had a serious accident that left me immobile for the greater part of two years, slowly being able to walk again and learn to deal with awful pain. I got overweight and I didn’t even notice, I was mainly upset that I couldn’t ride horses anymore. So my mum pushed me to buy a bike with my savings and I started riding…one block, then two blocks and I kept at it until I was so fit and strong it was amazing. Anyway, I know cycling works, its low impact and addictive once you are past the “oh my god my arse is falling off” stage.
    If you would like to stay in contact with me I’d love it. Sorry that went on forever!! I’m just so pleased I’m not the only chunky girl on a bike!

  8. After reading about Shannon story, I think I will share a little about my own cycling story.

    I have never cycle 39 years of my life, because when I was young my dad say cycling is for boys. By the way, I come from Asian country. When I grow older, it is quite difficult and I am big in size too.

    Just last Saturday early of May, my hubby decided to encourage me to start cycling. It is never easy when I am 90kg in weight and phobia about falling over. It been 4 days since I first learn to cycle and I have turn 40th early of this year.

    I am still learning, if my hubby is available he will go along with me to cycle. First 2 days we do in the evening and morning and these last 2 days we do at night when my 2 girls is a sleep.

    I am still learning, still phobia of seeing people or cars next to me but I think I will continue to press on. My doctor my want to loss weight by October for health reason. Hope so see Shannon continue doing it.

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