Replacing the frame on a 54cm Cannondale Six13 Feminine
September 11, 2011 10:35 PM   Subscribe

Earlier this year I bought my wife a used 54cm Cannondale Six13 Feminine 3 Compact via Craigslist. It was in mint condition and I basically bought for a small fraction of the retail price - the lady who was selling it got it as a gift from her ex-boyfriend and just wanted to get rid of it. However, I misjudged my wife's frame size - she should be riding a smaller bike. Being that this bike has great components, I have decided to replace the frame. Help me do it!

A little more background:

After I bought it we decided to go to a professional bike fitter and see what he could do about the size. He tried replacing the regular-sized stem with a ridiculously small stem and made several other tweaks. But after two rounds of adjustments my wife was still feeling quite a bit of pain in her hands and feet, and everything indicates she's overextended on the bike. So there's no solution but a smaller sized bike - 50cm according to the fit specialist.

So we had two options - sell the bike and buy a new one on the correct size OR buy a frame on the right size and keep the components. This bike has fantastic components - great wheels, drivetrain, pedals, everything. If I sell it and buy a new bike, I'll never be able to get one with this level of quality within my budget. However, if I replace the stock Cannondale frame with a good, reasonably priced, steel road frame and keep the components, I will end up with an awesome steel road bike, a little heavier than the original, but more comfortable to ride (I'm a big fan of steel) and on the right size for her.

First, a note about my wife's riding style - she's not a racer and not a roadie. But she likes riding a fast bike for fun, for short/medium distances and never rode more than 30 miles in a single outing. She does likes her bikes fast and responsive, but being comfortable and pain-free are important factors. She use to ride a hybrid and enjoyed riding that, but once she tried a road bike, she can't go back to upright, less aggressive riding anymore.

So, I decided to replace the frame. I did some research and there are two frames that I think have a good price/quality ratio for my purposes.

First, the Soma ES. I like the price (around $399, minus fork) and the fact that it's a road frame with a more comfortable geometry according to the blurb on Soma's website.

Second, the Surly Pacer. I has a similar price to the Soma (seems to be a little cheaper) and Surly is a good manufacturer that seems to be quite respected.

I am assuming that the components on the Cannondale will basically fit these frames without much drama, since these are modern steel frames. I considered looking into used road frames on eBay, but I'm afraid to buy something that is not compatible with the existing components.

So, on to the questions -

Any other steel frames on that price range I should be looking at?

Am I correct in my assumption that these components will fit a modern steel frame?

Is buying used road frames on eBay a risky proposition?

Are there any other options I may be missing?

Thanks a lot for your help!
posted by gertzedek to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total)
Really, there are only three things that are suspect:
1) What sort of bottom bracket does each frame take? They like to invent new types of bottom bracket every year for no other reason the to make you buy new ones, as far as I can tell.

2) The seat post probably won't fit. They make seat posts in like 11 million different diameters for no reason. The chances that both of the two frames you've got have the same size are slim.

3) Do both bikes take the same size fork? The answer to this is "probably", since 1 1/8" threadless has been mostly standard for a while now. Still, double check. Cannondale's been known to make some odd forks. Being that the new frame is smaller than the old one, it's unlikely that it has a longer head tube than the old one, but this is worth checking too -- on thread less forks you *cut them to fit the frame* so if you want to put one on a frame with a longer head tube, you're generally out of luck.

Otherwise, I doubt you'll have any problems.

Finally, I think the "steel is real" thing is kind of over-hyped bullshit. I seriously doubt you could tell a carbon bike from a steel one from a titanium one from an aluminum one in a blind ride test (as far as I know, nobody's ever attempted such as study). Steel has one big disadvantage: it rusts. I wouldn't buy a steel bike if I was going to ride it in the wet regularly or keep it anywhere that gets damp in the winter.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:46 PM on September 11, 2011

Talk to Cannondale. Being as expensive and upper-end as they are, I'm sure customer support will be able to do something for you. At least give you information about the frame; Maybe sell you a new one. Or a refurbished one; Then if you can sell off the 54cm frame, you'll have an actual Cannondale :) The frame is usually quite good on nicer bikes. The geometry is worth it. (If it fits the rider.) I'd take the opportunity as you have an equal-value item as a Cannondale frame and get a Cannondale frame.

At least talk to Cannondale :) Something might come out of it.

(I'm a little uncertain about the smaller frame being a better fit, if she's in actual pain in more than one place ... but I am NOT a bike expert!)
posted by krilli at 1:45 AM on September 12, 2011

The original bike is aluminum, which means the frame tubing will be larger diameter. This matters for the seat post and may for the mount of the front derailer. As tylerkaraszewski says, you should check the headtube diameter too, but I think you're probanly safe with the fork.

Unless you have access to some specialized tools, you may want to leave the fork install to a shop, and perhaps the bottom bracket too. The rest is possible to do at home, if you're reasonably mechanically inclined.
posted by bonehead at 5:10 AM on September 12, 2011

Steel is an excellent choice as long as you don't leave it out in the rain- it's comfortable and has good power transfer. Surly and Soma are both well-known steel frame manufacturers. Others that come to mind are Kona and Salsa.

You're not likely to find an Alu or Alu-carbon frameset in your price range, unless you get it directly from the manufacturer or from a scavenged bike- framesets are generally sold at the high end. You might have luck with Craigslist and cheap bikes with bad components and decent frames, though.
posted by supercres at 5:42 AM on September 12, 2011

Look for a frame that takes a 68mm bottom bracket (very common), a 27.2mm seat post (also common), and a 1.125" integrated headset. You cam swap everything over yourself with the right tools, and you'll be able to repair/replace anything on that bike for the rest of it's life. The only thing that you might have trouble with is installing the integrated headset and cutting the steerer tube on the new fork. That's one place where it's worth paying a shop to do it, since it's hard to justify the cost of a headset press. I just bought a nice frame off eBay and am 99% done with building it from components I've snagged in auctions or am transferring from my road bike.

