Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Come on, Mum!
Even Mums need pepping up sometimes. Deb Mayrhofer encourages a riding buddy back into the saddle and back into healthy habits
I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for a while the other day and asked her how her cycling was going. "At a standstill,” she said. “I’ve put on so much weight I’m too embarrassed to get on the bike, but once I drop a few kilos I’ll give it a go.”
Fitness and body image
My heart sank. About twelve months ago, after struggling for years with obesity and every diet craze known, she took up cycling and began riding to and from work each day. The results were quick and amazing. Her weight classification moved from “morbidly obese” to “overweight” in weeks and her self esteem moved up inversely to the dropping kilos. She relished the strength of her muscles and for the first time in her adult life was able to eat without guilt. She even got her kids to ride to school most days.
I regretted losing contact, and suggested we have a ride together, perhaps with the kids. “They haven’t ridden for ages either and I doubt they’d make it up the first hill. Clicking the computer mouse is their only form of exercise!”
Now I really felt bad. While the causes of obesity are a complex combination of nature and nurture, recent research has shown that children of obese parents are more than twice as likely to be obese themselves.
Setting a healthy example
I had let my friend down by not keeping up the support she needed to stick to her cycling regime and she in turn had let her kids down by not presenting active transport as the norm.
As parents we can have a profound effect on children’s attitudes to active lifestyles and in many cases, like my friend’s, the mother plays a key role in determining what form of transport the children will use to get to school. Over the last twenty years as the proportion of children regularly cycling to school has dropped childhood obesity has skyrocketed.
A vicious cycle develops where parents feel that it is easier/quicker/safer for the family to drive rather than ride; so fitness drops, weight goes up and it becomes even harder to choose active transport.
I wanted my friend to jump back on the bike at once, but she shook her head. “People will laugh at me. The last time I rode a carload of hoons shouted at me as they went by. I think it was because I’m fat.”
I tried to explain that carloads of hoons shout and hurl things at cyclists regardless of their weight, but I realised that I had left her on her own too early, and for too long.
We need policy change and infrastructure funding to improve cycling conditions, but most of all we need to support each other and offer encouragement, especially to overwhelmed parents. If each of us could change one non-cyclist into a cyclist we could have an amazing impact. My friend and I are meeting for a coffee ride this weekend; let’s hope it’s a new beginning.
This article first appeared in Ride On magazine, December 2008–January 2009