Too fat to ride?
April 12, 2011 5:03 AM   Subscribe

Am I too heavy for my bike? Looking for info on weight limits for bike frames/rims.

When I was riding regularly last year, my weight ranged between 250lb and 280lbs. Now, I'm 40lbs heavier than I was when I stopped riding last autumn (about 320lb).

I've got a Gary Fisher Tassajara from 1998. Aluminum frame. One original rim and one new rim replaced last year after I trashed it popping up onto a curb badly. I replaced the stock plastic pedals last year with heavy gauge aluminum ones. I also use toe clips, a headset extender and a big-ass gel seat for my big ass. I do all of my own maintenance (except for wheel trueing. I suck at that a lot).

The bike was given to me 3 years ago (previously it had only been ridden once) and I've put it through its paces. I don't have an accurate mileage, but I was riding 80-100 miles/week over the course of several months; I intentionally started riding more and using my car less, to the tune of biking 6 days/week and driving 1 day, if that.

I'm trying to get back into a regular exercise routine and walking sucks because of my bunions. And in light of $4/gallon gasoline, it's a smart move. I miss riding terribly, but a new bike is not an option right now. Any info will be appreciated. Thanks!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't answer specifically about your bike, but you might want to look at the Clydesdales/Athenas threads of Bike Forums for advice.
posted by Pineapplicious at 5:11 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Should be fine - it's a big, stout mountain bike. I'm 320, and I had no troubles with a skinny '70s road bike when I started commuting by bike, tho I traded it for something with MTB gears to handle the Providence hills.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:48 AM on April 12, 2011

Oh! And as a follow up, get a nice set of fenders and look into a rear rack and waterproof commuting pannier. Even if you don't intend to ride in the rain, sometimes it sneaks up on you anyway - and fenders are all that stands between you and muddy road filth. Plus, they look cool - says you're serious about being a cyclist. Panniers are good, as it gets the weight of your stuff off your back, and that makes for a much more comfortable ride. A basket or milk-crate lashed to the rack to hold a backpack would work, too, tho not handle as nicely (top-heavy).
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:06 AM on April 12, 2011

Frame is fine, but if your wheels are going out of true a lot, consider upgrading to 48-spoke rims and hubs. Bombproof.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:13 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints - the wheels will be the weak link and more spokes help a lot. The Gary Fischer website currently lists that model as having 32 spoke wheels, though maybe the older years were different. You probably want at least at least 36. If you can afford wheels with more spokes, they will be stronger yet.
posted by exogenous at 6:23 AM on April 12, 2011

Agree with everyone above that the wheels would be the main problem. Depending on how much you want/can to spend on the bike, I would suggest to talk with a good local bike store and have them build wheels for you. They won't be cheap but you can probably use them on your next bike as well.

This is partly off topic, but I really like this old Bicycling Magazine story about a guy loosing 320 pound by biking.
posted by brorfred at 6:38 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

yup. Keep riding on your current bike until something breaks. Then replace that thing. A good set of wheels (which will be the first to fail, probably) would be a Deore hub laced to Sun Rhynolite rims.
Replace the wheels pretty much as soon as you are popping spokes- it makes little sense to replace spokes that fail spontaneously(as opposed to a stick getting caught in them, etc), as that is a sign your whole wheel is in on its way out(or at least the spokes are).

A handbuilt wheel will be stronger than a machine built wheel. If you do get a manufactured wheel, take it to a shop to be professionally retrued and tensioned, before you ride for the first time.

Also, you are putting a lot of stress on your chain, which will make it stretch, which then makes your cassette and chainrings wear faster. Replace your chain now. It is a ten-minute job, and 8 speed SRAM chains are cheap. Invest in a chain checker (Park CC-2, for example)

finally, yeah, fenders, a rear rack, and a set of panniers will go a long ways toward going car-free.
posted by rockindata at 6:41 AM on April 12, 2011

3rding the wheels. There are a lot of touring cyclists who are around that weight when you add their body weight and their equipment, and wheels are the thing to upgrade to address that. Most touring cyclists go to 36 spokes and have them hand built. Tandem riders, heavy riders with a lot of gear, and those who want bombproof wheels often go up to 48. The investment will counteract your gas savings for a while, but it will eventually pay off. If you want to upgrade one at a time, do the rear one first since it's supporting more of your weight. If you can't do that investment, have your current wheels rebuilt by hand (unless the rims are really crappy). Hand-built wheels have more even tension and will be less apt to break than factory wheels (speaks from bicycling touring experience...).

