Tall people are fairly lucky when it comes to bikes. Being both adjustable and available in a range of sizes means it’s possible even for the those in the 99th percentile to find a reasonable bike to ride. But until recently, it was just that: merely reasonable.
|1980’s 66cm Norco Monterey: See the Post
|The Gios Torino, check out this Flickr group for more disproportionate bikes: Gigantic Freakin Bikes
There have been bikes for tall people (distinctly different from what is known as a “Tall Bike”) around for some time. Norco, Schwinn, Raleigh and Panasonic were making tall frames back in the 70’s and 80’s. Panasonic had a 70cm frame! Though these bikes were nice and tall, only the lengths of the frame tubes have been scaled. The following aspects remain unchanged from the smaller sizes:
- Frame tubing diameter and wall thickness
- Handlebar width
- Crank length
- Braking system
- In general, all components, and everything accept the dimensions of the frame
|Sadly, the term “Tall Bike” has already been claimed by vertically stretched bikes for average people (not to be confused with a bike for a tall person).
The result is a flimsy, uncomfortable, and slow bike. Since these early bikes for tall people, however, things have been getting better, particularly with higher end brands and models. The larger frames are now built with beefed up tubing, wider handle bars, and longer, albeit minutely, cranks. But for the really tall people, say 6’4″ and up, these bigger bikes still fall short.
Custom builders can put together bikes more suitable for tall people. Frames can be built around proportionally sized cranks, which are now available at 220mm. There are extra wide handlebars and the sturdiest components can be sourced.
|Terra 29er: Custom Full Suspension Titanium 29er by Zinn Cycles
Really, just about everything on a custom bike can be sized for really tall people. Except for a few, and one part in particular, and a rather crucial part at that: the wheel. Both rim and tire manufacturing require highly specialized molds and jigs, making it infeasible for custom designers to use anything but standard sizes. The main problems of a small wheel are that the ride becomes rougher and thus slower and some obstacles become impassable. Though bigger wheels are better off in this regard, they have a greater moment of inertia and thus resist acceleration to a greater extent. As a person scales, the ideal wheel size, where the pros cancel out the cons, becomes larger.
|Surly Karate Monkey, the First Popular 29er
In 2002, Surly popularized the 29er wheelset with it’s Karate Monkey mountain bike. This was a big step up from the standard 26″ wheelset for mountain bikes and became the go to size for tall riders. But if 29″ wheels have been found suitable for average height riders, shouldn’t really tall people have something even bigger? Yao Ming and Lebron James certainly would be better off with something larger than a 29er. Note that 29″ wheels are approximately the same size as 700c wheels (used on road bikes).
|7′ 6″ Yao Ming and 6′ 8″ Lebron James on their 29ers
|6’11” rider on a 700c Google bike and on a 36er
An American company, Coker, started producing 36″ wheels for unicycles in the early 2000’s (the Highwheeler and later the Coker Cruiser Monster). It wasn’t until more recently that WaltWorks created the first bicycle specific 36″ wheels. Now there are multiple companies building 36ers. However, these companies’ intended market is not tall people, but rather average people who just want ginormous wheels. Except for one company: DirtySixer. They are the pioneers in developing the first tall specific, uncompromising, 36ers. Here are some tall specific features of these bikes for tall people:
- Oversized frame tubing
- Extra strong fork designs
- Proportional crank lengths
- Wide handlebars with oversized diameters (31.8mm at hand grips and soon 34.9mm)
- Large disc brakes, and 36″ wheels
- Longer wheelbase (for greater stability)
- Thicker axles (15 and 20mm available)
Not surprisingly, the company is endorsed by the National Basketball Retired Player Association. They have built bikes for the likes of Bill Walton, Dr J, and Michael Bradley.
|6′ 11″ Bill Walton on a 36er by DirtySixer
DirtySixer makes frames in both Titanium and Steel. The front suspension 36er is their next step, along with extra big pedals.
Oh yeah, and a few final things about 36ers; first, they make everyone else’s bike look like a kids bike. Second, your old bike will forever feel like a BMX. Third, because of the raised pivot point (axle), a given amount of thrust equates to a larger moment: Pop A Wheelie! How would you like to ride one of these?