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I'm short 5'2" (1.57 m) and 247 lb (112 kg). I've been working to lose weight and have come down 5 st (30 kg) so far. Now I really want to ramp up my exercise and was looking at cycling as an option.

I've tried looking on websites for advice but can't see something simple I can understand.

I need some advice on how to select a suitable model that would be a good first time purchase. I'm clearly not going for speed and adventure just yet, so something basic that will fit my size and weight.

  • Is this for transport and/or recreation? Will you be using it on rural roads, in the city, or off road? How often do you expect to use it? – mattm Sep 19 '15 at 19:09
  • umm.... it's all for recreation/ losing more weight. There's a disused railway line close by where I live which is flat and sandy so a perfect place for me to start. Being realistic, I'm not at all fit yet and I don't have much time after work, so it's likely to be weekends to start with. – mentalorigami Sep 19 '15 at 19:14
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    247 pounds is not that heavy. You'd want to avoid fancy-dancy racing bikes, but a beginner doesn't want one of those anyway, and any "standard" bike should work OK. For starters I always recommend used, especially if you have a friend who has a bike collecting dust in their garage. Because of your height you probably want a "26-inch" bike, such as many teenagers use. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 20 '15 at 0:23
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    is it practical for you to introduce a bike into your commute? For years I "didn't have enough time" for exercise, and that worked for me. The exact type of bike will depend on the terrain you will ride. – PeteH Sep 20 '15 at 18:09
  • Specific product recommendations are off topic for this site. However, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for advice on how to select the right bike. Since most of the answers already direct your question in this manner, I have edited your question to better fit our format. – jimchristie Sep 20 '15 at 19:55
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You've got two things going against you:

  • Height: I'd suggest avoiding 700c wheels and going for 650b (pricer) or 26" wheels. For short riders (I'd say shorter than 5'5"), these provide better fit. Surly, for example, only makes their small bikes with 26" wheels.
  • Weight: You're going to have to check each manufacturer's weight limit. Generally, hybrids and mountain bikes will be rated up to 300 pounds. That being said, expect more risk broken spokes and rim damage if you hit a road hazard. Cheap wheels are going to be your primary adversary. You also want big tires so you don't have to run them at insane pressure (which can increase chance of wheel damage) to avoid pinching the tubes (unfortunately, big tires increase the standover height, which can be a problem for short riders). On the road (and light off roading), you don't need suspension (and for high weight riders, you're going to load the suspension unnecessarily, especially on cheaper stuff).

My recommendations are:

  • Find a bike shop in your area to buy the bike. With high weight and low height, online bike buying isn't going to be very good for sizing or comfort and you'll likely want to swap out some parts on a stock bike anyway (saddle, tires come to mind). And most people won't ride a bike thats uncomfortable.

  • You may want to buy upgraded wheels (or more likely, upgrade wheels when the ones that come with the bike may start to fail). In general, don't cheap out. Reading Peter White's page on wheelbuilding is a good place to start.

  • Look for bikes with no suspension that can take big tires. 700x32 minimum (preferably 35 or 37) if you choose to go 700c wheel sized (though I recommend 26"). 26x2.0" for 26" is ideal. Hybrids, mountain bikes (front suspension is OK but no suspension is better; swap on slick tires) or touring bikes are all good candidates. Cruisers are also not a bad choice, since a lot of them have step-through ish frames which can be easier to get in and out of. Step through and mixte frames in general are good idea for shorter riders (mixtes being stronger than normal step through frames).

  • Don't buy a bike just cause it looks cool.

  • Men's bikes work fine for (most) women. Most of what makes a women's bike is maybe a slightly lower top tube, a wider saddle and a ridiculous paint job. That being said, some women's bikes do have better specs for women (Trek's Shift line has 26" wheels, and their mountain bikes aren't all 29ers, though this seems to be happening on the mens side too).

You may want to look at bike forums with sections like "athenas or clydesdales" -- these are typically heavier riders (clydesdales are generally men over 220 lbs, athenas are women over 165 lbs). Example is this one. If you're upgrading components, they may have specific recommendations which may be useful.

