Considerations for skinny cyclists

I’m a pretty lightweight cyclist- 130 lbs (59 kg). We all know that tire pressure is dependent on rider/bicycle weight. Are there other special considerations, either from a equipment or technique standpoint, that a lighter-than-average cyclist might take to improve their experience?

Some ideas I have that may or may not be true:
-Smaller disc brake rotors (cuts weight, because less braking power is needed)
-Wheels with shallower rims (with less inertia, lighter riders are more susceptible to getting blown by crosswinds)
-Narrower handlebars (for narrower shoulders)
-More care on gravel (less weight, less traction)
-Easier gear ratios (less muscle mass, less torque)
-General weight-weeny-ness (since the bike carries a relatively higher proportion of the weight of the overall system)

Any other ideas? Feel free to debunk any of these ideas!

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Try and find a “diesel” rider to sit behind on flatter group rides. The bigger the better I find.

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Aero is even more important when small and skinny as your frontal area can have less impact in the right aero position and it can help counter balance the smaller power output.

Pretty agree with anything you said, except 2 ideas:

  • smaller disc brake rotors: just stick to the rim brakes, even lighter and way less expensive
  • easier gear ratios: lighter cyclists tend to have a higher power to weight ratio, so they climb at higher speed and on higher gradients they can push taller gear ratios. You have less torque in the muscles? Yes, but the same gradient will produce a way lower “torque against you” because it depends on your mass (weight) that is reduced, compared to the one of a bigger cyclist.
    Look at the pros: the lighter and skinnier the cyclist (and shorter also), the harder the ratios he can push uphill.
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if you are short, you can always go to 650b wheels/frame. 700c gets a bit out of proportion for <50cm size frames

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As a fellow light rider I would ad a few theories based on “anecdata”:

  • the lighter the rider the better they cope with heat and struggle with cold due to higher ratio of body surface area to body volume
  • lighter mostly means less fat and glycogen storage for fueling, so external fueling becomes more important
  • lighter riders tend to have less wear on parts (chains, tires, flats…)
  • parts with preset compliance (frames, seat posts, handle bars) tend to have less impact on comfort, either because of shorter tube geometries in smaller sizes or because the design was based on a more average weight rider. Tire pressure becomes a more reliable way to adjust comfort.
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All of these square with my experience.

By big question these days is tire size. Everyone says wider is better, but I’m wondering if that might not be the case for skinny riders. My thinking is, cars use smaller tires than trucks. Hypothetically, if I and my bike were exactly half their current size, wouldn’t it make sense for the tires to be half as wide? So if I weigh a few pounds less than average, shouldn’t my tire be a couple millimeters thinner? I’m really just deciding between 28 and 30mm.

But vladimir, you make a good point that tires make the biggest difference for comfort. I find that the minimum pressures listed on tires are always higher than the pressure suggested by online calculators. Are those minimums determined with a heavier rider in mind? Can a lighter rider go with lower pressure than the minimum?

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In regards to tire width I have a different theory. In tires I value control more than absolute weight. My thinking is that I gain back grip that I lack because of body weight with the potentially wider contact patch of a wider tire. I have ridden tiers that measured mounted 24 mm and ones that measured 32 mm and the confidence when cornering is very drastic. So I prefer wider tires not only for comfort, but also control.

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I am 52 kg and 173 cm height. Ride 25mm tires at 80 psi front and 85 psi rear. Had try 28 mm tires but the extra weight need extra effort on a long climb.
I ride mostly on tarmac. From the very good one to the broken one and very small amount of dirt.

Meh…don’t overthink it. The weight savings is minimal and will never be noticed.

Aero is critical for smaller riders…ride the deepest rim you can safely handle. And learn how to handle deeper rims in crosswinds. I am not as light as you but still pretty light (~68kg / 150 lbs) and can handle 60mm rims in 20+mph winds with no issues. And they are Reynolds wheels, so not known for being well-behaved in crosswinds.

Absolutely.

Traction is a skill as much as anything else. Get properly positioned on the bike and learn how to corner properly.

Plenty of range on modern drivetrains. Again, don’t overthink it.

Even lightweight riders should favor aero over weight.

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62-63kg… I think you’re right about the tires. 23mm vulcanized clinchers are enough to give me a pretty buttery ride at 85-90psi. High quality tubulars at that pressure would be a magic carpet ride. Small cars don’t need big wheels and tires. Big trucks need big wheels and tires. Think the same things applies with light riders versus heavy riders.

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“Don’t overthink it” is the best advice you can give for this discussion, but the entire purpose of the thread is overthinking it.

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I’m pretty light. Aero is huge, as people have said. The only new thing I can contribute is that in a race/group ride, you’re going to be suffering less on the steep hills. Use them to move up, because if you sag along with your heavier buddies, you’re going to end up having to close gaps later, and that’ll destroy you. Moving up on the flats/descents in generally not going to work in your favor.

Also, idk about easier gear ratios. Less muscle mass does not inherently mean less strength, especially not less strength per kilo. If you’re light, you should be climbing faster than heavier people.

I will say that if you are a shorter rider as well, getting shorter cranks and a frame with short reach + long stem will help put you into an aggressive position on the bike. This will improve your handling. I’ve noticed that a lot of small people struggle on the descents, and I suspect it’s usually due to poor weight balance.