See if you can find a reputable bike shop to do this--specifically ask about their wheel building experience, get a couple of quotes from them for different options, and research the rims and hubs online or bring those options back here for some critique. I've had the best luck choosing a shop with somewhat aloof, older mechanics who really concentrate on their work and don't let people interrupt them for every little thing. They should really listen to what you want, be able to articulate differences in your options, and not just grab whatever rim they have lying around and try to sell you that one because it's convenient.
posted by BlooPen at 6:41 AM on April 12, 2011

I wouldn't worry a whole heck of a lot about the wheels - riding style helps more than bomb-proof wheels (which can get pricey in a hurry).

1) Avoid pot-holes and curb-hopping, or slow way down and tackle them carefully. Get up off the seat, and manage what wheel is getting the weight when.

2) If it looks like you're coming to a stop, gear down, so you can ease off the line rather than stand on the pedals to get going in a high gear. I used to murder my single-speed wheels doing that. I don't mean shift into the granny gear, but it should be low enough for you to pedal away without getting out of the seat.

3) Avoid stand-on-the-pedals sprints as much as you can. It's hell on the frame and drivetrain. Use the tall gears instead - smooth and steady is better for body and bike.

If you do need new wheels, any 36 spoke second-hander, tuned up at the bike shop, is going to be fine as long as you don't ride it down stairs or somesuch.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:11 AM on April 12, 2011

I'm not sure if this helps or not but I'm around 430lbs and ride about 10-15 miles a week on a ten year old Trek 4300 with no issues. My local bike shop mentioned that I should have some custom wheels made if I decided to ride long distance on rough terrain but for street riding it should be fine.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 7:11 AM on April 12, 2011

Just to echo what Slap*Happy said - you might want to replace the left crankshaft with a sturdier unit if you do plan on doing any standing pedaling. Having one snap on you is no fun.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 7:13 AM on April 12, 2011

More so than spoke count, I've found that being handbuilt by an expert wheelbuilder really makes all the difference in wheel durability. Obviously you're not going to be happy with a super-light handbuilt wheelset, but I think the combination of careful construction and knowledgeable rim/hub/spoke selection will give you much better results than just throwing more spokes at the problem.

I think many stock wheels are so crummy that many people get the impression that wheels are essentially disposable, or, at best, require constant maintenance, but this just isn't true--I have wheels that I've ridden probably ten or twelve thousand miles without truing, and I weighed 225-250 lbs. for most of them.

I totally agree with the riding style comments, too--part of the reason my wheels hold up for that long is that don't ever pop over curbs (don't do that!). Lifting your butt off of the seat when you're going over an unavoidable bump ('posting' over it) helps too.

Also, chain wear is pretty much entirely due to crap/grit inside the links grinding away at the interior surfaces. It has nothing to do with your weight, and a lot to do with where and when you ride (which determines how much grit you encounter and how fast your lubricant is stripped away) and how you maintain your chain.

There seem to be two schools of thought on chain lubrication, and they both seem to work fine: you can either use a thin lube which washes out the grit as you apply it (Pro Link, White Lightning, Rock n' Roll) or you can remove your chain--get a magic link to make it easier--and then strip it with a degreaser, allow it to dry, and reapply a thicker lubricant (I kind of liked Chain-L No 5, which looks a lot like hypoid gear oil) which will hang out in the rollers and prevent grit infiltration.

Also, keep in mind that many moderately-priced components are actually more durable than their expensive counterparts, because prices rise as weight drops. Pedals are a great example: chromoly spindles are unquestionably more durable, and heavier, than lighter options (aluminum or titanium), and they're generally the low end of the product line.
posted by pullayup at 7:26 AM on April 12, 2011

Response by poster: So it's all in the wheels, then. Hmm. New wheels are totally outside the budget for the foreseeable future. My current ones ones are 32 spoke, machined jobbies.

I do a lot of out of seat pedaling when climbing and sprinting in traffic. I'm 6' tall, but I have extremely stubby legs, so dropping gears doesn't help me much. I'm also proficient at getting my ass up and shifting weight when needed. That curb hop that wrecked my wheel was a) not intended and b) an evil Newton, MA super high curb. And my riding style is pretty spot on.

