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  1. #1
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    Larger Frame vs Longer Stem

    My current bike is a 54 cm road bike with a 57 cm top tube.

    I'm 5' 10" with just over 33" inseam. I know the current bike is smaller than just about anyone would recommend, but when I bought it I was in my early 20's and skinny and had all sorts of roadie dreams. I immediately put a taller and longer stem on it, and I've gotten by just fine with the bike the last 20 years like this. Now I'm older, heavier, and less flexible.

    I've looked at KOPS method and Rivendell and Sheldon Brown, but now my head is spinning. Starting point between all these is in the range of 57-60 cm. I've found a nice older steel bike for around $350 in 57 cm. can 3 cm really make that much difference?

    Or, I could possibly just get a longer stem. Some are cheap but ugly. Others are more attractive, and in the $50 range.

    I've read til my head is spinning, and now I'm in over it.

    How long can you go on a stem before handling gets wiggy? What is the advantage of a larger frame over a longer stem?

    I guess, what are the merits of each?
    "The automobile became a hypnosis, the opium of the American people..." -James Agee, Fortune, September 1934

  2. #2
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    I have my first road bike and it's seen little use because it's too small. I'll take it for one or two hour rides at the longest.

    My other bikes are all on the large size. My Trek and Lynskey road bikes have 59cm virtual top tube lengths and my Soma Double Cross has a 60.3 cm VTT. These bikes have 120mm stems. I'm 6' even.

    Oversized frames benefit from taller headtubes and longer wheelbase lengths. I'm also far more comfortable on a bigger bike when I'm tired. It just requires less effort to hold the position, IMO.

    Michael
    Last edited by Barrettscv; 03-02-10 at 12:27 PM.

  3. #3
    Still riding a steel bike Olde Steele's Avatar
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    Every one's body is different. You've figured out your stand over height based on your inseam, but you also have to take into account things like the length of your torso from your seat to your sholders. This determines your reach, which is also effected by the length of your arms. These two things impact the length of your top tube. Then you start looking at your age, flexability, and the type of riding you intend to do, and this impacts the length of the stem and the height of the handle bars in relation to the height of the saddle. The stem you choose will have an angle to it that impacts the height of the handlebar and the distance it is from the saddle, so you have to take that into consideration when making, and fine tuning, your calculations. You'll know you have it correct when you can do long rides without your hands getting numb.

    The tools for measuring a bike are changing almost daily, and there are great aids out there that can help you. The so called "standard concepts" for what should be comfortable are changing as the industry is getting better at figuring out speed and comfort. I heard a pod cast awhile back where Specalized used their measurement system to raise the stem height of one of the pro teams, which increased their comfort and speed. Raising a Cat 1 cyclist stem (handlebar) height in order to increase speed seems counter-intuative, which shows you how sophisticated these things are getting.

    You might want to check with your LBS to see if they have, or can recommend a good computerized measuring system.
    Vintage steel will always be the best ride!

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Olde Steele View Post
    Every one's body is different. You've figured out your stand over height based on your inseam, but you also have to take into account things like the length of your torso from your seat to your sholders. This determines your reach, which is also effected by the length of your arms. These two things impact the length of your top tube. Then you start looking at your age, flexability, and the type of riding you intend to do, and this impacts the length of the stem and the height of the handle bars in relation to the height of the saddle. The stem you choose will have an angle to it that impacts the height of the handlebar and the distance it is from the saddle, so you have to take that into consideration when making, and fine tuning, your calculations. You'll know you have it correct when you can do long rides without your hands getting numb.

    The tools for measuring a bike are changing almost daily, and there are great aids out there that can help you. The so called "standard concepts" for what should be comfortable are changing as the industry is getting better at figuring out speed and comfort. I heard a pod cast awhile back where Specalized used their measurement system to raise the stem height of one of the pro teams, which increased their comfort and speed. Raising a Cat 1 cyclist stem (handlebar) height in order to increase speed seems counter-intuative, which shows you how sophisticated these things are getting.

    You might want to check with your LBS to see if they have, or can recommend a good computerized measuring system.
    Thanks. There's a lot to it, I know, but I was under the imression that seat tube length was a good starting point on a classic, horizontal-top-tube frame.

