Fish Don't Need Bikes, But This Fat Man Does
June 23, 2011 5:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm fat and out of shape and have decided to get a bike to help me be less fat and out of shape. Please help me choose one.

I'm a 42-year-old guy, 6'1", 290#. Tall, but legs are on the short side. I'm looking for a bike with which to travel the bucolic back roads of Paradise, Pennsylvania (deep in the heart of Lancaster County). Not a lot of terribly steep hills.

I know zero about bikes and have not been on a bike in twenty years.

All input is appreciated, and recommendations about specific bike shops in the Lancaster County area would be most welcome. I'm probably working with a budget of $200-$400.
posted by DWRoelands to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Askme might not be the best place for this, there's a big forum for larger riders like yourself over on Lots of info and your 'what bike should I get' question has been answered many times in the forum's archive.
posted by jedrek at 6:16 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

With a budget of $200-$400, I'd suggest that you'd be better off skipping bike shops altogether, and searching Craigslist (or equivalent) for a bike worth two or three times as much that some guy bought on a whim, and has rarely used.

For a comfortable sort of bike, maybe think about a "hybrid", which is like a mountain bike, but with road tires - nice upright riding position, easy to ride. I've been using one of these as a daily commuter for about six years, and I've found it's great for getting around town & knocking about on the weekend.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:16 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are you willing to buy used? I just bought a bike for my lard ass, and nothing worth having came in under $400.

The Clydesdales / Athena forum at BikeForums had a lot of info and were helpful.

The main thing I learned was that unless you're buying some kind of ultra-light frame, your problem is going to be the back tire, in terms of accommodating your weight. The things that were recommended to me were:
-- double walled
-- smaller circumference (mountain bike / 26 inch tires vs. road bike 700c tires)
-- more spokes (36 is better than 32)
-- having the spokes replaced with more awesome spokes

I didn't do the last of these, but did do the first few. Of course, I've only had the bike for 2 weeks at this point, so I can't tell you if it is particularly working out, but it hasn't broken out from under me yet.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:20 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with Ubu and here's why...
Bikes priced new at under $300 are a marketing product made to satisfy the whims of consumers that just want to purchase a bike.

These bikes are often bought, rode a few times, garaged, sold at a yard sale, rode a few times, sold at a garage sale, etc. The alternate life for these bikes is that they are purchased by people who sincerely want to use and ride them, and the bike then falls apart after a couple dozen rides. The point here is that they are not manufactured with any longevity in mind. I've worked on brand new $200 bikes that could not even handle having the bolts on them adjusted without breaking. They are simply not durable goods.

A new $400 bike is a smidgen better, but not by much. Bear in mind that your size is out of the demographic for which bicycles in this price range are produced (sad but true) and that new $400 bike probably does not have strong enough wheels to support your weight AND last any serviceable amount of time, nor are the brakes powerful enough to slow and stop you from speed safely.

So, yes, troll Craig's List for something that was more expensive to begin with and buy used. Also buddy up to any bike mechanics you can find. These fine folk are always tinkering with a frame they got somewhere, hanging parts on it, building a project bike to commute to the bike shop on, etc. and then selling these rigs used. Surly brand bikes are really popular and common mechanic's bikes which ride great and last forever.

HYBRID style bikes are a good suggestion, but also look for FLAT BAR ROAD BIKES, in particular ones with V-Brakes instead of calipers, and 700x30 or bigger sized tires.
Like a Specialized Sirrus. I suggest this over a hybrid because
although suspension forks can smooth the ride out for anybody, the suspension forks that come on most hybrids are not tuned for heavier riders, cannot be tuned thus, and are cheap crap that is not meant to be maintained. The cost of any decent suspension fork alone exceeds the cost of a complete bike for you so I'd skip it and ride a regular fork.
posted by No Shmoobles at 6:42 AM on June 23, 2011

Best answer: Used is definitely the way to go (craigslist), but you probably will need someone to help you evaluate a bike, and unless you get one in very good condition you will probably want to budget a minimum of $50 to have a bike shop overhaul a few things that are likely to need work - most bikes that are not really well maintained will need to have the drive train cleaned, probably some minor work done on the brake and derailleur lines, possibly might need to have the bearings re-greased or replaced. These are actually all things you can do yourself, and can learn to do really easily, but if you're just getting started it's easy and pretty cheap to have a pro do it.

You should be able to get a perfectly servicable bike on craigslist for $200 or less.

