tall trees

Tall Cyclists – The Lowdown!

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The average male is apparently 5’10” tall which is, what often feels like a massive 7” shorter than I am up here at 6′ 5” and this does indeed hopefully qualify me as a tall cyclist. I’ve largely (if you’ll forgive the pun!) come to terms with being significantly taller than everyone else and I really don’t care much any more but I spent may many years despising my conspicuousness.

Yes, it’s great for being able to see in a crowd but I always pity the poor unfortunate soul who has paid the same price for their ticket but is sat behind the massive guy and can’t see.

Plane seats are crippling, I’m always getting poked in the face by umbrellas, I’m always at the back in family photos, I can’t hear a thing people are saying when standing in a group at parties, I can’t lie down in a bath, my bed’s too short, I’m always being asked to get things off high shelves at the supermarket by old grannies, people always ask if I’m good at basketball and just don’t try to be funny by asking “what the weather’s like up there”!

The point is the world discriminates against tall people. Everything is made for average height Joe. I have to stoop over a sink to wash my hands, all chairs are too low, desks are too low, ceilings are too low……

Whinge, whinge, moan, moan…..

But if you’re reading this you probably get my point! I’m moaning to the converted, you probably already know that you can’t actually choose your clothes or shoes in a shop – you just have to have whatever they have in stock in your size. OK, I’m going on about this too much as internet shopping has made life much much easier but you get the idea!

It’s the same in our cycling lives as essentially everything is made in average sizes. Bike frames, bib shorts, cycling shoes, gloves, helmets etc etc etc etc. You can get a multitude of choice if you are of average size but as soon as the tall cyclist starts looking for stuff that will actually fit then the problems begin!

Tall cyclists – finding a bike that fits

Getting a bike that fits correctly is of paramount importance, particularly if you are tall. Being hunched up on a bike that’s too small can lead to chronic back pain, neck and shoulder pain, pain in the knees and ankles – in fact, if it moves then it has the potential to be painful! A more average sized person may well be able to make a bike fit for them more easily as the range of adjustments is likely to be wider. As a taller person the chances are we will be riding with the bike adjusted closer to it’s maximum points and so getting the correct sized frame at the outset is vitally important.

Luckily there are a number of manufacturers who produce large sized frames but, in my experience at least, you are quite unlikely to be able to get a very large frame in your local bike shop or, if you are lucky, you might only have the choice of one or two rather than the whole range. This can be a bit of a problem as you are left sitting on a bike that’s too small for you to get the feel of it with the only option really being to specially order the large size from the factory.

As a tall cyclist on a road bike you are looking for a frame sized 60cm or above but to get the exact right size you firstly need to know your inside leg or inseam measurement. You can use your trouser leg measurement but its likely to not be particularly accurate and this method below is far better:

  • Get into your cycling clothes and find a long length of wood, a spirit level, a pencil and (if possible) a willing helper.

  • Put the length of wood in your crotch as is you are sitting astride it and get it absolutely level to the floor with the spirit level. Yes, this does look a bit odd and it’s fairly much impossible to do on your own so get a willing friend to help!

  • Walk towards a wall and mark on the wall the exact height of your crotch (ie the end of the wood) with a pencil

  • Measure the distance from the floor to the pencil mark and this will give you an accurate measurement for your inside leg.

Now, according to the chart below, you should be able to work out the frame size that you ideally need.

Inseam in inches

Inseam in CM

Frame size

35”

89cm

60cm

36”

91cm

61cm

37”

94cm

63cm

38”

 96cm

66cm

Not all manufacturers go up to these sizes and some annoyingly just label their bikes as “large” and “extra large” which is about as much use as a waterproof teabag. However, Cannondale, Canyon, Cube, Specialized and Trek are all very well known manufacturers that all go into the 60cm and beyond regions and there is a really helpful and comprehensive list of other makes here.

The other consideration is the reach measurement (the distance from a vertical line from the bottom bracket to the handlebar tube or length of the bike’s reach) on the bike as well because, as a tall cyclist it would be possible that what would be intended as a relatively relaxed upright position for a shorter rider could end up being very cramped if you are long in the torso. Similarly if you have very long legs and a shorter torso the reach on a larger bike could be far to long meaning that you end up being stretched out and too low.

