Gigantor Needs Commuter Bike
July 17, 2009 3:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm huge. I want to get a commuter bike. What's a good one?

I'm 5'11", 350 pounds on a large frame. I want to get a commuter bike for about a 1.5 mile each way commute over flat terrain, preferably one with minimal gears. What's a good bike? I like the look of Electra cruisers.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Those Electra cruisers will be just fine for you. Schwinn and a few other companies build similar bikes, all of which are heavy as hell and not very fast, but good for a very short commute like that, and capable of handling your weight. The simplest to use of these cruisers have internal 3 and 5 speed hubs, though those are more expensive than traditional derailleur/gear cluster setups.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:23 PM on July 17, 2009

Whatever bike you buy, I'd recommend getting aftermarket BMX style pedals. The stiffer spindle and bigger platform will help you feel much more secure on the bike, and spec pedals on these commuter bikes might have spindles that could flex / snap under your weight (I've known heavy people that this has happened to).
posted by u2604ab at 3:27 PM on July 17, 2009

Ask the so-called "Clydesdales/Athenas" (for 200+ lb riders) forum on One thread mentions the weight limit is a 300 lb. rider for one particular model, couldn't find anything quickly on the manufacturer's site.

You can do almost anything for 1.5 miles on flat terrain. About the only thing I'd mention is that the Electra cruisers have a particular riding posture (feet forward, somewhat relaxed) that may or not be comfortable. I think most find it comfortable, but I can see that that particular position puts *more* weight on the saddle, and for larger riders that could be uncomfortable even given a larger saddle.

Or, it could be fine. Be sure to test ride first, and congrats!
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:49 PM on July 17, 2009

Oh, another thread suggests that the weak link for rider weight is the wheels. So get something with at least 36-spoke wheels.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:52 PM on July 17, 2009

The site has bikes and other items for xl folks. The bikes also have bigger seats which I imagine would be an issue.
posted by agatha_magatha at 3:57 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You may want something with an internally geared hub, either Shimano Nexus/Alfine or SRAM i-Motion. Many of the Electras and similar bikes are available with this option, which keeps the mechanics of the shifting sealed in the rear hub.

Also consider mechanical disc brakes, which provide greater stopping power especially in wet conditions, and don't require the hassle that hydraulic discs do.

Caveat about u2604ab's suggestion (which is otherwise a great idea): BMX pedals/cranks use a different size interface than standard road pedals/cranks. There are "BMX style" pedals, generally called platforms, available in road spindles. If you're buying thru a shop, the mechanics there should ensure compatibility, but should you buy online it's up to you to get the right ones.
posted by a halcyon day at 4:16 PM on July 17, 2009

You might not want the minimal gears option; as a fellow "Clydesdale", I can tell you that what might seem like a slight incline to a smaller rider will seem like a hill to you, and you'll want those lower gears.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:36 PM on July 17, 2009

The Specialized Hardrock (~$400) with low resistance smooth tires ($30) is the preferred steed of the 'clides on BikeForum. The weakest point will be the wheels. Be nice to them, and if they break, prepare to blow $250 on a good set of quality high spoke rims.

A $400 bike with $250 wheels will be better for you than a $1000 bike (with $50 wheels).
posted by SirStan at 4:52 PM on July 17, 2009

A single-speed rigid dirt-jump mtb is about as indestructible as you can get without moving into the realm of trials, BMX or work bikes. I think that'd be overkill, though. Wouldn't necessarily be a lot of fun to ride more than a couple miles, either.

A Surly Cross-Check, set up as a singlespeed, with 36-spoke wheels and the biggest rims you can find, would probably be a good option (might be more than you want to spend, though).

SirStan's advice about wheels is excellent--I'll just add that 26" might be a better choice than 700c/29", too.
posted by box at 5:09 PM on July 17, 2009

One more thing: Schwalbe Big Apple tires (and Fat Franks, for that matter, though I might be inclined to stick with the black ones) are awesome.

