Is Your Bike Frame Too Big?

How do you know if your bike frame is too big?

If your back, shoulders, or wrists ache after a ride, that could be a sign that your bicycle frame is too big.

But don’t head straight for a smaller frame—especially if you don’t have those symptoms. A larger frame works better for some riding styles. A bigger frame allows for looser handling, which some people prefer.

Let’s dive deeper into how big is too big when it comes to bike frames.

View through the frames of bicycles lined up in a shop

Does it matter if your bike frame is too big?

If your bike frame is too big, your handling, comfort and posture will likely suffer.

So riding on a bike frame that’s too big does matter, and so does riding on a bike frame that’s too small. The size of the frame should accommodate your height, proportions and riding preferences. Bike fit is the key to comfort.

A larger frame changes the way that you ride, which impacts the performance of the bike and how you sit on it.

Handling

The most noticeable issue with a large frame is the handling. If the bike fits right, you should be able to take a 90-degree turn with ease. When a bike is too large, you often need to take wider turns.

Dealing with obstacles is also more of a challenge with a larger frame. For example, navigating a dirt trail on a large mountain bike is cumbersome and clunky.

Posture

A larger frame requires you to sit more upright compared to a bike that fits your size. A road bike should place you in a forward-leaning position while a mountain bike will put you in a slightly upright position. A larger frame might force you to strain, especially when going uphill or trying to pick up speed.

Comfort

Due to the issues with handling and posture, bikes with larger frames are likely to cause discomfort. You may feel the strain on your back, neck, knees or shoulders. Stretching your arms to reach the handlebars also puts strain on your wrists and arms.

Why ride on a larger bike frame?

Some people prefer the more forgiving handling and upright position provided by a larger bike frame. A larger setup is better suited for leisurely rides where you do not need to make fast maneuvers.

The handling feels loopier and cumbersome. You may need to make wider, slower turns, which could work well when traveling through winding country roads. However, when mountain biking or cycling through the city, you need a more responsive bike.

How to know if a bike frame is too big

If you cannot reach the pedals, the bike frame is obviously too large for your measurements. Ideally, you should be able to stand with your feet flat while straddling the top tube with the bike between your legs.

If you struggle to make turns or need to sit up straight to reach the handlebars, the frame is likely too large. You may also notice that you cannot quickly turn or pick up speed easily due to the way that you sit in a larger frame.

Pain or discomfort after riding also indicates that the frame is too big for your size. If you already suspect that the frame is too large and your body feels sore after riding, you should probably go down an inch or two.

Bicycle frames hanging on a rod
© Alexander Baxevanis | Creative Commons

Standard bicycle frame sizes range from 13 inches to 21 inches or taller. Start with the recommended size for your height and move up or down an inch or two based on your proportions and riding style.

To measure yourself for a bike frame, first stand with your feet as wide as they would be if they were on bike pedals. Measure your inseam along the inside of your leg from the floor to your crotch.

Depending on the style of bike, you should aim for these frame sizes:

  • Road bike: 70% of inseam
  • Mountain bike: 66% of inseam
  • City bike: 68.5% of inseam

Frames are measured from the bottom bracket to where the seat post emerges from the top of the frame.

Bike frame size recommendations offer a general idea of the best size for the average person of a particular height. For example, if you’re 5-foot-9, you should likely ride a bike with a 16-inch or 17-inch frame. However, not everyone has the same proportions.

The length of your upper body may vary compared to someone else of the same height. If you have a long torso, a 16-inch frame may feel a little small, as you can reach further across the top tube of the frame. If you have a short torso and long legs, you may need a slightly smaller frame.

Remember, the seat height can always be raised to accommodate long legs, if that’s where most of your height comes from. It’s much more difficult to change the distance that your torso has to cover between the seat and handlebars, so you want to focus on that when choosing your frame.

What to do if your bike frame is too big

If you’re current bike seems too big, you can get some relief by pushing the stem further down the seat tube and adjusting the saddle position to compensate for the larger frame. For example, lowering the handlebars and saddle height and removing all the spacers from the seat post may help the bike fit a little better. You may also use a shorter stem. However, you can only lower the saddle and stems so far. At some point, you need to consider a smaller sized bike.

You don’t want a large frame that’s uncomfortable to ride and that could potentially lead to injuries and strains. Choosing the right bike frame size is not always easy, but it’s worth getting right.

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