Part 3. Bike buying tips – What is the right bike size for me?

You don’t want to rush into a long-term relationship with the bike that isn’t right for you, so finding the right size bike is key!

Bike size and bike fit aren’t the same thing, but you can only get the right bike fit (perfect tailoring to your body) if you start with the right size bike. A lovely analogy was once shared with me on this topic: It’s like a tailor working with your clothes, you may have something that generally fits, but a tailor (like a bike fit professional) can make it feel just right for your body. Proper bike fit is critically important if you are doing long distance riding, but may be less important for short rides. Either way, you’ll be more comfortable on a bike that is the right size!

Let’s get things started by dispelling myths and answering an age-old question among the female variety of cyclist. Can a woman ride a man’s bike? YES! Women shouldn’t feel limited to women’s style bikes only. A woman can ride a men’s style bicycle, which in fact, is a unisex bicycle. There are a handful of differences between a unisex bike and a women’s bike with the most significant being the length and angle of the top tube (not to be confused with a tube top).

A woman’s specific style bike also has:

  • more narrow handlebars to accommodate a woman’s typically smaller shoulder span
  • a women’s specific bike saddle to keep your lady bits more comfortable.

If you bought a unisex style bike, you can switch out many of these components to help tailor the fit of your bike to your body. Unfortunately, you cannot change the top tube length and angle as these are part of the frame design.

Cheeky Fun Fact: I found a unisex bike was a better fit for my body, but did switch out the saddle for a women’s specific. Don’t feel limited by “gendered” bikes, you should ride what’s comfortable to you!

How is a bike sized? What should I even look for? Bike sizes can be measured in inches, centimeters or as a Small, Medium, Large. And each brand of bicycle has its own specific sizing; a small bike in one brand may be the same as a medium bike in a different brand. So it is important to try out many brands of bicycles to find the best size bike for you.

To get you in the right ballpark, the foundation of bike sizing comes from three measurements:

  1. Inseam: start at the bottom of your shoes (or specific bike shoes if you have them) and measure to your the top of your inside leg.
  2. Total height: start at the bottom of your shoes (or specific bike shoes if you have them) and measure to your the top of your head.
  3. Arm Span: measure the distance of your arms when they are spread out. Measure from the fingertips of your left arm, across your body, and to the fingertips on your right arm.

Inseam_Height

With this foundational information you can use utilize generic bike sizing charts included below, or you can also use the stand over the frame measurement method + the arm span measurement to address your reach (holding your handlebars while sitting in the saddle).

The idea behind the stand over the frame measurement method is to have a few inches of clearance between the top of your inseam and the bike’s top tube. These few extra inches would allow you to get off the bike in a hurry by comfortably standing over the bike. However, this method only works with a bike that has a straight top tube; if you have an angled top tube, you will want to start with the generic sizing charts and work with your local bike shop experts to get narrowed down to the right size.

  1. Road bikes – When you stand over the frame, you should have approximately 1 to 2 inches of clearance between the top tube and the top of your inseam
  2. Mountain bikes and Commuter bikes – When you stand over the frame, you should have approximately 2 to 4 inches of clearance between the top tube and the top of your inseam.

If your inseam measurements put you between two different bike sizes, use your arm span measurement to help determine which bike size will ensure you have a comfortable reach:

  • If the length of your arm span is greater than your total height, you may want the larger of the two bike sizes.
  • If the length of your arm span is less than your total height, you may want the smaller of the two bike sizes.

Here are some generic Bike Sizing Charts that will help get you started:

Hybrid – Comfort & Commuter
Height Inseam Frame Size
4’10” + 26” – 28” 13”, 14”
5’0” + 27” – 29” 15”
5’2” + 28” – 30” 16”
5’4” + 29” – 31” 17”
5’6” + 30” – 32” 18”
5’8” + 31” – 33” 19”
5’10” + 32” -24” 21”
6’0” + 32” – 34” 22”

 

Road Bike
Height Inseam Frame Size
5’1” – 5’3” 27”-29” 48 cm
5’3” – 5’5” 28” – 30” 50 cm
5’5” – 5’7” 29” – 31” 52 cm
5’7” – 5’9” 30” – 32” 54 cm
5’9” – 5’11” 31” – 33” 56 cm
5’11” – 6’2” 32” – 34” 58 cm
6’1” – 6’3” 33” – 35” 60 cm
6’3” – 6’5” 34” – 36” 62 cm

 

Mountain Bike (Hardtail)
Height Inseam Frame Size
4’10” – 5’0” 26” – 28” 13”
5’0” – 5’3” 27” – 29” 14”, 15”
5’4” – 5’7” 28” – 30” 16”, 17”
5’8” – 5’9” 29” – 31” 18”, 19”
5’10” – 5’11” 30” – 32” 20”
6’0” – 6’2” 32” – 34” 21”
6’2” – 6’4” 33” – 35” 22”
Mountain Bike (Full Suspension)
Height Inseam Frame Size
5’4” – 5’7” 28” – 30” 14”, 15”
5’8” – 5’9” 29” – 31” 16”, 17”, 18”
5’10” – 5’11” 30” – 32” 19”, 20”, 21”

Getting the right size bike is going to make a huge difference in your riding. will take less effort while pedaling (especially up hills), feel more comfortable, and overall be a more enjoyable experience. It is normal that a bike off the shelf, even from a bike shop won’t be a perfect fit even if it is the right size. A bike shop can help you adjust the saddle height and positioning, and a more thorough professional bike fit will help you tailor your bike so it fits just right (we’ll talk more about this in a future post).

Once you have your target bike size you’ll want to start dating bikes! Try as many as you can!

  1. Visit your local bike shops and arrange to test ride multiple brands of bikes. Most bike shops carry a limited selection of brands, so you may need to visit different bike shops to test ride  bikes until you find a brand you like.
  2. You’ll find that some bikes just feel more comfortable than others and that is a start in the right direction. If it hurts or doesn’t feel right, it may not be a good size for you. What is right for someone else may not be right for you. Don’t feel pressured to make a quick decision. You’re the one who has to be comfortable on it!

So far you have sorted out:

The last step we’ll cover next in our Bike Buying Tips is to figure out: Where should I buy my bike?

Until next time,  Ride on!

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7 thoughts on “Part 3. Bike buying tips – What is the right bike size for me?

  1. wow…..no wonder i never found a bike I could stay on for more than an hour. I didn’t ever have one that “fit’..now that i am an old fart, the fit would be even more important I should think. I would love to get back on one if my health would allow. I think it is trike time for me though.

    1. Cheeky

      A trike is actually a great option! I actually have an adult trike (they do exist!), the dogs love to go out for a run as I ride along side. Ha!

      1. really? I’ve seen those electric things and thought what was the point? I will have to start looking seriously then. I miss it so much.

        1. Cheeky

          There’s something for everyone and that’s wonderful because everyone has different needs, right? We’re looking at an electric bike for my Mom so she can keep rolling with an uphill assist (but she doesn’t need it yet!). Do look and come by with any questions!

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