Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes, and lucky for us, so do bikes. However, when you're a larger rider—whether you're super-tall or consider yourself in the Clydesdale/Athena category (commonly defined as weighing more than 220 pounds for men or 160 pounds for women)—finding long-lasting, proper-fitting bike gear, from wheels to jerseys, can be tough. When we recently reported on clothing for bigger riders, we heard from our readers that it wasn't just finding the perfect pair of shorts that was the problem: It's finding components and frames that can stand up to the weight of larger athletes.
Unfortunately, most bikes and components are designed for riders under 225 pounds. This, says Joan Denizot, founder of Zize Bikes, is a huge problem. A self-described larger rider, Denizot started her company when she couldn't find a bike built to hold her weight. Zize now offers multiple styles of bikes for riders up to 550 pounds. "In general, most of my customers are men who are 400 or more pounds, and most of the women are around 300 pounds," she says. "Three hundred [pounds] is still way more than people should be putting on a regular bike, and right now most companies don't make much for riders over 300." Of course, being a Clydesdale cyclist doesn't necessarily mean being overweight: Taller riders—especially muscular ones—can run into issues of weight restrictions easily. "I have customers who are 6'8" and weigh 280, and they kept busting bikes, so they've come to me," Denizot explains.
Whether you're already a cyclist or you just want to start riding, pedaling is the perfect exercise for a larger person. "There aren't many no-impact exercises like cycling, and people who are heavy get backaches and knee aches from the ways their bodies are functioning," explains Denizot. "Plus, there aren't many exercises that are just fun. I get on my bike and just smile. So many people want to go out and ride with their kids, but they can't because they haven't [been able to find] a bike until now. There isn't much equipment made for the bigger person, and I feel like I'm helping them."
We spoke with a few companies about their options for bigger riders, and they all gave the same advice: If you're a larger rider looking for a frame, wheels, or even a smaller component, call the company's customer service and ask about weight limits. Warranties may be voided on certain products if you're over their prescribed limit, and there's a good chance that a customer service rep can point you toward the best options.
"From a performance aspect, bigger riders should always reach out to the manufacturers to ensure that the product doesn't have a weight limit and that bigger riders were taken into consideration during the development and testing of the products," explains Jake Pantone from Enve.
If you're a larger rider looking to build a bike from the ground up, you have several great options. Going custom is probably going to give you the best bang for your buck, since you can work with frame builders who understand your limitations and can design a bike that fits you—and is built to last.
"When we start thinking about big, tall, and heavier folks...we think in terms of relativity, meaning that a person who is 6'6" and 275 pounds won't need an extremely light bike," explains Jon Cariveau of Moots, a company known for its custom titanium frames. "A light bike for them would be, say, 18 to 20 pounds or more for a road bike. It's relative to their weight."
Because of this, he explains, "When we go and start designing frames for bigger folks, we can pull out the bigger-diameter and thicker-wall tubing and build a bike that will ride nice and be durable for years to come. Titanium...is the perfect material because we can hand-select these tubes based on rider weight."
Cariveau says that this thinking can help even those riders who weigh just slightly more than the industry standard upper limit. "For a person who is 5'10'' and 250 pounds, normally that person would fit on a 55cm or 56cm, but due to the person's weight, we would reach for the bigger-diameter and thicker-wall tubing throughout the frame to address stiffness under the heavier load."
Moots has some experience in the big-and-tall range, especially with pro athletes. "We've been building some bikes for NBA guys—Deandre Jordan, who is 6'11'' and 250+ pounds; Reggie Miller, who is 6'7'' and 200 pounds; and a couple of stouter hockey guys over the years," Cariveau adds. "So those are really tall people, and tube lengths get long, but we can keep and control stiffness by choosing the appropriate tubes."
Metal seems to be the way to go when building bikes for larger riders, which is why Zize Bikes opts for steel. "Our bikes are chromoly," says Denizot. "They're steel, but aircraft quality, very strong steel. That's the first difference. And the frame is designed to not have weak points—it's designed to be all strong points. We took what's out there that you could use to build a super-strong bike. So a lot of the parts aren't what you would normally see on a cruiser-style bike; they're more what you would see on a BMX bike. It's a more comfortable ride." Unless you're buying from a company that offers bikes specifically for riders above 225 pounds (such as Zize Bikes), larger riders are probably best served by choosing frame and parts separately, rather than trying to purchase a stock build. Many lower-end off-the-shelf models come with cheaper parts that won't hold up well under pressure.
It's also a good idea to contact the manufacturer directly to ask about the frame's tubing and tolerances. While the immediate price tag of a stock model may be appealing, think about the repairs you may run into, as well as what happens if the warranty isn't applicable to you.