How to get your bike size just right

Choosing your frame size and making adjustments

BSc in Health Studies, Dip.Nut
Ask Earle

18 September 2017

Why is getting your bike size right so important?

So you've decided to take up cycling, so now it's time to buy a bike! But how do you get the right size, and why is it so important anyway?

Well, your bike size is so important for your comfort, safety and performance. An ill-fitting bike can cause you to overstretch, can trigger injuries like neck pain, and can affect your speed and control.

For short rides this may not be a big problem, but once you start long-distance cycling or racing, you’ll want your bike to be just right. 

How are bikes measured?

Road bikes are typically measured in centimetres, while mountain and hybrid bikes tend to be measured in inches. This number refers to the length of the seat tube, rather than simply the height or length of the whole bike. The seat tube is the tube that the seat post and saddle slide into, but the measurement does not include the saddle itself.

In some cases, bikes are measures as simply small, medium and large. 

Choosing the frame

This is usually the trickiest bit, as the ideal frame size depends not only on your height, but also on the type of bike you’re looking for and even your leg length.

One of the easiest ways to figure out the perfect size for you is to go into a shop and try a few out. The best way to check is to stand over the bike with the metal frame between your legs. There should be around 2 inches of space between the bar and your crotch for a road bike, and between 2-4 inches for a mountain or hybrid bike.

As a general guide, see the tables below for road bikes and hybrids. This is only an estimation – you should still try the bike out before buying it to make sure it fits well.

Standard road bike size guide table

 Leisure/comfort hybrid bike size guide table

If you’re having trouble choosing your bike size, speak to the staff at your local bike shop as they will be able to advise on the right size for you.

Unfortunately you’re not done just yet! Just because you’ve got the right frame size, doesn’t mean your bike is the perfect size for you – you still need to look at your saddle height and handlebar height. The following information will help you, but if you get stuck just ask at your local bike shop.

Adjusting the seat

Getting your saddle height right is fairly easy. When sitting on the saddle wearing only socks with your heel on the pedal, your leg should be straight when the pedal is at its lowest point. If you need to tilt your pelvis to the side to reach the pedal then the saddle is too high.

In addition, if you can only reach the pedal with your saddle at the lowest setting, then your frame size is probably too big. Likewise, if your saddle is at maximum height, you probably need a larger bike frame.

Adjusting the handlebars

As a general rule of thumb, your handlebars should be around 6-8cm below the saddle. However, it’s important to test out the height and make sure you’re comfortable. 

More serious cyclists and professinoal cyclists tend to have their handlebars a little lower, whereas those who cycle simply for leisure tend to have theirs a little higher. Do some experimenting and see what works best for you.

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