|This Worksman Newsgirl bike is rated for 500 lbs / about 200 Kg capacity|
Some people we know said they used to love to ride their bikes as kids but that since gaining weight as adults they don’t feel confident anymore. One worried that a bike wouldn’t carry the weight or be comfortable to ride. Another thought people would stare at a heavy person on a bike. One didn’t want to have to wear sporty biking clothes made of Spandex or sweat fabric. People worry they aren’t in good enough shape to ride.
This isn’t a site for health advice, but if you ask us, there isn’t much you can do that’s healthier than riding your bike, even if you weigh a lot. (Ask your doctor if you have any doubt, but didn’t they tell you to go out and get some exercise last time you saw them?) Aerobic exercise, like riding a bike while breathing, is supposed to keep you healthy, and pedaling doesn’t wreck your ankles like jogging might. Many people say it doesn't bother their knees either, especially if the seat is high enough and set right. By the way, swimming (without the bike) is also supposed to be really good to protect joints.
OK, it’s healthy, like kale. And you can move fast wherever you want. But most of all,
biking is fun!
And it’s just as much fun whatever you weigh. And practical. So there.
Nobody is expecting you to ride like Lance Armstrong on steroids and this whole blog is about not wearing Spandex unless you want to. No matter how heavy you are, if you feel like you’re up for it, you can start using a bike to get around and even carry your kids around, instead of whatever you are doing now. Will people stare? They might, if they see how much happier you look on your bike. Probably they won’t notice. Get a cargo bike, then they’ll notice.
Don’t have a bike right now that you like? I spoke to lots of people and looked into the options for you a bit. Most normal bikes are rated to carry 220-300 lbs total but maybe your old bike is strong enough. Check the builder’s website or ask your local bike shop. Some old ones are really strong. But there are plenty of bikes available up to over 500 lb / 250 kg carrying capacity. Even heavier duty is possible with some thought.
I’m thinking in this post mostly about riders over 250 lbs up to 500 lbs (about 120-225 kg).
Features to Consider
see also the Bike Forums about this topic if you can stand the title.
|A comfortable but not overstuffed saddle is a must. |
This one is rather wide but many kinds will work.
- A seat that’s comfortable and sturdy enough to make it fun to ride is vital. It’s usually more comfortable to have a stiff seat that lets you shift around to keep your bottom from falling asleep. Gel seats and other overstuffed options tend to press constantly everywhere and make you numb or, you know, worse. On the other hand, lots of people like them, especially for short rides, and they are cheap and easily available.
Does it need to be wide? Maybe not. It should be wide enough for your sit bones (ischia) to fit on well. These bones are like coins at an angle to one another like a V with the point in front, so the more upright your seating position the wider a comfortable seat tends to be. Women’s bones are farther apart than men’s, so saddles are different.
So Dutch upright city bikes have a wide saddle, while narrow wheeled racing bikes where the rider leans far forward have titanium dental floss. A saddle that is narrow and short in the front won’t be in the way of your legs but a longer saddle offers more stability with something to hold onto. Some have cutouts in the middle that are supposed to keep pressure off, um, things. Weird noseless seats that look like benches or two sponges get either rave reviews or hate mail. Maybe try one?
Many long-term riders choose a stiff leather saddle — it molds to your shape after some time but lets you take the pressure off when you want. The biggest manufacturer, Brooks, makes some classic saddles 20-25 cm (8-10 in) across for upright bikes that might work. They come at a relatively high cost but may be worth it if you ride often. The manufacturer's recommendation for these bikes is a B190. In Chicago, JC Lind, Blue City and Heritage have had the big ones in stock from time to time but any dealer can order them. Reinforcement with leather or shoelaces across the bottom of the saddle - you can pop lacing holes or have it done - can keep it from splaying wider with weight on it. You need to keep rain off leather saddles with a cover or they stretch.
The wide firm plastic mattress seat in the picture is another option, not sure of the manufacturer. Selle Royal makes good wide ones like on our cargo bikes. Look online for more suggestions.
have these smooth frame
- When choosing a frame design, remember your geometry and engineering. A standard men’s diamond frame is nearly all triangles and therefore the strongest common option. Some add a second top bar for added capacity. Unless the materials are specially chosen to maximize capacity, a step-through style isn’t as strong, so check it out carefully and don’t try to push its limits. We have a 1960s Raleigh ladies Sports with a frame bend from overloading. Exceptions include cargo bikes and industrial bikes, often made with very large heavy steel frames and reinforcement, and probably old mountain bikes and Chicago made Schwinn electroforged step through styles (since they were so overbuilt in the first place, though check it first if you have doubts). A suspended frame or fork will just give you trouble if you are over its design capacity. And who needs a suspended bike anyway in the city?
