Gearing Up to Get Out, At Any Size
When I started riding bikes nearly 10 years ago in Seattle, it was a struggle to find even a basic pair of padded shorts and jersey to fit my plus-size body. Finding technical gear such as a raincoat or rain pants? Ha. Good luck.
So I made do. I rode in leggings from Old Navy and athletic-style tops from Costco. I found a used rain cape and cobbled together outfits that allowed range of motion and were comfortable enough. And while this worked for commuting and short-distance trips in the city, as my riding turned more adventurous and longer distance, I needed purpose-built cycling clothes.
I eventually found some options through a combination of second-hand stores (shoutout to the Seattle Goodwill’s Annual Bike Weekend) and deep internet searching, but it was way harder than it should have been.
Ten years later, I’m happy to report that the landscape for gearing up as a bigger-bodied rider has gotten exponentially easier. Numerous brands cater specifically to larger sizes, and many traditional cycling brands have expanded their sizing to fit a broader range of bodies.
Today’s plus-size rider has options! I am so excited to dive into this world, as everyone, regardless of size or shape, deserves to have clothing and equipment that works for them.
A Note of Sizing Caution
Size charts in the cycling world are wildly inconsistent. Many brands that only go to a 2x or 3x will have the same measurements as other brands that tout a 4x, 5x, or even 6x. Before ordering, check the size charts! Measure yourself and take note of your bust, waist, hip, bicep, and thighs. Ignore the size and instead match your measurements to the size charts. This way you’ll wind up with garments that fit and save you the hassle of returns or poorly fitting clothes.
Where to Shop: Online Vs. In-Store
While our options have increased, most of the extended and plus size options are still available online only, often directly from the brand you’re interested in. Nearly every brand has at least a 30-day return window if it doesn’t fit, and if you’re unsure on your exact size (and your budget allows), order both sizes with the intent to return what doesn’t work.
I also think it’s important to let retailers know that bigger bodied folks are actively looking for gear that fits us. So if you’ve got the emotional fortitude, it never hurts to call your local bike shop or outdoor retailer and ask if they’ve got gear in your size. Not only will you potentially be able to try things on in-store, but it also sends a demand signal for bigger sizes!
Gear for Bad Weather Days
There’s a saying in cycling that there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing. And this is very much the case for bigger bodied folks, as finding technical clothing such as rain gear and outerwear for cold days is that much harder. The key to bad weather days is layers, starting with a moisture-wicking base layer, and building up from there.
For those nasty days when I find myself on the saddle, these items are essential to staying warm and dry, and are offered in inclusive sizing. Where possible, we’ve linked to the plus-size options.
- SmartWool base layers
- Wool socks
- Pearl Izumi WxB Monsoon Rain Jacket or Cleverhood Rain Cape
- REI Co-Op Rain Pants (now in plus sizes!)
- Ice Ninja Gloves
- Midweight wool layer
- Fleece-lined Pearl Izumi Cycling Tights
- Lightweight merino wool skull cap
Gear for Perfect Weather Days
My absolute perfect day on the bike is 75 degrees, slight cloud cover and barely a breeze. Gearing up on days like this is easy. Here’s what I wear for those days.
- Pearl Izumi Cargo Bib Shorts
- Shredly Cropped Tee or SmartWool Merino T-Shirt
- A top layer that can be stuffed into a bike bag. I like the Shredly Jacket or a flannel like this Dovetail Givens Work Shirt built specifically for women.
Staying Fresh on the Road
Space is at a premium when traveling by bike, which often means packing light, and rewearing clothing for multiple days without doing laundry. Staying fresh under these circumstances can be challenging – but is totally doable!
My best suggestion for this is to wear natural fabrics, such as merino. SmartWool makes great base layers, t-shirts, and socks that are naturally antimicrobial, helping lessen odor build up.
I also recommend changing clothes as soon as you get to your stopping point for the day. I love to pack a lightweight camp dress to wear while I air out my cycling clothing on a clothing line (compact and easy to pack), or tree. If I’ve got access to a freshwater source, I’ll wade in, using the opportunity to both wash my body and my cycling clothing, being sure to thoroughly dry my chamois.
Traditional Cycling Clothing
I am the first to admit that I never understood the appeal of a traditional cycling kit — until I wore one that actually fit. Turns out that a properly fitting kit provides all sorts of advantages, including comfort for long days in the saddle, moisture control, and protection from the elements. Check out the offerings from the following brands:
- Aero Tech Designs
- Fat Lad at the Back
- Terry Designs (Women-specific, sizing can be limited)
- SheBeest (Women-specific)
- Pearl Izumi
- The Black Bibs
- REI Co-Op Brand
Outerwear, Base Layers and Non-Lycra Options
For many adventure cyclists, the idea of putting on a lycra kit when on bike tour (or on a daily ride) just doesn’t jive with their style. Here are some great options for bigger bodies wanting to ride with a different sense of style. All of these brands have inclusive sizing for larger bodies.
- Shredly (Primarily mountain bike clothing designed for women, with lots of multi-purpose options.**)
- SmartWool Base Layers
- Columbia Sportswear for rainwear, outer layers. They have plus size for both men and women
- Alpine Parrot
- Duluth Trading Co
- Ripton Denim
**The author is sponsored by Shredly, with a special Marley Blonsky X Shredly product line launching in Spring 2024.