(Okay, two more things: I'm about as tall as you, but more than a hundred pounds lighter (still in Clydesdale range, though). Probably harder on bikes, too--I'm not a smooth rider, I'm prone to hopping things and riding stairs and whatnot, and I often ride to bars. And the thing is, regular components work pretty well. Don't go less than 32 spokes, don't ride super-skinny tires, pick sensible components (e.g., ones designed for touring/'cross or freeride/all-mountain rather than road racing or cross-country mtb racing), try to be gentle, and you'll probably be pretty much okay. That's not to say that things will never break--but things break for everybody.)
posted by box at 5:18 PM on July 17, 2009

My husband is your height and about 310 pounds. He still raves about his Jamis Coda.
posted by anderjen at 7:10 PM on July 17, 2009

Another data point on the wheels. For a regular 10 mi commute, at 265 lbs I had no problem with wheels. Couple years later at 290 I could not keep my wheels true. Make the investment.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:10 PM on July 17, 2009

Also, get smooth tires. Tread does nothing but slow you down on pavement. I know your goal probably isn't to go really fast, but smooth tires means less effort to go forward. At your size, I'd want a pretty wide tire too.
posted by advicepig at 7:50 PM on July 17, 2009

My advice is based purely on personal experience, so take it as you will. I've been riding regularly for three or four years and I'm slightly taller and bigger than you are. There's no perfect answer except AWESOME! GET THE BIKE! Don't worry too much about finding one for giants--the industry as a whole doesn't have a lot of time for giants.

I started with an upright $300 Fuji cruiser with a heavy frame, soft seat, and seven gears. Weighed a ton, held me fine. Aside from shearing off a pedal when I was in a hurry, I had no complaints--but it was sluggish on very hectic streets (Brooklyn/Manhattan). If you are only ever going to use the bike on the route you describe, this sort of bike will be a cheap, easy option.

After a while on the Fuji I felt an urgent need to have a lower center of gravity and a smoother ride, especially as I was smashing into potholes and swerving between box trucks. I upgraded to a $450 hybrid Trek with a thick aluminum frame (I asked the bike shop owner what he had for giants). I'd suggest this over the cruiser/fewer-gears approach because it will give you more options in case you want to go somewhere besides to and fro work; the other gears won't get in the way (and in fact I find them easier to maintain and less likely to slip the chain); you'll get more value out of the bike.

I know you don't want many gears, but at our size you don't want to push too hard on the pedals; if you're going up even a tiny hill and decide to push it you can shred the gears, bend the crank, and break the chain. The front gear materials are just not made for the forces we exert, unless you want to spend serious money. Broken chain/messed-up gear teeth happened to me twice when I was starting out, because I thought that I was doing the right thing by pushing harder; I had to teach myself to feel if I'm being too hard on the bicycle, and I've had no problems with chain/gears since.

All that said, big folks are hard on bikes, no way around it. My current bike, the frame cracked at a weld after I bumped a curb wrong to avoid getting hit by a truck. The store where I bought it was fussy but the frame had a lifetime guarantee. Trek honored the warranty. The repairman insisted that an aluminum weld should never have gone like that, regardless of how big I am. Of course if I weighed 150 it probably wouldn't have happened, but it didn't say "lifetime guarantee EXCEPT FOR FATTIES."

With the new frame in place everything has been dreamy. I ride a lot--usually eight miles a day during the week. Lately more. I blow spokes in the rear tire every few months (lots of potholes and jumping up on curbs to avoid double-parked trucks and NYC street craziness). My shop fixes them and tunes up the bike. The crank gets a little creaky sometimes, because I still push a little too hard going up the Manhattan Bridge. After two years I bent my rear wheel by bumping off a curb and needed a replacement; that cost $85 bucks.

A small seat is fine--your ass is always sore on a new bike, then it gets used to it. Padded seats are useless when they start to tear, whereas harder seats can be kept useful for a few years if you add some duct tape. Disc brakes are very nice if you're riding in the rain, but hard to adjust without help. Bell makes helmets for big heads (I've got a Bell Alchera, which is fine except snug in winter with a hat.)

