Cycling was the first proper cardio I took up when I decided I needed to get fit and lose weight. I was 3 years post ostomy, and 2 years post fistula surgery, and all I had managed was some walks. I wanted to try something which was not water based, and which could both support my weight and give me an opportunity to rest in the middle of a session if I needed to. A stationary bike was the perfect solution. I saw a group class advertised, and decided to take the plunge. It cost £5 for the hour, and by committing to 2-3 sessions a week I knew that I wouldn’t want to lose my money. Those years I spent in Yorkshire had a lasting effect on me in more ways than one! That, together with my weight, and lack of fitness, were strong motivations to keep going.
I will list the common concerns ostomates have when approaching cycling, and most, if not all, were my concerns too.
1. Will my bag get squashed by my leaning over body position?
I can only really answer this question based on my own body shape, but I was several stone overweight when I first started indoor cycling, and although my bag felt strange resting on the top of my thigh, it didn’t get squashed. No extra air was squeezed out, and it didn’t cause the bag to leak.
2. If my bag fills with air/poo will it be uncomfortable
The answer to this is a yes I’m afraid! For me especially, when the bag balloons up with wind, it is very uncomfortable, and can create problems with the top of your thigh constantly brushing against the bag, which can in turn create problems when you are trying to cycle up a hill.
3. Can I take extra bag supplies with me on my bike?
Yes you can! You can take a supply of bags, sprays and whatever else you need, in a bike bag attached to the top of your bike.
4. Will my bag rub against me when I am cycling?
Yes, but you can buy chamois cream for this – more on this below.
5. Will my bag activate if I eat when cycling?
This depends on what you have eaten really. A lot of energy bars contain oats and nuts, which can both give me either wind or cause my bag to activate. But no more than what would usually happen.
6. Will the cycle shorts pull on my bag?
Some types are better than others, more on this below.
7. What if I need to empty my bag when I am out cycling?
This comes down to where you are basically! If you can make it into a wooded area you can scuff out a hole with your shoe and empty it into there. Or if you need to change the bag you can go behind a tree, and if necessary take the bag with you in a sealed bag inside your cycle bag.
8. If I fall off and land on my stoma will it be damaged?
This was my biggest worry, and although your stoma does not have any nerves, so you can’t feel pain on it, it is of course vulnerable to being damaged. See below for an explanation of how to protect your stoma.
What to wear when cycling
I find that traditional cycle shorts can pull on my bag a bit, but that is because my stoma is placed quite near the waist line of a lot of them. A lot of cyclists wear bib shorts, which are cycling shorts with a padded area for your bottom (front and back ladies….) and straps which you wear over your shoulders like dungarees. I find these the most comfortable, although they are expensive and are a pain if you need the toilet during a ride. However, I have just discovered endura bib shorts, which have a zip so that you can have quick and easy comfort breaks, without having to take off half of your cycle gear! (https://www.endurasport.com/c/Women%27s-FS260-Pro-Bibshort-DS-II/p/E6124-Rose-Pink )
On the top you can wear anything really, but proper cycling tops tend to have little pockets at the back and sides so that you can carry small items, such as food, your phone, spare inner tubes and even a small gas canister. I buy a lot of my cycling clothes from Aldi and Lidl, as they are excellent quality and a fraction of the price of mainstream cycling specialists. Wiggle.co.uk is an excellent website for things cycle related and they often have great sales on.
It is always recommended that you wear gloves when cycling, as if you do fall off they will protect your hands – skinned palms are not fun! Having said that, I rarely practice what I preach in this regard, as I have freakily warm hands all of the time so can’t bear the feeling of hot hands in gloves. However, gloves can also protect your hands from chafing.
How to protect your bag/stoma when cycling
This was my biggest fear when I started cycling out on the open road, as I had visions of me skidding along the tarmac on my stomach, shredding my stoma in the process. I hunted around and finally bought a protective shield, which has a strong plastic cup that covers your stoma and is attached to an elasticated band around your waist. It took me a few attempts to get the elasticated strap the right tightness – too loose and it would fall down, too tight and I was very uncomfortable. It gave me some much needed confidence that my stoma would be protected if I fell off. Search for "stoma shield guard" on google and you will find lots of results. For example: https://www.easymedshealth.com/products/ostoshield
I find that my bag can rub against my skin underneath where the bag rests against my skin. The remedy for this, handily is chamois cream, which is what most cyclists smear over their bottoms to prevent chafing from the saddle. I smear the chamois cream underneath the bag and it stops it from rubbing. It doesn’t appear to affect the adhesive fixing the bag to the stomach, or the bag material itself – I have used this cream for cycle rides of more than 6 hours and have not experienced any issues. You can buy chamois cream in lots of places, but I get mine from Wiggle.
How to deal with emptying the bag
There are no two ways about this – this can be stressful, but then we ostomates are used to stressful situations when it comes to finding the right facilities for changing/emptying bags! If you know the area where you are cycling, you can aim for toilets – but this is usually better if you are with someone who can keep an eye on your bike while you go to the toilet, or if you take a bike lock with you. I have been known to wheel my precious bike into the toilets with me, leaning it against the wall outside the toilet cubicle, but this isn’t best practice if you have a muddy bike or the area outside the toilet is small! I have emptied my bag in all sorts of places, and I try to find somewhere with leaves, or mud, so that I can create a little hole in the ground with my shoe, empty the bag into the hole, and cover it over. Obviously I never choose public footpaths or anywhere people might walk into it – but the vast majority of my cycling is done in the middle of nowhere so a secluded wood isn’t usually too far away.
As for what to do with your dirty bag when you have changed it – you can put it into your cycle bag that is attached to your bike. Not very glamorous, but needs must! You can always bin if it you are able to if you go past any public toilets or dog poo bins.
As with most new activities with a stoma, I would always advise trying things out before you go “public”. So for example, I would buy some cycling shorts and sit down on my chair while I ate my dinner, to see what they felt like against my stoma and bag. I would lean over in the seat to see what my bag felt like. I would see what food made my stoma activate more (a lot of the energy tablets available which are dissolved in water for energy can irritate the stomach). If in doubt, try it out! It’s never a good idea to eat something out and about if you are unfamiliar with how your body will respond – I ate an ice cream half way through a cycle recently and that caused me no end of stress coming home, with a full bag and nowhere to empty it (see blog post https://www.stomachameleon.com/post/new-bike-ride-out-ice-cream-bullfrogs).
I am not a bike technician, and would advise you to look at you tube, or specialist cycle pages for advice, but it is important that you know how to change a tyre, pump it up and have with you the right inner tubes and tools. It is also important that you refresh yourself with the Highway Code so that you know what the laws are surrounding cycling on public roads. High vis clothing is an absolute must, as is a correctly fitted cycle helmet. Any reputable bike shop will be able to help you with the correct fit.
I joined a local cycling club, which I highly recommend doing as you will be in the company pf people who are familiar with safe cycle routes, and who will teach you the etiquette of road/group cycling. It also helps to make the miles go quicker if you have people to chat to!
I love cycling and my stoma hasn’t stopped me at all. I have cycled up and down enormous hills, mountain biked through forests and cycled for more than 100 miles at a time. Go for it!