Fat Can: Carla Cycles Le Cure de France by Carla Francome
My name’s Carla. Hi! I ride a bike around London, produce TV Programmes, campaign for healthy streets, and have two kids. I am also, you might have noticed, not skinny.
I weigh 13 stone 6, (86 KG), and I’m almost 3 stone heavier than when I got married. But let me tell you a secret. I thought I was too fat on my wedding day, even though I was 3 stone lighter. I’ve always had a general vague sense it might be nice to lose a few lbs, whatever weight I’ve been. And I’ve done all the diets. But as a woman with two kids in her mid-forties, I just accepted it really as one of those things, every year, you gain a couple of pounds and have to get a few new bits to wear, shove the other clothes in the loft. I’ve always been a big fan of shoes and chunky necklaces- whatever my weight, they still fit!
It all changed two years ago, when I got back on my bike and began campaigning for safe cycle routes and people-friendly streets. The more I cycled and campaigned, the more my weight was mentioned by people trying to bring me down a notch or two.
Suddenly, the attacks were everywhere- some on the streets, and lots online. I was called a “chunky bitch” by a driver when I asked if he could, possibly, consider overtaking me without threatening my life (unreasonable I know I know). And over on twitter I’ve been called a “fat bitch” “tubs”, a “pie eating cyclist nut job” (their grammar, I’ll leave you with it), and told I’m someone who “likes to snack”.
My weight even came into it when I received a death threat. One man wrote on twitter that “The only time I’d want to see her is rolling off the bonnet of my car. … obviously I would never run her over. She’s a fat cow and I’m in a rental so could never cover the excess”. Nice!
Also, many anonymous people online (unfit men by the looks of things), have- whilst probably sat covered in crumbs behind their computer- pointed out that it’s interesting I’m not thin given I ride a bike.
Well let me tell you another secret- I haven’t lost much weight since I’ve been cycling- my body has just adjusted to it- but I’ve read that it’s that adjustment which makes you healthy. And generally I’ve found that fasting can make me thin, but cycling just makes me hungry. And I prefer to cycle than to fast so, go figure.
These trolls have all been looking for my weak spot to attack, and of course it stings, and makes me much more conscious of my weight, of course it does. I’m suddenly aware that lots of people are judging me on my looks, thinking critical things about me. But also, of course, I think “screw you mister/missus”, and carry on doing what I’m doing. I said to a male friend, “what would they call me if I suddenly got thin?” “Oh they’ll just call you a whore instead” came his reply. Charming.
Well this fat chunky bitch/pie-eating whore/whatever is currently quite fit. I am lucky enough not to be injured (touch wood), and I’m training for a 4-day ride in the Alps that will follow some of the Tour de France route- we’ll cycle (all being well), 438 KM, and 8,831 M elevation in 4 days. The ride is called “Le Cure de France”, and was set up after one of my friends fought and survived a fierce battle with cancer.
It was September 2013 when our dear friend Marianne was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were in our early 30s, and Manny, a practicing barrister, had no family history of the disease. It was a big shock, and a big tumour - 6 cm across, and it had spread to atleast two of her lymph nodes. I’ll never forget seeing her during the early two-week period as she waited to see how much it had spread, what she was looking at. She was so strong, but it was obvious she was worried, and thinking about her own mortality.
Manny was referred to the Royal Marsden hospital and received chemotherapy, and was the first person to receive a particular combination of drugs. It was gruelling, but Manny survived, and Le Cure was born, to raise money for cancer research. Over the previous 9 years, riders have raised £2.4 million for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, and created seven le cure research fellowships.
This year will be the 10th anniversary, and the first time I’ve attempted the ride, and I’ve needed to get the training in. Sundays are long rides with Islington cycle club that I joined a month ago, Wednesday mornings are laps of Swain’s lane, and then anything else in between. A lot of days and evenings, I’ve just gone out and cycled up all the hills I can find locally. Luckily I live in undulous North London, so that’s been possible!
I’ve been a bit more careful this year with my eating and been training hard, and have lost nearly a stone. I actually found this slightly annoying in that I wanted to be defiant against the trolls. But actually, the lightness will make it a bit easier when cycling in The Alps, where I’m going to need all the help I can get!
When I started properly training, a friend (actually the Bicycle Mayor of Inverness, Emily Williams no less), recommended 'Fat Lad at the Back' to me. She said that she found everything really comfortable and the sizes good. I got a tape measure out to look at sizing, and got on the website.
The sizing has been perfect for me, and everything is super comfortable. It’s flattering too, and I absolutely love the designs. I wear lippy when I ride because there’s always SO MANY options for a quick but of banter and a flirt (oh I fancy everyone I’ve ever met, and a cheeky wink and bit of a flirt is of course the main reason I cycle- it’s all 100% harmless fun), and I love the colours and designs of everything. The clothes make me feel a million dollars when I ride.
I got the star shorts first after accidentally flashing everyone one day in a skirt. I joked that any driver behind me should count every single star on my bum before thinking about overtaking me. In fact I’d be happy if this was written in the Highway Code.
I love the “Sisters of the Wheel” top too. The design reminds me of my best friend who I’ve known since I was 2, Ursula, who is rock-hard, covered in tattoos, and plays roller derby and rugby. I’ve never felt as cool as her, until now … nearly.
And I love the Beryl top. It was only after I got it that I realised the full story and learnt all about Beryl Burton- how she once passed a man and gave him a liquorice allsort, how she was called “the boss” by male cyclists, and how she was just- well, absolutely incredible on two wheels. I’ll never have Beryl’s speed, but I sure do hope to channel some of her attitude, which I’m going to need in The Alps.
My beautiful little sister is getting married this weekend, and after all the comments about my weight, I’ve been putting off getting a dress for months. I feel great in cycling clothes, but I was dreading going to a changing room and seeing myself in the mirror in that harsh light.
With just 10 days to go before the wedding, my mum had to take charge. “I’ll look after the kids, you get yourself to the department store” she said warmly. I dropped the kids off and headed to John Lewis. I picked up a bunch of things and braced myself for the changing room.
But actually, something strange happened. It wasn't terrible! I fitted into a lot of size 16 dresses, which I’m not sure if I’ve done for a year or so, and I found a cracker- a lovely royal blue satiny number. And I actually thought I looked (gasp)- not too bad!
But more than that, when I stood staring at myself in the mirror in this new snazzy dress, I felt so much pride in my body. Pride that in 3 months of training, it’s responded to the challenges, each week being able to do a bit more. That I can now keep up with some riders from Islington cycling club even when it’s over 100 km. Pride that in one day, I cycled over a mile in elevation, while also cycling a long way. Pride about what my body can do for me, rather than how it looks to someone else.
My sister’s wedding is this weekend in Yorkshire, and I can’t wait. And I’m pleased that I’ll turn up looking my best, and be concentrating on her and her husband-to-be, and not worrying about how I look. Because the real freedom of course (apart from whizzing around on a bike), is complete self-acceptance.
And if you’re reading this thinking you’re “too big” or “too thin” or “too this” or “too that”, let me tell you you’re perfect just as you are. And also, if you’re thinking your body can’t yet cycle a mile elevation, just remember your body is for you, and to do what you can. If yesterday you didn’t wiggle your toes on the sofa and today you do, that’s a nice bit of progress. Our bodies are for ourselves, to serve us where they’re able. Not for anyone else to judge. And the sooner everyone realises this, the better.
If you’d like to follow Carla’s “Le Cure” adventure, you can keep updated on Twitter- her profile is here …
And no pressure but if you’d like to find out more about sponsoring her, her link is here … No donation is too small!