    I get all twisted up on stems because you can't adjust anything without affecting another measurement.

    The type of riding I actually do and intend to keep doing with this bike involves long distance riding of one sort or another, so comfort is more of a premium to me than it was when I was a naive kid who wanted a "race bike."

    I have mixed feelings about an LBS, since it was an LBS who talked me into this bike, but also because I don't want to waste their time.
    "The automobile became a hypnosis, the opium of the American people..." -James Agee, Fortune, September 1934

  5. #5
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    I assume when you say "longer stem" you actually mean a stem with more rise? It does seem like your frame may have a top tube that is too long and a seat tube that is too short. Bear with me while I criticize your preferred path. I think a stem with a lot of rise always makes a bike look ugly. It also cuts down on your speed, which generally comes from your glutes. Those muscles are best utilized by a low, bent-over position. Now having said these two things, if you are not able to ride comfortably, you will not ride. And who cares if the bike is ugly. It is possible that increasing your core strength by doing light weightlifting will help you with a lower position. But that still leaves you with a bike that is too small.

  6. #6
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    IMO most distance riders -- and a lot of racers, these days -- are riding bikes too small. The LD rider in particular often benefits from a larger bike. I find larger frames more comfortable, likely because they flex more, given the same materials. And of course it is nice to be able to put your bars and stem where you want them without resorting to freakish posts and stems. In the OP's shoes I would absolutely buy a larger frame.

    However, if the OP is perfectly comfortable with what he currently has...

    Oh, and FWIW...

    KOPS is not an ironclad rule. It came about decades ago when it was noticed that most professional road racers had their knees more-or-less on a plane with their pedal spindles. The only thing you can really take to the bank is that you probably should not be in front of the spindles. Other than that, good riders have turned in credible performances with knees up to several cm. behind the spindle.

    As far as handling effects and stem lengths, it personal. I find that more vertical extension than horizontal extension -- for instance, a 10 cm. stem that sticks 12 cm. out of the steerer -- handles funny and looks awful. I have not found any horizontal extension to be too much or too little, however. I raced on 13 and sometimes 14 cm. stems. Now I use 9 and 10 cm. stems. I actually find that bar width has a much greater impact than horizontal stem length.

    HTH.
    Last edited by Six jours; 03-02-10 at 05:31 PM.

  7. #7
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    I'm working with a traditional "7" shaped quill, here, so length would move my hands forward, and I guess "stack height" or just "height" alone would move them up and back. This is where it gets impossible for me to predict results.

    The worst discomfort is probably my hands, and I can't seem to find a good adjustment of the bar and brake levers that gives me comfort on the hoods and the drops and allows good lever access from both positions. In this sense, I feel "scrunched" on the bike when I try to use the drops, and I can't stay there very long. On the hoods, it seems like there's a lot of pressure, but I guess I've never had a "good" fitting bike to compare it to.

    My seat position seems fine relative to the pedals, or at least I don't think I have problems, there.

    I would also say that toward the fall, I am more comfortable and able to handle longer distances, and I also need better core strength, which I'm trying to improve this year.

    This is a bit rambling but I appreciate any criticism. I would actually prefer to get a bike with a better chance of fitting me, but right now that is also the more expensive option. Sounds like the obvious choice, though, if I can swing it.
    "The automobile became a hypnosis, the opium of the American people..." -James Agee, Fortune, September 1934

  8. #8
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    Sounds to me like your bike is too small. I think Rivendell actually gives pretty good fitting advice for the LD rider. Bike shops today seem to hang their hats on the "smaller is better" mantra that has been taken to extremes even for racing. A comfortable, uncramped LD bike is liable to be 3-5 cm. bigger than a typical racing bike for the same fellow.
    Last edited by Six jours; 03-02-10 at 05:33 PM.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Six jours View Post
    IMO most distance riders -- and a lot of racers, these days -- are riding bikes too small...
    You can throw me in that group. I ride what many consider to be a frame that is too small. I spent 6hrs on a fit bike to come to that decision though. Most people aren't going to do that. I think a lot of people end up on frames that are too small because it is easier for a bike shop to add a longer stem and other parts than it is to replace a frame that is too big.

