What Size Bike Should I Get? Here’s What You Need to Know for the Perfect Fit

man riding bicycle on road during daytime

Bicycling is a tremendous physical activity that allows you to get low-impact exercise and experience the calming effect of interacting with nature. Bicycling is ideal for everyone from professional, high-intensity athletes, to individuals who need a light workout for rehabilitation. The perfect bike fit is vital to ensure that all riders can enjoy riding their bicycle efficiently and in comfort. Here are some factors to consider when asking, what size bike should I get?

What Size Bike Should I Get?

The first question you need to consider when determining bicycle fit is what kind of riding do you intend to do? Are you an aggressive rider or a casual rider? Do you intend to ride off-road or on-road? Do you have any issues that prevent you from swinging your leg over the bicycle? The perfect bicycle exists for every rider, but taking a few moments to consider your cycling objectives is critical to getting the perfect bike.

No matter what your riding style, there are several key concepts consistent for all bike fits. Sometimes you need to go through the whole process of fitting a bicycle to determine the perfect frame size.

  • Stand over height
  • Seat HeightBody position
  • Reach

Standover Height

Seat Height

Body Position

Reach

Fit Variations Based on Bicycles

There are subtle variations in fit required for different types of bicycles. Some bicycles are designed to have you more upright for better handling, some bicycles require a stretched out fit for better aerodynamics. The positioning of your knee over your pedal axle is consistent for all upright bicycles. More aerodynamic positions are less comfortable, but your body will adapt to the position. If you begin to develop chronic pain or numbness while riding, consider making adjustments to your fit.

Some common bicycle types are:

  • Road bicycles
  • Mountain bicycles
  • Cruisers
  • Triathlon bicycles

Road Bicycles

Road bicycles with drop bars give you the greatest variety of riding positions. The curved handlebars allow for an aerodynamic position, and a more upright position when riding with the hands on the hoods. "Wood chipper" style handlebars allow for a wide grip similar to a mountain bike. Road bikes are a good selection for paved trails and are ideal for casual or endurance riding. The wide variety of riding positions allows riders to switch positions frequently and avoid discomfort.

Mountain Bicycles

Mountain bicycles have wide handlebars for greater maneuverability at lower speeds. The riding position is more upright. Many cyclists who ride mountain bikes install bar ends on their handlebars to give them a greater variety of riding positions. Achieving an aerodynamic position on a mountain bike requires dropping the torso.

Cruisers

Cruisers have a more fully upright body position than mountain bikes. These bicycles are ideal for comfortable riding at low speeds. Many cruisers come with a step-through frame design for individuals who have problems swinging their leg over the bicycle. Cruisers are not used for endurance riding and are best suited for low speed riding for less than an hour. Cruisers are ideal bicycles for light rehab.

Triathlon Bicycles

Triathlon bicycles require the most complex fit. The riding position must be fully aerodynamic. Aero bars allow the rider to stretch out on the handlebars almost as if they are laying down. With a triathlon fit, it is good to set the handlebars a little high on the initial fitting. As the rider gains flexibility, the handlebars can be dropped to achieve greater aerodynamics. Do not drop the handlebars so low that the rider position inhibits breathing. At the highest level of competition, riders make frequent minor adjustments to fit depending on their fitness level and the demands of the course.

The Difference Between a Man's Bike and a Woman's Bike

A man and a woman of the same height require different bicycles to achieve a proper fit. Women tend to have more of their height in their legs with shorter torsos than men. The result is that the reach for women will be shorter than on a bicycle for a man of the same height. Most bicycle manufacturers now have women's specific design model bicycles in their product line. A step-through frame is no longer an indication of a bicycle frame designed for a woman.

The shorter reach required for a woman's bicycle can lead to an overlap between the pedals and the front wheel when turning. Bicycle manufacturers have addressed this issue in a variety of ways. Some bicycle manufacturers elect to provide their women's bicycles with a smaller front wheel that improves the clearance between the pedal and the wheel. Some manufacturers have used bicycles with smaller than standard wheels on both the front and back, for example, a six hundred and fifty-centimeter wheel rather than the standard seven hundred centimeters.

For a woman to assure she has the perfect bike fit she must keep two things in mind during test rides and the fitting process.

  • Reach
  • Toe overlap

Reach

Toe Overlap

Signs of a Poor Fit

If you begin to develop chronic aches and pains that go beyond the general exhaustion felt after a long ride, you should consider some fit adjustments. You should be able to fit your bicycle so that you can achieve a comfortable and pain-free riding position. Indications that there might be an issue include:

  • Knee pain
  • Ankle pain
  • Finger numbness
  • Back pain

Knee Pain

Ankle Pain

Finger Numbness

Back Pain

Achieving the Perfect Bicycle Fit

Bicycles have a huge capacity for adjustment to ensure that everyone can achieve the perfect fit. Most bicycle manufacturers offer frame sizes in tiny increments to accommodate the needs of every body type. Variations exist in terms of tire size, stem length, crank length, and seat post height. When selecting a height, start by finding a frame that allows you clearance when standing flat footed over the bicycle. If you cannot clear the top tube of a bicycle while standing flat-footed, the bicycle frame is too big.

Selecting the perfect bicycle requires putting the bicycle through the fitting process. You must assure that the standover height, seat height, and reach can all be adjusted to accommodate you. Different types of bicycles, and bicycles from different manufacturers use frame geometry that can vary greatly. Don't be discouraged if you don't find the perfect fit. Keep trying different sizes, styles, and manufacturers until you discover the perfect bicycle for you.

Featured Photo by Jonny Kennaugh on Unsplash

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