  • +1 for most, but the first sentence could be more positive, eg The two key problems are. – andy256 Sep 20 '15 at 0:38
  • Concerning bike shop: Just make sure you don’t end up with some kind of city bike or other casual, “comfortable” bike. Emphasize that you want it for excercise. – Michael Sep 20 '15 at 6:13
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    Honestly "insane pressure" you make her sound enormous. 247lb/112kg really isn't that much, especially when you consider they may fit exactly the same wheels to a man's bike. She obviously won't be riding it that hard (she even said so in the question) so I would actually expect less broken spokes than a hardcore cyclist would get. – Level River St Sep 20 '15 at 10:38
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    The point of "insane pressure" is if you put a small tire (e.g. a 700x23), you're going to need very high pressure. Hence why I suggest 700x32 or higher -- both for comfort and reliability of the tire. Sure, you could put a 23 on and put it to some pressure and maybe it'll work out. It's just better to put something bigger. And a casual bike would work fine I think for the original person's purpose. – Batman Sep 20 '15 at 17:58
  • As for comparison to a mens bike, I've noted that a smaller tire than whats normally used is a good idea (and most men are well above 5'2"). And provisions should made for someone who is about 2 inches shorter and 50% heavier than the average American woman (63.8 in, 166.2 lbs). Just because the spec sheet says OK for 300 pounds doesn't mean you're going to have reliable performance up to 300 pounds (esp. for the wheel set), especially if you aren't smart about it. Note that most race bikes sold are marked up to this weight, despite them being designed for the heroin chic among us... – Batman Sep 20 '15 at 18:05
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Your height might be more challenging to fit than your weight; your weight is well within tolerance for most bikes, steel or aluminum. Don't buy a too-big bike; it'll make you unhappy and might even cause injury.

Especially at first while you're still getting used to cycling, you will likely be more comfortable with a fairly upright position in the saddle. (I certainly was!) This suggests a couple of classes of bike to look at:

  • a "cruiser" bike
  • a "crank forward" or "flat foot" bike

though many "hybrid" or "city" bikes (look for the flat handlebars) would do you fine as well. What you absolutely won't want is an aggressive road bike with skinny tires and drop handlebars.

I won't say you absolutely have to get a step-through/mixte bike, but I do think you'll find them easier to deal with than the standard swing-a-leg-over diamond frame.

Manufacturers with bikes I think you'd enjoy include Electra, Civia, and Linus. Welcome to cycling!

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    The weight is within tolerance, but it on the upper end of the weight limit, you can hit a decent number of broken spokes and what not. Also, at 5'2", 700c wheels won't be a good idea -- 26" or 650b will be better. – Batman Sep 19 '15 at 23:28
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    Cruiser bikes are awfully ineffective for excercise. They are made to look cool while casually riding 10km/h. – Michael Sep 20 '15 at 6:16
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    That's fair, though I don't see why "exercise" has to mean "going really fast" or anything; in my book it's just "riding." Folks I know with cruisers often have another bike also. They're comfortable for new riders, though, and it was in that spirit I suggested them. – D.Salo Sep 20 '15 at 12:57
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    With “ineffective” I mostly meant the seating position which neither allows you, nor invites you to pedal strong and fast. Most Cruisers also have a limited range of gears available. – Michael Sep 20 '15 at 21:15
  • @Michael: This is only anecdotal evidence, but when I started cycling for exercise I began with a cruiser. Having a top speed of 14mph didn't mean I wasn't working up a sweat, especially on hills. Once I was no longer obese I outgrew it and moved to a hybrid. I don't regret the path I took, learning to ride a cruiser was much easier than a hybrid-/road-bike. – Andrew Coonce Sep 20 '15 at 22:28
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I'm short 5'2" (1.57 m) and 247 lb (112 kg). I've been working to lose weight and have come down 5 st (30 kg) so far. Now I really want to ramp up my exercise and was looking at cycling as an option. I've tried looking on websites for advice but can't see something simple I can understand. I need some advice on suitable models that would be a good first time purchase. I'm clearly not going for speed and adventure just yet, so something basic that will fit my size and weight.

