Are you ready to take your fitness to the next level? If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already decided to treat yourself to a new bike. Congratulations!
But before you part with your hard-earned cash, there’s one question you need to answer: “What size bike should I get?” Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
In fact, by following a few simple steps and considering your body type and riding needs, you’ll be well on your way to a more comfortable and enjoyable riding experience.
In this article, we’ll provide you with all the information and charts you need to choose the perfect bike size. Get ready for a comfy ride!
Your Body Shape And Type
Find Your Bike Size Measurements
Before we get started, you’ll need to take a few measurements of your body. It’ll be a lot easier if you enlist the help of a family member or friend!
- Height – If you don’t know your height already, you can measure yourself while standing on a flat surface with your back against a wall. Your feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Torso length – Your crotch to your sternum (the V-shaped curve below your neck)
- Arm length – The end of your collarbone to the center of your palm
- Leg Inseam – Your crotch, (i.e. where the saddle is) down to your foot. Arguably, the most important measurement when sizing a bike is your inseam length. I would recommend being a bit more precise with this one.
Now with these measurements, you can use a free online bike calculator to determine your bike’s size. You simply input your measurements and the bike type you want to buy. The tool then calculates the perfect size to fit your needs.
If you’d like some extra tips and tricks about sizing your bike, read on!
When hopping on a bike for the first time, I effectively go through the following mental checklist:
Your inside leg measurement will determine your standover height. This is the clearance between the top tube of the bike and your crotch when standing just in front of the saddle. Most bike brands suggest a clearance of at least two inches to enable you to hop off quickly as and when required.
Aim for a riding position that doesn’t give you too much strain on the lower back. You should also have a slight bend in your elbows which acts like shock absorbers effectively. You also shouldn’t need to feel like you’re constantly reaching forward. Think comfortable 🙂
As you continue to ride and improve your strength and fitness, you can adjust your settings so you are in a more aerodynamic position!
This is quite important as it will result in how efficiently you’re pedaling with your major leg muscles. There are a couple of quick checks that I run to ensure I have the correct seat height.
- Standing next to the bike, aim for the bike seat to be roughly in line with your hip bone.
- Jump on the bike and with your foot at the bottom of the pedal stroke, you should see a slight bend in the leg (roughly 80% of full leg extension). If there is no bend in your knee, I suggest lowering the seat a bit. This holds true for road, mountain, and hybrid bikes.
Seat Fore/Aft Position
When your foot is at the 3 o’clock position of the pedal stroke, your knee should align over your forefoot. In this position, your shin will tilt slightly forward.
A plumb line dropped from the bottom of your kneecap should fall straight to the ball of your foot and through the center of the pedal.
How Bikes Are Sized
Different types of bikes are sized and measured differently and each will have its own nuances – even between brands, this isn’t consistent! Below are some general guidelines for each type of bike:
Road bikes generally come in standard small, medium, and large and have an associated numerical size (usually in centimeters or inches).
Unfortunately, it’s not an easy comparison between brands though. Your measurements might fit a medium Giant bike but feel quite awkward and uncomfortable on a Cannondale bike, so you’ll need to test and adjust accordingly.
Check out some road bikes here:
Mountain Bike (MTB)
Again, MTBs come in standard small, medium, and large with numerical figures. But, unlike road bikes, they are generally similar across brands.
Yes, they don’t want to make it too easy for us! Have a look at these mountain bikes if you’re looking to spend less than $500.
As the name suggests, these bikes are a mix of road and MTB bikes. I generally describe them as road bikes with flat handlebars. As for the sizing of these, I’ve found that they’re a bit more akin to MTB style sizing and there’s not as much variance between sizes.
Check out the best hybrid bikes for under $500 here.
Type Of Bike
Now that you have your measurements, next, you need to decide what type of bike you’re looking to buy (i.e. road, mountain bike or hybrid). If you need some help in this department, check out our beginner’s guide to picking the perfect bicyle.
Once that’s done, the easiest method to calculate your bike size is by using your height. This will give you a general idea of your frame size, however, it won’t give you a perfect fit. A good second piece of data is the top tube length (see further below for a diagram on what is the “top tube”).
Below are some general guidelines for bike sizes depending on your height and the type of bike you’re looking to get. Keep in mind this is only general information and as mentioned, sizing between brands can vary quite a bit.
Road bikes are usually sized in centimeters, or using a Small / Medium / Large system.
|4’10” to 5’0” (147-152 cm)||XX Small (47-48cm)|
|5’0” to 5’3” (152-160 cm)||X Small (49-50cm)|
|5’3” to 5’7” (160-170 cm)||Smal (51-53cm)|
|5’7” to 5’9” (170-175 cm)||Medium (54-55cm)|
|5’9” to 5’11” (175-180 cm)||Large (56-58cm)|
|5’11” to 6’5” (180-188 cm)||X Large (59-62cm)|
|6’5” or taller (196+ cm)||XX Large (62cm+)|
|4’10” to 5’1” (147-155 cm)||XX Small (44-46cm)|
|5’1” to 5’3” (155-160 cm)||X Small (47-49cm)|
|5’3” to 5’5” (160-165 cm)||Smal (50-52cm)|
|5’5” to 5’8” (165-172 cm)||Medium (53-55cm)|
|5’8” or taller (172+ cm)||Large (56-57cm)|
If your measurements are in between two sizes, then it really becomes a personal choice, but the general rule of thumb is to go with the smaller size. All things being equal, a bike that’s a little small is much easier to correct – for example, you will be able to raise the saddle.
