Bikes for Big People
There are a number of main ‘styles’ of bike to choose from, although fashions and innovations vary from season to season. I advise that you try out the different styles for as long as the bike shop will allow, hire, or borrow from a friend.
Tip: Some bike tour operators sell off most of their bikes at the end of the season, and you can put your name down if you are interested in owning the bike you enjoyed hiring.
|Experience: I participated in consumer bike testing, where I rode 12 different bikes for thirty minutes each. I discovered that my initial impressions were quite different to how I felt after a longer ride. The bikes I thought I liked best at first were not the ones I would choose to purchase once I’d ridden them for longer.|
Types of Bike
Here are the main types of bike, although you will find variations within in each category.
Comfort / Hybrid / Shopping bikes
With a more upright riding position, often shock absorbers and wider tyres, these bikes are suitable for a range of different surfaces. They may come with convenient features like racks or baskets, and the seat may look very comfortable (whether it is or not is another story!).
Mountain bikes are designed for use on unsealed surfaces. Options include full-suspension (shock absorbers front and back), hard-tail (only front shock absorbers) and rigid (no shock absorbers). Wider and knobbly tyres provide grip and comfort on rough ground. Recent innovations have resulted in 27.5 and 29 inch wheels in addition to the traditional 26 inch. With the right tyres – not too knobbly, not too slick – a mountain bike can be a good all round option. The risk in this category is spending too much (too fancy for your needs) or too little (too basic for the amount of hard riding you expect to do). Your bike shop and local mountain bike club – along with friends who cycle – are your best source of advice and information. If you are just starting out, buy a modest bike without too many fancy features. You can always upgrade later.
It makes carrying spare tubes (and spokes) easier if you choose bikes with a common wheel/tyre size.
Generally, on a bike, more features = more maintenance and servicing (or things that can go wrong)
Road bikes resemble racing bikes and are designed for speed with lightweight frames, drop handlebars, and skinny slick tyres. They are not the best for family cycling as the narrow tyres limit what surfaces you can ride on safely. If you plan to do racing or events like the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge perhaps one of these will suit you well. A handy alternative is the ‘Flat bar road bike’ which has slightly wider tyres, normal looking ‘flat’ handlebars, and the capacity to add a rack, making it a great touring and commuting bike.
What suits? Size and Gender
Once you’ve decided on a style of bike that suits your needs, it is important that you find the right size for you. This is essential to both your comfort and safety, not to mention enjoyment. A bike shop can advise; or look at charts and advice on bike related websites.
Women’s specific bikes have different frame geometry than men’s, because most women have more of their length in their legs than their upper body. Sometimes they have a step through frame (one without a horizontal bar running between the seat and the handlebars). Step-through frames are handy when wearing skirts and require less of a dog-and-fire-hydrant maneuver to get on and off. If you intend to have a baby seat on the back then choose a step-through frame. That way you don’t have to lift your leg over the height of the baby seat to avoid kicking your child.
Women’s and men’s saddles are also different owing to our pelvis (sometimes referred to as ‘sit bones’) being different widths. When your sit bones are connecting with the correct part of the saddle, you have less pressure on your squidgy bits. Underneath padding the saddle will have structural support for your sit bones – like a bridge or bar – which is why you don’t want your saddle don’t want the saddle to be too padded and soft, too wide or too narrow. At the beginning this may seem counter intuitive, and it could initially feel less comfortable. But it is well worth considering that sometimes less padding is both better for you, and more comfortable in the long run. A channel down the middle can also help provide comfort and airflow to the delicate areas of your anatomy.
Tip: A comfortable rear end makes a huge difference to your enjoyment, and sometimes health. Spend time choosing the right saddle for you. Some bike shops will do this as part of their ‘bike fit’ service, measuring you and matching you to the correct saddle. If you are buying a new bike ask if you can swap the saddle for one that suits you. However don’t be tempted to choose a bike because you are comfortable with its saddle: as you can easily change the saddle. You want to ensure the whole bike is right for you.
Flatten the Hills – Electric or ‘e bikes’
Electric bikes are gaining in popularity as they become more efficient with lighter and longer lasting batteries. They are reputed to flatten out hills! Modern technology enables advanced e-bikes to sense when you start to put extra effort onto the pedals, at which point it puts out extra power to assist you. There is no free ride, you still have to pedal, but it is like having a pro athlete helping you along. As such they are an excellent option for a rider who is physically less able. There are lots of options to choose from out there. Do your homework: test ride and where possible hire one for a day, talk to other owners, and make sure the business will still be around down the track when you may need service, spares or repairs.
|Resources: BikeWise have produced a handy “guide to buying a bike”|
Make it fit
I wince when I see someone riding a bike that is not adjusted to fit their height and proportions. It is a physical reaction based on the experience; over time an incorrectly fitted bike can lead to painful joints, especially knees. We need to take care of both growing and aging bodies! Consider your options for getting your bike-fit right:
Professional Fit from a Bike Shop
‘Bike Fit’ services are offered by many bike shops as well as some physiotherapists and specialist trainers. A basic fit setup is usually free when you buy a bike. A more extensive fitting may be charged according to a menu of fixed price options (with new parts being extra) or by the hour. A professional bike-fit is essential if you are going to be covering a lot of distance on your bike, or if you want to avoid aggravating a pre-existing problem (knees, hips, back, shoulders etc). I’ve learned the hard way that it is worth every cent (and more!)
DIY bike fit
This is practical with kids, because (would you believe it!) they just keep on growing.
- Stand next to your bike and adjust the saddle height until it is approximately at your hip-bone. This is a starting point.
- Put your bike on a secure stand (like a wind trainer) or have someone hold it securely. Seated, put your heel on your pedal and move your pedal to 6 on the clock face. In this position your knee should be every so slightly bent. If not, adjust seat height again.
- Now put your forefoot (bit behind the toes) on the pedal and move the pedal so your foot is at 3 on the clock face. In this position your knee should be directly in line over your forefoot. If you can’t see your toes, your saddle is too far forward and should be moved back. If you can see too much of your foot then the saddle needs to be moved forward.
- Finally you look at handlebar height. This is mostly a matter of personal preference although conventional wisdom has them a little below seat height. It also depends on the style of bike you ride. Some handlebar stems allow for forward and backward and even angle adjustment. Make it comfortable and ensure you can easily reach important things like brakes and gear levers without straining. This is especially important for children riding a bigger size bike.
Hint: ‘Quick release’ levers make this process easier and quicker. They can be easily and cheaply fitted at your bike shop.
Vehicle racks allow you to carry your bike on the outside of your car. Most commonly they attach to the tow bar. Alternatives are roof racks and gravity/strap-on designs for cars without tow bars. If you mount your bikes on your car roof pay close attention to the height of things you drive into and under, and don’t forget they are there when you come home and drive into the garage!
Loading bikes onto a bike rack is an acquired skill, but with practice you will figure out the best way to do it for your bikes. Use elastic straps (or old inner tubes) to secure your bikes to the rack and to stop wheels from moving. Use old pieces of foam and rag to stop the frames from being scratched, or disc brakes from being dented. For most people a rear mounted rack will be easier to load than a roof one. If you have many bikes to carry, you can even modify a trailer or the back of your ute to hold bikes securely in place.
Tip: Ensure your vehicle license plate is not obscured by the bikes, and if there is a chance it will be, order a supplementary plate to mount on your bike rack.