Bike fit changes with weight loss?
April 25, 2010 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Does your bike fit change significantly as you lose weight?

I'm pretty overweight and I want to attack this problem in part by cycling (in addition to walking and diet changes). I am a 5'11" woman who has cycled quite a bit in the distant past, but never on a bike that really fit properly.

So I'm thinking of treating myself to a new bike after getting a proper professional fit at a decent bike shop.

If I buy a bike based on the way my body is shaped now, what will happen to the fit as my body [hopefully] changes? I'm concerned that due to my big ol' fat belly and the lack of flexibility in my back and hips, the recommended setup now will be too short from seat to handlebars, and once I lose the belly and my reach gets longer, I will be stuck with a bike that no longer fits perfectly.

I realize I can take a bike back for adjustments, but isn't there a limit to what can be done? Am I overthinking this? Is there anything else I should be concerned about when getting fitted, as someone who is not shaped like a cyclist (yet)?

I just want this bike to be perfect, because it will probably be the last bike I buy for some time.
posted by SuperSquirrel to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely. Definitely. Speaking from experience here. Talk to your bike fitter about what you just wrote here, and they'll be able to guide you. Depending on how much weight you lose and how much flexibility you gain, you may or may not need a new bike.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:54 PM on April 25, 2010

My suggestion is to get the fit now, since you'll enjoy the new bike more if it fits you perfectly, and you'll ride it more. A properly done fit will get you the right frame size, and that shouldn't change as your fitness improves. The kinds of tweaks you might want won't involve needing a new frame size - at worst just a new stem ($20-50), and adjusting the stem and seat height. For instance, you may want a longer stem or lower bar height as your flexibility improves. But those are easy tweaks. A good shop should be willing to do the fit for you now, but help you later if you want to fine-tune it.

One thing to consider is that bikes vary in how they trade off comfort vs. sporty-ness. Your preference in this regard might change as fitness improves. That's something that can't be changed. But you should just buy the bike that works for you best for now, and worry about wanting something less comfortable but faster if/when the time arrives.
posted by drmarcj at 7:00 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I once went from slightly overweight to lean during a period while I was doing some hard short-distance biking every day. I did not notice any change in the fit of my bike (though I may have changed my seat height).

I do think though that if you are thinking of getting a racing bike with drop handlebars, your comfort with using the bike in the fully tucked position would increase as you become more fit (for example, if your belly now touches your upper thighs in that position, or your back is stiff, or your arms get fatigued, you probably won't be comfortable, but these things will change as you lose weight or gain strength and stamina).

But assuming the frame itself is a good fit, I think the only elements you might change over time are the seat height and angle, and the handlebars. That is, I don't think you'll need to switch frames just because of a weight change.

On the other hand, I haven't ridden long distances in a while, so take this with a grain of salt.
posted by zippy at 7:41 PM on April 25, 2010

Dr. Marcj has it covered- you should mark it 'best answer'. I will add a few points:

1) There are bikes that have 'woman specific geometry' that you should check out, though at your height it will be less of an issue. Trek & Specialized both have women's models. Make sure you get a seat made specifically for women though.

2)Test ride several different bikes and different kinds of bikes. I assume you are looking for a road bike rather than a mtn. bike. Since your plan is to be a dedicated cyclist try the 'real' racing bikes in addition to touring bikes, hybrids, etc. It's not too hard to make a sporty bike comfortable enough for more casual use until you get fitter & more flexible, but harder & more expensive to turn a 'comfort' bike into a sporty one.

3) Once you have a sense of the style of bike you want, stick to your guns. Since you 'are not shaped like a cyclist', be careful that you are not pushed toward a bike that the shop wants to sell, rather than the kind you want to buy.

4)And give your business to the shop that listens to your needs and respects that, rather that the shop with the lowest prices. See what service plan is offered with the bike- since you are riding yourself into shape it may be worth it to pay a little now for all those adjustments as you get fit and fast!
posted by TDIpod at 7:49 PM on April 25, 2010

I must emphatically disagree that there will be drastic changes in bike fit due to changes in "body size." Unless you are still growing the body measurements needed to create a proper baseline for bike fit (leg[femur, tibia/fibula] arm and torso lengths) are constants. I have many bikes, and every one is configured based on a professional fit I received over 12 years ago (easy enough for me at the time, as I worked in the cycling industry as a Sales Rep). At the time i weighed some 60 pounds less than I do now, yet the custom touring bike I had built back then fits me just as well now. The few changes I have made to any bike I ride are due to some flexibility issues I have developed after injuring my back. But the saddle height, and basic frame size (top tube and seat tube lengths) remain constant. When one gains or loses weight your legs don't get shorter or longer. Nor does your arm length change. What you will find is that there will be a small range of acceptable saddle height that will best transfer power to the cranks while minimizing stress to your knees. As you become more comfortable and efficient with your pedal stroke you'll most likely move from the low end of proper saddle height range for you to the top. But these are minor adjustments, not global ones. What I suggest, regardless of your price range for a bike, is to spend the $75-$150 a good shop will charge for a proper "fit kit." This, like finding your palm, or head or foot measurement, will act as a baseline for every bike purchase you'll make from now on. Pretty much like said palm, head or foot measurements work for glove hat and shoe purchases. Once you have this set of measurements, and purchase a bike that falls within these parameters you won't need to ever make changes so large that they will not be accommodated by whatever bike you have. The only time that you will need to take different measurements is if you move to a recumbent. And this is only because the fit of a recumbent is so drastically different from an upright bike.
You may find as you lose weight your flexibility and riding style will change; These would be addressed by either handlebar or stem changes and possibly minute adjustments to saddle angle. So, get a professional fit from a reputable shop (depending on where you live I may be able to help you with the names of a few choice spots) and rest assured that those measurements you come out with will allow you to make sound and healthy choices concerning the fit of your bike. Good luck!
posted by chosemerveilleux at 9:44 PM on April 25, 2010

I also believe that weight loss will not significantly change bike fit. As chosemerveilleux says, the crucial distances between joints are a constant.

I will suggest, however, that you might want to upgrade to a women's saddle. Particularly if you're carrying more weight, you want a saddle that your pelvic "sit bones" properly bear upon, and for many women that means a saddle wider than the cheap stock one sold with the bike. Terry makes some good ones, and the other makers too.

Have fun riding! Make sure your first rides are short, to toughen up your butt!
posted by werkzeuger at 7:25 AM on April 26, 2010

Chiming in to say I agree with drmarcj and chosemerveilleux. Enjoy your new bike, I just got fitted and bought a nice new one and it is totally rad!
posted by ghharr at 8:14 AM on April 26, 2010

Regarding the saddle - This is important!

I've been an on again/off again rider, and after a couple of years of off again (no insurance made me a chicken about riding), me and my significantly heavier butt pulled the bike out and discovered that the flashy but cheap saddle I had would no longer work.

The Terry saddles are fantastic, but I got a woman specific WTB saddle that was much less expensive, and I'm really happy with it.

As it was said above, you won't ride if you're not comfortable!
posted by bibliogrrl at 11:37 AM on May 25, 2010

I agree comfort is important. You can always sell the bike and get a new later.
posted by sandyb at 1:20 PM on January 22, 2011

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