I know I have a problem. At least, that’s what my wife and daughters tell me. When I’m driving and come up on a cyclist my first comment is always about the bike set-up and the next, of course, is about the bike. Grant it, the bike doesn’t always matter. It seems that when you’re fast you could just about ride anything and not skip a beat—similar to the retiree that offers to go biking with you and quickly makes you feel like you’re in quicksand. The sizing of a bike, however, makes a difference no matter what type of rider.
There is a distinct difference between fitting and sizing a bike. Fitting a bike has to do with establishing the proper frame size. This usually correlates to the rider’s height but, manufacturer’s frame geometries can vary and it’s best to check with the company’s recommendations. You could always add a bit of fitting history by using a formula adopted by US cyclist Greg Lemond. This formula takes the rider’s inseam length in centimeters and multiples it by 0.883 to give the recommended saddle height (measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle). Also, don’t fear the bike shop—they certainly want a happy, well-fitting customer.
Once you’re fit to a frame, it’ all about sizing. This is the fine tuning necessary to establish comfort, performance, or aerodynamics. Unfortunately, you can’t really accomplish all three at the same time. A recreational rider is set-up much differently than a triathlete or TT specialist (Time Trial). While a recreational rider is looking for comfort, a TT specialist is pushing the envelope on aerodynamics and performance in an attempt to sustain a position for the length of a particular race segment.
Another goal of sizing is to prevent injuries. Since cycling is a repetitive activity, it doesn’t take long for discrepancies to show up as lower back, shoulder/neck, wrist/hand, foot, or knee pain. There are many a cyclist, pro and weekend warrior, that have hung up the bike due to physical issues.
Fortunately, the art of sizing bikes has continued to improve with research and new technologies. The traditional sizing techniques have evolved into individualized static and dynamic measuring. One difference between the two is the cost. Dynamic sizing technology can cost a rider $350 or more. A static sizing is considerably less and can certainly have the same outcome. In any event, if you’re one of those riders that just can’t get sized comfortably, have patience. My suggestion would be to work from a standard sizing session and tweak as necessary. The right size and fit is out there!