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
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.