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Let me share my experience as a plus size, middle age, female rider…
I was a road cyclist, long distance runner and triathlete for at least 15 years before I started mountain biking in March 2020. As the pandemic shut down the world a friend of mine convinced me it was time to try the sport she had been bugging me about for years. I was lucky in two big ways, 1. I had borrowed a hardtail bike from a friend in the fall of 2019 and it was still in my garage and 2. I lived biking distance from a great beginner trail network. What I didn’t know was that the trails weren’t really open yet, it was late March, but there were lots of “hike-a-bike” opportunities!
I have always lived an active lifestyle AND I have always been on the “heavier,” “big boned” side of the acceptable female body. For reference, I’m 5’3” and currently weigh 220 pounds which is termed obese by the outdated BMI standards. I played soccer in high school and got back into it in my 30s. I was a long distance runner for two decades doing dozens of half marathons, countless 5ks and even ventured into adventure racing with the infamous Spartan Death Race.
While I have loved all the various activities that my body has afforded me the ability to enjoy, nothing was quite the same as taking up the sport of mountain biking at age 43, on the verge of perimenopause and firmly settled into a plus sized body.
Like many other people who pick up new sports in their adult years, I was HOOKED and couldn’t wait to get back out there. Anyone I talked to about this new sport was as excited for me to get into it as I was. I didn’t find anyone who suggested that maybe I was too old or not the right size/body type for mountain biking. Everyone was so excited to see someone else get into the sport, I don’t think it even occurred to them that I might not “fit.” I have tried to emulate that whenever I cross paths with someone accessing this sport for the first time.
As I have continued to grow and develop in this sport I have consciously sought out more opportunities for women, especially plus sized women. I feel fortunate that all the women who I have joined on group rides or connected with have been very welcoming and encouraging. I sought out no-drop rides that I thought would be my best ability match and even when I was wrong, people waited and were patient. Naturally it was tough on my ego but the more I return to rides and am recognized, people are warm and kind. They genuinely seemed psyched to have me there and made a place for me, even if it was at the back of the pack. I jokingly say, “Well, someone has to be last, guess that is me!”
That said, I don’t see too many other plus sized riders on the trails, I am certain many have barriers to entry that I was able to overcome due to my own privilege and personality. I have been blessed as an extrovert which has served me well in showing up to group rides and just jumping into a sport like mountain biking. Other barriers that some may not think about, aside from access, transportation, and the cost of a good bike itself, is the clothing. Wearing clothes that fit and feel good on your body makes all the difference when going into a space that feels intimidating like a group ride with women or people you don’t know.
There are few companies who make sizes above XL or 14 and even those can run small (by the way, Kaden offers most items in sizes XS-XXL and they generally run true to size!). According to this study published in 2016 the average sized woman in the US wears size 16-18, which means most clothing for mountain biking is on the smaller size or not available at all.
While I know it “doesn’t matter what you wear” I can assure you that as a larger sized person, you want to fit in as much as possible in a new space. Wearing similar gear as others can feel as important as having a bike that rides well. More and more companies are improving the size inclusiveness but they will meet what the sport requests. I feel very fortunate to have the time and means to participate in this sport and pay for the clothing that I feel good wearing while I do. That isn’t always the case for everyone though. I will continue to support mountain biking brands that work to make this sport accessible to all sizes and genders.
There are certainly entry barriers to mountain biking that make it stand apart from other sports; you need specific equipment and access to trails which limit entry to the sport. I hope by being visible as a plus sized, older female rider I can help other people find this sport and love it as much as I have. There is something really special about enjoying the outdoors and moving your body. I feel more appreciative of this as I get older and realize that I am among a narrowing number of people who can safely and successfully take part in such an activity. I will continue to bring a spirit of inclusivity to all my experiences in mountain biking with the goal of modeling that anyone can do this sport if they want to, there are plenty of trails for everyone!