Fat guy on a little bike?
May 22, 2008 1:30 AM   Subscribe

Is this bike sturdy enough for a 280lb man?

I am buying a new bike in the next few days. I want something for city/suburban use, 99% of my riding on pavement. I'll be commuting (no more than 5-10 miles) and occasional weekend rides of (I hope) 25-30 miles.

Previously I owned and loved a Trek 7200 hybrid, but I noticed that my arms and hands started to get numb or painful after rides of about 20 miles. So I'm looking at something more 'fitness oriented'.

I tested this Schwinn Le Tour GS yesterday and I loved the feel, very responsive and zippy. I really prefer having drop handlebars so that I can switch hand position.

However, I'm a big guy (280, give or take) and I'm wondering if this kind of bike might be a bit delicate for someone my size. The salesperson didn't seem to be worried about it, but I figure worst case for them is that I have to pay for lots of extra maintenance. My understanding is that the frame will be plenty strong, but the wheels and/or spokes may get bent out of shape and need to be trued more often. Is that likely?

Also, I'm confused about what category this bike would be in: road bike, cyclocross, touring bike, etc. The category itself is not that important to me, but understanding what aspects of a bike make it better or worse for different uses is important to me.
posted by bluejayk to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'd look at a hybrid with 700C tires for general reliability.

Also, drop handlebars suck unless you are a fixie and/or like pretending you're in the movie Breaking Away.

And a bigger, softer seat. With that racing seat, all your weight above your navel gets concentrated on about 1 sq inch of soft tissue in a real tender place . . .
posted by tachikaze at 2:00 AM on May 22, 2008

A few things I'd bear in mind.

Most bikes, unless they're very cheaply made, will have no problem accommodating your weight. However, your weight will put extra wear on things like bearings, brakes and wheels/spokes. Expect to have to spend more on maintaining these. Check for wobble in the wheels, headset and bottom bracket on a regular basis, and tighten regularly.

Ask about wheels with a higher spoke count. For obvious reasons these will tend to be more sturdy.

Try the bike out on the kinds of gradients you plan to ride up - and get the shop to change the rear cogs for you if you're not happy - pushing more weight up a slope requires more work so you might want to consider cogs with more teeth.

I'd disagree with tachikaze about drop handlebars - they can be more comfortable if used properly. I've found with drop handlebars that I need to have them fitted a little higher than normal to avoid discomfort, but I would agree that being able to change position is helpful in alleviating arm/hand pain. Make sure you don't have to stretch to reach the brake levers - tilting the handlebars slightly forward or back or tweaking the lever position may aid comfort.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:28 AM on May 22, 2008

As a heavier rider myself I'd say you're on the right track regarding the wheels. Whatever bike you choose you need to make sure the wheels are built well or you could start popping spokes. If you know somebody who knows about wheelbuilding you should have them re-setup whatever wheels you end up with, checking not only for trueness but for even tension.

Generally, wheels with more spokes are better for heavier riders. This bike appears to have 24-spoke wheels, which IMO is pushing it, especially with unknown build quality. Keep in mind that until recently the standard wheel had 36 spokes, and even those gave problems with heavier loads and uneven builds. Granted, today's wheels are generally better, but there are certain rules of physics you start bumping against when you pare the spoke count down.

I don't think you have anything to worry about with a decent modern frame, though I'd ask the shop to double-check the bottom bracket torque and headset adjustment after you've put 1-200 miles on the thing. You just want to make sure they're in there well and not slopping around too much as the added weight might make them come loose quicker than usual.

Given what you're looking for, that is, a bike built to carry a decent load offering a variety of hand positions, maybe you should look at a touring-specific bike. Alas, I don't have any specific recommendations but a good bike shop will. Consider the value of increased durability and comfort when comparing prices to the LeTour. Without getting too deep techincally, a good touring setup should offer additional benefits related to carrying a load apart from stronger wheels. As always, it depends on the bike.

One thing you say goes in opposition to what I've found. You say your arms and hands get numb after longer rides. Granted, we're all built differently, but when that happens to me it feels like it's because my arms and hands are carrying more weight than they're comfortable with, and the solution to that is a higher, not lower, handlebar position. You'd probably have more luck getting that higher, more upright position with a hybrid than with a bike like this. Keep in mind whatever bike you choose you can swap the stem, or use spacers to raise the bars. Let the shop know you want to do this before you order the bike so they don't cut the steerer too short -- you can always cut it later after you find a good position.

