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Question: Do fat women need bigger bikes?

Fat broad on a bike

Dear Sheila the Psychlist,

I LOVE your blog for large women bikers! 

I have a question I’ve never seen anyone address: Do fat women need larger frames? I find when I go to a bike shop most people automatically want to put me in a small frame size because I am only 5’2” (with a 30 inch inseam), but I usually feel better with the next size up. Have you ever heard of a person’s weight affecting the frame size, that is, demanding that a person go with a bigger frame because of a bigger (not longer) body?

Thank you so much for your blog–it’s great to have a resource like it.




Thanks for writing and for the vote of confidence. I’ve had a tremendous response to the “Fat broad on a bike – ride, don’t hide” blog. I knew more big women were out there wanting to ride!

So, you feel more comfortable on a larger frame. Hmmm. This is interesting. Is it an actual physical comfort or a mental one? I ask because sometimes we (ahem, fatties) don’t feel as big when perched over a bigger bike. However, mental feel is not as important as having a bike that fits you physically, both top to bottom, and fore and aft.

Rough Fitting Tips

You absolutely need an inch of space (2.54 cm) between the top bar (aka top tube in bike speak) of the bike frame and your crotch. Otherwise there is a possibly of hitting the bar with your tender parts. So, when you stand over a frame with your feet flat on the ground (wear the shoes you will bike in), make sure there is some space between your crotch and the tope tube. Obviously if you go with a “women’s frame” which has the top tube curved much lower, this is a non-issue.

Next, make sure there is a few inches (5-10 cm) of seat post between the bike frame and your seat (aka saddle). The measurement is tricky here, but the basic guideline for the right saddle height is that when seated, your heel should just brush the pedal when your leg is fully extended. (Remember that you come off the saddle when stopping so don’t use the toe-touching-the-ground from the saddle as a reliable measurement as it will be too low.) Then, the saddle can be move forward and aft until the ball of your foot on the pedal is lined up with the front of your knee.

Finally, there is a matter of reach to the handlebar. A too-long top tube will leave you stretched out with excessive weight on your hands. Sometimes, a shorter stem will solve the problem. Sometimes, a higher one. Sometimes both. Another rough way to measure is to touch the saddle nose with your elbow and extend your forearm and fingers towards the handlebar. Your fingertips should come to the middle of your stem.  

Frame fit aside, there is a matter of wheel size affecting one’s “feel” of a bike. A road or hybrid has a 700 C (almost 27″) wheel, while a mountain bike usually has 26″ or about 650 cm; some smaller bikes also use 24″ wheels. So a road or hybrid bike will feel bigger simply because it is higher off the ground. 

The only other factor which comes into play for big women on bikes is the sturdiness  of the frame. Some ultra-light carbon fibre frames will not hold more than 180 pounds of cyclist. Steel alloy and aluminum frames usually have a wider weight tolerance. If in doubt, ask your local bike shop staff. Also, ask about saddles and whether there is a weight limit on the one you like. 

Hope this helps. 

Sheila the Psychlist


Dear Sheila,

This helps tremendously! The sizing tips are so clearly written (not convoluted like in most cases) and visual. Thanks so much.

Your question about physical or mental comfort is very helpful; I tend to forget about the mental part might come into play.  When I’m on a bike I actually forget I’m fat, but maybe the old insult of fat girl on a bike might be lurking somewhere in my memory.  

Please keep doing what you’re doing—old broads like me find inspiration in it.


15 comments to Question: Do fat women need bigger bikes?

  • Andrea

    I know this is an old thread…but I found it searching for “best bike for overweight women” on google. Lol.

    Can I improve my physical conditioning biking? I don’t mean get thin. Just healthier. How much do you do? Looking at that trike idea and some of the others mentioned here.

    Is there some kind of facebook group or forum somewhere for big girl cyclists? :) :) :)

  • Regina Spears

    I am 5’1″ and weigh 240#. I bike casually with the grand kids and by 6′, 110# (irony) husband around town and also do organized rides of up to 30 miles. I have a 26″ Electra Townie and really appreciate the Flat Foot technology for full leg extension while pedaling while maintaining a lower center of gravity and the upright seat position to relieve pressure from my carpal tunnel riddled wrists and low back pain issues. the Townie seems to hit all the high points and meet my short chubby needs overall…BUT (there’s always a but)…I still have a few issues. 1) I feel stupid riding this bike in organized rides. I look out of place, like a tourist. And I really feel funny wearing riding clothes. It’s like some kind of comical oxymoron. 2) It’s 7 gears and so that limits my hill climbing capabilities (not that carrying around an extra person on my body frame doesn’t do that too..) 3) Although it’s an aluminum frame it is still significantly heavier than a road bike. 4) When I first started riding I had a 26″ mountain bike. I fell often due to the high center of gravity and the fact that I had to jump off the seat and wedge myself between the handlebars and seat every time I stopped and then get started again and pry myself back out from the wedged position and hop on to the seat again. i had to lay the bike on it’s side to get on and off due to bad knees and poor range of motion in my legs so i couldn’t hike my leg up and over the top bar. I had to raise the seat up so high to give my full full straightening during pedaling that i felt like i was going to tip over any second from being so top heavy. My belly got in the way when I was pedaling and caused pain in my knees, back and abdomen. My hands would go completely numb and I’d get shooting pains up my arms. I went to a bike shop and told the guy all these problems and he set me up with the Townie that checked every box on my problem list…except the more I ride the more i want to look and feel and perform like a serious rider even though despite my best efforts I can’t seem to break the 240# thresh-hold my body seems to be holding me at. I know this seems like a long and whiny message, sorry. Just looking for a fresh perspective and advice.

