Skinny tires under a not-so-skinny rider? Hell, yes. Road cycling historically hasn’t catered to the plus-size rider, but luckily times are changing. No longer the exclusive reserve of gaunt, hungry-looking waifs on wheels, it’s now widely held that all bodies are welcome on bikes (duh!).We’ve put together and road-tested three outfits for riders who demand a little more from their kit.
In this world, there is a pretty slim chance that you’re flaunting a lean, mean road bike model physique, gliding up mountain passes in child-size kit with a photogenic grin on your face. For the average road rider, finding the right-size kit that makes you feel comfortable and confident can be a minefield. It’s either so compressive it cuts off your circulation, or just downright unflattering. Among hardcore roadies, even the average-built person is considered unsuitable for climbing. So, should it even bother us? Do we need to chase a body ideal for riding up hills in high-tech aero nano bibs that are cut for those who can fit their fingers around their thighs as a badge of honour?
Nope. The good news for people with more curves than a scrawny mountain goat is that every one of us can look good on a bike. We’ve curated three hot outfits that go from subtle and understated to loud and proud so you can disruptively dance on the pedals. We’re confident these outfits will make you feel as good as you look next time you’re out riding.
Before slamming yourself for so-called spare kilos, spare a thought for undisputed former champion Eddy Merckx (and, if we’re honest, most of the retired pros that are still in the public eye; after all, there’s a reason they keep their old jerseys in frames on the wall)). Now, we’re not trying to insult him with this observation, but merely reassure those of us who don’t fit the ideal of a cyclist – or fit into sprayed-on Lycra – that it happens to the best of us.
Celebrate style – or subvert it!
The world is awash with style choices, so it’s just a case of finding the garb that makes you feel good. We’ve been doing this since day one of GRAN FONDO in 2016, reinforcing the narrative that it’s not what you wear, but how you wear it. We’re as outspoken about our unwillingness to toe the line of shaved legs and toned bodies today as we were right at the beginning. Got an issue with that? Well, that’s your problem. We do what we like because that’s what feels best. And no, we’re not going to contort ourselves to fit into the Velominati rules, or the latest Instagram cycling “aesthetic”. No, thanks.
“The ‘road scene’ has been allowed to dictate cycling fashion and people’s opinions about who is a cyclist for way too long.” – Velocio
We’re the first to admit that lookism has occasionally reared its head in these very pages – *cough* “Lookism – Just what do they think they’re wearing” – and as much as we project all sorts of stereotypes and style in our imagery, we think all people are beautiful if they’re happy doing their thing. We applaud those who throw out the rulebook and ride however the hell they feel like riding. The three looks we’re about to present are a decisive middle finger to strict roadie rules – and they’re backed up by the industry. Yep, this invitation to make an entrance on skinny wheels doesn’t just come from GRAN FONDO. We chatted to Rapha, Isadore, Velocio and Pas Normal Studios for their plus-size riding tips.
#1 Conceal It
On or off the bike, we don’t want anyone to feel like they’ve got to hide their body in any of its perfect or imperfect ways—especially not on two wheels, where we’re all about the sense of freedom and joy, and of course the banter at the bar afterwards. However, we appreciate that streamlining your silhouette can have some benefits (including for your sense of confidence), so take a close look at these suggested colourways and comfy styles that divert attention from areas you may not want to show off. There’s a reason they’re a staple item across collections and brands:
In terms of sizing, access looks good on paper: you’ll find up to XXL at both Rapha and Pas Normal Studios, plus Isadore do a limited range of garments in XXXL. Velocio continue the 3XL theme, and have 4XL in parts of their men’s range. But having all these Xs doesn’t reveal the truth about how many people are actually able to squeeze into these small-looking pieces. The good news is that all four brands are open to dialogue when it comes to body diversity. Danish brand Pas Normal Studios is the first to admit that apparel choices in the road bike world don’t appear to cater to everyone, adding that this is something they’re looking to change in future collections.
“Sizing is only one element in a very complex equation. There is a deeper, cultural issue, especially in cycling.” – Velocio
All of what we’re hearing sounds great: Cycling is becoming a thing for more and more people, with a marked shift away from pure performance and the cult of thoroughbred athleticism. So in the slipstream of cycling’s broader appeal, there’s so much more breadth of choice, including styles with more casual vibes to substitute – or perhaps just complement – the drag-defying Lycra garb that we’re so used to.
Enter looser fits, a more relaxed aesthetic, welcome versatility, and design cues that have been borrowed from trail or mountain biking. Here’s where Rapha present their Core, Classic and Brevet lines, which are notably less compressive than the wind-cheating Pro Team collection. If you’re into an even roomier look, try their Explore or Trail lines, which feature some technical but not techy t-shirts. Isadore offer extra comfort through their Debut, Gravel and Merino Essentials lines, which are well suited when you’re not racing the clock.
What are the style considerations for those wearing XL and upwards?“Just be yourself!” – Isadore
“[It is about] opening the door for more people to feel ‘at home’ within cycling and not left out.” – Velocio
When it comes to colourways, the brands are unanimous: Nothing is off-limits.
