Fat Cyclists – Bike Fit and Getting into cycling for the overweight

Fat Cyclist
Fat Cyclist

I have seen a lot of websites giving advice to cyclists, from bike fit, to technique, however none seems to apply specifically to people who are obese.
Being obese brings its own problems, from bike fit, comfort, to even just being able to get started and help your partner getting into cycling.
I have been both really obese, and slim, and cycled. I have helped a few people into cycling, and also seen some people put right off by over-enthusiastic friends trying to get people into it. Hence the reason for this post, just in case you are larger and need advice, or are helping somebody larger.

Getting the Bike & Bike Fit

When starting out, most people need comfort. If it’s a painful, or uncomfortable experience, they will not want to repeat it!
The bike fit is NOT the same as a normal person! You will need a stronger frame than usual, I would suggest alloy (lighter), or if you are particularly heavy, Steel. Don’t waste money on cheap bikes, get a good brand name bike, even if its second hand. Cheap bikes fall apart, often are not comfortable. Carbon is probably not ideal for heavy weights, its flexible and will crack.
A hybrid is a good option as it has a more upright way to sit, larger tyres, and better seats. Make sure you have 3 cogs on the front, you will need these for any sort of hill (be it mild or otherwise), and it will help stop you getting sore knees from hauling the extra weight.
Road Race bikes are not great for first timers, the fit is fairly aggressive which can put far too much weight on your arms (stomach pulling you forward), and not allowing you to breath when pedalling due to knees hitting belly.
Make sure the seat is as high as you can handle, as this keeps knees from hitting belly as much as possible, also helps with pedalling. Make sure you explain this to the person riding as it will feel weird at first, if they understand the why they will tolerate it much better.
Handlebars need to be higher than seat if you can, feel free to buy an Adjustable Stem so you can raise them higher to begin with, taking weight off the arms.
Make sure the seat is a larger (but not stupidly large) seat, preferably with Gel. Whilst thinner smaller seats are our goal, when you are larger this can cause back pain due to any road bumps travelling up the spine with the extra weight involved. Having a more padded seat allows not just the sit bones, but the rest of the buttocks to spread the weight over a larger surface. This means no one point is going to get sore, though it may cause chafing. If you can find a larger seat with good sized cut out, this should solve the problem. Mountain bike seats are good for this.

Starting out

When starting out, its good to find a good flat long ride, aim for 5-10km and what ever pace they prefer. Make sure the lower gears are used at all times, and spinning with very little weight is encouraged. It’s everyones tendency to grind a bit when beginning, using harder gears, but when a larger person does this it can very quickly end up hurting knees and other joints.
Spinning is a good habit, and it places the work on the cardiovascular system rather than the leg muscles. This allows them to get fitter faster, and enjoy the ride with less pain.
Make sure you accompany them on all rides, talk to them about anything and everything under the sun to distract them from what they are doing. Don’t push them into doing anything fancy, just let them get a few easy rides under their belt at their own pace.
If a person finds riding painful, hard, or boring, they are not going to do it again.
Avoid hills until they are ready to go on them, its extremely hard to do hills when larger, this is where those lower gears will be needed. Most newbies are also fairly scared of having to start riding on a hill, or going down hills fast. Make sure the hills are barely there to start with, and you give them options for if they need to bail.
The last thing you want is them to feel like a failure!
Make sure you have good gaps between cycling days at first, until their body has adapted and is not sore. Nothing is worse than going cycling 2 days in a row when you have chafing or soreness somewhere.

Moving on

Encourage them to have a local loop they can do by themselves, and then do larger rides with them. Put the bike computer in your back pocket to avoid clock watching, see their face when they are pleasantly surprised by how far they went.
Look into getting some Bone Conduction headphones, they can be used when cycling since they do not block your ears (I found aftershokz brand for $30-40 on amazon.com). This enables a person to ride solo and listen to music whilst cycling alone, with less chance of boredom.
Enter some races which are achievable, work out a plan to train for it, and allow for weeks when a bike may break, person maybe over tired or other problems.

