Who do you think you are anyway?
Oh gosh, answering this is always hard - I feel like I didn't become a "cyclist" until the past couple of years, even though I've always enjoyed riding bikes and that there's so much more to me than just bikes. I was raised in Texas and moved to Washington when I was in middle school, later moving to Seattle to go to the University of Washington. I've lived in Seattle since 2004, so nearly 16 years (which makes me really old.) For my day job, I work for a really big logistics company as their Global Environmental Manager - I do all of our internal environmental stewardship work, as well as helping other companies reduce the environmental impact of their global shipping. It's kind of funny that I ended up working for "the man" - I was a Gender Studies major in college and never, ever imagined myself working behind a desk for 8 hours a day. I guess when you graduate into a recession (hello 2008) you take what you can get and I've been fortunate to grow my entry-level position into a pretty darn good career.
When I'm not at work or riding bikes, I spend my time in my garden or volunteering. Since COVID, I have taken on a twice-weekly home delivery shift with our local food bank. Every Wednesday and Thursday I deliver food essentials from the food bank to our neighbors who are high risk. It's been a nice way to feel like I'm helping the community in these mad times - even if its just for 18 families a week or so that I deliver to.
I'm also a co-organizer of Moxie Monday, a local WTFnB bike group here in Seattle. Prior to COVID, we hosted a once a month social ride on Mondays and an annual alleycat (that Surly has sponsored before - thanks btw!) that would bring out 100+WTFnB (Women, Trans, Femme, Non-binary) identified cyclists. I'm so ready for this stupid pandemic to be over so we can be together in the community again.
I guess to address the elephant in the room, I'm most well known as a fat cyclist (Thanks Washington Post). It's funny because I've never really questioned my size or thought much about it or let it stop me from living my life. I've been chubby my entire life but was always a super active kid. I played all sorts of sports - softball, volleyball, did swim team. I was never a stand-out athlete at any of these - in fact, I don't think I ever made varsity for any of these sports but I put my heart into them and had a lot of fun, which I think instilled a love for moving my body at a young age. It didn't matter to me if I was last in a race or struck out, if I was outside playing, I was having fun.
I've carried that attitude over to riding bikes as an adult and now, even though I don't look like most cyclists, I couldn't care less. I love riding bikes, my body feels good when I ride bikes, and I'd love for more fat people to experience the joy that comes with bicycles! I do want to be clear and recognize that I have some privilege in this area - while I consider myself fat (and by most standards I am), I'm still a small-to-mid fat and go through life with the privileges that come with that.
As I've gotten more public with my cycling presence through my blog and Instagram, folks from all over the world have reached out to me asking for advice on being fat and riding bikes. There is a huge, untapped market of fat people who remember the joy of riding bikes and want to get back into it, but the cycling industry has created this insular world, where if you don't look a certain way, or ride a certain type of bike, you don't feel like you belong. My goal is to blow open those doors and welcome new folks, especially people in larger bodies to our cycling community and ensure that they have safe bikes to ride, clothing to wear, and welcoming communities to join. So far, the response has been really positive and I'm really looking forward to the changing face of cycling and growing our ranks!
How’d you get into bikes?
Like many Americans, I rode bikes as a kid in my neighborhood but at some point (about middle school), stopped riding. We used to live on our bikes in Texas - spending all of our free time on them and riding to and from school. I even remember winning the Bike Safety Rodeo in 5th grade for riding my bike the slowest through an obstacle course! Ha - shouldn't surprise anyone now- I'm the queen of going slow.
Fast forward to adulthood- I found myself married and living in West Seattle. The apartment building we lived in offered rental bikes as an amenity, and my wife and I (oh yeah- I'm queer too) took them out for a 7-mile ride around our neighborhood. She was on a road bike that her grandpa had given her, but I was on this apartment building rental - a 3-speed cruiser that wasn't exactly made for long rides. Those 7 miles were painful and slow but something was awakened in me that day as I remembered how much I loved riding bikes.