- You can argue about the frame materials many ways, but in general, all things being equal, steel is probably the best for a heavy duty bike. Other materials are more prone to fatigue and sudden breakage. The carrying capacity is more important than the material, but if you don’t know the specs, go for steel.
Assuming the frame was designed and built right, cheap high-tension steel tubing is just as capable as fancier alloys, but heavier. Lightweight alloy steel tubing (often branded — Reynolds, Ishiwata, Tange, Columbus, True Temper, Valite, etc...) is lighter for the weight it carries and therefore more expensive. But seriously, how light do you need your bike to be? A heavy bike weighs 40 lbs and a light one is 25? Big deal. Our cargobikes need 2 people to lift them and we roll just fine with up to 400-500 lbs aboard. Once you are going it just doesn’t matter. In flat Chicago anyway. The other stuff is more important than the weight of the bike.
- Wheels, chosen wisely, can save you trouble. This, especially the back wheel, may be the best place to invest in quality parts if you need an especially durable bike. When a tire hits a bump, the air inside absorbs the shock and prevents the metal wheel rim from hitting the road or curb. So put a lot of air between the street and your wheel. Get wide rims with wide tires and keep them filled to the right pressure to prevent pinch flats. Common wide bike wheels should be fine up to about 350 lbs, if they have double walled rims and good quality. Like good wide mountain bike wheels, for example. Above that weight, spokes can ping and break a lot. If it happens it means that you should look into new, stronger wheels (properly tensioned, maybe with a bigger number of spokes) or at least stronger spokes. Rims can also bend, though less often. Tandem components, made for high end bicycles built for two, are good options here.
Some people suggest making tires puncture proof with either a better than usual tube, or tire, or both. We like Schwalbe (eg Marathon, Fat Frank or Big Apple) but we’ve seen good wide options with nice street tread from Michelin, Conti, and Kenda too. The first thing we do on a used bike is take off bumpy mountain bikey tires and put on something that rolls well. Get the sidewall reflectors if you can. Many tires come in brown or cream too if you need that look.
- If you are choosing/building your own wheels, talk to a good wheelbuilder about your needs. (Ask at your local bike shop or read Peter White’s site about wheels, tandem components and more high end products) Sun Rhyno Lite and Velocity Dyad and DT Swiss TK540 rims are double walled, strong, and available and keep getting mentioned by people I ask, though there are many other options. Our cargo bikes use double wall heavy duty aluminum Rigida rims. Smaller wheel sizes are somewhat stronger. Remember to choose a rim that will hold wide tires well. Consider building your wheel up with as many spokes as sensible. Wheels can be made with 40 or even 48 spokes instead of the usual 36 or racing bike 32, and you can choose thick gauge ones if necessary. You need more spokes in back than in front, like Raleigh used to use, but most bikes these days have 36 front and back. Go for stainless spokes if you can so the wheel stays shiny and new. Use tandem hub components if you need both particularly high weight bearing capacity and high performance: not cheap but extra heavy duty and often top quality, and you only want to do this once. And how about a dynamo or internal hub gear? Used on cargo bikes, these should hold up. You can’t break a pricey Rohloff hub, but a cheap Sturmey Archer AW 3-speed is nearly indestructible too. Even if you are planning a touring or racing bike, think about wider than usual rims and tires. Bicycle Quarterly, the magazine for touring bike obsessive-compulsives, has had a bunch of articles about the superiority of wide relatively low pressure tires that might add to your decision making. The BQ founder, Jan Heine, notes on his blog that "on real roads, wider tires are faster, period".
- Brakes need to stop you in wet or dry, and they have got much better in recent years. This (and maybe badly tensioned thin spokes) is the main disadvantage of a vintage Schwinn or Raleigh. While any properly adjusted brake should be able to manage almost anything, if you have the option, think about hub braking (discs, drums, roller brakes, coasters) or even hydraulic brakes instead of the usual cantilever or V rim brakes. Coaster brakes are pretty strong and not affected by wet. They are used on many cargo bikes but can overheat on a long downhill stretch for example. The better roller brakes (like IM81 not IM41) are probably fine especially for the back wheel (due to the power modulator on the front ones). Tandem components like other drum brakes may be another option. We strongly recommend Kool Stop or Mathauser salmon pads for regular old rim brakes, especially for old steel rims or junky components. Test any brakes out before buying them if possible.
