Today we’re looking at a topic that is particularly useful now the nights are drawing in and some people are looking to treat themselves to a new winter bike. How do you go about choosing a bike that’s right for you? Pain Free Power wants to help ensure you don’t end up buying a poorly fitting bike purely because it’s a good price. It is something we see time and again… someone comes in for a fit with a bike they have gotten a great deal on but they are having lots of little niggles whilst riding. Aching in the lower back and between the shoulders; knees are ‘burning’ whilst riding or even hands going numb. These alone are not definitively symptomatic of a wrongly sized bike and can almost always be accounted for through fitting techniques to improve the position of the bike. But, it may mean to obtain the position necessary on the bike a largely angled, short stem with plenty of spacers beneath it is needed to alleviate excess reach and drop to the bars. Although practical and a functional way of getting the bike to the correct position this may well damage the aesthetics of your lovely new bike. It could also have a slightly negative effect on the handling as a result of flex at the front of the bike if too much steerer tube sits outside of the head tube.
Often the chosen bike is too race-oriented for the rider, this is definitely the most common issue we see when riders come to us with problems. Race-oriented bikes tend to have shorter head tubes and longer top tubes resulting in a long reach from saddle to handlebars and a large amount of height drop between them. This is ideal when racing as it gives a ‘long and low’ position to reduce drag and get as much weight over the pedals as possible for power generation. However, for a long weekend club run or sportives these bikes can often feel too aggressive. Improvements in core strength and mobility will enable the rider to maintain a more aggressive position for a longer period of time; this is how professional riders are able to use these race-oriented bikes for three week stage races. However, most manufacturers now offer bikes in what they class as ‘Endurance’ geometry which is more realistic for us mere mortals! Some examples being the Trek Domane, Specialized Roubaix, Cannondale Synapse and Bianchi’s C2C range. These are all bikes that come with a slightly more comfort based geometry as they appreciate this is necessary for longer/all day riding. This geometry usually includes a taller head tube that allows us to get a more upright position without the need for extra spacers or angled stems.
What is often confusing though is that these endurance bikes will be labelled as the same frame sizes as the race-oriented bikes from the same manufacturer. So as an example, a Trek Emonda in a 56cm (a race-oriented bike) may not be an ideal fit for someone whilst also in a 56cm the Trek Domane may be a comfortable ride. This goes with other manufacturers as well and can get even more complicated as these frame sizes are not necessarily transferable between manufacturers. A 54cm from one manufacturer could easily measure up as a similar geometry to a 56cm or 52cm from another. So these frame sizes really are not comparable. For example someone cannot just be labelled as a “58cm frame” as this will almost certainly not be the case with all manufacturers and also this does not take into account the style of frame being considered.
A common misconception is that by opting for an endurance geometry people will ride slower and they sometimes choose to put up with the discomfort of more race-oriented bikes for this reason. It is often the case that the rider will actually be quicker on the endurance bike as their hips become more open when riding with the raised front end. This reduces internal resistance through the joint at the top of the pedal stroke and improves stability while riding.
Riding a bike that is too aggressive often results in substantial time spent with hands on the tops of the bars rather than the more efficient positions of the hoods or the drops. The extended reach to these more distant hand positions angles the torso more thus reducing the frontal area and moving the centre of body mass forwards. Adopting a poor riding position on an aggressive bike significantly reduces efficiency and as a result endurance frames may enable some riders to go both faster and further.
So, in summary, frame geometry is pretty unique for each bike and they all have to been considered on a case by case basis. Bikes can only really be compared by examining their geometry charts in greater detail and not through the arbitrary numbers assigned as frame sizes. It might look like a bargain but make sure that you get reliable advice so you end up with a bike that is right for you.