Choosing proper clothing for your cycling activities is supposed to help enhance your performance and make your experience more comfortable, that is after you actually find your ideal size.
This isn’t a big issue for lady cyclists who are on the thinner or more petit side of the spectrum as almost every cycling brand out there produces such sizes. However, for plus-size women, sizing is a real problem when it comes to cycling clothes.
It’s not like being “plus-size” is news to clothing or cycling brands either. Also, it’s not like being bigger is a new phenomenon across our country.
In fact, the average clothing size of an American woman nowadays falls somewhere between 16 and 18. So why do most brands seem to stop at 12 or 14? Better yet, why aren’t they catering to the needs of the average woman?
What are the limitations facing “plus-size” women in cycling clothes? And where can you find the best cycling clothes for women of all sizes if you belong to the category of the real average women’s size?
In today’s article, I’ll be discussing these questions and also offering solutions by reviewing companies that are trying to make a change in the industry.
Are Plus-Sized Women Really “Plus” Size?
When the topic of cycling clothes comes up, most people immediately think of slim, fit athletes wearing jerseys and shorts. This doesn’t just happen with cycling clothes, though, but it’s common in pretty much all sports clothes.
The “normal” for clothing or cycling brands is to produce sizes fit for people on the thinner side or with more “skinny” body shapes, especially when the target market is women. It’s been this way for so long that the vast majority of people just assume that the average woman is a size small, medium, or large.
However, this isn’t true at all.
Yes, many cycling women are size small, medium, and large — nothing wrong with that. But what about thicker and curvier ladies who wear X-large, XX-large, XXX-large, and so on?
Are the latter women not “average”? Should they really be categorized as plus-sized?
Well, you may be surprised to know that the current average clothing size of an American woman is between sizes 16 and 18. This finding is the result of a study done by the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education.
The shock that many people feel when they hear about this is mainly due to the fact that such a body image was hugely under-marketed by brands and retailers, as well as pushed out of the spotlight by the media for many years.
Back in the day, the average women’s clothing size was widely considered to be somewhere around sizes 12 and 14. Most cycling brands would stop there with their sizing options, but over the last decade, it became more clear that this wasn’t the case.
Despite such findings proving that the average women’s size in the United States is above size 16, most retailers still refer to sizes 16 and above as “plus-size”.
Unfortunately, a lot of sports (and regular) clothing brands are yet to update their understanding of women’s bodies in the United States and catch up with the evolution of what’s considered the “average” body image.
Why Don’t Many Cycling Brands Cater to the Average Body Size?
Now that we’ve established that the average clothing size of an American woman falls within what’s considered plus-size, you’re probably wondering why many cycling brands don’t cater to the average body size. and why are bigger sizes a lot harder to come by?
After much research, I believe the answer can be broken down into three main points as follows:
1. The Plus Size Market is Relatively New
First of all, I think the reason why many cycling brands aren’t investing as much effort and money in plus-size clothing is the same reason why regular clothing companies also aren’t doing it. It’s because this type of market is relatively new for mainstream brands.
While there are definitely some brands out there who’ve joined the club and have been pumping out clothes for ladies in bigger sizes, the direction is generally still thought of as recent and an area of experimentation.
This explains why you’ll find that many of the clothing brands that produce options for bigger women are dedicated to plus-size wardrobes. On the other hand, it’s extremely rare for a clothing brand to be dedicated to small sizes. I certainly haven’t come across one in all my years shopping for clothes.
This goes to show how brands generally view the “average” size of women, which as we’ve established before, isn’t actually the average in the real world.
2. The Speciality Factor
If we take a moment to think about how much the “plus-size” market has been neglected in the fashion industry for almost as long as it existed, we can understand why it’s taking time for more and more brands to embrace the change.
That said, things will probably move even slower in the sports branch of the clothing industry. Particularly when it comes to today’s topic, cycling clothes, the specialty factor just further hinders the process.
