Bikes For Big and Tall Riders

[This originally appeared in the Bicycling newsletter. For access to more expert gear and tech…

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In a previous newsletter, I said the bike industry has a weight problem. It does a good job building equipment for riders of average-ish size but gets lower marks at making equipment for riders on the margins of the bell curve.

I knew this, but sometimes it slips to the back of my mind because I’m of average-ish size, so everything works for me. Jared was my wake-up call.

Jared is a friend-of-Bicycling, and recently I was asked to help him find a new bike. Jared is not average: he’s 6’5” and 285 lb. (down from 320+). He is strong, and he likes to ride fast, and he’s having a hell of a time finding a fast production road bike that’s big enough, robust enough, and durable enough.

He has borrowed some of Bobby Lea’s, our 6’2” test editor, bikes to get by, but they’re too small, and they don’t hold up, “He flats and breaks chains like it’s nothing,” said a coworker. Currently, he’s riding Bobby’s Canyon size XL Aeroad test bike.

Jared borrowed our XL Canyon Aeroad test bike, but it’s too small and he’s over its published weight limit.

Trevor Raab

Carefully riding it, as the Aeroad has a 260 lb. weight limit, “I can hear it screaming,” said one of my coworkers who regularly rides with Jared.

I love a good challenge, so I dove in to find Jared a bike. I knew options would be limited, but with so many bikes on the market, I figured there had to be a few bikes that could work. Because though Jared is not average, he’s not unique, and I want to believe our sport is welcoming and accommodating to anyone who finds joy in riding a bike—just like you and I do.

Boy, was I shocked and disappointed. I reached out to over a dozen brands and researched many more. Weight limits are a big problem, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. Some years ago, I tested a Wilier Zero.6 Unlimited with an 80kg, 176 lbs., total (rider, bike, all accessories) weight limit. That means if the bike weighs 14 pounds, 162 pounds are remaining for bottles, bottle cages, shoes, clothing, helmet, computer, saddlebag, and, of course, the rider. I was around 155 lb. at the time, and technically, I was over the weight limit dressed to ride with bottles and a repair kit on the bike.

That bike’s weight limit was exceptionally low. Still, it is illustrative of an industry that is great at catering to a small group of enthusiasts but is less good at embracing the general population.

The other issue was frame size, “That dude is a BEAST. We don’t make a frame big enough for him,” said one brand representative in what was a typical response. Another brand rep— 6’5” tall—stated that the brand he worked for didn’t make a bike big enough for him.

When you put together Jared’s height and weight, most brands tapped out. What was incredibly discouraging was the number of brand representatives who said, “Has he considered a custom bike?” which effectively proposes a financial penalty on Jared because he’s not a shorter, skinner dude.

desalvo nahbs

A customized DeSalvo Builder’s Special steel bike is one of the few bikes I know would work for Jared.

Trevor Raab

But unfortunately, the bike that, so far, I feel best about is custom adjacent. It’s DeSalvo’s Steel Builder’s Special with disc brakes. “Yes, I could build a steel bike that would hold up to him, “Mike DeSalvo told me.

The Steel Disc Builder’s Special bike sells for $4,500, complete with a nice Shimano Ultegra build, a helluva deal for a boutique bike. Though it is not a fully customized bike, DeSalvo does tune each Builder’s Special to suit the individual customer. A frame built for Jared will weigh “A pound or two,” more than a typical Builder’s Special frame, DeSalvo said, but the result should be a bike that has better performance and fewer compromises than a lighter frame.

I wish I were able to come up with more suitable options for Jared. A few production bikes might work, but “might” doesn’t make me comfortable. I want to know the bike will work so Jared can have his best ride, every ride. There should be more bikes that let him.


Update April 2021: I found a production bike for Jared. It’s a 61cm Cervelo Aspero 5 GRX Di2 ($7,100) with Reserve carbon wheels (Cervelo specifically recommended the carbon wheels for Jared because of his weight).

Even better, I was able to get a sample of this bike for Jared to ride.

cervelo aspero 5

Jared’s all smiles on the Aspero 5

Courtesy Jared Mast

The Aspero 5 is a gravel bike, not a road bike. But it is a fast gravel bike: Lightweight, with aerodynamic tuning, and quicker handling. I’ve ridden the Aspero, and with narrower slicks, it is a pretty damn fast road bike. Plus, Jared, like many of us, is feeling the pull of gravel riding, so this bike is working out well for him.

After a few rides on the Aspero Jared texted me to say, “I always felt like the Canyon was going to shatter underneath me, but the Aspero feels stable and sturdy. It’s a fun and fast bike that has really cool versatility and is not overly delicate or twitchy. I think this could be a single bike for folks like me.”

A full review and video of the Aspero 5 by Jared are in the works, so stay tuned for more on this important topic.

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