“Everything goes – wear whatever makes you feel best.” – Rapha
However, they all give a nod to darker hues and understated prints. We don’t believe anyone should hide anything, but if you’ve not quite learned to love your curves and lean into your shape, we suggest adding playful bits of colour on your helmet, sunglasses, frame or bar bag, both for style and for visibility out on the road.
#2 Own It
Into a more extroverted look? Hurrah! Want those all-important aero gainz? The good news is that once you free yourself from the harmful dialogue that bodies above a sample size must go under-the-radar with muted tones and loose fits, you’ll realise the world is your oyster. If you want to live, breathe and sweat in team-issue kit, radiating pro peloton vibes for motivation, go ahead. This is cycling, after all; a sport in which aerodynamics matter regardless of whether you’ve got bony ribs or a fuller figure.
Shift the norm by dressing offensively. There’s no monotone definition of what a cyclist is, or what a cyclist wears. Bright colours and drag-defying fits? Do it. Wear the sort of cycling gear that raises your pulse and wear it with pride. Sure, people can see from afar that you may not fit the standardised image of a cyclist, but who cares. You are representing yourself: a bike rider that has found good style.
Who cares if the jersey you’re wearing didn’t come in quite the right size, it’s so damn cool that you’re donning it anyway and embracing the race-day aesthetic. Are your statement socks flippantly emblazoned with the words “Feather” “Weight”? If so, we love it. For real, we need to act with confidence and practice acceptance – on and off the bike.
Play a different game
Let’s rewind and look at a) why we are all so stuck on wearing Lycra, and b) why we’re all so monotone with brand choices. In cycling, there’s one thing to remember: as long as your choice of baselayer works – we’re talking high-wicking, fast-drying and the like – then you can wear whatever you like on top. A loose shirt that flaps in the wind? Smooth operator! Baggier shorts on your beautifully bedded-in Brooks saddle? Go for it. You never know what stylish, bike-suitable options you’ll find in your local second-hand shop. Here’s your invitation to get creative.
“Practical-wear that can be mixed and matched between baggy and tight fits has become common on and off the bike”” – Velocio
Contrary to popular opinion held by some factions of the cycling community, riding bikes does not revolve around a dress code—if anything, it’s the sense of liberation that comes from feeling the breeze in your face as you cut through the wind. You can even do this in a denim shirt, if you like, providing you’re willing to forsake a few seconds and maybe get a little sweatier. If anyone tries to tell you differently, point them in our direction.
Dressing in a way that works for you doesn’t have to have anything to do with your clothing size – it’s just a reflection of your taste.
This Style Guide for the underserved cyclist is nothing like an exhaustive list; see it more like a springboard to launch the community towards their own interpretations of style. Our suggestions are just the beginning. Cycling has been around a whole lot longer than technical apparel and so-called marginal gains.
So, back to Eddy Merckx in 2023
What does the ‘Cannibal’ ride in when heading out for a spin nowadays? Hell, we can well imagine that those 1970s woollen jerseys are unlikely to fit any longer, so as a no doubt devoted reader of GRAN FONDO, he’ll be glad to have found this article. When it comes to his sartorial choices, our style experts at Rapha, Isadore and Pas Normal Studio can only make a stab in the dark and keep their fingers crossed: As a guess, a cyclist like Merckx who fastidiously searched for 1970s-style gains, would likely not hesitate before donning a performance-led piece from today’s collection, probably a size too small, and almost certainly helmet-less; and then hope that current-day Merckx has created a wardrobe of technical but comfortable pieces that work in today’s climate. All that remains is for him to get used to wearing a helmet and delight over the fact that today’s wool jerseys don’t itch anything like they used to!Merckx no longer has to prove anything to anyone.And nor do you. Just ride your bike.
For as long as there’s pro road racing and competitions focused on speed, there’s always going to be a desire to cheat drag and ride faster. The origin of road racing is through people doing superhuman things on bikes, so in this respect, a superhuman physique is something of a prerequisite. The reality is that this image is the dream that we’re being sold and, quite frankly, we’re okay with that.But don’t forget that there is another way. We’re agents of change each time we grab a piece from our wardrobe. Own an awareness of your style choices – whether you prefer full pro-team, flannel shirts aplenty or under-the-radar muted tones, it’s your decision.Oh, and for the record, we didn’t approach Eddy Merckx for his opinion, but we reckon he’d agree.
Body positivity has finally broken ground within cycling, and we’ll be its biggest advocates. Riders who don’t have mountain goat genes, listen up: you don’t need to hide; instead, puff up your chest with pride and don whatever you feel most like riding in. All the hippest riding apparel brands are catching on, and producing designs that go beyond a standardised image of a bike rider. Prefer the familiarity of a denim shirt over a tight-ass jersey that saves drag? Don it. Cycling is about more than just fractions of seconds; it’s about moments.
Find out more at velocio.com, rapha.com, isadore.com.
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Words: Moritz Geisreiter Photos: Robin Schmitt, Jan Richter