Little Dudes Need Not Apply…


I’ve been sent something today which has given me real food for thought. Ultimately it was a rant about bike companies catering for big riders, but when you dig into the message behind it the guy has really got a valid point.

I won’t share the full article, but two salient points from it are this:

Put a 70kg weight limit on a component automatically rules that component out for half of Australians
It also rules it out for a significant proportion of Americans and British

As the writer points out…

“How does that make sense? While making a part more robust potentially adds weight and cost; that would be offset by a larger market, fewer warranty claims and a generally more reliable component.”

And he’s right. Possibly.

But it got me thinking – does the issue here go beyond what components should weigh and how stiff they should be for a rider of a given weight, and instead become tied to how much we want our bikes to weigh regardless of stiffness?

As roadies we have it constantly rammed down our throats that lighter = better. A rider weighing 70kg will ride (for example) the new Cervelo R5 and think it’s the stiffest, fastest thing he’s ever ridden – switch the rider’s weight to that of a 120kg ex-rugby player who’s turned to cycling (again, for example) and that R5 might be a complete noodle of a bike that flexes and wobbles horribly. Sure it might not have a rider weight limit, but it’s certain to ride differently for each of these two chaps.

Question this: Give that 120kg guy the option of an ‘R5+’ (for arguments’ sake) which is, say, 500g heavier (so still not ‘heavy’ per se, given the R5’s low weight) due to having been beefed up to be stiff enough for even the biggest of riders. Next, tell him that “you’ll get away with the standard R5 and the standard Zipp wheels sir, but you really should be going with the ‘R5+’ and the Clydesdale Zipps – it’ll give you a better ride”. Would he really go for it, or would he still go with the noodly light version and the standard Zipps because it’s the lighter superbike he’s been programmed to desire so much?

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t any kind of rant against a heavier rider bemoaning the choice of stiff, strong components available to him – I’m no lightweight myself and am yet to find a set of wheels that I can’t generate brake rub from with a bit of out-of-the-saddle stomping. Does that stop me buying the lightest wheels I can get away with? No chance!

I’d like to think in the situation above that if I were heavy enough to justify it I would be going for the theoretical ‘R5+’, but those words “you’ll get away with the standard version” coupled with the weight saving (which is ultimately unnecessary, given my capability on a bike) and the elimination of ‘that little voice’ that keeps telling me I “had to get the fat-boy R5″ would be all the justification I need to get the standard model. I’d tell myself I’d lose the extra weight to justify it too, it’d be my motivation… yeah right (again, I’m not ranting – I have done this to justify things myself in the past!).

The only ‘beefed up’ component I can think of as I write this is the Mark Cavendish stem by Pro, and I just don’t buy it that a stem on it’s own is enough to make a noodly bike non-noodly for a big guy – there’s the torsional stiffness of the frame to consider, not to mention the difference that stiff cranks and handlebars bring. I very much doubt any of the high end bikes have been built with a 120kg+ athletes in mind (although of course they are built to withstand the efforts a big and powerful rider will put through them).

What it has made me wonder is whether there should be some kind of equivalence standard out there? However, the complication from a bike or component manufacturer’s perspective is proliferation of R&D time, extra production requirements and potential impact on the sales of their standard kit – all of which will no doubt push the price up of all the components they produce and probably negates any business justification to run them. There’s likely also to be (sadly) a political side to this as why shouldn’t a bigger rider be able to run the same stuff the skinny dude does?

As far as the frame is concerned there are ways around it, albeit expensive. My soon-to-arrive Baum model name is ‘Corretto’ and is named after the Italian coffee which is ‘corrected’ with a shot of liquor – the Baum Corretto is ‘corrected’ to the rider requirements, which for a larger rider would mean stronger tubing and a bike built to resist the extra power. In a similar vein, Parlee will spec tubing to suit a rider on their Z1 and Z2 models to achieve a similar outcome. But who builds a stronger bike as a standard option? Nobody to my knowledge.

There are probably / possibly other options too – an example here might (and I’d like to emphasise the ‘might’ as this is just a theory) be from Colnago where their C59 is built to be stiffer than an EPS (or EPQ as the new model is now called). The equivalence may result in the C59 for a big rider riding the way the EPS/Q does for the lighter rider. That’s all well and good, but what if the bigger guy wanted the C59 to ride the way it is designed to?

I don’t know what the answer is, or even if there is one. I may have missed stuff that’s already out there and I’m happy to be corrected if that is the case so please do let me know. It’s just an issue that’s got my brain ticking over and I thought I’d share my thoughts.

What do you think?…

Rich [@RichTheRoadie]