Between frame sizes - go up or down?

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Grellow
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Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby Grellow » Thu Jan 03, 2013 18:26 pm

I'm looking to buy my first road bike, coming from a hybrid (mostly used on roads). I've tried several bikes so far, and narrowed my choice to a couple of "relaxed-style" models [Specialized Roubaix and Trek Domane 4]. My issue is choosing the frame size - I seem to be in-between two sizes.

Everyone in every bike shop starts by recommending a 54 frame. (I'm a smidgeon over 5' 8".) But each time I take a test ride, I find the reach is too long, and it's uncomfortable to the point of getting pains in my shoulder within an hour. The bike shop responses have been: (a) try a shorter stem (as much as 2cm shorter), or (b) try a 52 frame instead.

Option (a), the shorter stem, feels noticeably more twitchy on the steering, but not to the point of being dangerous (I think ... though it might be worse on a high-speed descent!). I steel feel the reach is a bit long, by about another 2cm, but further option could be to get handlebars with a shallower distance from top bar to brake/hood.

Option (b) generally feels like the right reach without any adjustment, but everything else feels more cramped. Also my arms feel like they are bearing a lot more weight. (Not suprising I guess since the bar is lower, because the frame is smaller throughout.)

More importantly: several people have advised that I should be able to gradually increase my reach, as I cycle more and get used to a road bike position. (I'm mid-forties and not very flexible right now.) So, if I start with an adjusted 54 I can lengthen the stem again, and go back to deeper bars. Or if I start with a standard 52, I can add a longer stem, and/or get deeper bars, as I start to get more flexible. Also on both bikes, gradually lowering the bars (removing spacers) as I get used to things, will have the effect of lengthening the reach as well.

Am I right about the stuff above, or have I misunderstood something?

And is it better to start with the larger frame, with shallower stem/bars, and hope to lengthen back into the default setup ... OR start with the smaller bike and be ready to lengthen the reach if necessary?

Many thanks for any suggestions! :D
Last edited by Grellow on Thu Jan 03, 2013 18:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.

RC856
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby RC856 » Thu Jan 03, 2013 18:42 pm

I'd go smaller. I was riding a Giant frame for years that I bought on the Internet based on my height without taking advice. Had to use a 70mm stem but it felt comfy for those years until I recently got a new Giant frame.
I was better armed with more knowledge and had a proper fit.
Dropped a frame size and have a longer stem and it's so much more comfortable.

Chrisrebbeck
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby Chrisrebbeck » Thu Jan 03, 2013 18:56 pm

For what its worth make sure the fit is being done correctly. I was advised for years to get a 56 frame and shorten the stem but it never felt right and affected the steering. Got a proper fit done (where they start at the cleat position, work up to the saddle/seatpost, and then forward to stem/bar reach/bar width and bar drop) and immediately it became apparent to get me knee plumb line over the pedal axle I needed a zero set back seat post rather than the standard setback most bikes come with. When we did this I was able to get a 110mm stem rather than the 90mm stem I had. So the 56cm frame was always correct but bike shops had tried to sort my fit with stems and bars rather than looking initially at how I was sat over the bike. I am much more comfortable now. Obviously have a slightly odd shape!

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chrisvanderkaap
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby chrisvanderkaap » Thu Jan 03, 2013 19:04 pm

Dear doubter,

Im an experienced riders/ sales assistant/ bikefitter from the Netherlands and currently work in Belgium. The 'problem' you describe is a very common one. First of all the decision to go for the Domane or Roubaix rather than their more race-inspired cousins seems wise since you complain about the limitation of stretch in you back. The toptubes and headtubes of these bikes are considerably longer (around 1,5-2cm) and will allow for a more upright position compared to i.e. madone H2 or Tarmac comp or pro (not that these bikes also come in different fit options). However these bikes will still give you a much more flat and stretched out riding position than you current hybrid bike. The necessary stretch on a full road bike (either domane, madone etc) allow you to ride in a more efficient position in terms of aerodynamics but just as important in terms of muscle capacity. Probably this is why you want to make the shift in the first place. However this is not the be all end all when it comes to choosing the bike right for you. Look at your hip and knee angle (around 25-30o) and compare which one give you must freedom on movement. This also counts for your upper body joints, your shoulders, elbows and wrists. My mantra often is (especially for not overly athletic and flexible riders) the more freedom of movement you have, the easier it is to get in a comfortable position and subsequently the faster you can go. Getting more experience on the road bike you will be able to sustain longer periods in the drops and also be able to stretch more onto the hoods.