Remember, you may have spokes break. Extra weight on a bike will eventually break spokes, its worth getting a professional to replace them and true up the wheel as soon as this happens. If the wheel is not fixed correctly, the weight is not distributed over the entire wheel and other spokes will break costing you more in the long run. Be aware to check for broken spokes every ride or two, not noticing them will result in an egg shaped wheel that may need replacing!

Hydration

Buy a backpack, camelbak or similar with water. Its easier to hydrate when learning, and carries a lot more water than a bottle. Larger people will need a lot more water to begin with, and the weight difference isn’t going to be noticeable. Pays to get one with bumps on the back so air can flow between the bag and your back if you can, but not necessary.

Clothing

Cycle shorts with padding are a must, and its worth splurging on decent ones (though not necessarily expensive ones). Make sure you let them know its fine for them to wear baggy shorts or 3/4 pants over top of the shorts – most larger people are very aware they have a super sized rear which probably looks less than desirable in lycra 🙂
For the top half, a T-shirt may be more comfortable and look more flattering. Back pockets are not essential, get a bike bag for anything you need to carry. Most newbies are not adept at getting things from pockets when cycling anyway (especially when wearing a water pack on their back).

Bike Computers

Get a cheap one with cadence, since cadence is more important at this stage than anything much else. Otherwise go without, and have them keep their pedalling timed with your own. I have had a friend sit behind me and just make sure shes pedalling the same speed as me, and adjusting her gears to match which worked well, this also helped her stop clock watching.

The Bottom Line

Make the experience as pleasant as possible, even if it means gritting your teeth to not say something. The better the experience, the more likely they are to stick with it and get better. Compliment them on anything and everything they do well. Don’t force them into doing things they do not feel comfortable (hills, busy roads, groups) until they are ready for it, and give them an opt-out solution in case they change their mind last minute (eg short cuts around hills)

Show them the wonder of cycling, how amazing it feels, and how great you feel when cycling!

Basic Guide to Bikes

This is for my non-cycling friends so I dont have to repeat myself 🙂

Identifying a bike is the first main part of Bikes.

If you picked it up at the local convenience store/Warehouse/k Mart then it is worth less than half its value when you walk out the door, and its possibly even unsafe. These bikes are usually mountain bikes fobbed off as road bikes, made of inferior steel metal which can bends or breaks whilst riding.
They still have their place if you just want something cheap to cycle down to the dairy and will probably leave it out in the rain to rust anyway. Chances are they will never be comfortable however, and are really a mountain bike, despite what the brochure said.
Its always better to buy a second hand brand name or decent bike online I have found, both for comfort and durability.

Identifying your bike:
Check your bikes tyres is a good way to identify what style bike you have.

This is a normal mountain bike tyre. MTB wheels are 26″ around and this is on the tyre.
This is a slick mountain bike tyre (so you can ride an MTB on the road). This is wide but smooth. Also used on Hybrids, however a Hybrid has 700c sized wheels (700 mm clincher), normal bikes have 26″
This is a road bike tyre (note: its very thin and smooth). These wheels are 700c (or about just over 27″) round.

Check the Valves:

Mountain bikes and Hybrid bikes usually have Shrader valves, these are handy because its the same as a car, and dont need as higher pressure (60PSI or so).
Road bikes use the Presta Valves because they have much higher pressure in the tyres (up to and around 120PSI)

The Frame:

Mountain Bikes usually (but not always) have some sort of suspension either in the front forks, or the rear.
Hybrids are a mix of both MTB and road, so the Frame usually has no suspension, but sometimes will have just front (never rear). The front fork onto the front wheel usually is straight like an MTB. They usually have the flat handlebars that a mountain bike has.
Road bikes are thin, aerodynamic and never have suspension. The front fork onto the front wheel usually has a nice curve (though not always). Handlebars are usually the hooked style look.