What kind of bike to get? Almost any bike that's set up properly for you is going to be fine. Seriously. People worry about getting the right bike but usually it's not a problem. I'm actually not that huge of a fan of hybrid bikes - they're usually pretty heavy. I guess they are sold as being more "comfortable" but you can ride a road bike upright if you want too also, and if you want to put a fat comfortable seat on it you can do that too. I rode a hybrid for quite some time, it's an OK bike, but once I started riding 30 miles or more I got a road bike and it was really a nice transition. You get the padded shorts and they're really pretty comfortable to ride.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:46 AM on June 23, 2011

Go and talk to the folks at Bike Line to get advice about a prospective purchase. Even if you don't end up buying anything there, they should be able to help you get a better idea of what to look for. (Disclaimer: Only experience with these folks was purchase of a kid's bike, which has worked out well.)

Also, I received good advice on the green when I asked about bikes for shorter people/buying from craigslist.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:47 AM on June 23, 2011

Best answer: Surly brand bikes are really popular and common mechanic's bikes which ride great and last forever.

data point: people I know have ridden Surly bikes for months on end, across Southeast Asia & Europe. It was the bike of choice from somebody who owns at least half a dozen bikes, competes in velodrome cycling, and is the national Penny Farthing champion. If Surly was the bike chosen for those kinds of trips from a bike nerd, then that's gotta be a good recommendation.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:04 AM on June 23, 2011

Response by poster: Great answers so far, thank you!

As a followup, would I regret getting a mountain bike? Being a bigger guy it seems reasonable to think that a mountain bike would be more up to the challenge of dealing with my fat self.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:11 AM on June 23, 2011

If you're mainly riding on the road / pavement, then yes, you'll probably regret getting a mountain bike. A decent quality frame in any class will be able to handle your weight, so you should select one based on the conditions you'll be riding it under. Seconding the earlier suggestions of a hybrid, perhaps a touring bike even. Also nthing Surlys, I've never heard of anyone regretting going with one of those, though they are relatively expensive.
posted by chmmr at 7:21 AM on June 23, 2011

If we're talking paved (and occasional gravel) roads, I think a touring bike such as the Surly Long Haul Trucker would be a better fit. It'll handle your weight just fine, and a mountain bike isn't geared quite the same and would be far less comfortable for long rides.

You can see in the LHT picture that the steerer tube is quite tall and you can leave the bars level with or above the saddle if you like. This is useful for larger fellows because of the more relaxed riding positon--it's easier on your back and lets you ride in the drops without your gut banging against your knees. (I speak from past experience here.)
posted by substars at 7:27 AM on June 23, 2011

Best answer: No Shmoobles wrote, "Bikes priced new at under $300 are a marketing product made to satisfy the whims of consumers that just want to purchase a bike."

Umm, if I read the question right, he's just a guy who wants to purchase a bike. If you haven't been on a bike in 20 years, you're probably going to be pretty pleased with any half-way decent bike. (Still, avoid the Wal-mart $149 special.) If you're fat and out of shape, you're not going to be immediately putting hundreds of miles a week on the bike. Yes, you could scour Craigslist, wait to find the right bike in the right size, and then maybe get it tuned up

Or you could pick up the phone, call a catalog store like Performance Bike or Nashbar, tell them your story and price range. They will ship you something quite nice for around $300 (such as this), you spend 30 minutes doing a little final assembly, and you're on the road next weekend. (I don't know about Lancaster County, but the stores in DC just don't carry $300 bikes - even their low-end bikes are twice that.) You should be able to do the adjustments yourself, but you can always bring it into a bike store if some problems pop up.

If you end up riding occasionally, you'll be fine for many months and probably many years. If you end up not using it, you can sell it and not be out a huge amount. And if you end up biking a lot you can always upgrade later.

Also, on the comfort vs. speed issue: Yes, a road bike is faster, but if your goal is to just get outside and get in shape, there's no benefit to a faster bike. Instead of taking an hour and riding, say 13 miles, you can take an hour, expend the same energy, and ride 16 miles. But based on your question, it doesn't sound like you care too much about distance.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:28 AM on June 23, 2011

As a followup, would I regret getting a mountain bike?

Maybe, maybe not. I ride a mountain bike in Reykjavík, a very small city. I love being able to go off-road or over minor hazards. Freedom.

However, I don't love the riding position - it's a bit hunched forward, and sometimes my shoulders hurt. I would also like my mountain bike to have higher gearing so I could go faster.

I would go for something that has a comfortable riding position that can also do some gravel. Probably not a mountain bike – but I think you can make it work if you want one.