My advise to you (without having seen you on the bike!) is that unless you want to pick up crit-racing in the future to go for the larger bike (54), with a shorter stem (80-90mm) and short (reach) and shallow drops otherwise known as compact bends. Another tip is to move the shifters up on the bars a little (seen on cyclo-cross bikes). This set up will be the most versatile and allows you to slowly dial into the position without risk of strain and injury. A smaller bike will put more stress on your upper body and in the long run will make longer rides unpleasant.

My last little tip is something hard to measure but important to get right and it's about weight distribution to the wheels. Generally a 60-40% (rear-front) while seated should be ideal. It's all about striking a balance and takes more than a ride around the parking lot to get right.

Both are a very quality ride and should put a big fat smile on you face.

Good luck
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Bobbinogs
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby Bobbinogs » Thu Jan 03, 2013 19:48 pm

Go down a size not up. Having a smaller frame is a blast and you can throw it around to bring a smile on your face...at least that's what I have found.

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smidsy
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby smidsy » Thu Jan 03, 2013 19:57 pm

I would say that as a general rule you have a better chance of fitting a smaller frame to you that trying to make a larger one fit.

If the top tube length is too long you are always going to struggle.
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Grellow
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby Grellow » Fri Jan 04, 2013 08:50 am

Many thanks for all the replies here. :D - especially Chris for your very detailed post.

Last night I went to see my physio, who I'd forgotten is a very keen cyclist. His advice was very similar to Chris's:

chrisvanderkaap wrote:My advise to you (without having seen you on the bike!) is that unless you want to pick up crit-racing in the future to go for the larger bike (54), with a shorter stem (80-90mm) and short (reach) and shallow drops otherwise known as compact bends. Another tip is to move the shifters up on the bars a little (seen on cyclo-cross bikes). This set up will be the most versatile and allows you to slowly dial into the position without risk of strain and injury. A smaller bike will put more stress on your upper body and in the long run will make longer rides unpleasant.


As I cycle (and stretch!) more, hopefully I can gradually 'lengthen' my reach by 4cm. At which point the default stem and bars on the larger frame should fit nicely.

Would be very glad to hear about similar experiences. Has anyone found their reach lengthened gradually, after moving to a road bike?

Thanks again. :D

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Evil Laugh
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby Evil Laugh » Fri Jan 04, 2013 09:08 am

My reach has lengthened 20mm over the years.

Grellow
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby Grellow » Fri Jan 04, 2013 09:27 am

Evil Laugh wrote:My reach has lengthened 20mm over the years.


Thanks for the reply. Do you mind me asking how old and flexible you were before and after? :)

I'm in my mid-forties, and done very little exercise in the last 5 years. I'm hoping I can get quite a lot more flexible than I am currently.

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jotko
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby jotko » Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:05 am

There is only 11mm difference in ETT between a 52 and 54 Roubaix frame - basically one stem size.

I would have thought it is more important to get the seat to bar drop right, going up or down 1cm in stem is not going to make a lot of difference to handling.

I would choose a 54 frame rather than a 52 with 6ft of spacers to get the bars the right height :lol:

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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby on-yer-bike » Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:07 am

Dont forget that the smaller frame will also have a shorter headtube making the drop to the bars greater which isnt good for inflexible people with weak cores. Get a Retul bike fit and you will then know what all the measurements should be for you, then you can buy a bike accordingly. After riding a hybrid a proper road bike is going to feel weird for a short while.
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maddog 2
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby maddog 2 » Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:14 am

Interesting... my feeling is a bit different... I'd say go bigger with a shorter stem. Your problem, it seems, is your current flexibility, which will improve as you ride, and hopefully do some stretching. Then you'll be able to go lower and longer on the bike. Then the bike will fit better. If you go small now then as you become more flexible you'll need a long stem, which means it'll handle like a barge.

