Are you looking to shift a few extra pounds and think the bike may be the tool that helps you do that?
Good news – you’re on the right track. And I have a reader success story to prove it.
(Yeah, yeah, a sample size of 1 does not prove the argument. BOOM! Sample size of two. I believe we call that statistical significance).
In today’s post, long-time Sportive Cyclist reader Giles Roadnight (which is a cycling superhero’s name if ever I heard one) shares his weight loss ‘secret’ and the remarkable results he’s achieved through one simple lifestyle change (note: simple, not easy).
Oh yeah, Giles also does a fine line in London aggro-commuting videos which he shares on Youtube (don’t watch if you’re thinking about starting to cyclo-commute…).
Over to Giles…
The ‘Secret’ To Losing Over 100lbs
For years – as long as I can remember in fact – I’ve struggled with my weight.
I have always been “big boned”, like most of my father’s side of the family.
After I left school and started living by myself, my diet got worse and I stopped exercising.
In 2009 the scales reached 315lb. That’s 22.5 stones in old money; 143kg in new. I needed to do something about it. So I did.
I made ONE change to my lifestyle, which resulted in me losing 105lb (48kg). I started cycling to work.
That’s pretty much it. That’s my “secret”.
Life Before Cycling
Before my cyclo-piphany, I was a member of a gym. An expensive gym in Wimbledon that I paid for, but didn’t attend, for a whole year.
I also loved food – I still do. As far as I am concerned, pizza is the best thing ever and I ate a lot of it! My kitchen was so small that the microwave wouldn’t fit. As a result, it resided in the airing cupboard. Even heating a ready meal was a pain. I ordered A LOT of takeaway food and ate out at the many great restaurants a short walk from my doorstep.
Even if I’d been going to the gym more than my solitary hour a week (even with a personal trainer), it would not have burnt off all the calories from those take aways.
I don’t remember any specific health issues that I had from being so heavy but I do remember that I got a sore back from standing up for any length of time.
I got incredibly hot and sweaty at any level of activity, and sometimes no level of activity (on the tube for example). I remember that my thighs rubbed together. I never felt comfortable. Sitting, standing, lying I felt like my internal organs were being pressed out of position ( they probably were).
My weight steadily went up…
Whilst I was working in Canary Wharf, one of my colleagues cycled in to work from Wimbledon, very close to where I lived. The general consensus was that he was mad for cycling 12 miles each way!
The ride took him about an hour – about the same time it took me to get the tube and the train home.
This got me thinking. I never had time to go to the gym and I sat on public transport for 2 hours each day. Wasted time, doing nothing….
I knew that my colleague was a lot fitter than me and that I couldn’t start cycling 24 miles a day straight away but I formulated a plan.
I would buy a bike and instead of spending 2 hours a day on a train I would gradually work my way up to cycling the whole way in and out of work and spend 2 hours a day cycling rather than sat on a train.
In May 2009 I bought my bike.
It was not particularly special (I might have given up after a week for all I knew). I bought a Specialised Hybrid and did my first test ride on May 25th. I did 5 miles in just less than half an hour.
I started a blog to track my progress here (I know for a fact that at least 2 people read this as I emailed my mum each link and I bumped into one reader on my commute once!). I also started to track my weight by weighing myself pretty much every day.
When I started cycling I hadn’t been on a bike for about 15 years, so getting started in London was a bit daunting but I didn’t let that stop me. I just took it easy.
The First Week
Initially my plan was to get the train between Wimbledon and Waterloo, and cycle the 5 miles between Waterloo and Canary Wharf. I started by riding one way each day, alternating with public transport, giving a daily distance of 5 miles.
It’s really interesting for me to read my blog posts from those first days. I was averaging about 9 miles an hour and needing a rest in the middle after climbing the stairs at Waterloo!
In the first week I cycled a total of about 20 miles and lost about 2lb (my blog explains that I had a big takeaway that week).
The First Month
I cycled the whole 12 miles for the first time at the end of my third week cycling. I continued to gradually ramp up the miles, working up to 50 miles in week 4.
The First Year
By week 8 I was cycling 70 miles a week and losing 7lb a week. In week 9 I did the whole 24 mile round trip for the first time. In week 13 I cycled a total of 100 miles for the first time.
In week 19 I achieved the commuter’s dream. I cycled the whole way in and out every day: 125 miles in 1 week.
In the first 3 months of cycling I lost 33lb without making any other changes to my life – I was still eating bad food.
I did stop cycling over the winter and put some weight back on, but I got back into the swing of things again around March and lost most of the stone I put on in around a month.
Cycling To Lose Weight or Losing Weight To Cycle
Now that I have been cycling for over 4 years and have lost very close to 8 stone my priorities have shifted a bit.
When I started to cycle I was doing it to lose weight. I now simply enjoy cycling, regardless of the exercise it gives me. I go out riding at the weekends as well as during the week.
I’ve done some “big” rides: London to Brighton a few times, Nightrider London and, in 2013, the RideLondon 100.
