Bike Temple

How can the cycling community reach out to the overweight and obese?

Pedalpalooza was truly an inspiring time for bicyclists in Portland, Oregon, the Bicycle Holy Land. We found religion, we toured taco shops, we danced, we played music, and we paid tribute. In times like theses, it was a refreshing oasis of contentment and togetherness. A coming together of all types of people.

One thing I couldn’t help but notice while soaking up some sun on the lawn at MCBF, however, was the stark imbalance of body types represented at this community event, specifically, how few overweight people I noticed. Sure, there were a few full-bodied folks strutting their stuff and doing a magnificent job of it, and Lord knows if it weren’t for those great people, it would be easy to say that the cycling community is a completely exclusive group, a clique only fit for the fit. But the fact is, the majority of the people who choose to ride bikes and participate in connected events, at least in this town, are obviously of the medium to small build.

I was happy to see at least one attempt to bring those of larger proportion into the fold this year with the Big Girls Ride, which used the tagline “Big girls ride bikes too so let’s go for a ride together.” It’s good to know that there are people out there aware of the need to attract and encourage overweight folks to cycle, but I think that a lot more could be done in the same vein. How about a riding club that caters to larger members of the community? One that teaches them how to choose the right rigs and equipment to accommodate their body type, that brings together those of similar build and helps them through the things that may have been keeping them off the saddle all along?

I would like to start a discussion on this matter. The fact is, I don’t think that someone with my phisycal build could actually form and lead a group like this, as I am sure that the coordination and leadership of such a project would be more appreciated by it’s members if the person doing it was of the same persuasion. But, because it’s also a rather sensitive subject for some, it’s also difficult to bring the idea up to specific people, for fear that I may be labeling them as something that they choose not to identify with.

So here are some primer questions to kick off the conversation. Maybe through this we will learn a little more about this un-tapped demographic in relation to cycling, and maybe someone will feel inspired enough to step up and make something happen.

  1. What are is currently limiting overweight and obese people from enjoying cycling, and what are some things that can be done to help those people get past those limitations?
  2. What model of program or group would best serve to reach out to and assist overweight people in getting on bikes?
  3. Obviously cycling has great health benefits, and spending time on a bike will almost always prove a positive treatment to one’s body, but should a program or group focus on weight-loss as a goal, or should the idea simply be the inclusion of all body types, regardless of that person’s motivation?
  4. What are the equipment and facility needs of overweight cyclists? How do those needs differ from smaller-build riders?
  5. Are there already programs in existence that focus on this issue? In Portland? If so what are they doing right? What more could they be doing?
  6. Are you, or do you know someone who could benefit from a program that assists and encourages overweight people to ride bikes? What fears or hesitations exist that have kept you or that person from riding?

Please use the comments section for discussion. Anonymous entries, provided they are beneficial to the discussion, are welcome.

Thanks for taking time to talk about this,
Deacon Amos