This makes sense as sports clothing themselves weren’t a category of their own until a few decades back. Specialized clothes for various sports that accommodate the different needs of the person participating in them to improve their performance is an even “younger” concept.
3. The Misconceptions About the Relationship Between Plus Size Women, Fashion, and Being Active
The last reason why not many cycling brands cater to the average “plus” body size has to do with misconceptions about bigger women. These ideas have been embedded in the minds of members of our society for so long, and consequently, have manifested in the products of clothing brands and designers.
Allow me to explain.
For the longest time, most people assumed certain things about thicker, bigger, and curvier women that ended up creating a stereotype featuring images such as:
- Plus size women don’t like to go shopping for clothes.
- Plus size women can’t be stylish.
- Plus size women can’t or don’t want to be active.
With such misconceptions revolving around the relationship between plus-size women, fashion, and being active, it’s no surprise that brands didn’t even bother trying to address this market back in the day.
Applying these stereotypes to the world of sports clothing, it becomes easy to see why the plus-size women’s market is an even more untapped territory. After all, why make sports clothes for bigger women who don’t like to exercise or do physical activities?
The same goes for cycling brands. Of course, I’m not saying these misconceptions make it okay that the industry has ignored the plus-size market for as long as they did. However, they’re facts and we can only learn from them and work to make things better by acknowledging them as issues first.
The good news is that more and more people and clothing brands are realizing they’ve been missing out on a market that’s just as significant and profitable as “regular” sizes — if not more since it’s pretty much the average nowadays.
This also goes for cycling brands.
With time and as more popular sports companies and retailers like Nike and Adidas jumped on the wagon, other brands also started to notice the shift in the industry, and more will probably follow.
This is exactly what happened in the general fashion world once brands have witnessed how profitable sales in the plus-size niche can be. In no time, Making clothes for the “average” woman according to real-life standards and not the standards of a runway or a magazine cover became a huge part of the inspiration behind fashion.
I know it sounds quite money-oriented, but that’s the nature of business. This isn’t to dismiss the fact that many regular and sports clothing brands got into the plus-size market because the people running them actually wanted to give bigger ladies what they needed and deserved.
Plus Size Women’s Cycling Clothes Limitations
Getting clothing brands to notice the demands of the plus-size market and actually address them is a great step in the right direction. However, it didn’t come without a few limitations.
When we talk about plus-size women’s cycling clothes, the two major issues are the following:
1. Higher Prices
For the most part, clothes are more expensive when they’re plus-size.
Now, many will argue that it’s because these sizes use more fabric. While this is true, it’s not the only or the most influential factor at play.
You see, when manufacturers measure fabric for clothes production, they’re mainly concerned with the length of the material (in yards) a whole lot more than its width.
As such, if we consider the same yardage of fabric when making a smaller size and a larger size of a clothing item, we’ll find that the bigger size wastes less material. Less wastage means more profit down the road.
The real expense that the manufacturer endures is the cost of the labor, including cutting and assembling. As most patterns for cycling clothes nowadays are mass-produced and made using a computer, the “labor” portion of the process is way easier, especially when it comes to adjusting sizes since we’re beyond the days when everything had to be done by hand.
Considering these factors, there isn’t a substantial reason for brands to charge customers more just because they wear a bigger size. It’s almost like companies are enforcing a “fat tax” only to make more money off of the plus-size market and blaming it on the “more fabric” card to justify the higher pricing.
What makes matters even worse, is that manufacturers pay per item bulk rates anyway, regardless of the sizes of the clothing made. So not only are they paying the same cost for any size, these larger sizes will be made in the same place by the same workers.
Ironic, isn’t it?
2. Fewer Style Options
Another issue facing “plus-size” women when shopping for cycling clothes is the limited style options.
This is a general problem in plus-size fashion. Fewer colors, fewer designs, and fewer patterns are all hiccups on the way of a bigger woman trying to find proper cycling clothes that she likes/looks good in and are of decent quality.