This year, for the London to Brighton ride, I not only cycled there in less than 3 hours (2 hours 47 minutes) but I cycled all the way home as well.
Now I am the position that I want to lose weight so that I am quicker on the climbs on these rides! I’m very close to my target weight of 14 stone and hope to get to that before this year’s RideLondon.
I don’t want to lose any more weight than that as I am a tall broad guy and don’t want to look too skinny. At that point I will carry on cycling but eat more (oh joy!!! 🙂 ).
The Benefits Of Cycling
I am completely different person to the person who started cycling in 2009.
I now cycle 180 miles a week. Having moved house, my commute has increased to 18 miles each way.
I think it is fair to say that I am now really quite fit. It is rare that another cyclist goes past me on my commute when I am trying reasonably hard. I can average a power output of 400W for over 5 minutes, I can run up stairs with with ease.
My wife constantly gets annoyed that she has to keep replacing my clothes. I started out as a 44” waist, and now I’m 36”. I should probably move to 34” as my trousers are starting to feel too loose again!
I had to get my engagement ring sent away to be resized 3 times!
Meeting friends that I’ve not seen for a while pretty much always gets comments about how much weight I have lost.
Strategies for Cycling (And Weight Loss) Success
When I started out I took it very slowly and gradually built up the miles. I was quite fortunate in that I could break my journey up and do part of it on a train and then gradually start cycling the whole way more often.
Listen To Your Body
Especially at the start, take note of how you are feeling. Your body is going to take a while to adapt to this new lifestyle. If you have a sore arse (and you will) then don’t go out that day. You will just hate the ride and probably make it even worse for the next ride. Similarly if you are feeling tired or have sore legs take a day off.
Don’t use ‘Listen To Your Body’ to get out of doing a ride just because you’re feeling lazy!
I weigh myself every day and record it. I can look back to 2009 and see exactly what weight I lost on what days. I also tend to note down what I ate each day so I can see how much of an effect it has had. It’s important to realise that your weight will go up and down. The important bit is that it goes down more than up. Aiming for a loss of a few pounds a week is a good goal.
Keep It Up
As touched upon in the previous point your weight will go up and down. Don’t let this get you down. If you have a blow out weekend, you will put some weight back on. In fact I always put weight on over the weekend as I don’t really diet then. My aim is to lose that weight I have put on and a bit more by Saturday morning.
Be Bad Sometimes
I certainly can’t be good all the time. I tend to treat myself to a week off when I can eat what I want (within reason) each time I get to another stone lost or some other target. As mentioned, generally I eat what I want at the weekend.
When I started cycling my diet was pretty much unchanged but the weight came off very easily.
Gradually as I have lost more weight I have had to adjust my diet to maintain the weight loss. I am now quite strict with what I eat during the week. Porridge for breakfast, salad for lunch and a ready meal for dinner.
I have found that if I do not eat enough I get very tired and cycling can be difficult. Eating what I want at the weekend helps to restore lost glycogen reserves and intramuscular sugars. I also tend to eat fig rolls before cycling home and sometimes have a healthy dessert after lunch or a flapjack for example with afternoon coffee.
It is a bit of a balancing act to eat enough to maintain energy levels for both general mood and for cycling but keeping the calories down enough to carry on losing weight.
I always have a target that I am aiming towards. This usually involves a weight loss of 2 or 3 pounds a week, moving towards the next stone or half stone milestone. This year my target was to hit 14 stone for the beginning of August, ahead of the RideLondon 100.
I’ll be honest with you – most of the targets I set I do not reach. I do not let this bother me. Having a target will give you something to aim for and will give meaning to your weight when you check it. It will also make you think twice if you are considering ordering a takeaway instead of having something more sensible.
Slow And Steady Wins The Day
I have lost basically 8 stone in a little over 4 years.
Even though 8 stone sounds impressive, it’s important to note that I haven’t lost it that quickly. I have a graph of this weight loss and you can see that there are a few points where my weight goes up by a stone or so. I have probably lost more like 16 stone in those 4 years but put 8 of them back on!
I put on weight when I stopped cyclo-commuting during the first two winters, and during periods when I’ve been ill or unable to cycle for other reasons (e.g. I was on jury service last year).
Again I don’t really let this bother me. I know that when I get on my bike I will lose it quickly.
I did not set a time limit on when I wanted to get to a reasonable weight as I knew that the fact that I was exercising was far more important that the number shown on the scale and I knew that I would get there in the end.
And so, having deployed all his knowledge-bombs and motivation-grenades, Giles leaves the (virtual) Sportive Cyclist building. No doubt to get back on his bike.
My takeaway (ahem) from Giles’s story is the value of persistence. Of taking incremental steps each day, each week and seeing the improvements come over the months and years. It’s a long game, but one worth playing.
Now get out on your bike and ride!
PS. I think I probably have one post left in me for this ‘Get Lean For Performance’ series. I’ll publish that, plus my own fat loss results in the coming days. In the meantime, the previous posts in the series can be found here (How To Achieve Your Racing Weight Without Starving Yourself) and here (Cycling For Weight Loss).