A few months later, I, unfortunately, found myself single and living on Capitol Hill with a car that I sure as hell didn't want to make payments for. Capitol Hill is the densest neighborhood in Seattle, so not only is parking a total pain in the ass, but a car is definitely not necessary. I sold the car as quickly as I could and reached out to my buddy Ian, who worked at a local bike shop for help. I remember telling him "I want to be like the cool people who ride bikes around town, like to work and stuff." He helped me find my first bike, an old Nishiki road bike and I was off to the proverbial races.
I started commuting to work by bike and was also tearing up the local dating scene. That summer I remember always showing up to dates on my bike, so proud of myself but usually with chain grease on my hands or legs. I wish I had more photos from this time - I was probably a hot mess. That first summer I also signed up for my first BikeMS ride with my company. (I've now been doing it for 6 years, including our virtual ride this year!) The Bike MS ride is 60 miles - prior to this I had never ridden more than 10, but you bet I made it with a smile on my face.
After that summer and many, many trips to the bike shop for flat tires, brake adjustments and new bike parts, I bit the bullet and bought a modern road bike. This bike also didn't last very long, as I soon discovered bike camping and touring and as it turns out, a light-weight, aluminum road bike with 23mm tires and no braze-ons isn't the best rig for a 250lb woman looking to bike camp.
Which brought me to my Surly Straggler.
Tell us about your Surly Bike
I ride a 42cm 650b Glitter Dreams Surly Straggler. It is my absolute favorite, do-everything, go-everywhere bike. I use it for commuting to the office (back when we did that?), errand running, bike camping, bike touring, light randonneuring, and regular ol' fun rides. I have it set up with full fenders and mud-flaps, front and back racks, and a dynamo light. If the world was ending (which it might be) and I needed to escape, my Surly would be my escape vehicle.
She has gone through a number of different setups, including different handlebars and saddles, but I've come to settle on the Nitto Albatross sweptback bars with a big stack of headset spacers - it gives me a really nice, upright posture which I'm loving. I've kept the original drivetrain and most of the other original components, although I'm upgrading to hydraulic brakes this week which I'm super excited about! As a fat person, I go through brake pads so quickly, so I'm hoping the hydraulics will give me a bit more stopping power, especially into the rainy winter months.
I love so many things about this bike- I think the biggest thing is that she fits me. My first couple of bikes were compromises on so many things, but especially fit. The smaller frame and wheels allow me to comfortably stand over the top tube, maneuver without toe overlap and really be in control of the bike. I also just love how strong the build is - I don't have to worry about breaking spokes or the frame if I'm going down a gravel road with a full load. Also, she's just a really good looking bike.
Favorite bike-related memory?
Oh gosh, where to even start with this? Do I have to pick just one? If I have to, it would be a trip I led for my birthday out to the Dalles in Oregon. I basically sent out an open invite to my WTF friends in Seattle, Oregon and Montana, inviting them to meet me in the Dalles on my birthday for a bike camping trip. The plan was to follow the Dalles Mountain 60 Route, with a detour down the Deschutes River Canyon for bike camping which added 15ish miles. I thought maybe ten friends would join me but was blown away when over 20 folks - including a few people I hadn't met before this ride came out! The ride was challenging and gorgeous, but the best part was making camp next to the river with the crew. My good friend Caitlin surprised me and rode out with cupcakes (I still don't know how they survived the gravel) and it was just a magical weekend of bikes and friendship and good vibes. The ride was later written up for Adventure Cycling and I hope lots of other folks go on that route. It's definitely a favorite of mine.
If you could ride anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I really want to do the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route someday. I think this would be a giant physical challenge for me, but I'm mesmerized by the mountains and small towns on the route. As a corporate 8-5er, finding the vacation time to make that route happen is a bit challenging, but I can ride it in sections for now.
I'd also love to ride more in Europe. I've been fortunate to get to ride a bit in Belgium, the Netherlands and France while on business trips, but would love to bike tour over there. The European bike culture is so different than US bike culture and I'd really love to immerse myself in it.
Where can people follow along with you?
@marleyblonsky on Instagram, my blog is at https://lifeontwowheels.space and maybe one day there will be a YouTube
**Editor's note: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Marley! readers, please give Marley a follow if you have a minute so you can stay up to date with Marley's happenings. As a thank you for sharing her story, we sent some fine Surly gear her way and also made a donation to Marley's Bike MS fundraiser to help those battling multiple sclerosis.