What size?

As the weather starts to turn (well, it was warmer last week – I’m back in thermals this week), my thoughts turn to all the lovely summer kit I can buy. Lockdown has meant less car use, less petrol use, and a little bit of money saving – therefore, increased kit budget!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Unlike the woman in the picture, I won’t be wearing tiny shorts and a bra top.. it’s Yorkshire! I’d either get wind burn or sun burn or freeze to death – probably all three, on the same day and nobody needs to see that much of my flesh.

Anyway, I transgress – women’s kit. Where to start, the image of a slim, toned lady cyclist is not one that I fit and at first I was terrified of lycra.

As an adult cyclist I had owned a heavy Trek hybrid – usually with panniers, child seats and eventually a kiddy trailer. I just popped on a pair of trousers (often waterproof) and off I went. But then as the kids outgrew the trailer I became more reliant on the car and used my bike less and less until it lived, neglected, in the shed. It was the arrival of E-bikes that made me re-evaluate my relationship with cycling.

I now live at the top of a hill and that hill stopped me getting my Trek back on the road. I tried a couple of times but the hill destroyed what little enthusiasm I had and I never got back into it. Until three years ago when my husband gave me the push I needed, get the E-bike I’d mused about. My budget wasn’t huge so I went for a pretty basic model from Halfords (if I knew than what I know now I’d have pushed the budget a little higher and gone to a different retailer). I didn’t know if I would use it and didn’t want it to be a monumental waste of money. Well, I fell in love with my bike and started taking longer trips, not just the 12km round trip to town. This meant my undercarriage started to get tender and I admitted I needed to invest in some kind of padding.

At this point I didn’t want to wear lycra shorts and didn’t know what other options there were – in the summer I like to wear dresses and my step through bike means I can, so I wondered if there was such a thing as padded knickers. And would you believe there is! I bought a couple of pairs from VeloVixen.com – a dedicated ladies cycling retailer (no, I’m not being paid I just think these guys are really good at what they do). Game changer – I could now go further afield.

As I got fitter and more confident on the roads I developed a need for speed and after 9 months of E-biking I bought a road bike. Now I had to address my cycling wardrobe – a skirt definitely wasn’t going to work!

Initially I made do with my VeloVixen knickers under a pair of leggings but as my distance/length of time on the bike increased I needed to invest in some ‘proper’ cycling clothes. And so I entered the minefield of sportswear sizing. Women’s dress sizes in the UK are weird arbitrary, even numbers and I think you get to age 18, pick a size and that’s what you wear until you have children then you start wearing a size up or down depending on whether you are a hamster or a hippo – I’m a hippo, wore a size 14 for ever then sized up for a few years before losing the “baby weight” and went back to a 14. Sports clothes required the use of a tape measure to actually look at my measurements – that in itself was an ordeal. If I use my actual waist measurement and the Marks and Spencer size guide I should be wearing a 16-18 and as for my hips.. well, that’s off the chart. When I buy jeans, I know that a Next size 14 fits me nicely so I play a game of matching the Next size with the size guide for the brand I am buying – I don’t use my real measurements or I’d be wearing clothes that are far too big. Can you see the dilemma? Do I buy the size that matches the clothing size I wear (ie a 32 inch waist) or do I buy the size for my actual waist (bigger than that)?

Knowing that I am bigger than the average female athlete and that fashion clothes and functional clothes are very different I decided to go with my actual, straight off the tape measure size and guess what? According to the Rapha size guide (some other brands are no better) I’m too big for cycling. Initially I was mortified, was I really so big that nobody made clothes for me? I decided that rather than buy online I would go to my local bike shop and try on a jacket to get a feel for the sizing – I picked up a medium (which was labelled as fitting a UK 12-14), I knew it wasn’t going to fit but wanted to know how badly it wouldn’t fit – and it was reduced in price so if it did fit – bonus! As suspected, I could zip it up to just below my boobs and no further. I’ve since found that if I use my actual bust measurement to buy a cycling jersey it’s going to be too big across the shoulders and waist so I squish my boobs to get a better fit across the rest of my body, after all who needs to be able to breath while exercising? (Obviously that is tongue in cheek – if I couldn’t breath I wouldn’t wear it.)

Since my LBS wasn’t going to be of use with clothing (I love them and would trust them to the end of the earth with my bike but they are rubbish for clothing for anybody bigger than medium), I was back online. Enter Fat Lass At The Back – the women’s equivalent of Fat Lad At The Back. I promptly purchased 2 pairs of shorts and a top and was so pleased with the fit – and that my new cycle top was covered in cakes, it was almost like they know me! FLAB make great kit for curvy figures, it was good quality for the price point and a great fit.

After cycling in these for a few months I needed at least one more top – washing after every wear was taking it’s toll. FLAB didn’t have anything I liked in my size in stock so I was back into that minefield. I’d lost a little weight since I first started cycling again and this opened up a world of different brands – Castelli jackets now fit, Endura put fashion sizes on their website so I could work out my size correctly and my Endura Jetstream jacket is my favourite ever piece of cycling kit. I still wince a little when I have to buy an XL and it makes me sad that I am the largest size many brands cater for but things are getting better.

It’s been reported many times that one of the main barriers for overweight women starting to exercise are due to body image and if you can’t get kit to fit that is a major problem. Things are certainly getting better and brands like FLAB and Endura (who make clothes up to a UK size 18-20) do help, but many brands are hampered by their reputation of making thin people clothes.

Anyway, what promoted this rambling monologue is that I recently completed a Strava challenge that earned me a £50 voucher at a premium cycle retailer – nothing on their website fits me! NOTHING! I see some brands as gatekeepers, keeping the fatties out. This brand was keeping that gate well and truly locked.

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