Signs you bought the wrong size bike

An easy mistake in the world of online shopping, here’s how to identify and ill-fitting bike and what you can do about it.

Clock07:56, Tuesday 22nd August 2023

Back in the good old days, we all bought bikes from the local bike shop, where a friendly gentleman would look you up and down, then sit you on a bike that fitted you. These days, we tend to buy our bikes from the internet, and we’ve got to work all that stuff out for ourselves.

Thankfully, there is a pretty generous overlap between sizes, so the margin for error is quite broad. And even if you’re off a size, you can usually make your bike fit by changing a few components. Stems, seatposts, cranks, handlebars – there are plenty of ways to recover an ill-fitting bike.

But adjustments like this can only achieve so much. At a certain point, you’ve just got to accept that your bike is the wrong size for you. If you’ve noticed any of these clues while riding your bike, you might well be riding the wrong size bike.

You've got 'superman arms'

First of all, if you’re riding like superman, with your torso bent low and your arms stretching out in front of you, it’s likely that your bike is too big for you. Something smaller, with the bars closer to you, is going to be more comfortable, and far less tiring on your arms and your core.

Equally, if your bars are high, it might be a sign your bike is the wrong size. On a road bike, your handlebars shouldn't need to be much higher than your saddle to be comfortable.

You can see the front hub

This is a classic bike fit rule of thumb: if you can see your front hub while you're pedalling, you might have the wrong frame size. This is a rough check, so don’t go sticking your pride and joy on eBay just because you can see the hub, but its a good indicator.

If you can see the hub of your front wheel behind the bars, you might have too much reach – meaning there’s too much of a distance between your bars and your saddle. If you can see the hub in front of bars, you haven’t got enough reach – which means your bars and saddle are too close to each other.

If you notice this when you’re riding, the first port of call would be to adjust the amount of reach you’ve got by changing the stem, but if you can still see the hub after trying different stems, you might need a different size frame.

Your seatpost is over-extended

If you need to have a crazy amount of seatpost sticking out of your bike frame to get a full leg extension, then the chances are your bike is too small for you. This is definitely one to watch out for, as riding with only a few inches of seatpost in the frame might put more stress on your frame than it can take. Just look out for a maximum extension marker on your seatpost and be sure not to exceed it.

And if you still don’t feel like you’re fully extending your leg even on that max extension line, you’re going to need a bigger bike.

Your shoes hit the front wheel

If your front wheel touches your foot when you’re turning the bars, you’ve got toe overlap. Now, this doesn’t always mean your bike is the wrong size. A little bit of toe overlap is very common, and it’s caused by your foot size and cleat position. But, if you’ve got a lot of toe overlap, and it’s really noticeable when you’re riding, it might mean your bike is on the small side.

Bigger bikes have longer wheelbases, meaning the front and rear hubs are further apart. That’s going to give you more space to pedal without the wheels getting in your way.

You need a really long stem

For a lot of cyclists, stem length has become a bit of a ‘mine’s longer than yours’ thing. It’s fairly common to see riders intentionally choosing slightly small bikes, and fitting long stems to extend their reach and correct their position.

But as cool as you might think it looks (and, to be fair, it does look kind of cool), a super long stem is going to ruin your bike’s handling. Firstly, it’ll slow down the bike’s steering speed and dampen the handling. And secondly, it’ll throw your weight over the front wheel, putting your bike out of balance and compromising the amount of traction you get on the corners.

If you’re riding with a stem that’s longer than 13 or 14cm, you should think about getting a bigger bike instead.

You can't get the right setback

Seatposts come in many different flavours. Some are set back, some are inline, and some are set forward. But if you’ve tried all of these options and you’re still not sitting comfortably, you might need to get a different sized frame.

If you feel you need your saddle really far forward, you should consider a smaller bike with a shorter reach. And if you feel you need the saddle really far back, then you might need a bigger bike with a longer reach.

Jargon Buster

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