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Today we spoke to Airin Harris, a seasoned cyclist, triathlete, and the founder/chief hustler for Taco Tuesday Bike Club in Crossville, Tennesse which draws a variety of levels of cyclists each week including kids and seniors. Airin calls herself the ‘unlikelyathelete’ on Instagram (give her a follow!) because she is a plus-sized individual living her best life biking, hiking and backpacking in spite of her body frame. She is a body positivity advocate, and wants to share her experiences with all who might be holding themselves back just waiting to get to their perfect body status. Here is our conversation with her…
Tell us about your cycling journey!
I have always loved biking and I started on the back of my dad’s bike as a child. When I lived in Montana, I did a lot of Mountain Biking – I knew the trails, the people, and enjoyed it a lot. When we moved to Tennessee, I didn’t have biking friends but started biking anyways. This was mostly road cycling. I was previously a runner but pretty much stopped running after 2 surgeries for 2 torn menisci! The second one actually tore as I was recovering from the first surgery – yikes! Since these surgeries I’ve taken to biking, and my body just feels much better! I feel great the day after a 100 mile bike ride, when I remember feeling like hell the day after a half marathon 😊 Now, I do all kinds of biking – road, mountain, and triathlon. I average 1K miles each year and I hope to do more once the pandemic is over.
What do you think is the perception of overweight athletes?
Most people are pretty sure that all overweight people are exercising to lose weight. They believe that if we push harder we’ll make it, we’ll be able to shed the weight. There is little awareness, and even lesser interest, in knowing that there are health conditions which truly limit some of us from losing weight. There have been years I have ridden more than 2,000 miles, in addition to competing at events, I’ve burnt more calories than I’ve eaten and still, I wouldn’t have lost a single pound.
I’ve realized you just have to start having fun right now, you can’t wait to reach the perfect body form to start doing what you want to do…nothing is certain and waiting doesn’t help. I’m not cycling to lose weight; I’m cycling because I’m having a ton of fun!
Have you faced judgement for being a plus sized athlete?
YES. But mostly from people who are not in the sport. Cyclists aren’t the ones who have been negative. It’s the non-athletes, it’s the folks sitting on their couches or driving by in their cars, who have a lot to say about a fat person riding a bike. The people who are out there already know how hard this is. They know it’s even harder being overweight, they respect the effort.
So, tell us about Taco Tuesday Bike Club!
When we moved to Tennessee, we didn’t have a big network here. At that time, there wasn’t a bike shop in my town, so I went to the closest shop, about 30 mins away, to get a tune up. The owner knew where I was from, and it just so happened that someone else from my town was in the shop at the same time. He introduced us, and we met up and rode together with our spouses and had tacos for dinner afterward. We decided to make it a weekly thing and thus began the Taco Tuesday Biking Group! The group has grown a lot over the years, some Tuesdays we’d have as many as 50 people joining!
It was important to me to support the new riders through TTBG so we have a no rider left behind policy that we take very seriously. We have a lead who supports the slower riders so the faster ones can have fun the way they want to. If you want to get into biking, find a group that fits your level of expertise. You may want to move up over time but it is important to start with peers who are at your skill level so you don’t feel left behind.
What are 3 things you’d ask someone to do so they can start biking NOW?
Go to the local bike shop to ask about riding groups, trails etc. Google is your friend but can also be your foe with numerous confusing choices at the get go. Try to reduce the amount of information you have to wade through, just get advice from an expert at the LBS.
Don’t over-stress the kind of bike you need to get started. Sky is the limit for how much you can spend on a bike, but the bike you will ride is the bike you need to get started. You can have fun on a $200 bike you got on FB Marketplace…that’s a perfectly fine place to start.
Be reasonable with your goals. Start slow, be kind to yourself, and don’t be disappointed if your goals take you longer to hit than you had planned.
What are your goals for the next year?
Get back to competing! COVID wiped out the events, I can’t wait for these to come back in 2021.
I’m working on getting a blog up and running by the end of October. I get a lot of questions on cycling/hiking for plus sized individuals and I’d love to share my experiences with everyone! I started my Instagram account unlikelyathlete a year ago and I am so pleased with the engagement I have received so far…I get lot of DMs and emails on questions about cycling, and I’d like to start a blog that talks a lot more about my experiences, do’s/don’ts.
Bike camping! I’ve heard how much fun this can be…I can’t wait to get to the backcountry with my husband. We used to backpack regularly so we are excited to try camping in this new format 😊
What are the top 3 questions you get from plus sized individuals?
Do I need a special bike because of my weight?
Where do you find larger/plus-size clothing?
Do I need a different type of saddle because I have a wide/cushy butt?
What do you think is the one thing the biking industry can do to be more inclusive of overweight cyclists?
There are a couple of great companies that make cycling clothing for larger riders (Machines For Freedom, Shredly), but as a rule it’s not easy to find things that fit. There are a lot of people out there riding that don’t fit the standard mold, and the cycling industry would only benefit from welcoming us.