Meet the Women Making Cycling More Size Inclusive
Through All Bodies on Bikes, Marley Blonsky and Kailey Kornhauser are battling anti-fat bias and discrimination.
By Sarah Kuta
Marley Blonsky used to spend hours each week commuting to work by bus and, intrigued by the people she saw navigating the streets of Seattle on two wheels, she got a bike of her own and started pedaling. But Blonsky’s initial excitement was tempered by the limitations of her gear. “That was the first experience that started to open my eyes to some of the challenges of riding a bike as a bigger person,” says Blonsky, who is 36. “I was breaking spokes all the time, and I broke a couple of other components, so I became acutely aware that I was too heavy for this bicycle.”
Eventually, with help from a bike mechanic, Blonksky got onto a bike that worked for her (a steel bike without a weight limit), however, the hurdles didn’t stop there. As her love of cycling grew, Blonsky began taking longer and longer rides and tried bike camping and gravel biking. Still, she couldn’t find a rain jacket, a cycling jersey, or bike shorts because retailers simply didn’t make them in her size of 18-20 for bottoms and XXL for tops.
Blonsky started posting online about what it was like to ride a bike as a person in a large body. One day in 2018, while scrolling Instagram, she came across a post from 29-year-old Kailey Kornhauser, who had also been writing about her experiences and was in the midst of a 1,000-mile ride across Alaska. Ahead of that trip, she, too, struggled to find a rain jacket that fit. The two exchanged messages and became fast friends.
That friendship has since blossomed into All Bodies on Bikes, a movement that aims to get more people on bicycles, make cycling more size-inclusive, and eliminate anti-fat bias in society as a whole. Through All Bodies on Bikes and individually (they work with brands as consultants and influencers/ambassadors), Blonsky and Kornhauser are changing the narrative around what it means to be a cyclist in an industry that has historically catered to people with smaller bodies. “The cycling industry is very, ‘You have to be skinny and dress a certain way and want to ride for the fastest time or the most epic trip ever,’ and our whole thing is, if you want to ride your bike, in any way you want that’s safe and feels good to you, then you’re a cyclist,” says Blonsky.
Though they had both been advocating for size inclusion in cycling separately for years, Blonsky and Kornhauser officially joined forces in 2019 and began giving talks at bike events and consulting with cycling clothing and gear companies. In March 2021, after cycling company Shimano released a short film profiling Blonsky and Kornhauser, interest in their work skyrocketed. It’s grown so much that Blonsky recently quit her full-time job in logistics to work on All Bodies on Bikes full-time. (Kornhauser is finishing her doctorate in natural resource governance and plans to continue working in that field, with All Bodies on Bikes and other cycling work on the side.)
As consultants, they’re helping cycling gear and apparel companies develop and test larger sizes and, through virtual and in-person workshops, they’re educating the cycling community at large about how to be inclusive of riders in larger bodies. They host “no-drop” social group rides (meaning that no cyclist gets left behind) and have created robust online resources for cyclists in larger bodies, allies, and companies and organizations that are prepared to put in the work to be more inclusive.
They’ve even built a testing database with more than 900 potential gear testers in large bodies, which brands across the outdoor industry can pay to access. This year, they’re also forming 10 local All Bodies on Bikes chapters across the country and they’re taking a team of non-traditional cyclists to SBT GRVL, a well-known gravel bike race held in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to build community and show others the diversity of what a cyclist can look like. “They’re driving change in cycling by disrupting the antiquated stereotype that riders need to have a certain physique,” says SBT GRVL owner and professional cyclist Amy Charity.
Blonsky and Kornhauser both identify as fat cyclists, an intentional choice they’ve made to reclaim a neutral descriptor that society has imbued with negative connotations. But they realize that word is not for everyone, and they’re careful to honor other peoples’ preferred language. More broadly, they’re not trying to change how all cyclists feel about their own bodies—rather, they’re trying to change the system itself. And while the focus is on cycling because that’s a sport they’re both passionate about, the work they’re doing is much bigger than that—at its core, All Bodies on Bikes is about fighting fat phobia wherever they encounter it.
“What we’re really trying to do falls under fat advocacy, of recognizing the systematic oppression that people in larger bodies face,” says Kornhauser. “We have to make structural changes to our culture but also to physical infrastructure to allow fat people to exist comfortably as equals.”
As white, middle-class, able-bodied, cisgender, small/mid-fat women, they also recognize that they have a lot of privilege. With that in mind, Blonsky and Kornhauser are advocating for people all along the fat spectrum, including those in bodies larger than their own. And as the outdoor recreation industry grapples with diversity and inclusion more broadly, Blonsky and Kornhauser are using their platform to spotlight and partner with advocacy organizations for other marginalized groups, such as RIDE Group, which advocates for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and Trailblazers + ETHIC, a group trying to improve access to trails and cycling infrastructure for underserved populations. “We try to make our rides or workshops or talks as intersectional as we can, but we also recognize there are people with lived experiences that are different than ours doing this work in cycling,” Kornhauser says.
Ever since their first size inclusion workshop at a bike summit in 2019, Blonsky and Kornhauser say they’ve been continually impressed by the cycling industry’s responsiveness and openness to feedback. That may be because Blonsky and Kornhauser skillfully spell out the business case for making clothing in larger sizes and bikes with higher weight limits. “Yes, it is an emotional, heavy issue to feel excluded or left out, but working with these businesses, we talk with them in dollar-and-cents terms—40 percent of women wear above a size 14, so if you’re not making our clothes, you’re leaving billions of dollars on the table,” Blonsky says. “That always gets their attention.”
Cycling apparel companies are typically designing clothing two to three years in advance, so the changes they are working toward will take time to trickle down to consumers. Having worked in corporate America for most of her career, Blonsky also understands that big companies and their products don’t evolve overnight. Right now, All Bodies on Bikes is focused on getting a seat at the table to start laying out the problem, Blonsky says, but, already, it seems some brands are listening: Cycling gear company Pearl Izumi now sponsors Blonsky and hosted a recent panel discussion about the need for plus-size chamois (bike shorts with pads); the company has also begun releasing clothing in larger sizes and is committed to creating more, per Blonsky.
When she posted a photo of herself wearing a pair of shorts the company now offers up to size 22, Blonsky added a friendly caveat to let her Instagram followers know that, no, size 22 is still not inclusive of everyone—but it’s certainly a start. “I don’t know if this work will ever be complete, but I work with a ‘progress not perfection’ mindset,” she says. “Celebrating the small wins will help us continue to make bigger changes.”
Image: Zeppelin Zeerip