We want to talk about a topic that is particularly useful at this time of year with people looking to treat themselves after Christmas and offers to be had everywhere. How do you go about choosing the right bike for you? We want to help make sure you don't end up getting a bike that isn't right for you purely because it's a good price.
It is something we see time and again, someone comes into the studio with a bike they have gotten a great deal on in the sales and are having lots of little niggles whilst riding. Aching in the lower back and between the shoulders, knees are 'burning' whilst riding or even hands going numb. These alone are not necessarily symptomatic of the bike being the wrong size and can almost always be accounted for through fitting techniques to improve the position of the bike.
But, it may mean to obtain the position necessary on the bike a largely angled, short stem with plenty of spacers beneath it is needed to alleviate excess reach and drop to the bars. This although practical and a functional way of getting the bike to the correct position may damage the aesthetics of your lovely new bike. It may also have a slightly negative effect on the handling through flex at the front of the bike if too much steerer tube is sat outside of the head tube.
The short of the above scenario is that the bike chosen is often too race-oriented for the rider. This is definitely the most common issue we see with riders coming in to us with problems. Race-oriented bikes tend to have shorter head tubes and longer top tubes meaning that the reach from the saddle to the handlebars is a long way and that there is also a large amount of height drop between them. This is ideal when racing as it gives a 'long and low' position to reduce drag and get as much weight over the pedals as possible for power generation. However, for a long weekend club run or sportives these bikes can often feel too aggressive.
Most manufacturers now offer bikes in what they class as 'Endurance' geometry. Examples being the Argon18 Krypton, Trek Domane, Specialized Roubaix, Cannondale Synapse and Canyon Endurace amongst many others. These are all bikes that come with a slightly more comfort-based geometry as they appreciate this is necessary for longer/all day riding. This geometry usually includes a taller head tube that allow us to get a more upright position without the need for extra spacers or angled stems.
Choosing the correct size
The part that is often confusing about this is that these endurance bikes will be labelled as the same frame sizes as the race-oriented bike from the same manufacturer. So as an example, a Trek Emonda in a 56cm (a race-oriented bike) may not be an ideal fit for someone whilst also in a 56cm the Trek Domane may be a comfortable ride. This goes with other manufacturers as well and can even get more complicated as these frame sizes are not necessarily transferable between manufacturers. A 54cm in one manufacturer could easily measure up as a similar geometry to a 56cm or 52cm in another. So these frame sizes really cannot be used as comparisons for example someone cannot just be labelled as a "58cm frame" as this will almost certainly not be the case with all manufacturers and also this does not take into account the style of frame being considered.
A common misconception is that by opting for this style of bike people will ride slower and they chose to put up with the discomfort of more race-oriented bikes for this reason. It is often the case that the rider will actually ride quicker on the endurance bike as their centre of mass will be in much the same place relative to the pedals for generating extra power but they will also be able to utilise the bars more to pull on for helping further this power generation. Riders on a bike that is too aggressive for them will often spend substantial time with their hands on the tops of the bars and not into the hoods or on the drops where more efficiency can be gained. So by being able to maintain a better position on the endurance frame many riders will actually rider better and also for longer giving them a double advantage.
So in summary frame geometry is pretty unique for each bike and they all have to been considered on a case by case basis. Bike geometry can only really be compared by examining their geometry charts in greater detail and not through the arbitrary numbers assigned as frame sizes. However, as a good starting point it is certainly a good idea to ensure you are looking at the correct style of bike to match your riding before trying to determine the size that will work for you. If your are struggling with this please get in touch and we will be very happy to help!
Iain Findlay Lead Bike Fitter at PFP Sweden
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