A used women's hybrid would make a good "starter" bike for you: a beginner, focused on physical fitness, who may be experimenting with different types of cycling to discover what you like best.

Why a hybrid bike? Versatility. A hybrid is suitable for cycling on crushed gravel or paved surfaces (bike paths or streets) without really being ideal for either one. That is, a mountain bike is best for off-road, and a road bike is best for paved roads, but a hybrid combines aspects of both in a general-purpose bike.

Why a used bike? Hedge your bet a little. If it turns out that you dislike cycling, a new bike is wasted money. If you like cycling and want to keep doing it, you'll probably buy a better bike (or two) once you discover which type of cycling you prefer. Your second bike-- road, mountain, etc.-- is what you'll want to buy new and put your money into. Many bike shops sell used bikes in good condition, in some cases because the previous owner wanted a better bike or didn't like cycling enough to keep riding.

Why a women's bike? A women's bicycle is built for a woman's body. (For example, a typical woman has longer legs and a shorter torso length relative to her total height than a man.) A woman's bicycle allows for these and other differences to make her cycling more comfortable and efficient, which probably improves the odds she'll enjoy and keep doing it.

My advice: visit your local bike shop, explain what you're looking for, and take a few bikes out for a test ride until you find one that feels good. Take your time. If they don't have what you're looking for, try again when they have more used bikes in-house, or try a different bike shop. If you get any sales pressure steering you toward a high-end bike or equipment before you feel ready, leave.

Good luck.

  • I thought hybrid bikes usually have narrow road bike tires? A fast trekking bike like a Stevens X6 would be better. – Michael Sep 20 '15 at 6:10
  • @Michael the 35mm (1.75") tyres supplied on mine seem typical, with a little tread. Not bad for a mix of paved and (decent) gravel tracks. – Chris H Sep 20 '15 at 8:42
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    At the older end of used bikes what we now call a hybrid would have been sold as a mountain bike without suspension. If not badly rusted an old steel mountain bike can last a long time but might need some attention on replaceable parts. – Chris H Sep 20 '15 at 8:45
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    @Michael Hybrids have tyres that are between road and mountain bikes. – David Richerby Sep 20 '15 at 10:52
  • I hadn't considered a second hand bike as an option, so that's definitely something worth rooting around for. That way I guess I can then make the changes folks are recommending here to make it fit for my purposes. thanks Ryan for the good wishes and advice. – mentalorigami Sep 22 '15 at 16:48
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A steel bike built to take a load (touring) and big (soft) tires. I don't like to recommend a specific bike but something like a Troll or MARRAKESH with flat bars. Troll is 26" wheels so an XS is small.

Or go with an older nice used steel mtn bike no shocks. They go for like $300 as they are very popular with refugees coming to the US. In case you are in the US.

  • 300 dollars for an old steel mountain bike? you should be paying closer to 100 in many places. – Batman Sep 19 '15 at 21:03
  • @Batman the equivalent of $100 round here would leave enough for some new tubes and brake pads. You'd pay even less than that in the next city. But much more in a city without a decent population of people who ride because they need to. – Chris H Sep 20 '15 at 8:48
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My mother was a similar build before she lost a lot of weight. She is the expert I turned to in order to answer the question... in her opinion a women's Electra Townie, 7 speed with 24 inch wheels is "Great for stability and the size is perfect for a 5"2' frame." She owns one, and rides often. Good luck.

  • thank you and thanks to your mum! appreciate your taking the time to reply – mentalorigami Sep 22 '15 at 16:56
  • You're welcome. She did a lot of research before making the purchase too. Glad you're doing your due diligence, it will pay off big dividends getting a bike that is a good fit for you. Good luck. – leaflifelayf Sep 22 '15 at 17:31

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