When choosing a new bike, some riders will find themselves caught between frame sizes. You have to choose between a larger frame and a smaller one, but which one do you go for?
Getting the right size bike is a combination of fit and feel. Ultimately, the decision should be on how comfortable and confident you will be while riding it.
If you’re struggling to decide on the right bike, the good news is that there’s a perfect bike out there for you – and Halfords is here to help you find it.
Why am I in between sizes?
Before we discuss how to decide on the right size bike, we need to explain why bicycle sizing is about much more than just one number.
Getting the right bike fit is complicated. If you just use the standard size charts provided by manufacturers or use your old bike as the basis for buying a new one, then you could find that the bike you have just bought isn’t right for you – and here’s why.
Bike builders use standard frame sizes when building their bikes, but it’s not the only measurement that matters.
Road bike sizes are given in centimetres. On most bikes, this measurement is the distance between the bottom bracket (where the front chainset is joined to the bike) and the top of the seat tube.
However, some bike builders measure their frames from the centre of the bottom bracket to the centre of the top tube instead.
Mountain bike sizes cover the distance between the bottom bracket and the top of the seat tube, but to make things confusing use inches instead of centimetres.
The seat tube measurement is an important one, but it’s not the only one that will affect how a bike feels.
The length of the top tube will affect how far you have to reach. A longer top tube will mean you’ll have to stretch further to reach the handlebars.
The height of the handlebars and the length of the stem (the metal tube that links the forks to the handlebars) will also play a role in how a bike feels to you.
The height of the bike is important too. You should also be able to stand over the bike with a gap between your crotch and the top tube. This is so that you can easily climb on and off your bike.
While you can select a bike solely on the size of the seat tube, as you can see there are a whole host of other variables that will impact how a bike feels.
Finally, you should consider how you will be using the bike. Professional road racers, for example, will often ride what appear to be small frames, which most of us would be uncomfortable with. If you want speed over comfort, a smaller frame could suit you better, for example.
There are no hard and fast rules. The best bike fit for you is a combination of all of these measurements plus your own riding style and preference.
Should I go bigger or smaller?
Some riders will find themselves facing a choice between sizes and facing the choice between a larger or smaller frame.
Here are three practical ways to help you choose whether to go bigger or smaller.
1. Touch your toes
Find somewhere you can stretch out and try and touch your toes. If you can reach them (or get close), you’re pretty flexible and might prefer a smaller size frame.
If you find the riding position is a little bunched up you can extend it by replacing the stem.
If you weren’t able to touch your toes (or even get close), then we recommend going for the larger size.
2. Check your Ape Index
Another way to decide which bike to go for is to look at your ape index.
Your ape index is a comparison between your arm span and your height. If your arm span is longer than your height, go for a bigger frame. If it’s shorter, get the smaller one.
On a bigger bike, the reach to the handlebars will be longer. If you have proportionally longer arms, you are likely to feel more comfortable on a bigger frame.
3. Take them both for a test ride
It’s not always possible to visit a shop and ride every bike you’re interested in, but if you can, you should.
Visit a Halfords store, and you’ll be able to see and ride a selection of bikes from manufacturers such as Boardman, Raleigh and our own exclusive Carrera range.
While you’re there, you can chat with our trained staff who can discuss the differences between makes and models and help you find the right bike for you.
If you’re in the market for an electric bike, you can take advantage of our Free Electric Bike Trials.
Remember: Bikes are adjustable
People come in all shapes and sizes, but there are typically only a few frame sizes of each model, so you will be forced into making a choice.
The good news is that bikes are adjustable and some parts can even be replaced. With a little work, you can get the bike fit just right.
The seat post can slide up and down, the saddle can move backwards and forwards, and the handlebars and stem can be moved around.
You can make all of these adjustments at home with a few standard bike tools. You can even do them while out on a ride if you need to.
If these minor adjustments don’t work, you can swap parts like the stem to increase or decrease reach. If you have space, you can use handlebar spacers to raise their height.
Parts such as the stem, spacers and even replacement handlebars can be picked up cheaply and are simple to fit yourself.
To help riders find the best bike fit, the Carrera range of mountain bikes, road bikes, hybrids and e-bikes come in a wider variety of sizes which makes finding the right fit easier.
Still not sure what size you need?
If you still can’t decide which frame size might suit you best, don’t worry. Just head to your nearest Halfords store where one of our bike experts can help you choose.
Before you set off, be sure to read our guide to getting the right size bike which is packed full of useful information and advice to help you choose. Armed with that information, the advice in this guide and our expert in-store help, finding your perfect bike fit should be simple.