    For the OP, I'd spend some money and get professionally fitted. You're going to have better success with someone you can work with in person than us. If you spend the $'s to get fitted you have every right to expect them to make you comfortable on your bike, or provide you with the measurements you need to purchase the right bike for you.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  10. #10
    Still riding a steel bike Olde Steele's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeyba View Post
    I'd spend some money and get professionally fitted.
    I agree with Homeyba - making a mistake at this level could be way more expensive in the long run than paying a professional to fit you properly.
    Vintage steel will always be the best ride!

  11. #11
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    You can throw me in that group. I ride what many consider to be a frame that is too small. I spent 6hrs on a fit bike to come to that decision though. Most people aren't going to do that. I think a lot of people end up on frames that are too small because it is easier for a bike shop to add a longer stem and other parts than it is to replace a frame that is too big.

    For the OP, I'd spend some money and get professionally fitted. You're going to have better success with someone you can work with in person than us. If you spend the $'s to get fitted you have every right to expect them to make you comfortable on your bike, or provide you with the measurements you need to purchase the right bike for you.
    Well, judging by our exchanges I consider you more of a racer than a typical LD rider. I tend to think of LD riders as cruising around brevets, centuries, etc., trying to be comfortable and enjoying the scenery. As opposed to head down, turning a 60 ring on the aero bars, trying to turn in a fast leg in RAAM. Nothing wrong with either approach, of course.

    I admit to being biased against most "fitting specialists". In my experience a great many of them are charlatans, either reading off of a chart or simply winging it. And most of the ones I would consider qualified don't know the first thing about distance riding. Show up to one of them with a frame size suggested by Rivendell, for instance, and they'll likely tell you your frame is dangerously large.

  12. #12
    Still riding a steel bike Olde Steele's Avatar
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    Check out this Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNcQd...eature=related. I'm not endorsing these people, and don't know anything about them, but watch the videos (there are 4 of them) and you'll get a sense that there are people out there that approach fitting as a science. I agree with Six jours, in the posting that preceeds this, that many fitting specialists are charlatans, but if you watch these videos you'll understand that there are good fitting specialists out there. Ask around at your club or among your friends and get recommendations. Then interview them before you pay them money - if they're going to fit you with a tape measure and a scratch pad, you'll know that you can do better.
    Vintage steel will always be the best ride!

  13. #13
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    I don't know if Charlatan is the right word but I would agree that there are definitely a lot who do not know what they are doing or are just plain lazy. You can't throw the baby out with the bathwater though. You have to be a smart consumer. You are paying for a service and entitled to get what you pay for. If you pay for a fitting and you aren't comfortable afterward you should be refitted for free or get your money back. Simple as that. If you go to a shop for a fit and they tell you to get on your bike and ride around the parking lot while they watch, I'd just keep on riding. A good fitter will have the equipment and the know-how to do a proper job. A couple intelligent questions can get those answers pretty quick.

    As far as my fit goes, I certainly wouldn't suggest that anyone copy my fit. I spent a whole lot of time dialing in my fit to make it work for me and my riding style. It works for me on RAAM just as well as it does on brevets (I do raise my bars about an inch for long brevets).

    Getting fitted properly can be tough but the rewards of a proper fitting make the search for a good fitter well worth the effort.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  14. #14
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    Lots of good stuff, here, so thanks all.

    To rephrase my question more succinctly:

    Theoretically, if you know and have empirically arrived at the "perfect" relationship between hands-butt-feet, and can achieve this relationship with either a "too small" frame or a larger "right-sized" frame, what are the advantages of the larger frame?

    I'm hearing

    1. Longer wheelbase (more stability)
    2. More comfort due to frame compliance (and also from the stability)
    3. Better looking (I'd have to agree)
    4. Potentially better handling with less stem height.

    I raised my stem another 5/8" or so last night but I haven't ridden it, yet. At this point it's about 14 cm from top of steerer to top of the "7," just slightly below the seat height. Yeah, it looks a little goofy.

    How much does a professional fitting tend to run? Is it really worth it if I'm shopping CL?
    "The automobile became a hypnosis, the opium of the American people..." -James Agee, Fortune, September 1934

  15. #15
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RogerB View Post
    How much does a professional fitting tend to run? Is it really worth it if I'm shopping CL?
    I spent $250 on fitting and am very happy with the investment. My shop offers free fitting updates and I've now had three bikes professionally fitted at no extra cost. Each fitting has taken about an hour.