As you know there's a cost to being giant, and this is no different. It probably costs me about $70-$100 a year more than it would cost a non-giant to keep the bike in good order. Still, I love riding.
posted by lucius at 9:02 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't agree with the person who said "no tread"; it's nice to have the grip. I've got a wider tire on the rear than the front on the advice of my bike shop, and appreciate the stability. Also proper inflation is important--you want them inflated to their outer limit, super-firm; I bought a pump for that reason. I've got the rear tire at 70 PSI, the front at 80, and reinflate every week. Tires tend to lose 10 psi/week. Firm tires are a breeze; being big and having soft tires is like pedaling through Jell-o.
posted by lucius at 9:11 PM on July 17, 2009

I'm in your size class and I get around just fine on some random bike I bought secondhand from the used bike store. It fit, I got it, I can never remember the make but it's mainstream and nothing too fancy. Find a bike that fits (go to a bike store and have them help you) and you'll be fine. Sounds like you're not going to thrash your bike the way some of these other bike-ridin' beasts are.

I concur about upgrading to sturdier pedals and wheels, particularly the back wheel. The wheels that came on my bike started breaking spokes and after a while I just had a custom wheel built and it solved the problem compltely. The back wheel has more spokes on it than usual and has a thicker rim--in fact it's designed like a tandem wheel but can fit my one-person bike. The tubes need to have longer stems (where the air goes in) but that's not hard to find. Sorry, no more technical information than that, but as I say it's worked like a charm for the past several years.

FWIW, sometimes I ride more, sometimes I ride less, but I've gone on rides of greater than ten miles at a whack, have ridden two triathlons on my bike, and commuted 4 to 8 miles one way on this thing.

If you get into it seriously you might have trouble finding accessory gear that fits you, like those ankle-strappy things to keep your pants legs clean, or a reflective vest if you need it. Usually it's not hard to modify them to work, with a little effort. (For any fat chicks out there reading this for inspiration, Junonia is a great place to find padded bike pants/shorts if you should need them.)

Fat folks can ride too--it's fun, enjoy it!
posted by Sublimity at 9:28 PM on July 17, 2009

lucius, having a tread serves no purpose if you are riding on pavement. When two surfaces come in contact with each other, one will conform to the shape of the other. In the case of the soft tire against the hard asphalt, the smooth tire takes on the shape of the road surface; essentially always being the perfect tread. (When you are riding on mud, things are different; your tire deforms the ground, and the tread on the tire provides much-needed traction.)

However smooth tire does not equal thin, you can easily find 28, 32, 35, and 38-mm wide smooth tires. (I ride 700x28 Gatorskins on my utility bike. Fine tires.)

BTW, I n-th the recommendation for the Cross Check. A solid steel frame with wide tires is what you want. Steel is what bikes are supposed to be made out of :)

I would also recommend going with a geared setup. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my single-speed... but I am a pretty strong cyclist, live in Chicago, and weigh much less. When it is windy or I am somewhere with hills, I love my geared bike. A modern 10-speed drivetrain is a wonderful thing, don't deprive yourself of it because the hipsters don't think it's cool enough.
posted by jrockway at 11:23 PM on July 17, 2009

One other thing, you'll want a bike with cantilever brakes instead of caliper brakes. That way you will have clearance for a fat tire and perhaps fenders. (There are some extra-long-reach caliper brakes available now, but I have not tried them yet.)
posted by jrockway at 11:40 PM on July 17, 2009

Touring style steel frames should see you good. Everyone is absolutely correct about wheels being the weak point, touring style 700cs or trecking style 26inch wheels will be great if regularly serviced.

Those Elektra bikes are fine for your 1.5 mile commute - they can take the weight and more. I sometimes think they are expensive for what they are, and I know they are frustrating for any ride above about 5 miles. So I would say if you are sure the commute is all you will ever want to do then, why not get the elektra if you like the look of them? But if you could conceivably do with more flexibility from a frame you should look into a hybrid, or even an older steel touring bike.
posted by munchbunch at 4:57 AM on July 18, 2009

Fit fit fit fit fit.

Which is to say fit is very important in your case. That you find something that provides a comfortable, natural riding position is the most important thing, especially when you are starting out. Many people feel more comfortable in an upright position when they start out riding; the tuck (on a traditional road bike) comes later when they've developed the endurance, flexibility and an iron butt. Ride, then decide.
posted by dzot at 8:28 AM on July 18, 2009

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