Looking at the skin, bones and muscle-laden pro peloton, it could be intimidating to hop on the bike if you’ve got even a spec of fat on your frame. However, cycling is one of the most effective workouts for torching calories impact-free.
If you’re a larger rider, however, finding cycling gear that’s safe and comfortable can be a challenge — particularly if you aren’t sure what to look for. Whether you’re buying a bike or looking for a new jersey, this advice will steer you in the right direction.
Carbon has quickly become the most popular frame material among cyclists due to its lightweight, aerodynamic tube shape. Even though prices have dropped considerably for carbon frames, it isn’t necessarily the optimal choice for all cyclists. In fact, most carbon frames have a maximum weight, and using these frames over the recommendation can cause a failure and lead to an accident. Specialized, for instance, has a 250-pound weight limit for its frames, forks and components to minimize stress fractures.
Because of this, if you’re a taller or heavier cyclist, choose a stronger frame material over a lighter one. Aluminum and steel are often better choices for strength and durability. While these materials may be a bit heavier than carbon, steel in particular provides more comfort and is easier on your body out on the road.
If you’d still like a lighter frame for performance purposes, titanium offers a combination of light weight and strength unmatched by other frame materials. The lone negative is that it is very expensive, and requires custom bike builders. While this ensures a great fit, you can expect to spend upwards of $5,000 for the frame alone.
Like carbon frames, carbon wheels also have weight limits. While this reduces which wheels you can purchase, it’s a good idea to avoid low-weight racing wheels to avoid the unfortunate scenario of having a carbon wheel snapping in half like it did to Mark Cavendish.
Similar to frames, choosing a stronger metal like aluminum or steel is a more ideal option for its strength. Additionally, you should also pay attention to the number of spokes a wheel has as well as its lacing pattern. In general, more spokes equal greater strength. This is particularly important for the rear wheel, which is where most of your weight distribution will be.
While there are a variety of lacing options to choose from, steel spokes with a three-cross pattern are a standard option that should provide comfort and a great deal of strength. If you’re looking for other options that are strong and durable enough for your size, consider talking to a custom wheel builder who can build you a wheel to suit all of your individual needs.
Like all cyclists, finding components that fit should be your number 1 priority. The handlebar and stem are two pieces of equipment heavier cyclists should pay attention to, which can make a big difference in comfort and safety. When choosing a handlebar, opt for larger tube diameters instead of smaller tube shapes for additional strength and a more ergonomic grip. The width of your bar should also be a deciding factor, as larger and taller riders often have wider shoulders that require a wider than normal bar. If you are unsure as to whether a specific handlebar is wide enough for your shoulders, consult a bike fit specialist.
As for the material of your handlebar and stem, the same advice that’s true of the frame and wheels should be applied here. Carbon bars are lighter but sacrifice strength, and since the stem bears much of your upper-body weight, aluminum is often a better choice. Also make sure the reach of your stem doesn’t place you too far forward, which can cause additional strain on your shoulders, neck and sit bones.
The other contact point at the rear of the bike that you’ll want to get right to avoid injury and maximize your comfort is your saddle. While it might seem like a larger rider requires a wider seat, this isn’t always the case. Seat width should match the width of your sit bones, and is highly individual and independent of your height and weight. For this reason, it’s important to try a number of different saddles until you find a width and cushion that properly supports your body shape. If you’re having trouble, your local bike shop can help. Some even have a try-before-you-buy program that lets you test out a few different models before you commit to a purchase.
If you’re new to cycling for fitness, you’ll need to purchase cycling-specific clothing instead of opting for old gym shorts and a T-shirt. This helps make your time on the bike much more enjoyable by adding comfort, style and improving your overall performance.
The mistake you’ll want to avoid as a heavier cyclist is mimicking the pros on television dressed from head-to-toe in tight fitting Lycra. While this can provide aerodynamic benefits, what’s more important is that you feel good on the bike. If wearing tight fitting clothing makes you self-conscious, there are plenty of other options available.
Mountain bike shorts, for instance, still have a chamois insert for extra cushion but are much looser and more comfortable than tight fitting road cycling shorts. For tops, Rapha makes a technical T-shirt that provides the same comfort and moisture-wicking benefits of a zip-up jersey while being slightly more relaxed. Mountain bike tops are also similar to this and are looser fitting for anyone seeking a more modest look. Finally, Under Armour compression tops are a great underlayer to offer support and moisture wicking.
If you have wider feet, cycling shoes often feature a narrower fit. Select a model like this one that offers a wider fit for larger feet. A tight-fitting shoe can cause hot spots or pain on longer rides, so it’s important you give yourself a little extra space and avoid restricting blood flow.