Fitting a road bike
August 2, 2006 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Guide/hints for road bike fit?

I want to buy my wife a road bike, (she's hammering out 15+ road miles a day on a mountain bike) but being a cheap guy, I think I can get more bang for the buck getting used bike. I'm looking for a guide for bike fitting so I get her the right size frame, etc.
Online resources? (my GoogleFu fails me...) or elsewhere. Not having to pay a bunch is a requirement.

More: I'm thinking that because her legs are short for her height she'll be good on a smaller traditional mens bike and not need a womens design, which I understand are built to account for the fact that woment generally have proportionally more of their height in they legs than do men.
posted by cccorlew to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Every bike is different and has a different amount of adjustment possible.

Search: bicycle fitting guide.
posted by asok at 10:11 AM on August 2, 2006

You might look for frames with "compact" geometry that has a sloping top tube that will give your wife more stand over clearance.

Also see:
Competitive Cyclist
Wrench Science
..and run a search at's forums for "womens bike fit" and you'll get a some good info.

Now these won't give what will work exactly, you'll always expect to do more adjusting but fit calculators give a good starting benchmark.
posted by asterisk at 10:47 AM on August 2, 2006

Getting a proper fit requires selecting not just the frame an appropriate stem and handlebars, saddle and seat post, and, perhaps most importantly, cranks. (You need to think about the rise and length of the stem, width and reach of handlebars, position of hoods and levers on handlebars, setback and height of seatpost, comfort and shape and hardness of the saddle, length of cranks, position of cleats if using clipless pedals, among others; in other words, there are a lot of really important details.) A bad fitting bike can do more harm than good, both in terms of causing injury and generally being unpleasant to ride. Buying a used bike, there's a decent chance you'll have to go and replace a number of these parts, because it's unlikely you'll get the exact fit you want when you buy the bike. More importanlty, even if it feels ok at first, she might ultimately be unhappy with the fit as she starts riding more and more.

Thus a professional fit is worth it. If you buy a new bike, a decent shop will work hard to get the fit right. They'll switch up the stems and cranks and so forth so the bike fits properly when you roll it out the door. Consider that the increased cost of buying a new bike from a shop goes partly into paying people to get you a bike that fits well. You might save some money buying used, but you also might have to go out and buy a new stem and new cranks and find that you would have been better off with a new bike where all of that would have been taken care of for free.

Thus my advice: get it right the first time by getting a new bike for which she's professionally fit. I'm not saying it's impossible to get a good fit if you buy used, but it's definitely harder to do.

Either way, here's a good guide to fitting women's bikes from Kerry Litka.
posted by dseaton at 10:53 AM on August 2, 2006

Another one I forgot... Team Estrogen has a good collection of women-specific cycling guides.
posted by asterisk at 11:03 AM on August 2, 2006

You're right that getting a used bike will give more bang for the buck. I just got my girlfriend a used Bianchi with Campy parts and custom Joe Bell paintjob for $550... it's pretty amazing. What dseaton says about buying new for the precise fit is true and good, but there are deals to be had. Sure, maybe you have to drop in another hundred or two for a stem and saddle, but the upgrade from Tiagra to Ultegra is potentially more than worth it.

What we did in buying the Bianchi is measured her standover height and compared it to the frame geometry graphic (the bike's SO height should be less than an inch lower than her SO height in a straight-top-tube bike). The seller also mentioned that he was the same height as she is, so we took it as a sign for "go for it." Yeah, that's not the way to go about properly fitting a bike, but it's approximate and it worked out. My girlfriend doesn't race and doesn't ride centuries, but if she starts, then we'll go have a professional retrofit done. Likewise if it does start giving her problems, we'll get a retrofit, but as of now, there are no issues. Be cautious if you're buying used, but you can do very very well. Good luck.
posted by The Michael The at 1:46 PM on August 2, 2006

I assume that the road bike isn't a suprise gift, so I suggest demoing a few bikes at your LBS. This should give a good feel for basic frame size and her comfort on compact vs. traditional frames, etc.

Once you've gotten a bike, you should be able to do a reasonable saddle height fitting yourselves. If that seems to be working for her, next look for a pro to do a thorough bike fit. I'd expect this to run $50+, but it's probably worth it in the long run to get *all* the fit details right.
posted by turbodog at 2:45 PM on August 2, 2006

I'm with The Michael The - look around and buy a second hand bike that you've determined will be near a perfect fit.

I bought a slightly Cannondale on eBay for about 1/4 the price of the new price. It rides like a dream. It may not be the perfect fit but the bang for buck was so much better than a new bike that it was well, well worth it.

It does appear that the 'make sure you get a perfect fit' movement is a movement to ensure that no-one buys second hand bikes and keeps buying new expensive bikes at boutique shops. Sure, there may be some people who have real problems with bikes that only have a 'good fit' but it may also be overstated.
posted by sien at 4:05 PM on August 2, 2006

It does appear that the 'make sure you get a perfect fit' movement is a movement to ensure that no-one buys second hand bikes and keeps buying new expensive bikes at boutique shops.

I disagree. It's a matter of how much time you spend of the bike, how well you know what you need, and how much work you're willing to do to get there.

If you only ride a couple of hours a week, you can probably buy just about any old bike and have no trouble. If you're riding 30 hours a week, it's really, really important to have a bike that fits properly or you're likely to end up injured. But there's usually a point where someone rides enough to know what they want and how to get that, in which case, a second hand bike and some time with a wrench will work out great.

The problem is that, if you're buying your first bike, and it doesn't fit right and you find it uncomfortable -- or, worse, get hurt -- it might end up being your last bike.
posted by dseaton at 4:20 PM on August 2, 2006

dseaton: Sure, if you're going to ride 30 hours a week then perfect fit may be worth it. However, the question referes to someon doing 15+ miles a day - which is just 'a few' hours per week. Also, getting a 'good fit' is fairly easy as long as care is taken when buying a second hand bike.

I ride 6-10 hours a week and have no problems with my road bike and have used it on longer spells where I also have no problems.
posted by sien at 5:43 PM on August 2, 2006

15+ miles of effort on the trail is equivalent to at least twice as far on the road. That works out to more than just a few hours per week. Moreover, road riding involves far more repetitive motions than other styles of riding, making the rider much more susceptible to repetitive strain injuries.

This is compounded by the fact that most mountainbikers are completely unfamiliar with the road riding position, and have no idea how a road bike is supposed to fit. What feels right to a mountainbiker is usually far too upright and close-in.

I submit therefore that getting bike fit right with the advice of an expert is more important than most think. Get it done at your local bike shop (LBS) -- a good one will give you your measurements without requiring you to pay or buy a bike.
posted by randomstriker at 7:00 PM on August 2, 2006

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