Women on Bikes Series: Amanda Cude

I’m Amanda and I am a blogger and REI employee. I started my blog plussidelife.com a little over a year ago.

I try to encourage women of all shapes and sizes to get outside. After trying to find people like me online that enjoy the outdoors and are plus size I just wasn’t getting anywhere. So I decided I would lead the pack and start my own blog.

I started riding bikes as an adult back in 2014. I got a super cheap cruiser on Black Friday and would ride with my husband, Jeremy, to the grocery store across the street. It was fun but I wasn’t convinced yet.

Then we spent the summer of 2015 in Tucson, AZ and it changed everything for me. The city has over 100 miles of greenways that connect all the neighborhoods to all the businesses. We would go on casual rides on the greenway and I just loved it. I felt like a kid again. During this time my Jeremy started to get into mountain biking. He had a WalMart mountain bike and literally rode that bike until the bike shop couldn’t fix it anymore.

We moved back to Charlotte and wanted to take that love of cycling with us. I traded in my cheap cruiser and got a hardtail mountain bike (Elphaba) and Jeremy upgraded to a full suspension mountain bike. The first time I rode on a trail I went over the handlebars and down a ravine. I was bruised all along my side and had a black eye. I started to wonder if I bit off more then I could chew trying to ride trails.

I went back and forth riding a small green trail, getting hurt and wouldn’t ride again for another month. Then would stop riding because it was too cold. My skills never seemed to get better because every time I would ride I would hurt myself. After I sprained my ankle last fall I was ready to really ride on a regular basis and improve my skills once and for all. I hated not being able to move like I once could.

After my ankle healed we went to Santos, FL to see family and took our bikes with us. It was the perfect place for me to gain some confidence and get back on the bike. I even did my first wall ride there. At the same time, I switched jobs and started working at the local REI. Jeremy already worked there as a bike tech and had gotten into bike commuting. I talked about it for a year but finally committed to joining him. I got my e-bike (Topanga) to commute with and never looked back. Now I ride on group rides with friends once a week. I ride to work a few times and go on long rides around the city. I’ve also gotten better and handling my bike and am finally seeing improvements on the trail too.

I have plans to take my e-bike and do my first half-century this fall. So far the longest distance I’ve done is 32 miles. I’m also working on mountain biking and hope to tackle a trail or two in Pisgah and/or DuPont in western NC.

Instagram: @plusside_life
Facebook: @theplussideoflife

Tell us about your introduction to #bikelife and what inspired you to start cycling as an adult?
It started very organically. Eight years ago we rented bikes to ride on the beach during our honeymoon and realized how out of shape we were but we had fun. We decided a few years ago to get cheap ‘walmart’ bikes to ride the sidewalks to get to a few places that were close by. It felt good to be ‘green’ and cycle to get groceries instead of taking the car. When we moved to Tucson it just exploded and we were opened up to a whole new world of what riding a bike could mean. I felt like a kid again and had a huge smile on my face every time. I wanted that fun experience to last so I kept riding my bike.

What was the deciding factor to get involved with mountain biking?
FOMO My husband, Jeremy started mountain biking in Tucson and would tell me about his rides. It sounded like so much fun to be out in nature and ride. So when we moved back to Charlotte I wanted to be able to join him. We lived right next to the US Whitewater Center and he would bike the trails while I walked them. It wasn’t as fun walking by myself while he literally rode laps around me. So I wanted a bike to join him.

You ride with Race Face Chester pedals, tell us why you like riding with grippy flat pedals-
I’m already clumsy and have very little handling skills on the bike. So the last thing I need is to be clipped in. I kept having issues with my feet falling off the pedal when I rode, either from pedal strikes or just not getting my cadence and gears in balance. When Jeremy started working in the bike shop he learned that people buy these pedals all the time and always say good things about them. Once he told me I could get lime green and match my bike I was sold. I tried them out and felt so much better and more confident riding. I haven’t looked back since.

Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome? 
I got my mountain bike for my birthday two years ago. The first time I rode it I went on a simple green trail that I had hiked before. I started to get more speed then I felt comfortable with and tried to break but I couldn’t stop. Next thing I know I’m down a ravine about 6-8 feet below the trail. I went over the handlebars, took down a baby tree, and was covered in bruises. I felt like a badass going into work that week because I had a story to tell but in reality, I was scared to get on my bike. This process continued for the next year and a half. I would finally get the courage to ride my bike, crash and then take off a few months before I would try again.

The worst was right before Thanksgiving last year. We had visited family and decided to take our bikes with us to ride afterward at a trail we had never gone to before. It was starting to get dark and the park was closing down. Instead of finishing the trail we decided to turn around and ride back to the car. I went up a rooty section and loss momentum, in trying to bail on my bike my hoodie got wrapped around the handlebars and my bike landed with pedal hitting my foot. Once I caught my breath I tried to stand up but I was in so much pain I couldn’t put any pressure on it. We tried to see if I could ride down the hills and walk up the other side but I could barely walk. We ended up with Jeremy riding down the service road beside the trail in the car and picking me up. I thought it would be a normal injury where I’m sore for a few hours but then it goes away. The next day it was worse and I went to the urgent care. I had a sprained foot and was put in a boot and told to stay off of it for 6-8 weeks. This was my first time getting seriously hurt ever in my life. I took a lot out of me mentally to not be able to do anything normal. Physically I gained 10 pounds from lack of moving around.

I was so determined and I didn’t want to feel helpless. I gave myself all of winter to heal took a very level and simple trail to ride. It built up my confidence so I did it again. Now after a few months of riding on a regular basis, I’m starting to actually see improvements in my riding but also having fun because I’m not hurting myself every time I ride.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I’m honestly not good at any handling skills. I’m just now starting to get the hang of leaning in the turns and feeling comfortable with speed in certain sections. I will say that I practiced my skills a few times on a regular basis and it has helped me out. I don’t like spending 30 minutes to an hour working on lifting my front tire or riding up and down curbs but the next time I go on the trail I always see improvement so clearly working on skills does help.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I feel free when I ride my bike. I see strangers looking at me weird and I just think “You’re missing out on the fun

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them? 

First is Elphaba she is my Cannondale Tango hardtail mountain bike. Yes she is named after the character from Wicked. It is the first bike I ever spent a good chunk of money on and I really enjoy riding it. For the most part, she is all stock parts, I switched out the saddle and pedals but other then that not much has changed. We have a saying that you can’t upgrade bikes until you out ride what your bike is capable of. So I see this bike being with me for a few years. Second is Topanga, my Specialized Como 2.0 Ebike, and yes I loved watching Boy Meets World as a kid. I got this bike because I wanted to be able to keep up with Jeremy on the road and commute to work. This bike has completely changed my life and made me ride more than even I imagined.

You have recently purchased a Specialized Turbo Como 2.0, tell us about your decision to go with a pedal assist bike and why you chose the Specialized Turbo Como 2.0-
I had looked into getting an ebike for well over a year. I probably looked at about 10 different options and test rode about 5 different bikes. I’m overweight and out of shape and I knew that by getting an ebike it would level the playing field so to speak. When Jeremy and I would ride on the greenways on my mountain bike I naturally went about 8-9 MPH, on my ebike I naturally go about 12-13 MPH. I wasn’t holding him back anymore, in fact, I could actually outclimb him. When it came down to what bike to choose all of them were in the same relative price point. They all felt the same as far as comfort and ease of using the pedal assist. I ended up with the Como because it looked the prettiest. It may sound cheesy but I really wanted the battery to be integrated into the down tube instead of looking like a brick glued to the side. I couldn’t stop thinking about the color and how much it matched my personality.

There are folks out there who feel that they aren't getting a "workout" when riding an e-bike or they are "cheating", tell us how this bike has opened up doors for you-
I would say those people are missing the point. The very first ride I did with my ebike was a group ride around town. We did 10 miles at a relaxed pace. My friend had invited me on this ride for months and I wouldn’t do it because I knew I couldn’t do the distance or climb some of the hills. No one knew it was an ebike until after the ride was done. In fact, I’ve never gotten a bad comment about riding an ebike. The opposite happens, people ask questions and want to know how it works. I find that I’ve become an unofficial spokesperson for ebikes because I'm normally the first one they have ever seen.

