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  1. #1
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    Commuter Sizing - a little smaller or bigger than a road bike?

    First, is it more beneficial to have a slightly larger or smaller commuter bike?

    Second, I already bought a Trek 7.3 fx 22.5in bike for commuting and general recreation. Proportionally, I'm guessing I'm somewhere around like 6'2" and change. I look at my new bike and think, "gosh that seems kind of big!" Is this feeling warranted?

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    okay maybe not. mmerner's Avatar
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    smaller. it's easier to make a small bike bigger then a larger bike smaller. I'm the same height and have a 22-23" mtn bike and it is a little too big.
    question everything.

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    Smaller is a good call on a commuter. It gives you some extra standover room for all those traffic lights and stop signs. It also gives you more options for configuration, like adjusting the stem and putting a moustache handlebar on (if you're into that sort of thing on your commuter bike.)
    Just be sure you don't go too small, or you can run into issues with heelstrike (if you use panniers) or back pain (from being crunched up into a too-short reach).
    "I feel like my world was classier before I found cyclocross."
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  4. #4
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    what's wrong with a correct fit?

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    Make sure it's big enough to put the bars at a comfortable height. Many bikes are sold with an aggressive riding position in mind. For commuting you want the bars to be able to reach the height of your seat or even higher. (I'm speaking generally here... some people like being aggressive commuters!).

    When someone buys a bike that is too small, they have to jack the seat up really high and then they can't raise the bars enough. A small frame might also make you feel cramped and lead to back and neck problems... and possibly knee problems. Of course as someone else said you can't make a big bike smaller, so you have to be careful. A bike that is too large, even if you can stand over the top tube, might stretch you out more than you like unless you install a shorter reach stem (although raising the handlebars brings them closer to the seat, so this is often not an issue). Ideally you want to find the bike that is the right size... not something you feel is too big or too small.

    My touring/commuter is a 58cm and my old racing bike is a 56cm. I have less standover clearance on the commuter/tourer, but this has never been an issue. These days I think of a 58-60cm frame as being right for me, and I'm about 5' 9.5" or so. My seat height is around 75cm. Most people would say I'm in 56cm territory, but my 56cm racing bike just isn't as comfortable to me as it used to be. I'm about to replace the stem so I can raise the bars, but I still won't be able to get them that high... probably high enough though.

    So talk with your local bike shop and tell them what you want and how you intend to ride. If they say you are in between sizes on a particular bike and could go either way, personally I would get the larger model. Just make sure whatever you get can be adjusted for comfort. If it doesn't feel right, look at another make or model.

    Sean

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    I had two choices, one that was (what the Bike salesmen and I thought) possibly a little small and a larger size. I am just discovering now, that the larger one might be a little too big. I'm trying to figure out whether I should go back to the shop and discuss it with the store to see if I can't get them to exchange for a smaller size. I picked up the bike yesterday and rode it about fifteen blocks. They may tell me tough luck so I am trying to determine whether I should just accept what is.

    Don't know. Thoughts?

  7. #7
    Jet Jockey Banzai's Avatar
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    I'll second Sean on this...too small can lead to handlebar height issues, and reach issues. Really, you need to get a bike that's correctly sized.

    Now, if by small you're trying to bracket a size differential within what a manufacturer provides...you may want to err small. I.e. I ride a 50cm frame. If a manufacturer made two frames, one 52 and the other 48...I'd probably go 48, and ensure that I could still place the handlebars where I need them, that way stoplights are a bit more comfortable.

    But the only way to know for sure is to ride them. Different manufacturers use different measuring methods as well.
    Good night...and good luck

  8. #8
    Super Moderator Allen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattm View Post
    what's wrong with a correct fit?
    I agree with this, especially as one who spends more time on my commuter than any of my other bikes.

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    +1 on a correct-sized bike

    "compact frame" geometry on a road bike can give more standover. roadified mtb's have lots of room. Most "city" or "urban" bikes I've seen offer room.

    I highly suggest getting something that fits really, really well. at the minimum, read a sizing guide and make sure you have the right seat height & location, bar height & reach, comfy grips, etc etc. Ideally, get it professionally fitted.

    Cheers
    beer-bottle target

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by cpryan View Post
    I had two choices, one that was (what the Bike salesmen and I thought) possibly a little small and a larger size. I am just discovering now, that the larger one might be a little too big. I'm trying to figure out whether I should go back to the shop and discuss it with the store to see if I can't get them to exchange for a smaller size. I picked up the bike yesterday and rode it about fifteen blocks. They may tell me tough luck so I am trying to determine whether I should just accept what is.