Obviously there are a number of assumptions in all this, like a) you will become more flexible (some people are just stiff and always will be) and b) I don't know what stem length we're talking here - I'd say <80 is 'short' 100-110 is the sweet spot and 130+ is 'long'.

There's a bloke in our club that's the same - he chooses to ride a small frame because he's so upright/inflexible. Every time I ride with him I keep saying - do some stretching man, you're far too upright... If he could just touch his toes :roll:
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Evil Laugh
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby Evil Laugh » Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:40 am

Actually I would suggest going up a size makes the bike feel "like a barge". You move a bike by leaning and moving your weight, not turning the bars.

It gets missed on here a lot the effect weight distribution and wheelbase and therefore frame size has on the bike handling. It makes the difference between a horrible and great riding bike. Most people can choose between a couple of sizes.

I would rather have a couple of spacers on a great handling bike and therefore would always go for the smaller frame with longer stem should the drop to bars be ok. A longer stem is going to give you more stability climbing on the tops, out of the saddle and when descending. It also means you have more weight over the front wheel giving better control.

As an example I ride a 54 Tarmac at 5'11". I could easily be set up on a 56 with the same contact points and fit using stock stem and post etc. It would look good in the your bikes page with a slammed stem but I have ridden my bike in a 56 and it was rubbish. The 54 feels taut and responsive, very manoeuvrable and frankly awesome out of the saddle. The 56 feels like riding a completely different machine, hard work.

Critical thing though is being comfortable with the increased drop on a smaller frame.

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passout
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby passout » Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:43 am

I'd say 54cm. The main thing is effective top tube length though, this is a different measurement to frame size.
One of the things that will make the biggest difference is the height of the handlebars - sportive bikes have higher bars (due to longer head tubes) which is more comfortable for many. Also go for shallow drop bars & remember saddle position.
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Grill
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby Grill » Fri Jan 04, 2013 11:01 am

Always go for the smaller size. I've had frames that were too big (even by only a centimeter on the TT) and I felt incredibly uncomfortable. Also I hate the twitchiness that's associated with shorter stems. I'm 5' 11" and ride Spec in a 54...
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby gloomyandy » Fri Jan 04, 2013 11:32 am

I'd say look very carefully at the geometry tables of the two bikes and try and work out what is important to you. In particular look at the stack and reach figures. This is especially the case on the very small frames. In my case I was looking at a Cervelo frame sizes 48 and 51. The reach figures are actually only a few mm different between these two frames (9mm), but the stack height difference is much bigger (25mm) so would result in a much bigger saddle to bar drop (or a lot of spacers).

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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby ricky1980 » Fri Jan 04, 2013 11:34 am

definitely go smaller size then you have a lot more scope to play around with the ride position...you can go for large reach handle bars or long stems or flat stems or integrated handle bars, set backs on the seat posts...etc

go large size you will be needing short stems with massive angles flipped up and short reach handle bars which are not readily available in top range products i.e. extremely expensive if you want them light weight or wing shaped etc
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Raffles
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby Raffles » Fri Jan 04, 2013 12:38 pm

biggest issue facing the op is bar height, if he goes for the 52 the headtube will be real short and a stack of spacers will be required :cry: , im 5 ft 9 and my bike is a 54cm caad 8 with 545mm toptube. the 52cm model was far too low for me and id have needed lots of spacers and this was a big no :!: the standard 20mm setback was too long for me and i bought a controltech seatpost which has 10mm setback and makes things just right. for handlebars i use 42cm fsa omega compact which are just terrific and i strongly recommend them to the op. my saddle is the uber comfy selle san marco rolls with titanium rails and i find that with the tip of the saddle to the centre of the screw that compresses the headset distance of 378mm then my kops position is bang on. 170mm cranks are a must for me as any longer gave me knee pains. feel free to pm me with any fit questions as i understand exactly what you are saying in relation to your sizing issue........ive been there myself :D
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smidsy
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby smidsy » Fri Jan 04, 2013 13:25 pm

So there you have it half of us say small the other say big.

Definitive enough for you?

THE only way you will know is to ride both sizes.
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ShutUpLegs
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Re: Between frame sizes - go up or down?

Postby ShutUpLegs » Fri Jan 04, 2013 13:40 pm

The bigger frame may feel like you are sitting on the bike, the smaller frame sitting in the bike.
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