...what do you think.
BIY, Bike-It-Yourself: Fat Cyclist
Submitted by Dar on Thu, 2008-04-10 12:40
Recently, during discussion of the adoption of the Madison Platinum Bicycle Committee’s Report recommendations (full disclosure, I wrote this report), Alder Thuy Pham-Remmele (District 20) asked, amongst other skeptical comments regarding adoption of the report, "How is a 300-pound person going to ride a bike?" Story on the meeting here.
Thankfully, Thuy Pham-Remmele was the only member of the Council to vote “no” on the adopting the report, and the measure easily passed, clearing the way for many improvements to bicycling in Madison in the coming years.
To an avid bicyclist, Thuy’s comment about fat people bicycling may seem ridiculous. But this council member was vocalizing something that lots of people think...that many fat and "normal" sized people alike think. The perception is out there that heavy people can’t or don’t bicycle and it's actually refreshing to hear someone say it instead of pretend that it doesn't exist.
As someone who weighs more than 200 pounds and has gotten my share of discrimination for it (both overt and not-so-overt) and who rides a bike pretty much every single day, I have to say that fat people are not encouraged to ride bicycles. It is worth saying that many bicycles have a weight limit of around 200 pounds, and I'd be willing to bet that finding a non-custom bike out there with a weight limit over 250 would be difficult. I myself own bicycles with weight limits less than my weight.
There’s a blog out there called Fat Cyclist. I figured it would be right up my alley. I was wrong. The blogger, a male, weighed 184 pounds at the start of his blog and called himself “a train wreck.” The fact that a man who weighs 184 pounds is considered a “fat cyclist” is an indication of how far from reality the bicycling community is on this issue.
According to the CDC, in 2006 more than 25% of Wisconsin’s residents were obsese (BMI over 30). If you are 5’10” tall, to get a BMI over 30 you have to weigh more than 209 pounds. At 5’5”, a weight of 180 will get you there. Unless the Fat Cyclist is also a Short Cyclist, he probably isn’t obese. But lots of us are. Whether you think that fat people are victims of a disease or whether you think they are just lazy and eat too much, we exist. And there are more and more of us.
Encouraging people to bicycle means encouraging the average person, which more and more in our country is someone who is clinically obese. Bicycling, unlike running (which can destroy the knees of a heavy person), is actually a relatively safe way for the obese to be more active.
But I think that there are reasons to bicycle beyond losing weight. Obviously I feel this way because I’ve been bicycling nearly every day for the last 15 years, and I’ve done nothing but gain weight in that time. Bicycling is good for the mind, spirit, and community. To me the health benefits to my body are just a bonus.
Laughing off the Alder's comments doesn’t change the fact that fat people are not encouraged to bicycle in general. They are berated to exercise often, but all of the images in all of the magazines and the charity ride brochures are of thin people in spandex.
In order for the Platinum Bicycling Committee Report to be effective in increasing the numbers of people bicycling in Madison, the actions taken by the city will have to include more than just building more bike paths. Bicycling in Madison should be a welcome activity for anyone in the city, regardless of weight, height, gender, age, race, or income level (and as much as possible, also regardless of what is considered traditional able-bodied-ness).
The first step towards making that possible is recognizing that not everyone in all of those groups currently feels welcomed. We also ought to acknowledge that, for every bone-headed remark made at a city council meeting, there are plenty of people thinking the same thing who know better than to say it out loud. We ignore those comments at our peril.