    Don't know. Thoughts?
    Hey... I've been there. When I bought my current touring/commuter bike I had to order the correct frame size without having actually ridden it. I was really paranoid that I ordered a frame that was too large, but when I got everything all dialed in it turned out to be the most comfortable bike I've ever owned. It's really difficult to not second guess it though.

    Since both you and the sales person initially though the smaller size was too small, that was probably correct. So you might just be second guessing. Then again maybe the one you bought is too big... tough to say without seeing you on it. Even if your bike shop helps dial in your position, it's tough to really nail it on the first try and you might have to make some adjustments as you ride for a little while. That said we're talking about minor adjustments. If you feel like you're really having to reach it could be too big. Raising the bars will help if they are currently set lower than the saddle. This will move the bars closer to the seat as well as making them taller.

    If you do decide the one you bought is too big, the other size might still be too small.

    What doesn't feel right about it?

  11. #11
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    I vote for the same fitting as a road bike. Technically, my commuters and road bikes are one and the same.
    Since a proper fitting bike is more of a range to me than an exact number I prefer a smaller size. With my old touring bike I went to the larger on of the scale and it worked fine as well. It is a matter of preference for me and I prefer smaller bikes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sean000 View Post
    Hey... I've been there. When I bought my current touring/commuter bike I had to order the correct frame size without having actually ridden it. I was really paranoid that I ordered a frame that was too large, but when I got everything all dialed in it turned out to be the most comfortable bike I've ever owned. It's really difficult to not second guess it though.

    Since both you and the sales person initially though the smaller size was too small, that was probably correct. So you might just be second guessing. Then again maybe the one you bought is too big... tough to say without seeing you on it. Even if your bike shop helps dial in your position, it's tough to really nail it on the first try and you might have to make some adjustments as you ride for a little while. That said we're talking about minor adjustments. If you feel like you're really having to reach it could be too big. Raising the bars will help if they are currently set lower than the saddle. This will move the bars closer to the seat as well as making them taller.

    If you do decide the one you bought is too big, the other size might still be too small.

    What doesn't feel right about it?
    Thanks for the helpful feedback. I omitted the details from my first message hoping to get more responses by keeping it brief.

    Basically, what makes me think it's big is simply the size of it. When I stand next to it, it just looks kind of big. I can't say that I've experienced any problems, as I really haven't actually ridden the thing (I've only put in fifteen blocks, from the store to home). I can tell you that physically, I am one of those tall skinny dudes with real long monkey arms. Seriously, my fingertips end like a foot and a half from my knees. So part of me thinks that I should be able to handle any sort of concern about reaching, even if it is on the big side (if that is in fact the case). In terms of riding style, I doubt I will fall into the "aggressive" category. While I can't be late for work, I prefer to cruise. If, as some of the posts have suggested, smaller lends itself to more aggressive, than I am happy to forego that quality. I guess part of this is just sort of big ticket item anxiety.

    Perhaps another part of it is simply that I grew up in a beach town where the only thing we cared about when it came to a bike was whether the tires had enough air, whether there was sand in the gears, and whether the chain was rusted. The last time I bought a bike was ten years ago. Since then, whenever I've ridden one, I just used whatever was available (which tended to be my Dad's cruiser which I finally broke when I tried to repair the gears). So now I put in this investment, and there I am with this new bike and it just looks so serious and real in comparison to all the other junkers I've been on.

    Perhaps in the end, I guess I really just hope I made the right decision with the size and maybe the only way to figure that out is to put it to use. I think I'll go by the store and express my concern and see if they have any suggestions.

  13. #13
    Cat None SDRider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sean000 View Post
    Make sure it's big enough to put the bars at a comfortable height. Many bikes are sold with an aggressive riding position in mind. For commuting you want the bars to be able to reach the height of your seat or even higher. (I'm speaking generally here... some people like being aggressive commuters!).

    When someone buys a bike that is too small, they have to jack the seat up really high and then they can't raise the bars enough. A small frame might also make you feel cramped and lead to back and neck problems... and possibly knee problems. Of course as someone else said you can't make a big bike smaller, so you have to be careful. A bike that is too large, even if you can stand over the top tube, might stretch you out more than you like unless you install a shorter reach stem (although raising the handlebars brings them closer to the seat, so this is often not an issue). Ideally you want to find the bike that is the right size... not something you feel is too big or too small.

    My touring/commuter is a 58cm and my old racing bike is a 56cm. I have less standover clearance on the commuter/tourer, but this has never been an issue. These days I think of a 58-60cm frame as being right for me, and I'm about 5' 9.5" or so. My seat height is around 75cm. Most people would say I'm in 56cm territory, but my 56cm racing bike just isn't as comfortable to me as it used to be. I'm about to replace the stem so I can raise the bars, but I still won't be able to get them that high... probably high enough though.

