Is my bike too big and whose fault is it?
August 28, 2011 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I just bought a bike yesterday and although I thought it fit okay at the store and riding it around a half-block, after I rode it home for two miles, I found it a bit uncomfortable. So I'm trying to figure out if the bike is indeed too big for me, and what I can do about it since the store's policy is that all bike sales are final.

After riding my new bike home yesterday, I suspected it might have been the wrong size for me but didn't have time to read up on it until this morning, and now I'm worried that I've made a $300+ mistake.

I'm a 24 year old woman and hadn't ridden a bike since I was 10. I went to a bike store yesterday, after failing to find something I liked on craigslist for a few weeks, and bought a steel women's Raleigh Venture (I think the color is Dark Purple? Assuming it's a 2010 or 2011 model but not sure which) in a 19" frame.

I gave the sales person my price range (<$400), and tried to make it very clear that I knew nothing about bikes and also that I was looking for something small and light. This Raleigh Venture was the most comfortable of the ones I tried. I really liked that it had a step through frame, and in general it just seemed a lot more comfortable than the others. I still felt like it was a bit tall and heavy and I tried to ask about frame size because I'd read that I needed a 16" frame, but he said that the numbers didn't matter and it was more how it fit, and from the short trial ride I was able to give it before buying it, it seemed fine and he thought it looked fine on me.

I also asked if they had anything similar in an aluminum frame and he offered a different model and brand, and I'd tried one of the brand and didn't like it as much so I wasn't interested. But looking at their website, I found that the bike I bought exists in an aluminum version; they just didn't have it stocked in store at the time.

He also at no point told me that all bike sales are final.

So on the one hand, I understand that it's my fault. I thought the bike felt good. I bought it. And then it wasn't until I was riding it home that I realized that I was sitting too far forward on the seat and putting pressure on my crotch instead of on my backside. When I tried to sit further back I felt like my arms were a little too extended. Could this just be a matter of technique? It's been years since I've ridden a bike so that's a valid concern.

On the other hand, based on what I've read online, it's a bit weird to even suggest a 19inch frame for a 5'3" woman. I also wish I'd known about the aluminum option, because I really wanted a bike that I can carry up stairs a bit more reasonably. I can manage with this one, but I would have been happier with a lighter bike.

Do I have any ground to stand on in terms of trying to return the bike, even though sales are final? Should I just forget about that and try to sell my bike on craigslist and then buy a 16" aluminum bike instead? Is a 19" frame really that ridiculous for someone my height?
posted by quirks to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can you scoot the seat forward so you're not reaching?
posted by notsnot at 8:10 AM on August 28, 2011

Take it back and ask for it to be fit. You went to a real bikeshop with knowledgeable salespeople, right? Not just a "bike enthusiast" shop with people who have no idea what they are talking about and are just working there for a paycheck/discount.

19" sounds like a huge frame, but here's a quick and dirty check to see if the bike frame is at least in the right ballpark.
posted by TheBones at 8:12 AM on August 28, 2011

19" is a fairly average-sized frame, which is to say that for someone who's 5'3", yeah, it sounds pretty ridiculous (to be fair, I don't know much about step-through frames).
posted by box at 8:15 AM on August 28, 2011

Best answer: Do I have any ground to stand on in terms of trying to return the bike, even though sales are final?

You need to talk to the shop about this. We can't really help you. Talk to a manager.

Should I just forget about that and try to sell my bike on craigslist and then buy a 16" aluminum bike instead? Is a 19" frame really that ridiculous for someone my height?

Good bikes hold their value. If it is a good bike and you take good care of it, you should be able to sell it 5 years from now for the same price you bought it. Every location is different though. If you don't have a big biking community around you, or you bought a cheap bike that isn't really meant to be ridden seriously, then you probably won't get your money back by selling it on craigslist.

