Cycling when very overweight - advice on bike suitability and getting started


I posted on a previous thread (viewtopic.php?p=1612493#p1612493) that I would have a go at formulating some standard guidance for overweight people wanting to take up cycling to lose weight and get fitter, including links to some of the previous threads where people sought advice and related their own experiences. Below is my initial draft/outline, but it needs a lot more work and not everyone will agree with what I have written.

One possible issue that might need to be addressed is that posts by any of us on a thread in response to a request for advice are clearly just the opinions of individuals who happen to belong to the forum. Taking things any further than posts by individual forum members is potentially problematic, because the advice could be construed as being endorsed by Cycling UK by virtue of being published on its forum.

That prompted me to look at the advice Cycling UK publishes on its website for beginners,, and it appears that the absence of advice for people who are very overweight is a significant omission. Even the thumbnail photographs for each article often show people who are not only not overweight, but often clearly thin, fit, experienced cyclists.

It seems that people who are very overweight face some of the same or similar issues as other minority groups, but whereas Cycling UK has been active in providing support, encouragement and advice for people with disabilities, for women's groups, and for other 'outgroups', as far as I am aware it has not done anything similar for people who are overweight. Nor is there suitable guidance from the NHS as far as I am aware. It seems that people who are very overweight and want to take up cycling to lose weight and get fitter, are left to overcome the various difficulties, fears and concerns by themselves with little or no help or guidance.

Many people who were overweight and wishing to take up cycling, whether for exercise and weight loss, for utility riding, or simply for pleasure, have posted on this forum seeking advice on choosing a bike and getting started. This post collates some of the information and advice in those previous threads, as well as providing links to some of them.

Why Cycling?

Cycling has a number of advantages over other exercise activities, such as swimming, running and walking.

- the non-weight bearing rotational movement of pedalling is less likely to cause injury to the joints etc. than running or even walking
- it's easier to fit into most people's lives than swimming, which typically requires travelling to the pool, getting changed etc.
- it's possible to control how much effort you put in by using gears. It's not necessary to pedal at a high intensity and end up uncomfortably hot and sweaty - you can ride quite slowly and even get off and walk up hills if that is what feels most comfortable for you; you will still get an exercise benefit from doing so.and burn calories
- you can wear ordinary clothes. There is no need to buy lycra and other specialist cycling clothing, especially for the sorts of short rides that you should be aiming to do to begin with. Every day millions of people wearing ordinary clothing commute to work by bike and ride to their local shops etc.
- it's a form of exercise which can simply be part of your normal daily life. If you cycle daily to work or to the shops, you don't need to think about making time each day to exercise.

What Bike?

The most important requirements are that the bike fits you and is in a roadworthy condition. Most bike manufacturers suggest a range of body heights for which a particular size bike is suitable, and a good bike shop should also help you choose a suitable size bike.

Many manufacturers specify weight limits for their bikes. For example, at the time of writing for some of their bikes Decathlon specifies 120kg for the rider plus luggage plus the weight of the bike itself, and Halfords specifies 120kg plus 20kg for luggage ( ... -guide.pdf, Many people who are very overweight will exceed those limits. That means:

- Damage to or failure of the bike (or parts of it) due to the weight limit being exceeded is not covered by the manufacturer's warranty.

- The manufacturer will probably refuse to accept any liability for injury etc. to a rider resulting from such damage or failure while the bike is being ridden.

Therefore when someone who exceeds the weight limits buys a new bike, there is a significant element of buying at their own risk (although that is something which also applies to everyone who buys a second hand bike). They have to take more responsibility for choosing a bike that will be able to accommodate their weight. However, there will be a margin of safety in such weight limits, and how a bike is ridden is likely to make a difference to how it copes with the weight limit being exceeded.

The fact that two bikes might have the same weight limit, does not mean that they are equal:

- For a given price point some bike types will tend to be inherently stronger than others, e.g. an MTB will typically be stronger and cope with more abuse than a lightweight road/race bike.

- A better quality bike which is made by a reputable manufacturer will be superior to the very cheap bikes typically sold online by retailers which are not bike or sports equipment specialists.

