Alex, 6’10”, between a regular XXL bicycle and the production DirtySixer
When you’re tall – not just a bit taller than average, but reaching the ceiling, can’t fit in most clothing, feet fall off the end of the bed, constantly bumping your head on doorways, always in the way at concerts kind of tall – then you know that finding a bicycle that fits you comfortably can be a struggle, if not impossible. For David Folch, who stands at a casual 6’6″ (1.98 m), the struggle became real when the 700c (roughly 29″ wheels) bicycle he’d adapted to his height buckled under his weight, resulting in a broken bike and a broken ankle. Shortly thereafter, Folch lost his job as a journalist, and was left recovering from his injury with plenty of time to think.
“I always loved bicycles,” he says, “But never thought I could actually do better than what was available in store. Well I took on the challenge and made a better bike for us tall!” A journalist friend of his from France sent him an image of a custom bike using 36″ wheels, and Folch got to work designing a bicycle specifically for tall people. “I discovered that this wheel size had been around for at least 15 years but for unicycles, penny-farthings, or cheap novelty cruisers,” he explains, but nobody had ever endeavoured to build a regular bicycle around it. Using the larger wheel was a logical move for the tall bicycle, and enabled him to make a bike that was not only high enough for very tall people, but also proportionate, durable, and safe.
As he discussed the project with his wife through its development, he would refer to the bike as the “Thirty-Sixer” after the big wheel. Because of his French accent, his wife thought he was saying “DirtySixer”, and thus the fledgling project had a name.
The DirtySixer is designed from the ground up to comfortably accommodate taller and heavier riders. Every single component is scaled up, resulting in a safer, more balanced geometry that puts the rider in the center of the bike, and results in more efficient and more predictable handling than any regular bike “adapted” to a tall rider. The tall-specific ergonomics enable riders to sit more upright, reducing pressure on the back, neck, shoulders and wrists. The bigger wheels help to stabilize the bike, and the longer cranks, bigger pedals, wider seat and Q-factor (spacing between the pedals), and wider handlebars all combine to make a bike than looks and rides like a regular bicycle would to an average height person. Basically, the bike is huge.
Shaq with his custom DirtySixer, with Folch and his wife.
Folch is working on larger handlebar tubing to fill out the grip of large hands, as well as custom designed racks, panniers, and fenders to make the DirtySixer into a do-everything bike for the very tall. “I come from France where randonneur (a french word) bikes were the norm,” he explains. “We go to the bakery, to school or to shop by bike. I’m used to that.”
Straight from the get-go, Folch is getting a hugely enthusiastic reaction from the tall community. Most of his customers are taller than him, averaging around 6’10” (2.08 m). They tell him this is the first time they’ve been able to feel normal on a bicycle in years, or to experience the freedom of feeling like a kid on a bicycle again, a feeling that so many of us take for granted. “Tall people enjoy a lot being back on a safe, durable, and good-looking bicycle,” he says. “They were singled out of this sport for so long, when they outgrew bicycles at around age 14!”
Not long after the development of the DirtySixer, Folch was put in touch with Bill Walton, the 6’11” (2.11 m) former NBA player and current TV sportscaster. After test riding the DirtySixer, Walton connected him to the National Basketball Retired Player Association (NBRPA), where he was able to show off his unusual ride to the likes of Moses Malone, Thurl Bailey, Magic Johnson, and Dale Brown. The DirtySixer is now only bicycle ever endorsed by the NBRPA.
Folch was talking to Brown one day, jokingly remarking that Shaquille O’Neal has been gaining a little weight recently and could probably use a good bike ride, when Brown, to his surprise, agreed to make the connection. “What started as a joke became a great success,” Folch recalls. “Shaq ordered a second one on the spot, when I finally delivered his DirtySixer in Atlanta after a 5500 miles road trip.” The fully custom ride built for Shaq looks completely normal next to his towering 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m) frame, but for many of the rest of us, it would probably be impossible to even climb onto the saddle.
For those very tall people chomping at the bit to get on the first comfortable bike they’ve been able to ride in years, the wait is just a few more months. DirtySixer has recently surpassed their Kickstarter funding goal with 23 days left to go in the campaign. The big beautiful bikes will sell for USD $4499 for a single speed and USD $5599 for an 11-speed, although you still have the chance to save $1,000 off the shelf price while the Kickstarter campaign is live. The bikes are designed, tested, and hand-fabricated in California, but will be ready to ship to anywhere in the world in October, 2016.