Talk to a manager at the store and tell them that you were duped by the sales rep, and your ignorance in bikes, into believing that it fit.
posted by TheBones at 8:16 AM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Go back to the shop and explain your problem. Give them a chance to fix it - fit you properly or switch it out or refund your money. If they will not, you could pursue something with your credit card. company
posted by amanda at 8:18 AM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Have you called the store yet to chat about your options? They're a business and should want to make you happy. Call, be nice, talk to a higher-up, be friendly, and they may work with you even though their policy is whatever it is. Start off being friendly and only mention words like "duped" if they don't seem moved by the opportunity to make you happy from the start. But yeah, if they aren't helpful at first, you can definitely escalate your language and tone. Good luck!
posted by pupstocks at 8:19 AM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the incredibly fast responses! The store doesn't open for another 1.5hrs but it seems the best plan of action is to call, ask to speak to the manager, and to plan on going in today with the bike and see what can be done.
posted by quirks at 8:24 AM on August 28, 2011

So funny-test rode this bike myself yesterday (it was also purple). I'm 5'1" and I think they had me in a 16" frame, though they initially out me in one that was too big. You don't happen to be in Eugene, do you? :/
posted by purenitrous at 8:28 AM on August 28, 2011

i think you have an entirely reasonable expectation that the bike fits, and if the store will not do the right thing then i would call you credit card 1-800 number and ask them about a charge back. if it says final sale on the bill this will be a lot harder but i would still give it a shot.
posted by paradroid at 8:51 AM on August 28, 2011

Best answer: 5-4 guy here - your bike is the same size as mine. Chances are your legs are at least as long as mine, due to the difference between men's and women's proportions. You may need nothing more than a saddle adjustment: height, angle (nose up/down), and possibly a different, women's specific, saddle. Don't get a very "cushy" one - cush puts weight on your tush! Make sure it's wide enough at the back that it supports you by your sit-bones, not your soft parts. Find a lady salesperson or mechanic and ask her help with saddle fit / selection.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 9:20 AM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I strongly second moving the seat forward before pursuing any other options. Also raise the handlebars if you are able, or know someone who is -- it is tricky on some bikes -- since this will sit you more upright and will put your rear further back on the seat. These two things make a world of difference even on a perfectly-fitted frame, and you might find that the bike is in fact just right for you after this. Any other options (returning, chargebacks) seem a bit premature if you haven't at least given this a go.
posted by matlock expressway at 9:22 AM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are a couple things to consider here. Is this (after clicking dark purple) the bike you bought?

The store employee was right about "the numbers not mattering" but didn't explain it very well. Bike brands use nominal sizing. They are an average size for their model, but without any real basis for the number given, as that specific dimension won't be found anywhere on the bike. You saying that you think you need a 16" frame means very little - while you may be a 16" on brand x, you may in fact want an 18" frame in brand y, or a 20" frame in brand z. A proper fit will take your own measurements into account.

Take a look at the Raleigh Bikes page linked above. Your bike's geometry is on the far right of the page. The "reach" measurement is the "Top Tube Length" - 54.5cm for your frame. The reach on the 16" model would have been 53.8cm, or 7mm difference, just over 1/4", which isn't much at all. Compare that to the change in seat tube dimensions - you gain 7cm in the seat tube by going to the larger size, which brings the frame 2.8 inches higher.

Regarding material- while aluminum is lighter than steel, each of those Venture models come with a heavier suspension fork, so the weight difference may be negligible.

For fun and reference, in the spare time you have before the store opens, you can fill out an online fit calculator. You'll need a tape measure and a friend to help take the measurements. You'll want to use that site's "French Fit" or "Eddy Fit" for comfort, but note that this will not 100% solve your fit/comfort issues. You can use the results as a rough guide to your bike fit.

No off-the-shelf bike is going to fit you automatically. You may need to raise the seat, adjust the seat forward or back, or even purchase a shorter or longer stem to adjust the reach. Another option is to buy a handlebar that sweeps back further. I would expect some discomfort in picking up an activity one has not done in 14 years, but that doesn't mean the shop shouldn't explain why they are selling you something or help you fit the bike better. Mefi-mail me if you have any other questions.
posted by stachemaster at 9:24 AM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

PS: Here is Peter White's "How to Fit a Bicycle" article; possibly more than you wanted to know, but likely to answer most of your questions, and better prepare you when you go back for a saddle fit.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 9:24 AM on August 28, 2011

Most places, even if sales are "final", will let you trade it back it for something else.
posted by mikeand1 at 9:26 AM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: From my boyfriend who knows of such things:

Having spent time as a bike salesman, bike fit should be done without looking at the number on the seat tube. It is important that stand-over height and overall cockpit fit are adjusted properly. Also people can be fit to more than one size bike.