I guess my biggest question is: what are the chances of catastrophic failure? And what would catastrophic failure look like? A wheel collapsing under me mid-ride? 99% of my typical rides are street and mostly level packed dirt trails, much of which is along part of the East Coast Greenway.

Also, I have an excellent shop that I go to for larger repairs.

As for fenders, personally, I LOVE mud stripes on my back! I know it's weird, but I get an amazing amount of satisfaction from it (though I have promised myself fenders once I have to start commuting for work)
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:21 AM on April 12, 2011

I guess my biggest question is: what are the chances of catastrophic failure? And what would catastrophic failure look like?

Worst case: you are moving at a good clip and your front wheel suddenly turns into a taco and you sail over the handlebars. I've been there, and it was a pretty shocking experience - I didn't even see any bump in the smooth trail that might have caused the wheel to fail.

If you are keeping the 32 spoke wheels, it is probably worth having a good bike mechanic check them out to make sure the spokes are properly tensioned, etc.
posted by exogenous at 8:38 AM on April 12, 2011

Chances of catastrophic failure are tiny unless your rims are cracked or have some other sort of issue (tacoing). What will probably happen is that you'll eventually break a spoke--there will be an ominous ping (a poink, really) followed by your wheel feeling funny and probably rubbing on the brake because the wheel is suddenly out of true. If you're not too far from home, you can release your brake for that wheel and ride home with a wobbly wheel, take the wheel to the shop and have them replace the spoke and retrue the wheel.

But that probably won't happen, either. If you're worried about it, I would, check with your shop to see how much rebuilding your current wheels would be (at least the rear one). They'd use the same rim and hub, so the cost could be pretty low (an hour or so of labor, maybe new spokes). I just kept getting my wheel trued, and pretty soon the tension was out of whack (too uneven from one side of the wheel to the other even though the wheel was true) b/c of a not great truing job by someone other than my regular wheel guy. I should have had the wheel rebuilt and avoided the broken spoke problem instead of trying to get it trued all the time...
posted by BlooPen at 8:45 AM on April 12, 2011

I don't see the benefit of rebuilding good wheels: tension can be corrected without rebuilding.

If you feel up to it, read the book on bicycle wheels. You will know more about bicycle wheels than the vast majority of people employed as bike mechanics, and be able to fix your own wheels or even build them up from parts. Personally, I wouldn't let the clowns at my local bike repair shop touch any of my bikes if they paid me.

posted by exogenous at 10:19 AM on April 12, 2011

Ahaha, I missed that you go to Harris Cyclery - they ought to be trusted with wheels, considering this!
posted by exogenous at 10:20 AM on April 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks folks. I'm going to go for a quick test ride later this afternoon. Stupid that I haven't actually done that yet, but I've been concerned about the possibility of losing all of the meat on my face from a head-first tumble.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 11:13 AM on April 12, 2011

Tacoing front wheels can be common in downhill off-road riding ( I do it about once a year) and very rare in road riding. A good set of hand-built 36-hole wheels are really what you should be on. However, you say you can't afford that now. A less expensive and immediate fix is to put some nice fat tires on downhill tubes on your wheels. What kind of tires are you running now?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2011

The Fisher archive only goes back to 2002, but that year's Tassajara looks fairly beefy. Inspect it regularly for cracks and dents.

Ride it 'til something wears out or breaks, then upgrade that part. That's what I've always done. That's what most people do when they can't afford the ultra sweet ride right now: get something functional and replace parts as necessary.

You don't need to know how to build a wheel from parts (but it's a nice skill to have), but definitely know how to true a wheel. Even if you don't have a truing stand, you can get by with just a spoke wrench and by eyeballing it. If you want to get fancy there are tricks like sticking a couple of zip ties on your forks and using those as gauges while you true the wheel.

Do you check your air pressure every morning before your commute? While you're at it, give the wheel a spin and eyeball it against the brake pads. Out of true? Turn the bike upside down and spend 2 minutes with your spoke wrench, then hit the road.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:30 PM on April 12, 2011

« Older Which special character codes?   |   Positive effects of being occasionally drunk Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.