I tell people all the time that I’m riding a bike just like them. I just have a little help and modified it to work for me. It is very common to see people modify workouts for yoga or CrossFit. It is the same idea here. I still have to pedal or the bike doesn’t move, I’m still putting in the effort.

For folks who have not tried an e-bike, what would you tell them?
Don’t start in Turbo! But seriously give it a try. I know a lot of people want to be pure when it comes to bikes and that's great. But I believe that ebikes open a door to allow other people to ride who might not or could otherwise. Think of the motor as your front chainring. When going downhill or level stay in eco mode. When you get to a steep section then turn up the assistance to touring or turbo. Understand that the assistance stops at a certain speed, for most bikes, it is 20 or 28MPH. Once I get close to that speed the bike will actually drag to purposefully not go over that limit when trying to use that assistance, similar to a car that has a governor on it. That being said you can ride really fast and it doesn’t stop when going downhill and you aren’t pedaling.

How has purchasing an e-bike bettered your #bikelife experience?
This bike really has changed my life. I find myself wanting to ride more then I had originally expected. It is now common for us to ride after work for 45 minutes or longer. It has made riding fun and not just work. The other day we rode for a few miles after a thunderstorm came through and Jeremy was like we never use to do this. I didn’t have to think I just jump on the bike and go. I’m riding longer distances then I thought I could. I even put my mountain bike tires on the ebike and took it on gravel roads. Last year I rode about 100 miles all year, now I average 100 miles a month.

Tell us about your blog and what inspired you to create it?
I actually was looking specifically for a blog that talked about being a woman and enjoying nature. I found a few but when I tried to find other plus size women who liked to hike and bike I couldn’t find anything. I knew we existed but no one was out there. So I started The Plus side of Life. I want to show women that size is just a number and the outdoors are there for everyone. It is a place where I try to inspire women by showing me out there trying but also to educate those who have never tried anything like this before. I didn’t grow up really outdoorsy, we would car camp a few times and maybe fish but that was about it. I didn’t really find this lifestyle until my mid-20s. I think a lot of people are out there wanting to connect with nature but don’t know where to start or get intimidated at stores. So I just let people know I get it, let me help you.

What has been the most interesting thing that you've experienced since you started blogging about your #bikelife?
I kept the idea of my blog in my head for a long time. I told Jeremy about it and he was 100% behind it. I wrote for a while but never consistently and never really promoted it. At the beginning of this year, I decided to really work on making this blog a priority. I told one of my friends about it and she was like yes this is needed. I wasn't sure if she would get it since she is a standard size and then she told me about her family that is plus size and loved the connection. When I started my new job I told a co-worker and she was like yeah I know I read it. I was so happy to hear someone say that they read it. Then she told me that her mother-in-law is plus size and is constantly talking about needing more women of size out there being represented. When I met her mother-in-law she was so happy to meet me. She told me to just keep doing it, that she loved that someone was stepping up to give a voice. 68% of American women are a size 16 or higher. I just want to show that we love to be outside too.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
I think women are afraid to ask questions and risk looking silly or dumb. At the same time, I think men give off that it is a boy’s club feel, whether it is intentional or not. I think it starts at the bike shop. Women need to feel comfortable and accepted.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
We need more representation of women. I would love to see more women being bike shop owners, mechanics or just working with bikes. At the same time, most companies that show women with their products show the same size women. It is very common to see Clydesdale men on the trail and clothing going up to a XXL for men. But they expect women who ride to be these small petite girls who only like pink. I would love to see Athenas get the same kind of love. There are currently three companies that show up when I search plus size cycling clothing. (SheBeest, Terry, and Aero) Like I said earlier the average woman is not a small or extra small, yet that is the most commonly stocked size. I think if more women see someone their size out there riding it will encourage them to ride and help them picture themselves easily right.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I just have so much fun riding that I want to share that joy with others. It is a great way to get outside,
workout and just have fun.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love color. I’m always wearing bright colors and I love coloring books. I even have an Instagram dedicated to documenting all of my coloring books. It’s my art. I’m inspired by Lisa Frank.