The Edit: Are you contributing to cycling’s body image problem?

We can all play a part in creating positive change

Image for The Edit: Are you contributing to cycling’s body image problem?
(Image credit: Future)

Imagine a typical road cyclist. Who do you see? If you’re in the majority, then the rider in your mind’s eye probably has a low body fat percentage. They’re no doubt cresting a mountain, perhaps somewhere in France. 

This week’s most-read story has been our investigation into cycling’s body image problem. It’s indisputable, therefore, that our readers are interested in this issue, and it seems likely that many have first-hand experience - whereby the mental image of what it is to be a road cyclist doesn’t quite connect with our own lived experience. 

Road cycling, like many endurance sports, favours low weight. The athletes who perform at the very uppermost echelons have teams of physiologists at their disposal, to help them to achieve that low weight without hampering performance. But even they, as discussed by Annemiek Van Vleuten last week, can struggle. 

Very few, if any, amateurs have this level of support. And even fewer of us have the genetics to put us in a position to access it. So, why do we waste our energy in the pursuit of the unobtainable? 

I’ve certainly felt, at times, like I’m the wrong shape to be photographed in lycra, or appearing in videos talking about road bikes. Even when I was racing sometimes three times a week and held a Cat 1 licence. And, thanks to the freedom of speech afforded in YouTube comment sections, I’ve received plenty of input to back that self-criticism up, too. The online world can be an unkind place to be. 

Where does that leave us? We, as a sport and as a community, have a problem - and we’re all doing our utmost to exacerbate it? That would be a very negative conclusion to arrive at. 

Breaking out the positive mental attitude - which at least one member of my team says I possess - I’d rather see this as a problem most of us know about, and all of us can do something to address. 

As per the advice listed at the end of our article, “never comment on a rider’s weight or body shape” has to be high on the list, with “reassure club-mates and friends that there is no correct way to look” second and - of course - “be encouraging to newer riders still finding their feet in cycling”.

We all know that there’s a problem. We can all be a part of the solution. 

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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.

Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor. 

Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.