    I'm now confident buying a bike based on its geometry table. I have purchased bikes at CL and frames at eBay. The shop has adjusted each bike in my stable.

    I also ride 5000 miles a year and will complete 6 to 10 century rides a year. A well-fitted bike is basic.

    Michael

  16. #16
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RogerB View Post
    ...
    1. Longer wheelbase (more stability)
    Not necessarily, this is a function of frame geometry, not frame size. You can make a bigger frame a whole lot twitchier with a minor rake change in the fork and visa-versa with a smaller frame.

    Quote Originally Posted by RogerB View Post
    2. More comfort due to frame compliance (and also from the stability)
    Frame compliance is a result of the frame design. A frame designer can make any frame as compliant or rigid as they want, regardless of size.

    Quote Originally Posted by RogerB View Post
    3. Better looking (I'd have to agree)
    hmmm

    Quote Originally Posted by RogerB View Post
    4. Potentially better handling with less stem height.
    If you start getting into extreme differences it might. I regularly move my stem up and down an inch and the difference in handling isn't even noticeable.


    Quote Originally Posted by RogerB View Post
    How much does a professional fitting tend to run? Is it really worth it if I'm shopping CL?
    The prices range all over the place. Sometimes a fitter will discount the price if you buy a bike from them. You have to be careful that they are fitting you properly and not to one of their bikes. A good fitter will spend time with you and give you all the dimensions you need to find the right bike for you. You are buying a fit, not a bike. Good fitters are hard to find but they are out there.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  17. #17
    Elitest Murray Owner Mos6502's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RogerB View Post
    My current bike is a 54 cm road bike with a 57 cm top tube.

    I'm 5' 10" with just over 33" inseam.
    Your bike is too small.

    Since you mentioned looking for a bike on CL - I'll give some advice that gets poo-poo'd a lot by experts talking about buying new bikes.

    Find the largest frame you can stand over. You have a 33" inseam so look for a bike with a 33" stand-over height. When it comes to buying used this is really the most practical way to look at frame sizes because you don't have the option to order blah and blah perfect sized everything etc.

    If you like to set your bars really low (and it seems that you don't) then disregard this and look for a smaller frame. If you want the bars to be at a reasonable height without the need for a really tall stem, then take this advice. If you need more reach, get a stem with a longer reach, if you need less get one with less.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    If you were just riding 30miles here and there or an occasional century you could certainly do what Mos6502 suggests. Since this is the long distance forum, fit is significantly more critical than for your average cyclist. You don't want to invest the effort and time required to get to the start of a long ride just to DNF part way through because of a comfort or fit problem that resulted from "guessing" at your bike fit. It is possible you could get it right but more likely you'll get it wrong.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by RogerB View Post
    How much does a professional fitting tend to run? Is it really worth it if I'm shopping CL?
    (In Wichita) I think about $90 at Bicycle Pedaler. Bicycle Exchange has a sign on their door or window at the W. Douglas store explaining their fitting prices. Seems like it was $50, $90, and $250, or something like that.

    I had the $90 fitting "free" when I bought my Roubaix at Pedaler last year. I got to listen to him talk more about all he knew about fitting than he ever applied to me. Basically agreed with everything I'd set up during my break-in period prior to the fitting.

    Pedaler did a Fit-Kit measurement prior to buying the bike for free. Purpose was to determine which size to get. Full-blown fittings are for after you have the bike in hand and want to dial it in for you.

    The Fit-Kit didn't provide me with anything I didn't already know from having my wife measure me per the fit calculator at competitivecycling.com. You might look at that to resolve your sizing question.

    OBTW: I'm 5'10.5", 34" full-inseam. I ride a 56. Fit-Kit and the calculator at competitivecycling both say I need a 59 cm seat tube and 55.6 cm top tube. Good luck with that, eh? Let the top tube be your guide. That's all about torso and arm length. Get measured, home or at the store.

  20. #20
    Randomhead
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mos6502 View Post
    Since you mentioned looking for a bike on CL - I'll give some advice that gets poo-poo'd a lot by experts talking about buying new bikes.

