Family Biking: Taking ‘all bodies on bikes” to heart

I was nervous about re-entering a bike shop with this body instead of my collegiate athlete one.
(Photos: Shannon Johnson/BikePortland)

I don’t look anything like I used to. And that’s been hard to swallow.

In a former life, I was a top athlete playing a Division I college sport (soccer, I was goalkeeper). I was fit, lean, muscular. I had six pack abs that were so well-defined, people used to gawk at my mid-section. I had all the privileges, confidence, and ego that can easily go with such a body. It was in this condition that I walked into a bike shop for the first time, so many years ago. Back then, I confidently approached the dude behind the counter: “I don’t know anything about biking,” I said, “but I’m thinking about giving it a try.” He gave me a look up and down and responded, “well it looks like you’ll be good at it!”

Now I chuckle at the memory: Oh, how things have changed! Specifically, my body has changed, and so have my priorities and life circumstances. I’m a mom now, currently pregnant with Baby #5. I don’t look anything like I used to. And that’s been hard to swallow. I’ve felt awkward, embarrassed, and ashamed over my body. I’ve been tempted to avoid activities I want to do, like biking or swimming, or attending gatherings with friends or family who might judge me based on my weight and shape. And I was nervous about re-entering a bike shop with this body instead of my collegiate one. My temptation was to say, “Maybe I should wait.” Wait until I’m not pregnant. Wait until I lose the baby weight. Wait until I regain some muscle. Wait until I look more fit. Wait until I am more fit…

I began reflecting on this while reading Maritza’s article about the Unity Ride and her mention of “no fatphobia allowed” — a reference I had never heard before. Immediately I realized: I have fatphobia! I have a phobia of my own fat!

Which brings me to an encouraging encounter with Marley Blonsky and Kailey Kornhauser and their film All Bodies on Bikes which I first heard about in their interview on the BikePortland Podcast where they discussed fatphobia and inclusive biking, especially when it comes to larger bodies that are often marginalized and stigmatized in our society.

A raincoat (technically a rain cape) that fits over my belly!

I immediately connected with the message and struggles of Marley and Kailey. Pregnancy and added weight gain has changed me, and given me a kind of kinship with larger-bodied people that I never experienced before. I have become aware of how difficult it can be to find clothing, especially technical gear, for larger bodies, pregnant bodies and nursing bodies.

I began my pregnancy looking for maternity hiking and biking pants…and largely I came up short. Even here in the Pacific Northwest, something of a mecca for outdoor apparel, there is almost nothing for pregnant bodies or nursing bodies from major outdoor retailers. It feels like pregnant people just need to “make due” or “order a larger size.” I’ve certainly been doing a lot of that. But it’s so refreshing to have clothing that actually fits, and does the job. I certainly don’t want to wear maternity jeans or even cotton yoga pants (a pregnancy favorite) on summertime hikes, or on rainy day bike rides. And how could I find a rain jacket I could zip over my bump? I don’t want to get soaked just because no one saw fit to make rain gear that a pregnant mama can wear. (Thank you Cleverhood Rain Cape, which fits over my pregnant belly!) I recognize that plus-size people can have the same struggle. We all deserve access to clothes, and bikes, that suit our needs and our bodies.

Fortunately, as I wrote about last week, my recent trips to the bike shop have been helpful and encouraging. I’ve even managed to talk with the staff about body-related biking issues, like: “How do I get my leg over the top bar?”

It’s all in the tilt, which I am still trying to perfect.

(If you’ve wondered the same thing, WashCo Bikes shop staffer Mike Patnude generously gave me some tips. He showed me how to tilt the bike down and step over it more easily than if it were perfectly upright…something I’m still practicing as you can see in the photos. But the great thing is, Mike welcomed the question, made it seem perfectly normal for me to ask, and he provided help without making me feel the least bit awkward.)

Hearing the All Bodies on Bikes message has made me aware of my own vanity and how much better life — and biking — can be if I let it go. I have the mama body that I have. Our bodies change, whoever we are, and our needs change. And perhaps the bike we ride will change too. Marley and Kailey remind me to enjoy the body I have right now, and embrace what I can do with it. And Kailey reminds me that biking doesn’t have to be a thing I do to lose weight or change my body (oh, that’s tempting!) Instead, biking can simply be about having fun, and living the way I want to live.

It’s about the joy and the journey, not a clothing size.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of  five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via

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Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Great article! And good score with the poncho. Clothing, in general, is a really interesting subject—politically/economically. It’s a little off-topic for BP, but “The Lost Art of Dress” is an eye-opening look at why we have the clothes we have today. Here’s a hint, pencil skirts require the fewest number of seams..

2 years ago

Shannon, thanks for writing about this so openly! I think a lot of us struggle with these issues, and the more we talk about it, the more we make biking more welcoming to everyone.