When Joan Denizot founded Zize Bikes, she wanted to solve what seemed like an obvious problem: Doctors frequently encourage healthy exercise for people of all sizes, and yet not all exercise equipment is geared to accommodate bigger bodies. Denizot faced this dilemma herself 16 years ago when she tried to buy a bicycle. Her two-wheel search ended when, time after time, she discovered that bikes could often only hold about 250 pounds. “There is no way I’m the only fat person who wants to ride a bike,” she remembers saying to herself.
Denizot decided to do something about it.
Today, Zize Bikes specializes in two-wheelers designed and tested to carry riders up to 550 pounds. “This world can be hypercritical of people who are heavy, but people aren’t making the tools that they need to succeed,” Denizot says. “That’s what we do.”
With strong components and relaxed upright riding position, A New Leaf XG Bike is an easy choice for exploring the town or rail trail. Meanwhile, the Yonder Bike offers a smooth, balanced ride for those who prefer flowy singletrack or gravel roads.
Designing bikes for all bodies
The path from a bright idea to a full-fledged business wasn’t easy. Denizot was far from a bike expert. She loved to bike as a child but hadn’t ridden in years. She’s also not an engineer by trade: Her professional background is in human services. But what Denizot lacked in bike-industry experience, she made up for with spot-on instincts and grit.
In 2005, she hired a frame builder and began drawing up specs for a bike that someone weighing more than 500 pounds could ride. The first prototypes were built with thick tires, a double-bolted seatpost and an aircraft-grade chromoly steel frame reinforced with a welding process often used in aerospace applications. The wheels featured 36 spokes (road or commuter bikes typically have fewer) and double-wall rims to increase durability and strength. Hydraulic disc brakes provided reliable stopping power. The “heavy-duty build” of these combined elements made her confident that the bike was strong enough to provide a safe experience. Reassured, she was able to relax and enjoy the first test rides. “The freedom, the speed, the ease of movement, the joy—the ride was everything I had hoped it would be and more,” she recalls.
Over the years, Zize Bikes has retained many of its core design elements—notably the chromoly steel frame—though the brand continues to innovate with other features. On the Yonder, for example, the pedals sit farther apart to accommodate a wider stance.
Comfort is a key feature of Zize Bikes. The bikes feature wide, upright handlebars and a frame designed to reduce stress on the wrists. The handlebar post—also known as the stem—is adjustable, “so that all riders can be their most comfortable,” Denizot says. And the extra-wide, shock-absorbing saddle provides a cushier ride. Plus, the saddle is attached via a double-clamp process (rather than a single clamp as in other bikes) to hold the saddle firmly in place.
This attention to detail results in bikes that provide an enjoyable experience—and helps make cycling more accessible. Zize’s 29er Max 2.0 Bike, for example, is factory-tested to support up to 450 pounds. Other models, like the and the Yonder, are factory-tested for riders up to 550 pounds.
REI began carrying Zize Bikes after hearing from customers about “the need for products to enable people of all body types to enjoy riding a bike for fitness or just having fun,” says Ron Thompsen, the co-op’s senior category merchandising manager for bicycles.
“The brand addresses a customer need that few if any others do,” he adds. “They embrace that mission: bringing the joy of cycling to an underserved group of riders.”
Zize means size with attitude
Though the idea for Zize came to Denizot when she was looking for a pain-free exercise outlet, the real emphasis of the bikes is not about weight loss. Quite simply: “It’s about helping people find joy again, to be able to live their life, to play,” Denizot says. “Riding a bike is the most freeing thing. Because I have a big body, I don’t usually move fast. With a bike, I can just push a pedal and it’s like flying. It’s beautiful.”
The brand provides a way for individuals of size to do what they want to do, just as they are now. That’s exactly what the term “zize” means, Denizot explains. “It’s size with attitude.”
In the longer term, Denizot wants to expand the brand beyond two wheels. She is developing an offshoot business called LifeZize that will develop clothing, furniture and even vacation packages for heavier people. She also plans to add a consulting practice that will coach employers on ways their businesses can be more inclusive of people of size. Eventually, she wants to introduce a series of Zize meetup groups to connect plus-size people and their allies.
“There are so many things that we can do to help people live a more fulfilled life,” she says. “I want the world to be a more welcoming place to people of size.”
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Editor’s note: REI Co-op is working to expand its sizing assortments to offer more apparel and gear.