For a very overweight person it is the wheels - in particular the spokes - that are the part of a bike that is most likely to fail and cause problems, resulting in the wheel going out of true. The wheels on most mass-produced bikes are made by machines, and whilst for most people and most types of riding they are adequate, they are unlikely to be as strong and reliable as a similar wheel built (or rebuilt/re-tensioned) by a skilled wheelbuilder. Members of this forum can probably suggest suitable local wheelbuilders if required.

Whatever bike someone might choose, but especially if it is a second hand bike, it may be advisable to consider having the wheels inspected and the tensions checked, or to have them rebuilt from scratch using new spokes, or even completely replaced with a new pair of hand-built wheels. If that is not done to begin with, it might become necessary later if spokes break and/or the wheels go out of true.

Some suggestions for bikes:

1. An MTB without suspension is suitable for a wide range of use. The wide tyres that can be fitted to an MTB do not need as high a pressure as a narrower tyre for a road bike, and that results in more comfort. As well as being suitable for riding on the road, they are also ideal for riding off-road on bridleways and tracks.

2. A heavy duty utility bike. Bikes in this category are generally heavier than MTBs. They are also less versatile: an MTB can be used for utility riding and for long distance road and off-road riding, and typically has sufficiently low gears to allow steep/long hills to be tackled, but a utility bike is generally suited only to short local rides and often has a fairly high bottom gear, which - together with the typical utility bike's weight - make it less suited to very hilly areas. However, utility bikes are often very practical bikes for short distance local rides:

- good carrying capacity for shopping etc.
- versions with a step-through frame make mounting and dismounting very convenient
- typically they are low maintenance, e.g. especially if they have hub gears and hub brakes (as opposed to disc brakes or rim brakes)

People who wish to use cycling for fitness and to lose weight may find that a utility bike is a good choice for them because it helps them exercise little and often, and is very convenient to use. A good example of a utility bike is the Elephant Bike, which is a re-conditioned former Royal Mail delivery bike:

A second hand bike may also be a good option. In some towns there are charities which sell used bikes which they have inspected and reconditioned, and which can be very good value. It may be worth investigating whether there is one near you.

Medical Advice

For many people who are overweight, cycling is likely to be the ideal form of easy, low intensity exercise to lose weight safely and improve fitness, but neverthless you should check with your doctor before getting started.

How Far & How Frequently To Ride?

Little and often is best. To begin with it will take time, maybe weeks, for your body to become accustomed to riding a bike. Riding a short distance most days or every other day should be enough to help you get used to riding, and for your body to adapt. There is no need to set challenging targets or goals - your first ride need be no further than to the end of your street and back. Increase the distance bit by bit until you are comfortable riding for 20 minutes or so. Too much, too soon is likely to lead to setbacks that will result in improvements in fitness and weight loss being stalled or reversed.

Where possible use the bike to make any short distance journeys, such as to the shops or to see a friend. To begin with you might only feel able to do very short such rides, e.g. a few hundred yards, but as you get fitter and more used to riding, a trip of a few miles will soon probably be well within your capability, and even seem quite easy.

How Fast?

There is no need to ride quickly. Ride as slow as you like and as feels comfortable for you. If you feel like stopping for rest mid-way, then do so. If you find that your lowest gear is not low enough for a hill, just get off and walk to the top.


That is a really good summary of the benefits and summaries of cycling for overweight people.

I think its worth taking it forward seeking further discussion drafting and illustrations , and seeing if someone in the NHS thinks its suitable for publication?

Jonathan might have suitable leads ....

I'm not sure if public health England / nhs has a publications department. I'd be surprised if they didn't?

We have local resource libraries where you can go and pick up such as leaflets.
Great article! After reading it, I found a lot of helpful information. It turns out that cycling is an excellent tool for losing weight. However, because of my illness, I had problems with being overweight, and I did not have the strength to do physical exercises to lose weight. I had to completely cure myself, after which my doctor advised me to have weight loss surgery I have already lost 10 kilograms, but I still find moving difficult. I am sure that soon I will lose weight and be able to ride a bike.