Thursday, July 21, 2011

From My Experience: 6 Tips for Larger Cyclists

I was reading some follow up commentary on Cecily's profile of me the other day and it got me thinking about other women (and men) who ride and aren't slim cyclists. There was a comment from one reader who was talking about pain in her back side and knees when she rides, and it made me wonder if others are having similar issues. I don't claim to be an expert, and I have no professional experience in the cycling world, but I do have my personal experiences to go off of, and I thought maybe a post about things I've noticed could be beneficial for others.  A lot of these things we already know, but sometimes, it's nice to just hear (read) it again. Honestly, I don't think these items are different for any rider - large or small - so feel free to read along, even if you are a slim rider. :o)
Use Your Best Judgement. When I first started riding a bicycle again as an adult, I had to face the reality that I am larger than the average bicycle rider I see on the roads. It's not a bad thing at all, but there are challenges to having added weight on a bicycle (just as there are challenges doing any form of movement when one isn't thin). Often times, bicycle shops don't understand that it's different for a heavier rider (of course, they often don't understand that it's different for a female vs male either... but that's another topic to discuss later) and their suggestions, while generally speaking are coming from a good place, may not always work for a bigger person. I have found the best way to deal with this is to take their suggestions, try them, and then tweak them as need be for my comfort. For example, the shop may say that my saddle is tipped forward too far, while I am uncomfortable with it tipped too far back. This is just a simple example, but it applies to many suggestions that may come your way. You have to trust in yourself, and know that you are the only one who knows what feels right for you.
Speaking of Bike Shops... Don't be afraid to go into bike shops. I know it can be intimidating and sometimes I truly think they do this on purpose, but if you continue to go in, you'll get more and more comfortable with parts, lingo, etc. The nice part is that if you are treated rudely, you have the power not to return to the shop. The biggest message to any retailer is not to have repeat customers. Don't give up if the first place (or second, or fifth) isn't right. It doesn't mean all bike shops are evil places... I promise, there are great bicycle shops out there, with really awesome people who are willing to help you. Believe me, I speak from experience. I live in the land of super-fit, ultra-athletes, and I've still been able to make peace with bike shops, and even find some that I really love.
Practice Makes Perfect (or at least close to it).  The more I ride my bikes, the more I come to understand my body and where it is happy and comfortable. I didn't just wake up one morning and think, "Oh, I should really raise my saddle," or, "You know, maybe a wider tire would be more comfortable." Okay, sometimes I do just wake up in the morning and think those thoughts, but it took some time to get there. Having a roadish/touring sort of bicycle and a more upright style bicycle (as well as a mountain bike... but that is another bridge to cross), they each have their own comfort spots. Sometimes a bike is comfortable right away without too many tweaks, but other times it may require a lot of effort to get it to a place that works. It's okay to change things as you continue to ride. Remember that almost every part on a bike is tweak-able or changeable. What's comfortable to you will likely change the more you ride as well, and that's perfectly acceptable. Keep riding and figure out what is bothering you, and then seek assistance (online or from a shop)  for improvement.
You Shouldn't Be in Pain! There is a difference between feeling fatigued from a long ride or using muscles you may not have used for awhile, and actually being in pain due to improper bike set up. You have to know your body well enough to know the difference. When I first started training for a marathon several years ago, I hurt - but it was hurt from using running muscles I hadn't used for quite awhile. Same thing goes with a bike. If I have been riding one style of bike over the other for several weeks, when I get on the other, I sometimes feel muscles I haven't felt for awhile, but it goes away as I continue to ride or within a day or so. If you're actually in pain, seek assistance or play with your ride to make things work for you. Knees shouldn't hurt, hands shouldn't hurt, back shouldn't hurt, and so on if you're set up properly. You may fatigue from length of ride, but no true, agonizing, aching pain should be present.
**Image taken by Andreas of Pedals and Paddles
Sometimes, it's Just Not the Right Bike. Sometimes, it's just not the right bike. Yeah, I said it twice - purposefully. This can be an expensive error to deal with (or admit), but the nice thing is people are always looking for bicycles. Just because it didn't work for you, doesn't mean it won't be perfect for someone else. If you got a good deal when you purchased a bike, it makes it much less painful. If you didn't get such a great deal, don't let that detour you from selling it anyway. If you aren't going to ride the bike, it isn't worth having it sit around and gather dust, is it? Find something that works for you, and if it takes trial and error, so be it. You may have to save up for a bit to make the exchange, but if it's worth it to get you on the road, it's definitely worth the expense.
There are No "Right" or "Wrong" Answers. I think this was the biggest (and maybe still is) challenge for me with riding a bike. I seem to think that there is a magical right answer to making things work properly. I look for information online, go to shops, ask experts, etc, hoping that there is just one answer that will make everything perfect. Guess what? There is no such answer. Many times there are common complaints and solutions, but it doesn't mean it will work for you. If something works for you, don't let peer pressure from blogs, bike shops, friends, family, or anyone tell you otherwise. Sometimes you'll discover down the line that they were right and you'll change your set up. Other times, you may have to hold true to yourself and know that you just may not be comfortable the way others are on a bike. We are not sheep - we are human beings, and we have been given the capacity to make decisions for ourselves.

See, nothing earth shattering, right? But I know it was a good reminder for myself today as well as I look to make some modifications on one of my bikes. Now it's time to get out there and ride your bike - and enjoy it! :o)


  1. Great Post! Thank you!

  2. Thanks, all! Glad you enjoyed. BTW, what's up with my head tilting in (nearly) every picture? I need to be more conscious of this. :o)


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