High and mighty: equipping big and tall riders - part one

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High and mighty: equipping big and tall riders – part one

In the first of a series of a new series, we examine the challenge faced by ‘oversized’ riders.

We all know a rider who exceeds the size range catered for by the bicycle industry in the normal run of business, whether they’re looking for bikes, clothing, or shoes.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll be looking at the difficulties faced by larger riders and highlighting the companies able to help them.

Our guide on this quest is Juan Christen, possibly the largest, and certainly the keenest cyclist you’ll find in a day’s ride. Over to you, Juan…

Where do the ‘big’ people go?

Juan Christen, who stands 208cm tall, headed to Canyon Bicycles UK office to learn more about their online bike fit

I’m a bit of a cyclist. Well, actually, I’m a lot of a cyclist. After plying my trade on the basketball court for a few years, one of my knees decided to say ‘no thanks’ to running.

Not one to sit still, I decided that digging out my old mountain bike would be a great way to get the post-surgery knee back on track. That was a number of years ago, in which time I’ve become completely seduced by the challenge that is burying yourself for hours on the road, up and down hills, or pushing the envelope of what you can actually ride on dirt.

But here’s the problem: if you’re an outlier, size-wise, getting a trusty steed of appropriate proportions in either the dirt or road variety can be quiet a challenge, as any height-enhanced cyclist will know.

With many of the larger manufacturers streamlining their range to a core set of sizes, it can leave those outside it, well, high and dry. Matching the range to the majority of the population makes business sense, but can be frustrating and expensive for the those not catered for. Yes, there is the custom route. This, however, can represent a costly path that not everyone will have the resource or inclination to travel, particularly those new to the sport who want to get a feel for it before deciding whether or not it’s for them.

So just how tall am I? The last measure confirmed a height of 208cm; that’s about 6’9″ in old money. My bike history has been fraught with excessively long stems and excessively long seat tubes (many bent). Compromise is all too often the name of the game, at a cost of many broken parts along the way.

I have been down the custom route, or been forced to make special orders from limited, large versions of existing models several times, with reasonable success.

Juan’s arms were measured at 72cm by Canyon’s Damir Huskic

Bikes continue to evolve however, so we’ve decided it was time to go out and locate manufacturers who are actively producing larger bikes to see what the fit and advice process is like, and what’s new and exciting for larger riders.

Parallel to the bike size problem is cycle clothing and equipment, which is also aimed primarily at the ‘streamlined’ cyclist.We’ll be testing gear for bigger people which we’ll review as part of this series.

Over the next few weeks and months we’re going to try out a range of bikes and equipment from manufacturers who are actively producing gear in larger sizes. We’ll start our journey with Canyon.

The first stop on the this journey is Canyon Bicycles, with UK offices based in Kingston Upon Thames and a website from which bikes can be ordered directly. The German manufacturer looks to cater for a broad variety of sizes and types of bike.

The measurement

In order to get the best fit, we took some key measurements, including height, shoulder width, and length of inseam, torso, and arms.

My measurements included a height of 208cm, weight of 103kg, and lengths of 98cm (inseam), 73cm (torso), 72cm (arm), and 46cm (shoulder width).

These were entered into the PPS (Perfect Position System), Canyon’s online bike fitting facility, which suggests an appropriate frame size. A bike selector page leads the user to the bike fit page, where they are guided through the measurement process with a ‘how to’ video. There’s phone support, too, from the Canyon team if required, who check measurements for anomalies.

Canyon’s online Perfect Position System is based on formulas designed by Dr Kim Tofaute, who qualified at the Deutsche Sporthochschule in Cologne

The Canyon team will refine this fit to ‘sport’ or ‘race’, making recommendations depending on your preference. Alex Palmer, Canyon’s UK Country Manager, says the team typically ask about the type of riding planned, and the geometry of the customer’s existing bike before making a recommendation. These details are then used to place an order with the German factory and the bike is delivered to the customer.

Canyon doesn’t have a recommended bike fitter and the only information required for its PPS system is the rider’s physical data, rather than, say crank lengths, but Palmer says increasing numbers of the brand’s customers are being measured by independent bike fitting specialists and using the information to complete online orders.

The PPS system uses formulas designed by Dr Kim Tofaute, who gained his doctorate in sports science from Cologne’s Deutsche Sporthochschule with a thesis on bicycle ergonomics, and who headed the R&D department at Ergon for several years, before setting up his own consultancy.

Tofaute says the precise details of the PPS system are commercially sensitive, but reveals that it is based on anthropometric tables and costly research, some of which has not yet been published. The sizing range is matched to Canyon’s frame geometries, to prevent PPS from recommending frame sizes that don’t exist. Tofaute offers a hypothetical rider 150cm tall, to illustrate its importance.

Matching Tofaute’s formulas to Canyon’s geometries will also prevent PPS from recommending standard set-ups for riders with long legs and an abnormally short torso, he says. In such cases, the system refers the rider to Canyon’s customer support centre, where the staff have access to a more advanced version of PPS that will offer a wider range of set-ups, such as different stem lengths. Staff at the support centre are also able to discuss riding type, he says; whether they prefer a racing cyclist’s “tight fit”, for example.

Our measurements were appropriate for an Ultimate CF SLX, an Ultimate CF, or an Ultimate AL. The last proved to be the machine most readily available, and will arrive at Canyon’s UK headquarters in the next couple of weeks for a final tweak before we begin testing.

Check back soon for the next installment.

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