Obviously, a lot depends on the specific bike and how it fits you. Some folks like drops, some don't. Most experienced riders find firmer seats to be more, not less, comfortable for high-energy, longer rides. IMO as long as the bike is set up right most folks are better off with padded shorts than padded saddles for longer rides, and for short rides it usually doesn't matter. Anyway, saddles are easy to swap, and inexpensive enough, that I wouldn't be too concerned about that.

Oh, and as for the category? They call it a "Road/Sport" bike and based on the entry that seems about right; something designed for an able, above-entry-level rider who isn't looking for a high-performance racer and tends to go on short to medium-length day rides without the need to carry much, on generally good, paved roads.
posted by Opposite George at 3:08 AM on May 22, 2008

Oh, and as a heavier rider your derailleurs have a harder job shifting under load, so try to anticipate downshifts and they, your chain, rings and sprockets will thank you.
posted by Opposite George at 3:12 AM on May 22, 2008

Heavier riders put more wear on the components as Opposite George notes - wheels, bearings, derailleurs, etc.

In terms of saddle, bigger and padded doesn't mean more comfortable. Saddle fit is what you want, not padding. Essentially, the cushy padding is going to squeeze down where you putting more assload on it. Where it squeezes down may cause more problems on a long ride. On a short ride, cushy is good. On a long ride, not so much.

The bike is probably fine. You'll need to get it professionally fitted for you. The bike shop should do that for free for as long as you own the bike. Plan to go back a few times until it's perfectly fitted.
posted by 26.2 at 3:32 AM on May 22, 2008

What Opposite George said, except about numb hands. That usually means the bike doesn't fit and you're reaching too far. You're putting too much pressure on your palms, which is bad. Bars are for steering, not leaning on.
posted by onedarkride at 4:08 AM on May 22, 2008

Also numb hands can mean you're not letting your back do any of the support. If you build up your core muscle groups, you'll notice that you'll put less weight on your hands, relieving the numbness.
posted by Static Vagabond at 4:22 AM on May 22, 2008

Personally, I would recommend against an aluminum frame, and opt for a cro-moly steel bike instead. Either can support you, but the latter is more flexible, and thus more apt to absorb some of the knocks and bumps you'll encounter while riding.

Absolutely avoid a big, padded seat. As Sheldon noted, "many saddles are made to appeal to the purchaser who chooses a saddle on the basis of how easily the thumb can sink into the squishy top. This type of saddle is only comfortable for very short rides, (though an inexperienced cyclist will often find it more comfortable than a better saddle, as long as rides don't exceed a mile or two.) Saddles with excessive padding are also a common cause of painful chafing of the inner thigh, as rides become longer. "
posted by ellF at 4:41 AM on May 22, 2008

If you haven't done so already, take a look at the Clydesdales/Athenas forum on Bike Forums. It's specifically for 200+lb riders, and what kind of bike to get is a question asked frequently.
posted by needled at 5:08 AM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

The component I'd be most worried about would be the seatpost, only because when I rode I had an American Classic seatpost that was only rated to 185#. It was the only weight-bearing component on my bike that I had to pay any attention to. It's been years since I've spent any time spec-ing components, and it may well be a moot issue for that post on that bike, but that's what I'd ask about.
posted by OmieWise at 6:00 AM on May 22, 2008

On the issue of numb hands, this previous AskMe might have some good info.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:08 AM on May 22, 2008

Great info above. The only thing I would add is that for us big guys, it's often nice to swap up to a wider tire. You'll still feel more agile than your old hybrid, but it gives a cushier ride. My current commuter has Continental Contacts in 32, but you could go up to a 37 if you like.
posted by advicepig at 7:56 AM on May 22, 2008

Have you considered a recumbent? Numb hands problem=solved. Seat problem=solved. Looks really dorky=created.
posted by sully75 at 7:58 AM on May 22, 2008

As an ex heavy-rider(Went from 260 to 185), I can say that everyone who speaks spokes speaks the truth(groan). Until I upgraded my wheels from stock Alex Rims to Mavic Ksyrium Elites, I used to break spokes frequently. I broke spokes far more than I flatted. In this case, LBS personally guaranteed these wheels against issues due to my weight.