  • Sandra Armenta

    Thank you. I am heading out to buy a bike and I am 230 lbs I am going to do this thanks to you!

  • Nikki

    Thanks a lot. Was looking at my mtb this morning and being a fat girl, i thought its not biiiig enough. The bike shop people told me its a perfect fit but i guess my mind was playing tricks with me.

  • Elly

    Awesome info, I am 58 and a little over 300 lbs. at 5ft 9 in tall, am very arthritic in hips, knees, hands, shoulders, get vertigo intermittently have type 2 diabetes and liver disease, good grief, and I think I would like to try bicycling again, its been 30 yr. since I was on a bike but think that I would love the fresh air and need the exercise, if I can do it, I am willing to hurt a little to get going and am thinking for my abilities a 3 speed tricycle might be the way to go…..any thoughts? We have mostly hilly but paved roads and trails in our neighbourhood and of course I am currently very out of shape(that could change).All suggestions and feedback will be considered, thank you so much. It is so wonderful to hear that so many are riding!!! Helps me to hear all ages and sizes are on the roads and trails.

    • Grace

      Dear Elly

      I just saw your post. I know it has been three months since you posted. I hope you have started biking. I think your idea of a tricycle three speed was an excellent one. I too am 56 years old weighing in at 269 and I am 5’7″. I have arthritic knees and AM fighting off a knee replacement surgery. I decided I would get back on a bike. I am riding a single speed cruiser. Prior to this I rode a tricycle bike. It did great I did not have the luxury of a three speed however I think it will do you well. Just reading this one blog from this website has inspired me to get out and ride. I hope you are doing the same. If you haven’t already just start slow so what if it is only 10 minutes it is 10 minutes more than you move the day before good luck I hope everything goes great for you. Bike on sister!

  • nice to see comments on us small but beautifuly formed lady cyclist. just starting to get back into cycling .love the website i now dont feel so alone
    regards kr

  • It is great to see that no matter your body size, you still can enjoy a bike ride.

  • Why on earth do I have to find the best site ever for us over-sized, middle aged girls, across the atlantic? This is a wonderful site and we could do with this in U.K. So much information on the net is geared towards ‘serious’ cyclist, the articles on here are so much more relevant. I just want to cycle the world – but slowly! a bit at a time! from home to work will do to start with and then I can build up to the rest of it!
    Keep up the good work and thank you.

  • Barb

    After being uncomfortable on several bikes, I saved my money and bought a Bike Friday New World Tourist. I was custom fitted and asked all sorts of questions about my type of riding. Although some may think I’m the ape on the tiny bike at the circus, I’m the one out and about, riding and smiling away!

  • Rosa

    I started on a hybrid and couldn’t imagine fitting my “large frame” on a a road bike with those “skinny” tires. I actually thought that my butt would spill over the sides of the saddle. After much consideration and encouragement from a lighter friend, I decided to invest in an inexpensive road bike. About two and a half years later, I’ve upgraded my bike and completed a century. I still get the puzzled stares as I ride by or describe my weekly riding routine. This article seems to be right on point. The fit is all that matters. I’d love to read more on large women bikers. Where can I find this? Don’t be afraid. Take a deep breath and do your thing. You’ll be so proud of your accomplishments.

  • mary beth eckersley

    Do fat girls needs bigger bikes was a great read – being one myself, I have done the Ride to Conquer Cancer (this is my third year) I ride to and from work everyday, and yes when I first started even the bike shops couldn’t answer that question. They didn’t even want to see me. Congrats for writing about it, there are lots of us!

  • Theresa

    I have found this article very interesting, as I too, am short (5’3″) but heavy (dislike the word ‘fat’ and refuse to use it in terms of myself or others!) I am considering purchasing a cycle for the 1st time in years this summer!! :)

  • Ann Owens

    Intersting points – I always wanted a largeer bikje – larger woman and all that although very short 5 foot if Im lucky!! I think I found if I was stretched I want squashing diaphram so much – was effort tho and later years have gone for smaller frames – and power is better – well will be when I m on the bike

  • Suzanne

    I never thought about that before. I always just get my big butt on and ride:-)

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