- Some other sites have pointed out that handlebars and stems break with very heavy riders. I think they are talking about those mountain bike racing "80 grams" aluminum components being used for something like mountain bike racing, and if you get normal ones I doubt it will be an issue, especially since you shouldn't be putting that much of your weight on the bars anyway. But, if you are concerned about the weight you plan to carry on the bars and stem, get (European-style stainless) steel or heavier duty good quality aluminum ones. Ask at your local bike shop if you are not sure.
- Gears are helpful but you really don’t need as many as they sell. A 3 speed, maybe with a slightly lower-geared (more teeth and a new longer chain) replacement back sprocket, is fine in Chicago and most places. Up to 7 or 8 still make sense, like the Nexus 8 on our cargo bikes. The NuVinci hub is like a dimmer switch instead of gears and they use it on many cargo bikes too though it is reputed to be inefficient. The fanciest and most expensive and probably most durable is the 14-speed Rohloff with a huge wide gear range. Basically anything will work, but you might want a slightly lower gearing than usual to get up hills or fight the wind slightly more easily. Most people do.
- Lighting - everybody forgets lighting (our post here). Spend the money, get the generator hub (or tire dynamo) with LED lights, whatever your weight, and use them day and night so traffic can see you well. Really.
- Accessories - Metal pedals you can put your weight on are worth the extra money since many common plastic pedals won’t hold up to the rare need to stand and pump hard. Fenders, chain guards, a strong rack and pannier bags if you are the kind of rider we are. A strong U lock or 9-12 mm hardened chain with big padlock (our post here). Don’t waste your money on a cable lock. All of them are as secure as a piece of string.
Types of Bikes to Consider
Department Store Bikes
Most bikes are legally supposed (in Europe, but it's an international supply chain) to hold about 220 lbs/100 kg without any modification. Target lists capacities between 250 and 300 lbs on most, Wal-Mart doesn’t list them. You do see some big people on these bikes. But did the manufacturer skimp on materials or quality control to meet the price point? Be careful. The weight limit includes the entire load, the weight of the bike itself, rider, cargo, everything. And the bike itself can be heavy to start with, cutting a lot into your cargo capacity. So a basic department store / big box store bike probably isn’t ideal for heavier people. Or for anybody who likes riding for that matter.
Regular City Bikes and Cruisers
The 7 speed Chicago Bicycles cruiser in the photo was built for a heavy rider, with wide rims and tires, drum brakes, and a firm very wide seat (detail in the picture above). These frames were made in Chicago from higher than usual quality steel. Look: 40 spoke wheels. Capacity? Probably more than just good, but no guarantee.
An easily available old Schwinn Suburban or similar might also be perfect. Though you have to guess at weight capacity again, they were awfully sturdy welded bikes. Raleigh Sports men's roadsters, especially those older ones with 40 spoke rear wheels, might also be a good used choice. The limiting factor is the quality of the wheels with both these bikes. They will have poor braking with their steel rims and the spokes can tend to break. You can improve braking by getting a coaster brake model or new salmon color pads. It might be worth getting new (aluminum) wheels for the indestructible old frame - choose hub components and gears you like and get the wheels done right or find a prebuilt double wall 40 spoke wheel that will fit. If you stick with the usual old 3-speed hub, lower the gears by changing the rear sprocket out if 3rd is too high. Sheldon Brown has instructions.
|Photos from Worksmancycles.com|
|Model MG-R, also rated to 500lb|
Most commonly available bikes in this class, like let's say the Surly Long Haul Trucker, are rated to about 300 lbs again. This is probably conservative but maybe not. There are higher capacity options, though. Nearly all Worksman bikes are made in New York City and with a few options they can support up to 500 lbs starting at about $400 new, maybe doubling that price with options. They have a lot of options. Anyone dealing with bikes for big and tall people seems to recommend this brand. Cruisers, step through cruisers and step through industrial bikes are all there. They are practical in the city, often very basic but durable and strong. Classic US delivery bikes are often from this company. Call them for bikes that will handle more than 500 lb, and get a model with a front drum brake option. We like that these are made in the US by grown ups in a factory with environmental laws. They mail them to you or a local bike store to adjust and set up. We have ridden some Worksman bikes and the ones we found are simple, heavy, but sturdy and reliable seeming.
