Size matters! Lance Armstrong will tell you that it’s not about the bike, but if you find riding to be physically unpleasant or painful, it may well be that the bike is to blame. Just as the wrong size boots will make hiking painful, the wrong size bike will squash the desire to go riding. If you want to enjoy cycling, and grow into longer, faster, or more frequent rides, you’ll need to get the correct bike size.
Here’s some advice on choosing the correct frame size. First, determine what style of bike to get, then use these basic guidelines:
- Know your inseam measurement; this is your maximum stand-over height. Bike catalogues and websites usually have a “bike geometry” chart showing stand-over height for each size and model. Consulting these charts can help you determine the correct size.
- When checking out bikes in a bike shop, straddle the bike frame, standing flat footed in front of the saddle. There should be some clearance between the top tube and your crotch, but how much of a gap varies depending on the type of bike you are buying:
- Traditional road bike frames with a horizontal top tube should give 1-2 inches of clearance.
- Hybrids and “semi-compact” road bikes should give a 2-3 inch gap.
- Mountain bikes and compact road bikes should have 3-4 inches of clearance–even more for downhill mountain bikes or bikes intended for aggressive riding with jumps.
- If looking at bikes based on frame size, keep in mind that bikes with the same frame size may have very different stand-over heights. This is because frame size is measured from the bottom bracket, and bikes can have different bottom bracket heights. Always check the stand-over height to be sure.
- Many shops offer professional fitting services to custom fit and adjust stems, crank-sets, and handlebars. Prices for fitting services vary widely, but if you intend to increase your riding a lot, the comfort payoff may be well worth it.
- No matter how low the price, avoid purchasing your bike at big-box stores, which generally sell adult bikes in only one frame size.
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