    So talk with your local bike shop and tell them what you want and how you intend to ride. If they say you are in between sizes on a particular bike and could go either way, personally I would get the larger model. Just make sure whatever you get can be adjusted for comfort. If it doesn't feel right, look at another make or model.

    Sean
    Um, I'm 5'11" barefoot and of fairly average (proportional) build and I ride a 56. 58 is definitely too big for me. I find it difficult to believe that you ride a 60cm bike comfortably. I helped a friend build up his new bike and it is a 60, he's 6'3" or 6'4" IIRC. I rode it around to test it out after I had everything adjusted correctly and it was way too big for me. Hell, I could barely stand over it.

    If anything I'd go a little small and then adjust things like stem length and seatpost height/saddle offset to suit. Still, ideally it's best to just buy a bike that fits.

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    Where your hands end in relation to your knees actually doesn't tell you if you have long arms . I really do have long arms... wingspan of something like 68", height is 66". Normal is height and wingspan are equal. And really, long arms don't dictate the size bike I ride. The more important bit is standover height, since that tells me whether I'm in danger of smashing delicate bits if I mess up a stop. And well, I have short legs. Mostly, this means I'll need the smallest size bike they make, and sometimes even then the bike will be too big.

    The best way to figure out if your bike is the right size is to *ride*. I've put well over 500 miles on my new-last-May bike (no idea how much more, I kinda stopped keeping track). I can now tell you all about the bits that are not quite right, but it's close enough that it won't hurt me or send me to a doctor just from my normal riding. If the bike hurts enough that a 5 or 10 mile ride is agony, it needs adjustment (and is possibly the wrong size). When I got my bike a 5 mile ride was agony... because I was in shape for brisk walking, not brisk biking. After I got into biking shape, it was still agony, because the stock saddle shape did not match my butt shape. So keep that in mind while you puzzle over fit. Also, a beach cruiser and say a sporty drop bar bike will fit differently. If your new bike has a wildly different riding position from what you're used to, it can be hard to spot fit issues.

    Main thing is, ride it enough that you can point to where it hurts and *stop* before it takes more than a dose of OTC painkiller to get comfortable. If you can, stop before you need painkillers. If you're pointing to where it feels numb, or where it's swelling, or anything like that, this is serious and needs attention right away.

  15. #15
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    If it is a good bike shop, they should know what they are doing and you can probably bet that they sold you the right size (as has been mentioned size is a range, so different shops... even the good ones... might recommend different sizes).

    Don't worry about how big the bike looks. A larger frame will make the wheels look tiny, while a small frame will make them look huge. The first thing is to make sure the seat is the right height. Then see where the bars are. Make sure you can raise the bars as high as the seat, but you might find that you prefer them lower.

    Since you say you have long arms, I'd think the larger frame would be best for you. Still, you should talk to your bike shop and let them advise you. Tell them you'd like to set it up in the shop on a resistance trainer so they can observe your position as you pedal.

    Sean

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by SDRider View Post
    Um, I'm 5'11" barefoot and of fairly average (proportional) build and I ride a 56. 58 is definitely too big for me. I find it difficult to believe that you ride a 60cm bike comfortably. I helped a friend build up his new bike and it is a 60, he's 6'3" or 6'4" IIRC. I rode it around to test it out after I had everything adjusted correctly and it was way too big for me. Hell, I could barely stand over it.

    If anything I'd go a little small and then adjust things like stem length and seatpost height/saddle offset to suit. Still, ideally it's best to just buy a bike that fits.
    I'm 5'9.5" and pretty average build, and I have plenty of clearance with my 58cm... even with the 700x37 tires. I started racing as a teenager in 1984, so over the years I've ridden a lot of bikes in a lot of sizes. I don't race anymore, and the 56cm racing bike that I still ride for fun (1988 steel Pinarello) just doesn't feel right anymore. The position is more aggressive than I like today, and on such a small frame I can't raise the handlebars enough with a standard stem.

    Read the following:
    http://www.rivbike.com/article/bike_...izing_position

    And then this:
    http://www.rivbike.com/article/bike_...g_a_frame_size

    Of course geometry varies from one frame to the next, so you can't just look at the seat tube length. Since my last bike purchased was a Rivendell, I went with their recommendation: 58.5-60cm. I actually went a little on the low side since the Atlantis comes in 58cm or 61cm, but nothing in between. I bought the 58 and have plenty of clearance standing over the top tube, and I have a lot of seatpost and stem showing... so I could easily ride one of their larger frames.

