The Story Exchange, Joan Denizot, Zize BikesYour Name: Joan Denizot

Business Name: Zize Bikes, a bicycle manufacturer

Type of Business: Manufacturing

Business Location: Fairfax, Vermont, United States

Twitter   @zize

Reason for starting
I used to love to bike, and since I had gained a lot of weight over the years, I decided that the smart thing to do was to get a bike that was built for somebody big. When I started researching what weights bikes would support, I was astonished that there really wasn’t anything available for big people! The mission of Zize® Bikes is to provide the means and inspiration for people of ALL sizes to rediscover the joys and freedom of riding a bicycle. We are the first and only manufacturers in the world of bicycles designed and built especially for big people. We build Zize® bikes, our proprietary brand, that can hold riders up to 550 pounds, and we sell direct to consumers through our Internet site, Our customers are people of size who are motivated to improve their health. The bicycle industry has a positive history of growth, and with the almost-daily improvement of electric assist bikes, this branch of the industry is growing very rapidly. This growth, combined with the market that Zize Bikes specializes in, big people, shows tremendous potential. Current statistics show 1/3 of Americans are overweight and another one third are obese. These numbers are on the rise, with one half of all Americans being expected to be obese by 2020.

How do you define success?
Feedback from customers. There is nothing more gratifying to me than hearing from my customers how much having a bike has changed their life. Many have lost weight because of their bikeas, which is wonderful, but the stories that bring tears to my eyes are those they express the freedom and joy people have found after years of being considered “too fat to bike.” It makes everything I do make sense.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
My top challenge is funding. To build a great product takes a fair amount of cash, something I have not been able to access. I continue to build bicycles on a custom basis, which slows down sales (customers don’t want to wait) and also increases the anxiety for everyone–me, the customers, the builders. I had found one investor that allowed me to pay over a longer period of time, which was successful. Those funds are gone, though, and he is not able to reinvest. We are currently exploring crowd funding as a means of getting our product inventory established. I’m still working on creating a solution for this problem. I believe so passionately in this business, and the need for bicycles for people of all sizes, that I’m just not taking no for an answer. I’m stubborn, and my past shows this stubbornness was a key trait in getting what I needed!

Who is your most important role model?
Georgina Terry, founder of Terry Bikes. Georgina followed almost the same pattern as me–she saw a need and went about fulfiling it. She was at the forefront of bicycles especially for women. Now women’s bikes make up about 1/3 of the cycles you see in specialty shops. I believe the same trajectory can be expected for bikes for heavy people.