Travelling the country by bike with her husband, Jenny Melanson is on a mission to promote a healthy, balanced lifestyle and show the world that cycling is not a one-size-fits-all sport. A certified translator from Canada who loves her vinyl collection, good food, wine, and, of course, riding her bike, Jenny is known to her followers on Instagram as @thephatcyclist.

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When her love for cycling was rekindled 8 years ago, she struggled during a 7 km trail ride, now she’s doing nine-day trips on a fully loaded bike and loving every minute of it. We talked to Jenny about how the cycling community is becoming more inclusive, ways to incorporate riding into your daily schedule, and her favourite padded shorts. Check it out.

How did cycling come to play such a big role in your life?

When I took up cycling again 8 years ago, it was a struggle. The first time we went out, we did about 7 km on a flat trail, and I thought I was going to die. Thankfully, one of the great things about biking is that you get better fairly quickly if you keep at it.

Things progressed rapidly after I got a slightly used Specialized Vita. That bike has gone above and beyond for me! Our vacations are usually week-long bike tours on a mix of road and trail. I love everything that goes into those trips: the planning, the scenery, the stars… and let’s not forget the beer and wine. I find it very rewarding, both physically and mentally—getting up hills that I would have died on a few years ago, persevering through a tough day to get to the destination, and just breathing in all that fresh air.

When you’re not travelling, how do you fit cycling into your day-to-day?

I do the 21 km commute to work whenever I can. The morning commute is magnificent, low traffic, cool air, and sunrises in the fall. The rides home are a little more hectic, but at that point you just need to get home, so you do what you gotta do.

Who do you usually ride with and where do you go for cycling inspiration?

I usually bike with my husband. It’s something that we love to do together and that we’ve built on over the years. I’ll go out on my own once in a while and commute by myself. I also went on my first group rides this summer! It was such a great experience to ride with a bunch of awesome women.

Luckily Prince Edward Island, the province we live in, is very scenic. That alone inspires me to get on my bike. I’ve also been filling my social feeds with cycling content, which helps me discover motivating women from around the world.

Society as a whole seems to feel quite comfortable making assumptions about why women exercise, regardless of their size. Have you encountered this at all?

Yes, all women obviously exercise to lose or maintain weight, right? Ugh. Fortunately, other than weight-loss-focused accounts following me on IG, I don’t think I’ve encountered this personally. It does remain a pervasive message on social media, however. I’ve been working hard on following healthy, body-positive content that inspires me and that’s more in line with why I bike, i.e. physical and mental health, NOT attaining some arbitrary number on a scale. I love feeling how much stronger I am now and seeing the progress I’ve made. I see more and more positive groups and pages popping up, though, and it warms the cold cockles of my heart to see them. Let’s hope society follows suit.

It’s so great to see the community changing in a positive way. Everyone has bad days, though. What has been your biggest challenge as a cyclist?

Getting out of my damn head! In the first few years, whenever I would have a ‘bad moment,’ whether it was a tough hill, sore legs, or just feeling tired, I would focus solely on that. Unsurprisingly, the moment would go from bad to worse. I’m still working on it but have got a lot better at focusing on positive mantras when things get tough, even if it’s as simple as ‘Keep pedalling’ or ‘You got this.’ It’s not a perfect system, but it does make a world of difference. I firmly believe that how you speak to yourself impacts everything else.

Do you have any tips for plus-size cyclists regarding gear or brands that carry larger sizes?

I hate ordering cycling clothes online, but being a size 16 means that what’s in stores doesn’t always work for me. The best padded shorts I have are Pearl Izumi, and I did buy these from my local bike shop, but I’m at the very top of their sizing. A friend of mine has had good luck with SportivePlus, and I also like AeroTech Designs. Jerseys are not my thing, because I get way too hot in them and they’re too short for my liking. I much prefer regular sports tank tops or sleeveless shirts, which are easier to get in bigger sizes. My bike shop also ordered me a hi-vis sleeveless Louis Garneau top for cheaper than I could have got it on my own. It’s perfect for the road.

My advice is to take your time and invest in high-quality, comfortable padded shorts. The tops can be whatever you’re comfortable in and don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

What do you wish you’d known when you started cycling?

How important proper gear and setups are. It took me a long time to realize that a higher-quality bike and seats are worth every penny (and that they need to fit you properly). Also, padded bike shorts are life, don’t be afraid to go into a bike shop and ask questions, and GET THAT SEAT UP! But of course, I’m definitely still learning.

Thanks so much, Jenny. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Build a relationship with your local bike shop! We give them practically all our biking needs business and they are so good to us. They will order items for us, get special pricing, give us advice and recommendations, etc. Shoutout to everyone at MacQueen’s Bike Shop in Charlottetown 🙂

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