    Sean

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by sean000 View Post
    I'm 5'9.5" and pretty average build, and I have plenty of clearance with my 58cm... even with the 700x37 tires. I started racing as a teenager in 1984, so over the years I've ridden a lot of bikes in a lot of sizes. I don't race anymore, and the 56cm racing bike that I still ride for fun (1988 steel Pinarello) just doesn't feel right anymore. The position is more aggressive than I like today, and on such a small frame I can't raise the handlebars enough with a standard stem.

    Read the following:
    http://www.rivbike.com/article/bike_...izing_position

    And then this:
    http://www.rivbike.com/article/bike_...g_a_frame_size

    Of course geometry varies from one frame to the next, so you can't just look at the seat tube length. Since my last bike purchased was a Rivendell, I went with their recommendation: 58.5-60cm. I actually went a little on the low side since the Atlantis comes in 58cm or 61cm, but nothing in between. I bought the 58 and have plenty of clearance standing over the top tube, and I have a lot of seatpost and stem showing... so I could easily ride one of their larger frames.

    Sean
    Well, if you ever want to unload that Pinny let me know. I'm interested.

    BTW-I also started riding racing bikes in the early 80s. I had a 1970s Motobecane Le Champion that was very comfortable, lightweight and fast. I would still have that bike today if it weren't for some scumbag who stole it.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by SDRider View Post
    Well, if you ever want to unload that Pinny let me know. I'm interested.

    BTW-I also started riding racing bikes in the early 80s. I had a 1970s Motobecane Le Champion that was very comfortable, lightweight and fast. I would still have that bike today if it weren't for some scumbag who stole it.
    I'm sorry you don't have the Motobecane anymore. I bet it was a beautiful bike. I've had one stolen as well, but fortunately not something I was as attached to.

    I'm afraid I'm not quite ready to part with the Pinarello

    It's still a lot of fun for short to medium fast rides. It's just the long rides that starts to feel bad to me. I'm about to rebuild it for the umpteenth time and I think I'm going to break down and replace the original Modolo bar and stem with a Nitto Technomic stem so I can raise it another inch or two higher. The only problem with that is that the bars will move closer, which may not be so good (the current stem has something like 10cm of reach, so maybe I can get one even longer). The length from seat to bar has always felt right to me on this bike. We'll see how it goes. If I were anywhere close to as skinny and as fit as I was 20 years ago, maybe the bike would feel better. I think my riding style has changed to though, which is why the larger frame feels better to me now. I used to want a bike that made me want to hammer all the time. Now I like riding bikes that I can relax and cruise on, but still hammer on when I want to.

    Sean

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    Quote Originally Posted by mattm View Post
    what's wrong with a correct fit?
    I understood the question as: is the correct fit for a commuter smaller than the correct fit for a road bike?

    I think, other factors being the same, you'd ride the same size. For example: my road bike measures 56 c-t, my commuter measures 32 c-t (its a folding bike).

    But fashions change. In the early 80's professionals recommended a 60 cm c-t frame for a person my size, which is why I have two very nice 531 frames in that size, and I was very comfortable on those. Now they're much too big, and professionals recommend a 56 for a person my size. Funny thing is, my size hasn't changed! Today you can get much longer seat posts, stems with more rise, etc. and you can get a better fit on a relatively small frame than on a larger one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mattm View Post
    what's wrong with a correct fit?
    I'm with matt on this one, the correct fit is the correct fit. A road bike will have the handlebars a little lower in a more aggressive posture but your reach should be close to the same and your distance from saddle to pedal is always exactly the same -- a correct fit.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by sean000 View Post
    Of course geometry varies from one frame to the next, so you can't just look at the seat tube length. Since my last bike purchased was a Rivendell, I went with their recommendation: 58.5-60cm. I actually went a little on the low side since the Atlantis comes in 58cm or 61cm, but nothing in between. I bought the 58 and have plenty of clearance standing over the top tube, and I have a lot of seatpost and stem showing... so I could easily ride one of their larger frames.

    Sean
    I should also add that, as someone else pointed out, trends change. Since you've been riding as long as I have you probably remember how racing bike angles got steeper and chainstays got shorter as the 80s progressed. The recommended frame size was also getting smaller. My most extreme racing bike was a Sannino with 75 degree angles and chainstays so short I had to be careful about tire selection. After a season on that I wanted something a little more comfortable and the Pinarello was relatively slack with 74 degree angles and an extra centimeter on the stays. Still an aggressive bike by early 80s European road racing standards though.