Age:
You can tell the age of most bikes by whats on them, the frame style, etc.
Cheaper MTB/hybrids have twist grip gear changing. You twist your hand grips to change gears. These are pretty handy for people not confident with taking hands off.

Newer MTB are better yet with a trigger style gear change for your finger, and a thumb press to go down gears

Newer road bikes have these excellent gear levers hidden behind the brake. A Quick flick with the finger changes you up a gear, and a push sideways on the entire brake lever goes down a gear. There is no guessing where the gear is like the old days, they just ‘click’ into place. Brakes work like normal brakes when you pull them towards the handlebar still.

Older Road bikes had levers on the down tube which were hard to reach and the cheaper ones had them up where the handlebars bolt on. These have not been really used in the last 10 or more years now other than on cheap bikes. Unless you are trying to go retro, better to stay away from them.

Road bikes tend to have deep dish wheels now vs the older ones

Now, the important parts!

Road bikes are for riding exclusively on the road. Good for long rides in the country, getting fit, going to school and back. They are designed to be fast on the road and fairly comfortable once you get used to them. They will give you a sore butt as you get used to them, but this will pass (if not get a proper fitting!). You should not jump curbs, go up dirt tracks, over fields etc with them. They are light weight, easy to carry around, and dont take up much bike rack space.
The gears are made for road riding so you can get good speed going up and downhills or along the flats.

Mountain Bikes are for riding soley on dirt tracks, through bush and generally thrash them. They are the grown ups BMX pretty much. Also great for family bikes through dirt tracks and what would otherwise be a bush walk (except on a bike). They are heavy, and made of steel, with knobbly tyres for traction in mud, streams or otherwise.
They go slow on the road, mostly due to the tyres, and are not particularly good for anything but on the dirt tracks unless you fit mountain bike Slicks (smooth tyres) to them.

Hybrid is more of a comfort bike, good for people getting fit, who mostly want to ride road, but also want to ride up bush tracks occasionally with family. Its a great universal bike for most people, and probably ideal for children going to school and back (unless they have other sports). They work well pretty much everywhere and i find they are great as a general every day bike unless you want to specialize in a particular style of cycling.

Warehouse Special is a bike that look like a broken mountain bike and sold as a road bike and should only ever be bought as a gift for somebody you DONT like. Please stop buying these and calling them bikes unless you are some seriously budget person who can’t find parts in an inorganic and put them together.

And in case you got stuck on any of the bike parts

Weekend away Camping

Thought I’d do a diary style post (its been a while!).

I’ve been into cycling for a while now, a good few years, and one of my favourite races is the bikethelake which is a nice 42km loop of the Rotorua Lake, or 2 Laps for the main event. Since i had surgery i’ve been pretty lax about any exercise and struggled to get back into it and up to fitness, i decided that i needed to do it again this year. My daughter was keen to do some tandem cycling with me, so we found a 30 year old Healing Tandem on Trademe and cleaned it up.

Took a bit of hard yakka to get it clean, polishing all the surface rust off and bringing the bling chrome back to life. I didn’t dare take it apart to re-paint it so i just taped over the smaller bits and only removed the major bits (wheels and seats etc). As it was the pedals had to have their threads re-tapped to get them back on, and being 2 right pedals on each person meant we had no cleat useage, just standerd pedals.

So though it doesnt look brand new, it did look pretty awesome after finishing, and very retro with all the crome. No 120PSI tyres here, it was 60PSI and all standard car valves all the way! We did a few training runs around the neighbourhood and managed to sustain about 20km/ph fairly easily. We decided it was going to be a pleasure ride rather than race, we were just not fit enough or good enough to try anything more and it would have been silly to try with only 2-3 weeks training for a 42km race.

Since I’m also training for the oxfam Trailwalker Ive been trying to fit in longer walks with that, and thursday i went and walked 20km to Hamilton from home, whilst my husband was about to pick me up his car started playing up (gearbox) so when we went to Rotorua for the race, we decided to take mine.