There can also be problems with seat tubes having to be extended very high meaning that the handlebars become very low as they won’t adjust higher and this can be problematic in that it accidentally produces a too aggressive position for the tall cyclist and this can lead to all sorts of back aches and discomfort.

As you can see I think the whole realm of bike frame geometry and bike fit becomes significantly more complicated when you are tall. The best advice is to buy the bike from a trusted bike shop where there is an experienced bike fitter who will be able to match your size as closely as possible to the bikes and frames available. There isn’t really any need to be uncomfortable on your bike as it is possible to get very large frames and the reach can always be changed with extension tubes and different length stems. It’s a bit more complicated than buying a bike if you are “average” height and inevitably more expensive as you might need some extension parts and also to pay for a detailed bike fit but it will be worth it in the end!

Getting cycling clothing that fits

As a tall person I spend a lot of my time with my shirt hanging out and with my middle being cold as my particular length issue means that, even if the arms and shoulders of my clothes fit OK they are always a little bit on the short side.

In many ways cycle clothing is awesome for this as a lot of cycling tops are extra long or have extra length at the back so “the join” is usually bridged OK. The other great cycling invention of bib shorts is perfect for me because again they are specifically designed to stay up and fill the gap in the middle!

However, there is a problem for a tall cyclist in bib shorts! Bibs are designed to be pretty much tight anyway but you may well find, particularly if you are long in the torso that the arm straps will be too short – this doesn’t sound like too much of a problem as they are, of course elasticated, but remember that they will constantly pull up the shorts if they are too tight and if you are very tall the pressure on your crotch area will become quite intense!

Even the so called “extra large” bibs will possibly be proportionally too short and have this problem so it’s important to either got for a brand that specifically cater for the very tall cyclist or to check the measurements very carefully to make sure you will fit. In my experience bibs always come up a bit on the small side anyway so it’s better to go too large than too small. Yes, the elasticity allows them to give a bit but believe me the pressure of being “trussed up like a turkey” with everything being forced northwards does get a touch wearing after some time!

So, some brands that do cater for the “extra long” include these “Tall Men’s Endurance” bibs from Aerotech they are really high quality and have good reviews from tall cyclists on Amazon. There’s more on them on their website here as well.

Santini bibs seem to be a another popular option with a number of tall cyclists on forums saying that their straps have plenty of length in them. Similarly the Castelli range are supposed to be well sized.

However, the absolute main priority in this area is to get the best padding and the quality and fit of the chamois is of paramount importance. For me personally I would never skimp on this purchase as it has too much of a direct effect on my cycling enjoyment – my backside is my primary point of contact with my bike and I want it to be as well supported as possible.

With this in mind I would advise getting the very best pad and fit around your backside as possible and then, if necessary getting a sewing kit out and lengthening the straps yourself if needed. You could always use an off cut from an old pair of bibs and the alterations are unlikely to be seen as they will generally be inside your jersey.

In terms of road shoes in larger sizes Shimano really seem to be the stand out manufacturer here. They make all of their road shoes I half sizes between 37 and 47 and then go up to size 50. There is also a variety of width sizes too to accommodate almost any foot size.

Buying shoes in the larger sizes will almost certainly mean mail ordering and trying them at home so it’s vital to get an accurate measurement for your foot size. Remember that your shoes need to fit comfortably with your cycling socks on and don’t be tempted to keep a pair of shoes even if they are slightly too tight. Any pinching of the toes, over the course of a long ride, will probably cause numbness and pain and will soon spoil your riding enjoyment!

Tall cyclist conclusions

Inevitably and rather predictably, finding correctly fitting bikes and equipment for the tall cyclist will be a bit more time consuming and probably a bit more expensive than for someone of more average height. There will be less choice and many purchases may well have to be ordered on line but, the bottom line is that there is appropriate equipment out there and it is completely possible to get correctly fitting bikes and clothing even if you are very tall.

I think there’s always the temptation to go with something that sort of fits or is just about alright as we tend to do that in many other walks of life and we improvise and make do. However,something that might just about fit OK in the shop may well become painful and debilitating on a long bike ride and it’s just not worth not spending the extra time and effort to get the perfect fit. Take your time, do the research and don’t compromise!

Have you found any other cycling makes or brands that are good for tall cyclists? If so get in touch and leave a comment below!

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