    Racing bike trends tend to trickle down to recreational models as well, so people generally started buying more aggressive bicycles with lower handlebars and no clearance for tires and fenders.

    My first racing bike was a 1984/85 Trek 640 with a Reynolds 531 frame, slack angles, clearance for larger tires and fenders, and braze-ons for a rear rack. It was called a "Sport-Touring" bike by Trek, and some companies called them "Club Racing" bikes. I still recall it as one of the best bikes I've owned. It was stiff and responsive (okay...so maybe the bottom bracket flexed more than the Pinarello), but also very comfortable and versatile. This is the bike I fondly remember that drove me towards Rivendell (since their Rambouillet can be described as a sport-touring/club-racing frame). That and my fondness for lugged steel.

    When I read Grant Petersen's advice on riding position and choosing a frame size, it really seemed to validate what I had been feeling for years. Fitting a racing bike is not the same as fitting a recreational bike, touring bike, commuter, mountain bike, etc. Opinions and trends still vary, so not everyone agrees with Grant; but his advice has helped me get more comfortable on a bicycle and enjoy riding as much as I ever have.

    As far as the original question of how to size a commuter... generally I agree with the sentiment that ideally it should fit well without being too large or too small. However, fit does tend to be a range. Personally I would go with a size that is big enough to get the bars up to a comfortable level while still allowing a small amount of standover clearance and a comfortable reach. The trend for a racing bike, or even an aggressive mountain bike, is to have the bars set significantly lower than the saddle... making a smaller size frame more desirable. I don't think most people want low handlebars on a commuter, so when it comes down to two sizes that will work I would definitely go with the larger frame on the commuter.

    Sean

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    If you're not having problems don't stress about it. At your height (and mine coincidentally) you will often need a bike that looks TOO big to get the handlebars high enough to be comfortable for commuting and other less aggressive riding.

    I've been riding bikes for years that had the handlebars 4-6" lower than the saddle because A) I wanted an aggressive position and B) I followed other people's fit advice. At this point I'm riding a 62cm IRO Mark V (HBs are @3-4" lower than saddle), and will soon be riding a 66cm Rivendell Atlantis on which I still have about 3-4" of clearance (the large size helps bring the handlebars high enough to actually be level with the saddle, which is nice on a touring bike and would be nice on a commuter as well). I have a Cannondale Jekyll that I haven't been riding (mostly due to circumstances in life) because it feels too small to me (HB was WAY low on this bike).

    Another factor is that with a threadless headset it really isn't all that easy to bring the handlebars up (especially if the bike really is TOO small for you). You'd either need a steerer tube extender and or a high rise stem. I actually LIKE threadless as I appreciate the simplicity of adjustment (1 5mm hex wrench vs. 2 HUGE headset wrenches). But the adjustment for fit is much more difficult.

    Long story short: Go for proper fit, and if you aren't having problems with your current bike I wouldn't stress about it. If you start having problems you can try different stems, extenders, moving spacers around on the steerer, fore aft seat position, handlebars etc... etc... etc.. But change one thing at a time to dial it in so you know what changes to the bike cause what changes to your ride.

    Good luck.

  23. #23
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Bellingham, WA
    My Bikes
    Rivendell Atlantis, 1988 Pinarello, Rivendell Wilbury (my wife's bike)
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    400
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    Quote Originally Posted by BikEthan View Post
    I've been riding bikes for years that had the handlebars 4-6" lower than the saddle because A) I wanted an aggressive position and B) I followed other people's fit advice. At this point I'm riding a 62cm IRO Mark V (HBs are @3-4" lower than saddle), and will soon be riding a 66cm Rivendell Atlantis on which I still have about 3-4" of clearance (the large size helps bring the handlebars high enough to actually be level with the saddle, which is nice on a touring bike and would be nice on a commuter as well).
    I have moustache bars on my 58cm Atlantis, and I actually have them raised above the seat quite a bit. This allows me to sit upright when I'm on the bar ends. When I grab the bends of the bar I'm in a more aggressive position. My wife has Albatross bars on her Wilbury. They sweep back much farther. With the moustache bars you have to raise them a bit if you want the bar ends to reach back far enough (or at least get a shorter reach stem).

    I hope you like the Atlantis as much as I do. When I bought mine about four years ago I lived in an apartment and wanted one bike that would be great for any type of riding anywhere and on any surface. Now that we live in a house I would love a stable full of bikes, but I have a feeling that for most rides I would always reach for the Atlantis anyway. Although I am about to rebuild my 20-year-old Pinarello (speaking of lugged steel) for the umpteenth time

    I hope I get to ride the Atlantis at least as many years.

    Sean

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