(I would however not necessarily go for something that feels extremely ridiculously comfortable in the shop - you always get used to bikes after riding them a bit, and something that feels GREAT to me without any getting-used-to will usually feel overly soft, soggy, and unresponsive after a while.)
posted by krilli at 7:44 AM on June 23, 2011

Best answer: You might consider the Electra Townie 7D if you can find one to test ride nearby. (Disclaimer: I do not own one, but I'm happy with my Electra cruiser.) It's a more laid-back riding position than a road bike or a hybrid (which is nice for those of us with some gut), and 7 speeds should give you plenty of range. The crank-forward design has pros and cons, but you might like it. (Just don't take the "flat foot" claim too literally.) Like any bike, the Electras are only as good as the local bike shop that ultimately puts them together and gets them ready for use. It's just above your upper price limit, but you might even be able to get a discount if you ask. (Here's one person's take on the Townie as a commuter.)

A used or previous year model of the Gary Fisher Wingra might also be a good choice. I've had mine for 4 years and it's a wonderful bike. I was able to get it on sale for just $349 during a clearance.

Good luck, and most of all have fun! If it's not fun you won't keep doing it.
posted by The Deej at 8:12 AM on June 23, 2011

Bike shops that have rentals often sell off their rental fleets at the end of the season at a good discount. Just another something to consider. I also think that a mountain bike could be fine for you -- I rode one for years in the city and around town and just switched out the knobby tires for some slicks.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:23 AM on June 23, 2011

Best answer: is the ultimate go to for everything bike related. given your size, i am going to second and third the suggestion of checking out the Clydesdales / Athenas forum on bikeforums.

specifically these three threads:
Why Call Us Clydesdales and Athenas?

A helpful list of all relevant threads within this forum - including what type of bike to get.

New embarrassed rider - getting over your fears and out onto the road.

also you asked about places/shops near you. so after registering (registration is free) i recommend making an introduction to the forum itself as a whole, and then searching/posting in your region to find other riders and recommendations for your area.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 9:37 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

@ Mr.Know-it-some

I have sold and serviced literally thousands of bicycles, most of them of the $300 to $400 variety. I couldn't possibly say what those bikes are all doing today but I also cannot count the number of times a customer came back a month or a year later and said that after riding the bike they were now capable of knowing the difference between the cheap gratification models and the nicer equipment, and were now ready to spend even more money to upgrade. My axiom from experience... Cheap Bikes = Crap. Add to this the fact that bicycle components manufacturers are worse than auto parts for the mark-up in pricing of individual parts, and buyers are again better off buying better equipment to begin with as a whole on the bike. No need for top of the line, but anything is better than entry level in therms of longevity.

A long winded reply to simply try to amplify that a bigger rider (I am one) will put a lot more strain on their components and that even used, better quality gear will give better service life to any rider than the junk on entry level new bikes.

OP may indeed be just a guy who wants to purchase a bike but my hope is that everybody who purchases a bike in turn becomes a rider, maybe even an avid rider and avid riders of all capabilities and sizes will benefit dramatically from un-plastic parts.
posted by No Shmoobles at 2:58 PM on June 23, 2011

A couple of years ago I bought a Trek 7100 for about $400-ish, and while I'm not completely a clydesdale (6', 240 when I bought it), I have absolutely no concern that it's not going to be strong enough. And I usually have at least 10 lbs of tools and maps and crud tucked into a rack trunk. I ride paved trails and roads, but the roads in my town aren't so hot these days. But after 2 years and 782 tracked miles (last summer was a complete loss due to my job), I don't think I have any concerns about the non-wear components. And both of my wheels are still surprisingly round and true, which is a trick I never managed to accomplish when I was a much lighter teen nearly 20 years ago. And I ride it off of curbs to get around my normal exercise route. I just take them slowly.

The components aren't the top of the line, and they've put in additional suspension components in the past couple of years, but it's a huge step up from the winter beater mountain bike I had last ridden. Frankly my biggest complaint with it is that the granny gear is whoa-nelly a lot taller than the last regular gear on the cassette. Making the jump from 6 to 7 not insignificant, as it were.

I think they bumped the 7100 down to the 7000, looking at the features listing. It's big, it's kind of heavy, but it's been utterly faithful so far.
posted by Kyol at 8:13 PM on June 23, 2011

Response by poster: Kyol: I actually got to look at a 7000 yesterday and my heart danced a little. There is a very good chance that I will be acquiring that bike today. Your endorsement comes at the perfect time. :) Thank you!
posted by DWRoelands at 10:20 AM on June 24, 2011

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