The bicycle you purchased should have many adjustment points to the handle bars and the seat.

Also if you haven't ridden a bicycle in years, the saddle can take some time to feel comfortable.

As for the all bike sales are final, this is at all bike shops and it gives the owners the ability to not get burned on a bike sale.

In your situation they will want to keep you as a customer and will want to make the bike fit you so that you ride the bike and are happy and are more likely to shop with them again.

If they give you a hard time then you can get pushy.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:30 AM on August 28, 2011

Best answer: The bike frame size is way less important than the adjustments that they make for various elements. Sitting on the saddle, you should *just* be able to put your feet on the floor (not flat, but tips of toes). If not, the saddle needs to come down. You should be able to reach the handlebars comfortably.
I'm 5'6" and I have been riding a 21' frame for years (this is a sports/touring bike, which looks similar to the geometry of yours but has 27" tires, so that would make it taller than your bike). A 19" frame is fine for your height. What I found made more difference was the length of the handlebar reach. I had a shorter handlebar stem fitted (the horizontal stem that brings the handlebars within reach, rather than the vertical stem that determines their height). Yours looks nicely short, so look at the saddle adjustments. I found that the slope (angle) of the saddle make a huge difference for women - as much as the fore/aft adjustment. You may want to pay attention to both of these adjustments.
Take the bike back and tell them exactly how it feels uncomfortable (which parts of your anatomy seem to be stretching too much). Is it the stretch in your arms, or the stretch in your legs, or both? Get them to adjust the bike for you. This is why you buy from a bike store rather than a discount store. It is their job to fit the bike to you.
Finally, please understand that it is really common to ache like heck for the first few weeks of riding a new bike, if you are not used to daily cycling. Your body is being stretched and bumped in ways that it is unused to. That doesn't mean that the bike is poorly fitted. You will adjust to it, over time.
posted by Susurration at 11:52 AM on August 28, 2011

Best answer: stachemaster said "Bike brands use nominal sizing. They are an average size for their model, but without any real basis for the number given, as that specific dimension won't be found anywhere on the bike."

That's not really true - the number probably refers to some measurement - the problem is that there is no standard on how to measure it! Some bike companies measure to the very top of the seat tube, some measure to where the centerline of the top tube intersects the centerline of the top tube. Depending on manufacturing method these values could vary by two inches on a frames that are otherwise identical in size. One company's 16 inch frame could be the same as another company's 18 inch frame. Recently, a lot of companies have switched to sizing their bikes as small, medium, large, etc just to reduce confusion.

"The reach on the 16" model would have been 53.8cm, or 7mm difference, just over 1/4", which isn't much at all."

This is key. Between the rolling the handlebar back a little and raising the stem, you could easily take up the 7mm or more. If that's not enough, consider switching to a North Road style of handlebar.
posted by drwelby at 3:35 PM on August 28, 2011

Response by poster: Again, thank you everyone for your responses. I'm feeling a lot better about this whole situation! I did call the store and they said that as long as my bike does not show any wear and tear, I can exchange it for another bike + store credit or + having to pay extra for the new bike.

I'm happy to hear that the sales rep was not completely out of line in selling me my bike, because I did really like him and it seemed like he was doing an okay job. I think he's just a little newer at this and I needed someone who could be a lot more thorough in checking whether the bike really fit me or not and what adjustments needed to be made.

I really appreciate the thorough answers. I was having a bit of trouble figuring out exactly what the frame differences mean.

@stachemaster, that is almost the bike I got, except mine is a bit more pink than purple. I'm guessing I might have a 2010 model and those are perhaps the 2011 colors? I imagine the dimensions are very similar though so everything you said still stands. :)

I'll be going to the store sometime during the week (I was told I'd get better customer service on a weekday than over the weekend) and I think I'll be a lot better prepared this time!
posted by quirks at 4:30 PM on August 28, 2011

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