The wheels are super-stiff, and while they have only 20 spokes in the rear, the spokes are bladed and are the width of 3-4 'traditional' spokes. I have never had issues with this wheels and have NEVER gone out of true. Plus, they're super-sexy. You can find 'em on ebay all the time.
posted by neilkod at 8:10 AM on May 22, 2008

I'm also a heavier rider and this does restrict your choices of bike somewhat.

As many others have said, those wheels are far too light for you. I ride on 36 spoke hubs and heavier rims. Rims should have eyelets. Mavic T217s (spendy) or Sun CR-18 (cheapy) are both good choices. In an ideal world, they should not be anodized (though this is hard to find). Anodized rims can crack at the nipple holes. Light rims don't last long on my touring bike. Spokes should be double-butted, they're stronger than single-butted or straight spokes. Talk to the shop about building a touring wheelset. With a new bike, that should not cost a lot more than list. Good wheels will last you a decade or more.

I'm a little concerned by all the carbon fibre on the bike. I prefer metal for strength, but perhaps I'm just being a luddite here.

Your hand and wrist pain is a fit and posture issue. Too much weight is on your hands when you ride. You should be able to pick your hands up off the handlebars at any point and not change your body position. There are several things you can try: raise your handlebars, shorten your stem, and move your seat position (forward or back). It's probably easiest if you work with a fitter at the bike shop for this. Let them know you want a touring position, not an aerodynamic race position.

Another way to cushion your hands is to ride on a wider tire, as suggested above. I wouldn't go below a 28mm, and you may find that 32mm or even 38mm tires are much more comfortable. Get slick tires, of course, treads will cause buzzing in the handlebars and make the hand pain worse.
posted by bonehead at 10:05 AM on May 22, 2008

A couple of other previous questions:

Bicycle rear wheel problems.
May 17, 2006

Help me pick my new bike!
July 1, 2007

The rear wheel is the biggest concern. Front wheels are much stronger relative to the load they experience. There are two big rear wheel issues that stand out to me..

The rear must be a cassette/freehub style wheel, not freewheel. On a freewheel hub, you will bend and break the axle. The bike you link to is probably cassette, but at 8-speed with 12-26 gear range, there is a very slim chance that it is a freewheel, so you have to check. You absolutely must have a spoke protector installed if it isn't already there. Once in a while, the chain will skip over the largest sprocket and without a protector it will jam up against the spokes. This is always bad, but a lighter rider can probably get away with damaging the spokes a little, you can not. Not any damage, ever.

Other things will break because of the added load, of course.. The seat post is an issue, I've broken two so far. Never ever use this style rear rack, because it adds too much stress to the seat post. I've also broken a rear dropout and handlebars. Plastic (resin) body pedals will break in a few months of use.

Don't worry about a light bike.. Make it clear everywhere you go that you don't care about lightness, you care about durability. You'll get some puzzled looks from a lot of shops, but that alone will be useful information (ie find another clerk or store :P).

Oh ya, I totally agree about a fatter tire on the back. I had some tail bone soreness for months when I went down to a 1.25" tire (equivalent to 32mm on a road bike, I guess). Went back up to 1.5", and I felt much better.
posted by Chuckles at 10:57 AM on May 22, 2008

neilkod said: In this case, LBS personally guaranteed these wheels against issues due to my weight.

This suggests a shopping strategy: share your concern about weight with the salesperson, and ask for this kind of guarantee. Get it in writing. If their wrench is competent at setting up wheels, and they aren't trying to sell you the wrong wheel, they shouldn't have any problem with this.

Chuckles said: The rear must be a cassette/freehub style wheel, not freewheel.

This is huge. Hopefully the LBS will just laugh when you ask but definitely ask. eriko explains why in the thread Chuckles references, here.
posted by Opposite George at 11:12 AM on May 22, 2008

"Also, drop handlebars suck unless you are a fixie and/or like pretending you're in the movie Breaking Away."

With all due respect, this isn't true in the least. No other bar gives as wide a range of hand positions as drops.

In terms of the frame material, I wonder if steel would be a bit too flexy to feel good to you. Aluminum might be your best bet and I very much doubt this frame will give you any trouble, even with the carbon fork.

Probably the most important thing is that you get good wheels. Do not worry about low spoke count. Mavic Open Pros are a good, economical and bomb-proof rim. Performance sells them laced to good Shimano hubs (105 or Ultegra) for a reasonable price.

I'd classify this bike as a recreational road bike. Reasons for that include the high stem, triple crankset, caliper brakes and interrupter brake levers.
posted by hollisimo at 2:16 PM on May 22, 2008

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