Here’s a great video on the basic settings you need to calibrate when buying a road bike:
Mountain / Hybrid Bike
|4’10” to 5’0” (147-152 cm)||X Small (13”)|
|5’0” to 5’3” (152-160 cm)||X Small (13-14”)|
|5’3” to 5’7” (160-170 cm)||Smal (15-16”)|
|5’7” to 5’9” (170-175 cm)||Medium (17-18”)|
|5’9” to 5’11” (175-180 cm)||Medium / Large (18-19”)|
|5’11” to 6’5” (180-188 cm)||Large / X Large (19-22”)|
|6’5” or taller (196+ cm)||XX Large (23-24”)|
|Small (15-16”)||X Small (13-14”)|
|5’1” to 5’3” (155-160 cm)||X Small (13-14”)|
|5’3” to 5’5” (160-165 cm)||Smal (15-16”)|
|5’5” to 5’8” (165-172 cm)||Medium (17-18”)|
|5’8” or taller (172+ cm)||Large (19”+)|
If your measurements are in between two sizes, then it really becomes a personal choice. But, unlike road bikes, most people generally go for the larger size with MTBs. Given the general mountain bike setup, a slightly larger frame helps with the comfort and handling of the bike.
In this next section, I’ll cover the different types of bikes in a bit more detail when it comes to specifics to look out for.
A road bike is all about speed and they generally come in two styles. First, the racing road bike which is designed purely for speed, and second the sportive road bike which is designed for a bit more comfort.
The sizing quoted for road bikes is generally for the seat tube dimension (diagram below for reference). Along with the seat tube, you also need to ensure that the top tube measurement along with handlebar positioning also works for your body type.
The more hunched over you are over the bike, the more aerodynamic you are. For casual riders, a less aggressive angle will result in less strain on the lower bike during long rides.
For road bike riders looking at MTBs, sizing can be a bit confusing because MTBs tend to have a smaller seat tube and longer top tube length than their road bike cousins. For a comparison, have a look at the diagram below.
MTB seating positions are less aggressive than road bikes. You need to be able to look forward to avoiding obstacles and dangers!
The vast array of MTB styles means that the general sizing that manufacturers use (small, medium, and large) is ideal. As I mentioned earlier, with MTBs, the sizing quoted is generally quite a good guide on which size bike you’ll end up buying.
As I mentioned earlier, I think of hybrid bikes as road bikes with flat bars. They are a bit bulkier compared to a road bikes, so this allows them to perform well on light off-road trails. These bikes also have the versatility to maintain great performance and speed on regular roads.
Hybrids are great for commuting and should be enough to enjoy a bit of off-roading on weekend rides!
Like all bikes, hybrids are generally measured by frame size. As highlighted above, the sizing of hybrid bikes is comparable to the sizing of mountain bikes.
Other Important Factors To Consider
Invest In A Bike Size Fitting
Depending on how much you’re getting into cycling, I personally think paying for a professional bike fitting is entirely worth it. From personal experience, it made a huge difference in my power output and really reduced the stress on my lower back and knees.
Fitting specialists will take all your body measurements and help walk you through the process of fine-tuning the bike set up specifically for your body and current capabilities. It will generally involve you jumping on a bike and then they record/analyze how you ride, making small adjustments, test, and repeat.
Try Before You Buy
At the end of the day, finding a well-fitting bike is like finding any well-fitting piece of clothing – you will only know once you try it on. Seeing a bike in person, trying it out, and getting a feel for it is often the best way to know if it’s right for you.
A few body measurements will help point you in the right direction. It will even help rule out the easily identifiable ‘too big’ or ‘too small’ bikes when shopping online. But, nothing will truly confirm that a bike is the right one for you until you take it for a spin.
Many bicycle brands and bike shops offer demo days or demo events to allow customers to test ride bikes. This is also a great opportunity to ask questions and speak to knowledgeable staff members.
Listen To Your Body
The above information should provide you with a basic outline next time you’re shopping for a bike online. However, this is somewhat of an art and not an exact science!
It’s all about experimenting with what feels right and comfortable given where you’re at with your personal health and fitness. Of course, this can change over time as you improve and you can alter your riding style accordingly at that time.
If at any point you’re feeling pain, numbness, or a tingly sensation, it’ll likely indicate a poor bike fit. You stop riding that bike until you resolve any issues. Issues can range from anything like neck pain, back pain, elbow pain, or knee pain.
I would suggest heading to a local bike shop or physiotherapist to help with any bike fitting problems.
Bike Size Summary
For cycling pros riding the Tour De France, there is a meticulous analysis that goes into sizing a bike for their body type. But, for us mere mortals, we can just take the above into consideration when we’re buying a bike. 🙂
In all seriousness, with the information in this article, the help of knowledgeable bike sales personnel, and a bit of trialing of bikes on your part, you should be able to find the perfect bike for your particular needs!