I’ve been bike shopping lately. Seems like it’s finally time to move to a touring bike.
I’ve been a little intimidated by this because of the fitting process.
Size matters, because fit matters.
I’m sure what I’ve been riding for the past 6 years has been too small for a while, but I can’t stand over a bike any bigger. It’s a weird physiological conundrum, and it was easier to avoid the process. But I’m finally at a place where my body needs a machine that’s going to work more efficiently, and thus, the PROCESS HAS BEGUN!
You may not realize it at first, but your body will scream this truth at you after just a few miles.
That reach is just a little too far. The pressure on your unmentionables.
It’s been said that road bike fit is more of an art than a science. Just as we are all unique snowflakes in an avalanche of humanity, our bodies are all different as well. Even on the same person. Right femur just a bit longer than left? This complicates things if you’re getting down to elite-class micro measurements.
You might think fit doesn’t matter unless you’re racing for yellow but think again. You can feel the effects of a bad fit after just a few minutes in the saddle, and they can be quite severe.
I’ve test ridden about five bikes, and during this process, I’ve realized that a cyclocross bike seems like it’s going to be the best fit for me because the top tube is a bit longer on a ‘cross bike than a standard touring bike. This means that my long arms and torso, but short inseam, will have a happy medium.
Here are a few basic things to know about size and fit to help you get started:
There are a few points which can be adjusted on the bike, and others which simply cannot.
Things which are static include the frame itself.
- The overall frame size is determined by the length measured from the very center of the crank (actually the bolt that holds the crank arms) up to the top of the seat tube, excluding the seat post itself.
- You should be able to comfortably stand over the bike, with the top tube between your legs, with about 1-2 inches of clearance. Numbers that matter: stand over height, inseam. You get the picture.
- The frame size is not just about height, but also impacts length. The length of the top tube is proportional to the height of the bike. This means as the height of the bike increases or decreases, the top tube length does the same.
- If you can find a frame that generally fits your height and reach – here is a basic chart to get you headed to the right ballpark – then you or your pal at your local bike shop can tweak the variables.
- Seat height: the seat post is the piece that goes from the bottom of the saddle into the seat tube. This is adjustable and replaceable.
- Saddle position: Most saddles are on rails and can be adjusted to move the seat forward or backward.
These two above are more common and a lot easier, but if you need more room, you can change out the stem. This is the piece that connects the headtube to the handlebars.
Here is where some things start to get tricky, because our anatomies are so unique. Even more unique than just the highly-marketable “women’s specific design” tag. For a treatise on bike fit, click here.
You may have a longer inseam than torso, or you might have shorter legs and a longer torso. Torso and arm length will impact your reach and overall comfort on your low back and even neck, shoulders and hands. (This is something you need to care about if you’re riding a bike for more than 10 or 15 minutes, but also to prevent injury and hatred.)
I highly recommend being vulnerable enough to walk into your local bike shop to ask questions and have a chat. Most folks will be able to size you up pretty easily and suggest which size frame might be a good fit. That’s a good place to start, even if you end up buying used.
It’s nice to know what a good fit is supposed to feel like.
Check out these videos below to get some basics. I really love this first handdrawn one by Terry Bicycles as a starting point.