This may seem ok to most people, but we have a family of 5 fitting into a 990cc Toyota Vitz here now, plus tents, bags, and a tandem on the back!

packedcarIn the boot was 2 tents (one larger, one smaller dome), bed rolls, blow up bed, my bag, food, bike gear, helmets, etc. That left no room for kids bags and pillows which sat on their lap. In all the confusion trying to pack that much gear into the car we managed to only remember to bring 1 blanket for my husband and I :/

So we got to campsite, put up tents, unloaded gear, etc and locked up the tandem, did race registration, found a couple geocaches, and then headed back to camp for a swim. I have to say here, i love the Top10 holiday parks, great service, and i KNOW the toilet isn’t going to be a long drop with bugs in it!

camping

After having an awesome BBQ dinner, kids went to bed, followed shortly by us. The temp dropped fairly quickly and though we thought at first our only blanket would do combined with being crushed up against each other, we froze. I slept for about maybe an hour before waking freezing. Even with that single blanket over our heads, the air in the airbed went down as cold as the air outside, a nice balmy 6C. We stayed semi warm with socks, clothes and PJs on, so long as we were pressed up against each other. In fact we probably would have slept if that darned bird hadn’t started hooting from about 2am onwards. I think somewhere around 4-5am i tweeted

Forgot how fun camping was, freezing your butt off counting off the hours till dawn whilst contemplating ways to kill that noisy bird”

Luckily an soon after its friends all chorused in , and at 6am i got up and made a cooked breakfast of bacon & eggs and fried bread. It was still freezing, as my daughter and I setup at 7am for the bike race clad only in our shorts and cycling top. We were fairly warm by the time we got to the startline and made sure we sat in the son.

Race started well, the sun was out, the day was clear, i felt like I had slept well even though i must have only got 1 hour. The kids had slept well at least and were not grumpy, Chelsea and I chatted and made jokes and even sung badly through out. About 15km in a squeek got noticeably louder so i stopped to check the bike over. Good thing i had, turned out one of the pedals was half unscrewed! Pulled out the spanners from the back pocket and put the bike back together, and continued.

On the back stretch over the hill it was a mission going up hill, we would chant 2 syllable food related words to motivate ourselfs in time with the pedals much to everyones amusement.

Now to understand this fully, a normal bike can balance going fairly slowly. A tandem needs a bit more speed to be able to balance, so going uphill meant we had to just go a little faster than most. So people would hear us behind them ‘big, mac, big, mac, big, mac, milk, shake, milk, shake, milk, shake’ and then we would over take them. At one point some lady told us to add in ‘coffee’ which we most defiantly hadn’t thought of, so we did. The downhills were great fun, being heavier we pretty much let her go whilst screaming to guys in front “MOVE LEFT! COMING THROUGH!” as we went flying past. Lucky for us I had also fitted a 120 db air horn onto the bike also!

We were the first tandem to finish, and had a lot of comments about our awesome ‘retro’ tandem. In fact, we came first in the tandems doing the 42km! which was kinda funny because our Team name was ‘Last Place’. Ironicly we also came last because there was only 1 Tandem doing the 42km race! Bonus! There were about 10 Tandems doing the 2 laps, but im glad we didn’t !

After the race we cycled back to camp, packed down and refilled the car. Lastly i loaded up the tandem, and got into the car, at which point i said ‘has anyone seen my keys?’. We looked around the camp site, toilets, kitchen and saw nothing. I assumed it was in my bag packed at the very bottom of the car so used my spare car key on my husbands keyring. Went for a swim in the hotpools, then back to prize giving where we won nothing but a bit of sunburn, then headed home. By this time the hour of sleep and 42km bike ride was really kicking in.

Unloaded the car, and sorted everything out whilst husband went for KFC pickup duty. No keys in the car, no keys packed in any bag – oh dear! Hopefully they will turn up somewhere, however its no major as I have spares of both house and car (can you tell i loose them often?) Went to bed at 8:30ishpm and slept like a log!

Planning on a 2 night stay in Taupo in 3 weeks! we love camping! This time however taking husbands much larger car, and plenty more bedding!