Our Movers and Shakers series features Q&As with women trail blazers in the sport and industry of cycling. These are women who often go unnoticed but make the world of women’s cycling go round.
The women we write about in this series include team owners, key industry players, race organisers, cycling advocates, journalists, inventors, designers, business owners and the professional athletes that often play a huge role in advancing their sport. Is there someone you want to hear form? We happily accept your nominations for Movers and Shakers in the comment sections of these articles.
“You can do so much with your body. I think a lot of us have really fraught relationships with what our bodies look like and often times we forget what they’re really capable of. How far we go with them and how powerful they are. With These Thighs serves as a reminder that regardless of what [our bodies] look like or what we think they might look like, they do some really strong, amazing and powerful things.”
– Marley Blonsky, Global Environmental Manager at Expeditors International, bike advocate, women’s ride leader
All day long we are inundated with messages telling us what to look like, what to wear, what products to use, what (not) to eat, what to buy, etc. Be leaner, be stronger, be smarter, be prettier, be healthier, be richer…do this, be that and always make sure you look good doing it.
We look at photos of an awesome bike ride, race or trip we did, and how often do we cringe, thinking ‘ugh my thighs/butt/waist/cheeks/enter body part here?’. What if, instead, we look back through those photos and say, “Heck yeah, I did that! My body did that”.
That is exactly the message Marley Blonsky is trying to spread with her With These Thighs stickers. The Seattle-based ride leader adopted the rallying cry from Gladys Bikes’ Leah Benson and is running with it, refusing to let our image-conscious culture interfere with her love of riding bikes and empowering others to do the same.
Blonsky also represents a segment of the market that’s largely ignored by the bicycle industry. While there is more and better women’s apparel than ever before, a large segment of the market is still underserved. Would-be customers are resorting to generic athletic clothing because the industry simply ignores their size. In the US, 67 percent of women are considered plus size, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t ride bikes or want to. Blonsky points out that the industry’s ignorance not only hurts their own potential sales, it prevents new riders from falling in love with cycling
In this instalment of Movers & Shakers, we talked with Blonsky about With These Thighs, the struggles of being a plus-size cyclist, and getting more women of all shapes and sizes on bikes.
Ella Cyclingtips: First up, can we talk about these stickers? You have an entire branding around your thighs or rather, thighs of people everywhere…
Marley Blonsky: Yes, a lot of people have image issues around their thighs. And to be perfectly frank, this was not my idea, Leah Benson from Gladys Bikes in Portland started it. And I kinda teamed up with Leah and asked if I could print more of these. I wanted more and I know that I have a voice, I have a blog, I kind of have an online presence. And I said, ‘more women need to have these. We need these out in our community.’ And Leah was all for it, and from there it just took off and it kind of got a life of its own. The response has been overwhelming.
Ella: “With these thighs,” what does it mean?
MB: You can do so much with your body. I think a lot of us have really fraught relationships with what our bodies look like and often times we forget what they’re really capable of, how far we go with them and how powerful they are. With These Thighs serves as a reminder that regardless of what [our bodies] look like or what we think they might look like, they do some really strong, amazing and powerful things.
You know, we climb mountain with them –whether it’s physically climbing them or on our bicycle pedaling –we pedal across the country, we go camping, some women have babies with them, some women don’t, we march in protests, we do all sorts of amazing things with them and With These Thighs is just a good reminder that we are so much more than what we look like.
Your body is powerful. Of course, if you’re not performing the way you want to or having health issues, it’s different. But if your body is doing what you want it to do, celebrate that.
Ella: For you, why do those three words resonate so much?
MB: That’s a really good question. I guess I’ve always been overweight and a larger woman. And it’s something that I kind of got over a couple years ago. I was just like, you know what, screw it! Everything I ask of my body to do – be it on a bicycle or walking or hiking – it does.
And so looking back on those memories, I can say, ‘hey, with those thighs, with this body, I did that!’.
And I think it’s become a bit of a rallying cry and it’s really inspiring to other women.
Ella: Why do you think it is that these empowering messages are now becoming so popular. On one hand, you’ve got this bike industry, finally producing great women’s products but also picking up trends from fashion, including, unfortunately, the image of what a woman is supposed to look like on a bike. And then on the other side, there’s all these women rebelling against this.
MB: It’s a really interesting point in time. You know I get sucked in some of that image-conscious culture too of like, oh my socks have to be at a certain height or I’ve got to have a cap on a certain way and when I take a photo of my bike against a wall, my pedals have to be at a certain angle. But then I remind myself that I can do whatever I want to.