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Nah…some of the points you raised are absolutely worth implementing / executing and deserve discussion. Some of the others though are definitely over-thinking it. But now you know which ones to focus on!

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A lighter rider does not generate the same power and therefore does not need the same frame stiffness as a heavier one. I believe a too stiff bike frame is a lot like a too stiff pair of skis. Unless you’re constrained to stouter tubes by needing to hang a lot of gear, you’d want the right amount of flex that you can work effectively. Personally, I haven’t ridden a newer frame that I thought was flexible enough (for me). Part of that may just be aging, but there is likely more to it. Long time ago, I had a Look KG56. It was pretty whippy but handled great and I could really wind it up. My favorite rides now are still old steel race bikes with the 1" steerer. All other factors being equal, a 1 1/8" steerer bike will be ~50% stiffer in the main cantilever compared to a 1" steerer . So, while old components are not up to current standards, none of the new bikes have that flex pattern I can find in older frames. Something like the Ritchey road logic is quite good but I’d probably much prefer it with a 1" steerer. With something like the Aethos, it’s possible the designers are trying to get back to the flex patterns and tube dimensions from >20 years ago.

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Well, if we’re riding competitively or semi-competitively, it’s also harder for us to keep up with bigger riders on the flats, so we need more aerodynamics. When I started riding, I was in Southeast Michigan in the US, which is flat and has lots of crosswinds, and I was hanging on to bigger riders for dear life. For wheels, I don’t know that I’d go shallower if it were an option. You could try to find a set that handles better in crosswinds.

I agree that the same bicycle weight is a bigger proportion of our body weight, but the differences are small. A full 1 lb change in weight is still under 1% of our body weight. It’s still a minor difference.

Yep, or 650c, although I think that wheel size is a lot less common than 650B. I’ve see some companies use 26" wheels in the past, which I don’t like because road rims and tires are a lot less common in that wheel size.

Actually, my understanding was a bit different. Smaller people should have a higher ratio of surface area to internal volume. I was under the impression that it was easier for smaller riders to dissipate heat on average, so that helps in the heat and is a penalty when it’s cold.

On the second bit, I would hope that manufacturers are adjusting the carbon layup or metal tube selection in the smaller sizes to compensate. The thing there is that naturally they would be tuning things to the average rider weight given a frame size, so if you’re relatively heavy or light for a frame size, you may not find that frame to your liking anyway. Fortunately, there are many types of stock frames out there, and there are custom frames, too. Obviously I don’t dispute things with suspension.

For smaller male riders, because our hips are narrower on average than women, we may not find wider Q-factors and pedal stances to be comfortable for us. There may be some interference issues with storage: I know my knees will hit frame bags, so I’ve had to avoid these, plus a half frame bag will definitely interfere with my water bottles anyway. Generally, that’s pushed me towards a Camelbak for extra hydration, but many of us don’t like stuff on our back in the heat.

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As a skinny, competitive cyclist - the one thing I’ve found time and time again is that I really need to be climbing long climbs at a ‘level above’ my current grade/category to be competitive in racing. E.g. racing cat 2, really need to be able to climb with the cat 1 guys.

Watts per kilo count for a lot on climbs, and there is definitely some benefit in being narrower (lower CDA aka more aero).

But the drawback is this - watts per kilo aren’t really a factor in a lot of flat or undulating racing here in Australia. Example is this - I’ve got an FTP of just over 5 watts per kilo, which people get pretty excited about as I have a full time job, etc. But at 63kg, that’s ‘only’ 315w.

315w at say 75kg is 4.2w/kg - again, that’s not a ‘bad’ FTP in watts per kilo terms, but it’s much easier to attain than 5.

I’m essentially in that constant battle of trying to eek out a few more watts to up my absolute watts, but in some respects I have to resign myself to being top 5 or top 10 instead of winning races against riders that are objectively ‘less fit’ than me.

People will often suggest putting on weight, but personally I’ve found that as my time in the saddle (and fitness level) goes up my weight sheds off. So it’s not as easy as eating more, tbh I don’t think I could eat more than I do.

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As a point of order… the thread title refers to “skinny” cyclists, but the whole discussion is about “light” cyclists.

As a tall but skinny cyclist (194cm/78kg), most still rings true:-
but I’d add the gripe that gear manufacturers just don’t believe I exist: clothes are either too baggy or too short, handlebars are way too wide etc. My brief foray into triathlon ended when I realised I’d have to fork out for a custom wetsuit.

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With you here, as a 185cm and 68kg cyclist I end up buying small sized clothes and then hoping it’s long enough which isn’t always the case. Anything larger and it’s just far too baggy.

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I agree with everything but “easier gear ratios”.
The lighter the cyclist, I think that the more “compact spacing” cassette he needs.
I mean:

  • a light cyclist probably will outpace a more powerful cyclist when climbing, and also the heavier cyclist will tend to use an easier gear and pedal sitting on the saddle. The lighter cyclist, instead, will tend to stand up on pedals and push a taller gear (also because his speed probably will be higher)
  • a light cyclist probably wouldn’t be able to push tall gears on the flat because of its lack of pure power.

This will make him to choose a 12-25 cassette instead of a 11-28 one (with the same crankset).
Or a 12-28 instead of a 11-32.

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