When you're done, you can sell that frame for maybe $200-$250 if you're lucky. That Surly is nice but heavy. Unless you're married to the idea of steel, you can get a good deal on Planet X frames. If you don't mind taking the risk with a used frame, look at Craigslist and eBay. There are some screaming deals (my frame is in near mint condition and I won it for about 1/4 of retail cost). The only "problem" is that a 50cm frame is a marginal size. It might be hard to find that size used, but could also mean you get a better deal on it.

If you have any questions about how to do any of this, let us know. Most everything can be done with a set of metric hex wrenches. You'll need a special tool for the bottom bracket, but you won't even need to remove the cassette from the wheel since you're keeping that. You will probably need to cut the cable housing, and for that you'll want to buy the cable cutter from Park Tools. Do not try to use regular cable cutters. They'll cut the inner cable just fine, but they'll crimp the cable housing. Pedals will stay on the crank so you won't need a pedal wrench yet. You won't even need to re-wrap the bars.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:51 AM on September 12, 2011

Oh I should add that if you find a frame you like but the seat tube is the wrong diameter, don't let that stop you. Sell your seat post on eBay (or sell it with the frameset) and pick up a Thompson seat post.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:58 AM on September 12, 2011

There are a couple ways to go.

For ease of everything, you can probably sell the bike on eBay for a decent coin and turn around and buy a proper-fitting bike. Or, as you're planning, just sell the frame. I'll warn you, though, if you don't know your way around bike tools, taking parts off a frame (let alone building up a new bike) can be a challenge. Park Tools has a good online mechanic's guide, but there's no way around the usefulness of a knowledgeable friend looking over your shoulder. What to grease, how much to tighten things, where to find the bolt, et cetera.

Your parts will all fit, with, as others have said, the possible exception of the seatpost (most bikes take 27.2 seatposts. Many very recent ones take wider ones, and many older ones take narrower ones, but the industry had reached a bit of stability around the 27.2mm seatpost. They're measured in tenths of a millimeter and those tenths count, so do make sure you use the right sized one. As others have said, you'll be fine as long as your frame has an English-threaded BB (avoid frames that mention press-fit bottom brackets - they are a high-tech, race-specific new-fangled interface that's not necessary for most people).

Other steel frames... look at offerings from Gunnar. Also, search for modern-ish steel frames on ebay. What does modern-ish mean? Well, a good rule of thumb is that it has a threadless headset (the stem clamps on to the fork steerer) rather than a threaded one (a quill stem inserts into the fork steerer). Lemond, KHS, Schwinn and many other companies all made very nice stuff out of Reynolds 853 and other high-quality types of steel. That would definitely be a step up from the Surly and the Soma, which in all honesty are decent pieces, but nothing special.
posted by entropone at 7:04 AM on September 12, 2011

Having been through a simliar story, I'd recommend you sell this one and get a whole new bike she can test ride and know she's going to love. We bought Mrs. Advicepig a full carbon Trek off a friend since it was a screaming deal, but she really loved this aluminum/carbon Specialize she test rode. We could never get that Trek to fit well and she hardly ever rode it. Three years later, I found that bike she loved on Craigslist in the exact size and snapped it up. She's ridden ever day since. Fit trumps all, and if you can't test ride a bike, I'm pretty hesitant to get get it.
posted by advicepig at 8:19 AM on September 12, 2011

spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints is right about things to check: bottom bracket size, seatpost, steerer (length, diameter, and any taper), and how the front derailleur mounts (clamp-on or bolt-on).

The odds of things fitting are good (bike components are pretty standardized) but not perfect (standards evolve and big companies like Cannondale do like to do things like have custom steerer tubes, etc.)

Note that you may have to replace the fork anway since they're cut to length: the one from your old bike might simply be too short to put in a new frame. If it is too long and still the right size, just have a bike shop cut it down for you. I, personally, would just buy a steerer (fork + headset) from whoever was making my new frame and sell the old frame with it's original steerer attached. Frames are just usually sold that way due to the PITA factor. Also, a matching fork is pretty. :P

Replacing a seat tube is cheap and simple, so don't sweat that part. But the BB size is a big deal; get that wrong and you get to buy a large number of not-cheap new parts. Front derailleur type is almost as important: it is possible to put a bolt-on type on a frame designed for a clamp-on type (there are clamps that simply present the bolt flange) and you can also grind off the bolt flange, paint it against rust, and clamp instead. You can imagine that these options are less than ideal.

You'll also likely need to buy a new set of cable housings (new cables will come with them). The old ones will have been cut for the old frame, where its adjusters sit, etc. These are cheap, but buy decent ones so you don't impair shift quality with sticky cables.

As to buying steel road frames on ebay: they're no more risky than any other ebay deal. Steel frames are easy to repair (call your local bike shop for welding prices just in case); it's not like a carbon bike where you're praying there's no hidden crack. Regardless of what you buy, new or used, you'll need to check its part size specs very carefully against your current bike's.

One last thing. I do agree somewhat with folks above about the difficulty of finding a comfortable fit from an unknown frame and a new road rider. Buying a generic middle-of-the-road geometry frame works for the large majority of people, but caveat emptor. An X cm frame built for TT-ing versus an X cm frame built for touring are going to sit, handle, and ride vastly differently. Just buy carefully and remember that frame geometry is a spectrum.
posted by introp at 9:03 AM on September 12, 2011

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