So it’s an interesting juxtaposition that we find ourselves at. But if I want to ride my bike in a dress with chacos because it feels good and it feels functional and it works for me, then I’m going to do it. And I wish more people would embrace that and do what feels good for them. The thing that I like to see us embrace is to do what works well for you. I see way too many people on bicycles that don’t fit them well or that aren’t functional for them.
Ella: So tell me about you and the bike. What’s your bicycling story? When did it start?
MB: It started four years ago. I got divorced and I needed something different. I moved to Capitol Hill and noticed that people were riding bikes, so I was like: ‘I can do that’. I went to 2020 cycles and found a cool Nishiki that I absolutely loved. It didn’t fit me but I loved that bike so much. Since then, it’s been a gradual process of figuring out what bikes work for me, what kind of riding I like to do.
I went from that bike to a little road bike because I thought I wanted to be a road biker. I learned that I didn’t love that, and I destroyed the crap out of that bike. I went on a gravel rides, I took it mountain biking and went through so many sets of tires until I finally landed on the adventure bike I have now. We take it everywhere. Ha, I say “we” – like me and my thighs! Long story short, I have been around the scene for about four years now and I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon.
Ella: So then, is you finding peace with yourself and with your body synonymous with you finding cycling?
MB: I think so, yeah for sure. I think figuring out that I could go on these adventures, on these trips on my bicycle, and that I had the power and the autonomy to go do it, is really what it was. I might not look like everybody else and it might take me a little bit longer –and that’s definitely been a process, you know, to learn that it’s OK to set your own pace. For me it’s all about ‘riding your own ride’ and stopping when you need, eating when you need to, taking photos if you want take a photo — just you know being OK with going your own pace.
Ella: It’s great that you are at peace with your body and have found your community. Being a bigger cyclist can’t always be easy. Can you tell us a little bit of your struggle with finding apparel?
MB: As a cyclist who rides a lot of miles, I want functional clothing. I need functional clothing. It sucks to be riding bikes in yoga pants. Yoga pants aren’t functional for cycling. I have one pair of bibs that fits me and those are getting threadbare. Give me a damn size 16 and a good chamois. Give me a jersey that’s not some ugly floral print and that fits. No, I don’t want to go to the men’s sizes. Even those aren’t always big enough, because they’re made for tiny little dudes. And if you look at the men who are out there riding, yes there are small men but there are also bigger men, and we always need functional clothing.
Ella: Are there brands that are meeting your needs?
MB: Well, the bibs I do have are Giro and Novarro tends to be one of the more inclusive brands…but that’s all I can think of right now.
Ella: So that’s your message to brands then, to look beyond their current market, and look at the underserved?
MB: Yes. Just make bigger sizes! I think that the average size in America, for women, is a size 16. Sixty-seven percent of women are plus size. And it’s not because we’re not active. There is a plethora of reasons why people carry extra weight but we ride bikes, we hike, we get active. We are out there, we are doing cool things so help us look good. Check out #seethe67, a campaign for the 67 percent of American women who are not represented by mainstream brands, meaning that when you go to stores 67 percent of women can’t find their size.
…right, and that translates into cycling apparel…
MB: Yeah totally. I think the largest growing segment of cyclists is women, so there’s this huge opportunity there. If you don’t look good, you’re probably aren’t going to feel good, and then you’re not going to ride your bike.
And not everybody is going to be as outspoken as I am and go up to the Rapha salespersons and say ‘hey, do you have an extra extra large?’. And then they’re just going to look at me because on the sales rack – at least on the women’s sizes – they’ll only show smalls and mediums. They have them, but they make you ask for them, which doesn’t feel good.
Ella: So where is “With These Thighs” going?
MB: That’s a good question. Someone asked for patches and I think shirts are cool, but for me, making sure everything we produce is produced sustainably, with fair wages, is really important, so we’re still working on that. In the meantime, we’re continuing to hear and share people’s stories and just get the message out there.
I just want to get more people on bikes and be comfortable with who they are. Keep riding bikes, having fun. There’s no goal to make money with With These Thighs. It’s just about feeling good, having fun and have more visibility, more representation, more diversion and finding clothes that fit.
Ella: I think it’s an awesome message and I appreciate all you’re doing to get more people on bikes. In closing, I want to ask you our Ella question. What’s one thing you know now that wish you had known when you first started riding?
MB: That’s a very good question. Get a bicycle that fits you. I rode for so long on a bike that didn’t fit me, and it was miserable. I have a bike that’s a 42cm now. It’s teeny tiny but it fits and I love it. I makes everything better.