Of course, it’s no surprise that the limited style options are an even more significant problem for plus-size women in the cycling clothes department. Truth be told, style options in cycling clothes are an issue for everyone, but it’s more annoying if you wear a larger size.
Best Cycling Clothes for Women of All Sizes
Now that you understand why not many cycling brands cater to the average “plus” body size and the limitations that face bigger women when trying to find a proper cycling outfit, it’s time to look at some solutions.
By solutions, I mean brands that are trying to make changes in the industry by addressing the needs of bigger ladies who like to cycle with practicality and style. Let’s take a look at two of my favorite brands and some of their best products.
Machines For Freedom
Machines For Freedom is a real trooper when it comes to plus-size cycling clothing. Commonly referred to as MFF, this brand was launched in 2014 by Jenn Kriske and is headquartered in Los Angeles.
It all started when the founder had had enough of looking for a decent pair of cycling bib shorts that would make her feel comfortable riding throughout the day while still looking flattering on her body. The mission proved to be near impossible, so she decided to get it done herself.
MFF now offers a wide range of cycling clothing including bibs, pants, shorts, jerseys, tops, and tees. They offer sizes up to XXX-large.
MFF uses durable, light to medium weight fabric that’s comfy yet sturdy enough to smooth out dips, providing a flattering finish, regardless of size and shape. The brand’s website features a broad selection of shapes, colors, and styles to help you achieve the perfect fit with your cycling clothes.
To make the search easier, the website is equipped with a size finder that makes a size recommendation based on the measurements you feed it.
That said, the following are my top picks from MFF:
Endurance Women’s Cycling Bib Shorts
The Endurance bib shorts are one of the brand’s top-selling models. They feature grade-A high-density Italian chamois to provide comfort and support during the longest rides.
It offers excellent compression and moisture-wicking. It also includes two rear pockets and reflective strips on the legs.
Summerweight Cycling Jersey
This long-sleeved jersey is the answer to your protection needs against the sun’s harmful UV rays with UPF50+. It’s made out of breathable, lightweight fabric that’s also quick drying and moisture-wicking.
It’s available in 3 color options and comes with three pockets plus an extra zipper pocket.
When it comes to plus-size cycling clothing, fewer brands know what they’re doing as much as Terry Bicycles. This brand was established by Georgena Terry in 1985 when she introduced hand-built bicycles made specifically for women to encourage ladies to be active and fit.
Six years later, the brand launched women-specific bike clothing. The following years featured many hits and innovations for the brand and Georgena such as cycling skorts in 1999, Terry Bella shorts in 2007, and Breakaway shorts in 2013.
Terry Bicycles now offers a wide selection of cycling clothing including shorts, pants, skirts, knickers, jerseys, liners, tops, tunics, tees, tanks, and boleros. They provide sizes up to XXX-large.
Terry Bicycles uses soft yet durable fabric that delivers maximum comfort and support for a sleek, flattering look for bigger women. The brand’s cycling tops are especially known for their impressive colors and patterns.
The brand’s website is equipped with an intuitive filter website that allows you to view your preferred sizes, colors, styles, compression levels, and more to help you find what you need in no time.
That said, the following are my top picks from Terry Bicycles:
Breakaway Mesh Sleeveless Bike Jersey
One of the brand’s bestsellers, the Breakaway bike jersey is 100% polyester on the main body with a polyester and spandex blend on the side panels.
It has a 10-inch front zipper for security and two pockets in the back for extra storage. It comes in 6 unique patterns with bright colors.
Universal Bike Liner Plus Size
If you’re looking for a liner to wear under cycling shorts, skirts, or dresses, this is one of the best options on the market for plus-size women. It’s made out of nylon and spandex, featuring 4-panel construction and ample foam padding.
There you have it, everything you need to know about the reasons not many cycling brands cater to the average “plus” body size and the limitations that face bigger women when trying to find a proper cycling outfit.
Luckily, more and more brands are getting on board with the change in the market. On top of the list are Machines For Freedom and Terry Bicycles, offering high quality, great comfort, and a flattering shape.