Comment of the Week: Biking, fitness and weight loss are three different things

East Sunday Parkways-33
Just a good time.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

There are lots of reasons to have a great time on a bike. Weight loss can sometimes be one of them, but shouldn’t have to be.

So how is it that so many messages about biking get caught up in messages about body type?

That’s the argument from BikePortland reader Anne Hawley, responding to a conversation started by Vancouver, B.C., writer Cecily Walker about whether active transportation advocacy groups should avoid “the ‘obesity’ scare word” when talking up biking and walking.

Several readers had different takes than Walker. This comment from Hawley was a counterpoint to theirs:

Here’s a free tip. If you really do want more people on bikes, then listening to the mainstream message through the ears of people not like you will help you understand the barriers between them and bicycling. It doesn’t matter whether you think those barriers are imagined, or internal, or “misinterpreted” by somebody who doesn’t think the same way you do. Dare to take their statements in anyway. Reflect on them. Consider them. Listen.

If you really don’t want more people (perhaps more people not-like-you) riding bikes, well … carry on, I guess.

I doubt there’s a fat girl alive who has any doubts about the desirability of being thin. I certainly don’t. Anyone who thinks obesity is encouraged or tolerated or celebrated has never been a fat girl.


But as someone who gets around exclusively by bike, I can tell you that the couple hundred calories burned in a short commute or a long errand-run will make approximately zero difference to my body size — and that’s the kind of bike riding I think cities are looking to encourage. Am I fitter than I was before I got on a bike at 55? Certainly. Am I thinner? Only by virtue of other efforts.

So sell me on sustainability, sell me on fun, sell me on freedom, sell me on the gleeful self-satisfaction of it all, but if you try to browbeat me with an obesity scare message that I’ve been browbeaten with all my life, all you do is subtract joy. And yes, sound (TO ME) like a smug a-hole.

Also noteworthy is this reply from Alex Reed, who recently founded a bike advocacy group and wonders if it’s possible to sell biking to politicians as a fitness/health tool without it coming off to the public as something related to fat-shaming. Good question.

Yes, we pay for good comments. We’ll be sending $5 and a little goodie bag to Anne in thanks for this great one. Watch your email!

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