There are some more up-to-date multi-gear options that your local bike shop can put together. One very heavy duty model that Rapid Transit can build has powerful disc brakes and a custom rear wheel made with tandem components and can be built with derailers or even a Rohloff hub.
|Torker for medium duty at|
Ciclo Urbano for about $500
There are online retailers we don’t personally know whose sites offer other options. Do a web search and you’ll find many. Generally we strongly recommend that anyone who is in the market for a bike better than the cheapest Wal-Mart one-speed should go to a local dealer or two and see what their options are. One online dealer/manufacturer we just found in Vermont called Zize Bikes has several interesting looking options for tall or heavy riders up to 550 lbs, with prices starting in the $1000 range. They offer city bikes and a mountain type 29er (the new name for 700c) and they carry their own Super Sized Cycles, Worksman and other brands as well. But as with most online suppliers, there are positive and negative reviews of the bikes and the customer service online that are worth reading. We haven't ridden one of their bikes yet.
|Worksman M2600 here, men’s cruiser at left,|
photos from Worksman's web site.
Dutch Style Bikes
|Workcycles Fr8 cross frame, one of many options|
Again, the diamond or double top tube steel frames would be strongest. A strong rear wheel is good to look for. The EU capacity rating should be easily available from manufacturer websites or the dealer. All that stainless steel will hold up.
Old Mountain Bikes
|old Hard Rock mountain bikes at Working Bikes, about $200|
Cargo Bikes and More
Our cargo bikes hold the grownup rider, 3 kids, backpacks, groceries, locks, and the weight of the bike itself. It all adds up to 400 pounds often enough and sometimes 500. A rider in this range plus kids and stuff might exceed the official rating on our Bakfiets but I doubt there would be much problem. The Onderwater can probably take even more than that. Ask the dealer about it - JC Lind has lots of options for you and there are others linked on our cargobike post.
These things are incredibly practical and you can use them for errands and shopping really easily in addition to carrying kids. Most on the market, with a good seat, will be fine. The manufacturers do list the weight capacities and the dealer will be able to find out.
Depending on your needs, you may prefer a two wheeled bike like our Bakfiets Cargobike, which feels like riding a normal bike, or you might choose a trike instead, which is odd to ride over anything but perfectly level ground but holds itself up better while stopped. Look at our About Cargobikes page and our Cargo Trike post for most of the information we can offer about these bikes.
|Worksman's idea of a cargo bike|
isn't our favorite but it’d work maybe
|Yuba Mundo longtail, similar |
to Surly Big Dummy, rated at 440 lbs.
Carry your kids with you!
|Main Street classic pedicab, $3600, probably more than you need but it’s another option.|
|Worksman low gravity|
Other cargo bikes are still available from many, many dealers, including JC Lind in Chicago, Clever Cycles in Portland, and Rolling Orange in New York. Again, the About Cargobikes post has information about many options including trikes.
Worksman is hard to avoid in this market as well. Their bikes are a little clunkier than the Dutch ones and they have fewer comfort options like hub dynamos or wide gearing, but they are less expensive and very durable. Look at their industrial and recumbent trikes and cargo hauler trikes with quarter ton capacities. They even have a pedicab like option if you want to carry 2 other people around with you. Their website is awful though — use the navigation at the top or search.
This solution keeps being suggested to us. They have the advantage of not needing to throw your leg way up over the bar and they have a big plush seat with a backrest. Hard to carry in or on your car anywhere. Worksman has a semirecumbent trike that is rated for weight, but many recumbents are rated only for a few hundred pounds. Rapid Transit Cycleshop is the best place in Chicago for recumbents, or used to be, and there are specialty recumbent shops about one per state that can help you. A good option for comfort. Are they as safe in traffic? Probably yes, but they always make me a little nervous.
Look at our trike page and the trike pages above. Regular trikes like the ones you imagine rolling around Florida are OK but many are rated only to 250 lbs and they are clunky. Cargo trikes or industrial trikes are a better choice here, I think.
Here is a German made recumbent cargo trike that is certified to 300 kg/650 lbs and configurable in many ways: trimobil concept page. The more well-known Greenspeed recumbent trikes can also build versions up to about 200kg /440 lbs but they don't carry cargo well. We have a Sun EZ-3 recumbent trike that is OK for getting around; not much room for luggage on this one either.
If you can’t find something that meets your needs there are plenty of options and custom builders. Ding Ding has a source page which concentrates mostly on therapeutic bikes but the same companies can put together many customized options, JC Lind still can get adaptive bikes from Holland, and Worksman (again) builds custom jobs.
We searched online again for 'heavy rider bicycle' and 'xxl bike' and similar terms. One blog post that popped up is this one from isolate cyclist. Another blog is all about this, Big Boned Biker. And the Bike Forums noted above are still active. Add more suggestions below - we will try to let real links (not ads) get through the filter.