    Find the largest frame you can stand over. You have a 33" inseam so look for a bike with a 33" stand-over height.
    I'm going to have to disagree with this. I'm just estimating here, but if he has 33" inseam, that means his torso is on the short side. Unless his arms are relatively long, he probably would be well served with a bike that is a little on the short side if he also can get a short top tube. Unfortunately, his bike is a little out of proportion for him with a much longer top tube than seat tube. This was common on inexpensive production bikes, where they really wanted to keep the rider's toes as far away from the front wheel as possible.

    If we really are talking about a bike for long distances, i.e. at least 100 miles, it pays to at least get measured so you can use a couple of fit calculators to see what size bikes make sense.

    My 30 year old racing bike has a 54/54 square geometry. If the OP doesn't want to buy new, some older Italian racing frames might work pretty well. I just built myself a new long distance bike with a sloping top tube. I made the head tube about a centimeter longer than I would have with a horizontal top tube. Since I went with 73 degree head and seat tube angles, I could make a frame as tall as I wanted with the same top tube length.
    Last edited by unterhausen; 03-03-10 at 08:55 PM.

  21. #21
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by akansaskid View Post
    Let the top tube be your guide. That's all about torso and arm length. Get measured, home or at the store.

    Plus 10!

    Top tube is the most important dimension, followed by head-tube. The seat-post allows for a long range of adjustment at the saddle and the right seat-post will position the seat fore-aft correctly. The position of the seat should be determined and set in relationship to the crank and pedal position. I completely ignore seat-tube length and stand-over height.

    The reach is set once the ideal location of the seat is set. The correct length top tube, within a 20cm range is required. I can ride most road bike frames if the virtual top tube is between 58.5cm and 60.5cm. I then use a 110mm or 120mm stem to set the reach. I also use a compact style handlebar which also shortens the reach.

    The right length head-tube will put the handlebar at the right height without a lot of goofy spacers.

    Michael
    Last edited by Barrettscv; 03-05-10 at 07:58 AM.

  22. #22
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    OK, I need more measurements to even understand what to fix about my current bike.

    But back to the question. Let's say I can achieve perfect fit either through perfect frame geometry, or through seatpost and stem adjustments. My question was "what's the advantage of finding that perfect frame?"

    After all the discussion, the answer seems to be "not so much, really."

    Am I missing something?


    I don't need a lot of "goofy spacers" but my stem height might look "goofy." Why is a tall stem bad?


    FWIW, I'm dipping my toe in, here. I'm not a RAAM guy and I even have yet to complete my first century. But, I want to find a bike or fit my bike suitably for long distances because that's what I think I enjoy the most. No way am I ready to build or order a custom frame. Mos6502's advice probably fits me to a tee at this moment, but I also appreciate the advice from the hardcore guys, in case I get deeper into this.

    My bike is an 89 or 90 Raleigh Team "Technium," if that makes any difference to anyone.
    "The automobile became a hypnosis, the opium of the American people..." -James Agee, Fortune, September 1934

  23. #23
    Senior Member bobbycorno's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RogerB View Post
    Why is a tall stem bad?
    Mostly aesthetics, IMO, but also more flex (not in itself a bad thing, but it can lead to imprecise handling), and more stress on both the stem and steerer, neither one of which is something you want to break. Also it's probably heavier than a "perfectly" fit frame and "proper" size stem (BFD, IMO).

    SP
    Bend, OR

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    In my experience a tall stem makes the bike handle badly. YMMV, but that's reason enough for me personally.

  25. #25
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    Jul 2009
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    Central Coast, California
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    Colnago C-50, Calfee Dragonfly Tandem, Specialized Allez Pro, Peugeot Competition Light
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    I agree with Six Jours, when you start getting really tall on the stem you start getting funky detached from the road feelings, in addition to the extra flex and stresses on the steerer. I move mine an inch when I switch from racing to brevet mode but I'm moving from flat on the steering head up one inch which is still in the "normal" range.

    If you are serious about doing long distance stuff (brevets, double centuries etc) it is worth your while to get this right. A poor fitting bike on a long ride is a recipe for failure.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

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