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Bike Fitting Tradeoffs - Long Legs, Short Torso

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Bike Fitting Tradeoffs - Long Legs, Short Torso

Old 12-15-08, 09:04 PM
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akansaskid
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Bike Fitting Tradeoffs - Long Legs, Short Torso

With my long legs and short torso, I seem to be an odd duck to fit typical bicycle proportions. I currently have a 58 cm bike with a 110 mm stem. I've got the seat raised a bit and have raised the stem (it's an old bike with a quill stem) beyond its minimal insertion point to ease the reach. (It's still a couple of inches below the saddle.) Problem is that the reach to the bars is too great due to my short torso. I'm a re-entrant rider, but have about 3400 miles on this setup since August. I find myself naturally moving my hands to the curved part of the bar's top corners, about 2 inches in back of the hoods.

Both the Competitive Cyclist Fit and the LBS Fit Kit say I should be on a bike with a 58-59 cm seat tube or higher, but with a 55-56 cm top tube. Can't get there from here non-custom. The LBS says to get a 56 and they'll play tricks with stem angles to raise the bars since the seat would be raised so much on the smaller bike. I could accomplish the same thing by getting a long Nitto quill stem for my current bike with, say, a 70 mm reach instead of 110 mm. Wouldn't that effectively shorten the top tube by 40 mm (virtually speaking, of course)? But I don't know how squirrely it would feel with such a short stem reach.

So, what would be the effect on feel/handling with such a short stem reach? Do long-legged people with short torsos buy a smaller size to match their reach? And if so how are they raising the bars to match the high seat? Or are they buying a larger frame and using shorter stem reaches?
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Old 12-15-08, 09:09 PM
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I'd be more worried about the flex in that long Nitto. I ahve one of those, put it on my wife's mtb so she can cruise around on it, and, well it's a top-quality stem, all Nitto stuff is, but still it's a long piece of metal, it's gonna flex.

Have you looked into custom? Some of these guys here on BF have posted up a Chinese made custom that was well under $1k for the frame.
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Old 12-15-08, 09:13 PM
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don't know much about bike fits but i also have long legs and a short torso and ride a 58, when i went to get a pro fit they swapped out my 100mm stem for an 80mm stem and it changed my life
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Old 12-15-08, 09:23 PM
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Go custom if you can, otherwise, go with a larger bike and a shorter stem, but don't go under 100mm.

Are your arms short too? I have long legs and a short torso, but found that my long arms make up for some of those issues. I used to ride a Colnago, because I found that it had the shortest top tube for the comparative head tube length (I don't put too much emphasis on seat tube height, as that easiest to adjust).

I went from a 57 'Nago, to a 58 Cannondale. Longer top tube in the Cannondale works for me, aided by the longer head tube. The Nago was just too small for my reach and positioning.

I don't think you have to go to China for a good steel custom. You can a tig'd frame for $1200-$1400 here in the U.S.
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Old 12-15-08, 09:34 PM
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I'm at 110 mm on the stem now with that 58 cm frame. Going down to only 100 mm doesn't seem like enough change. (My arms are a little longer than average, but the reach is pronounced, even by those with a practiced eye.) I'm sure I can get something custom to fit. Maybe a Gunnar; that's only $300 more for custom sizes versus off-the-shelf. But before traveling that road, I was wondering what handling/riding compromises I was in store for with standard frames, adjusted for either shorter stems on larger frames or angled stems on smaller frames. In short, what am I giving up in ride and handling with making a stock 56 or 58 work versus going custom?
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Old 12-15-08, 09:39 PM
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Originally Posted by akansaskid
So, what would be the effect on feel/handling with such a short stem reach?
I have the same problem as you, and have tried shorter stems. On one bike it really affected the handling, on another it did not. Spend 30 bucks on a cheap shorter stem and try it; it may work fine.

Originally Posted by akansaskid
Do long-legged people with short torsos buy a smaller size to match their reach? And if so how are they raising the bars to match the high seat? Or are they buying a larger frame and using shorter stem reaches?
A common solution is to buy a so-called "relaxed" or "comfort" geometry bike. These have a longer head tube length compared to the top tube than would be usual for a more "aggressive" geometry. This gives you the reach you need but brings the bars higher as you require. I personally think this is a better solution than using short stems, particularly if you have to go below 90mm.
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Old 12-15-08, 09:41 PM
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The main issue you run into with shortening the stem is a weight distribution problem. One of the managers at my shop has multiple certifications in fittings and has been teaching me alot about it. I was amazed to find how important it was.

Notice that many of the pros use a long stem on the smaller bike than you or I would use. The trick for us is to find the happy medium between comfort and performance.

I would suggest to get a new bike, used if on a budget, that would not require you to run the stem in the danger zone, beyond the min. insert. (its put there for a reason). I wouldnt want you to get hurt.

You may want to look into a comfort road bike like the retired Trek Pilot, or a Specialized Sequoia. Many manufacturers make frames with higher hand positions and can help you find what fits you.

Make sure that when you get fit is done by someone that has some experience, and to not go too short on the stem. Otherwise you will be messing with the handling on the bike.

Hope you find what you are looking for
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Old 12-15-08, 09:45 PM
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I've been looking for you. You've got my legs, and I want them back.
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Old 12-15-08, 09:45 PM
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Ive got the same problem, I just ride older square frames and have a 10 cm stem... you can find some nice ones still which are still somewhat competative to the new stuff, hey its true what they say anyways, its the rider not the bike. No one even seems to make square frames anymore either, not that I care too much, sure it would be nice to have a bike that fit me 100% good, but no one even made a nice looking frame in a good 10 years, I;ll go to my grave before I ride a frame with a sloping top tube, or ride anoter that I need a seapost greater than 200m for.
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Old 12-15-08, 09:47 PM
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Go ahead and get the shorter stem. You could also get some short reach bars (if you go that route, you might get a converter so that you can use threadless type stems, it works well). That'll bring the hoods back as well. I have a 75mm stem and short reach bars on my bike (similar fit issue) and don't have any trouble at all.
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Old 12-15-08, 10:56 PM
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I have a similar issue, very long legs and a short torso. However I also have really long arms - +5 ape index for you climbers (mean my wing span is 5" more than my height). I use a 110 stem on a Lemond 55cm with about 3.5" of drop. I've been measured for a custom and this particular frame is within mm of custom sizing. I had to ride a whole bunch of bikes to find one that for me worked and having the custom fit sizing was helpful.

Last edited by 8Lives; 12-15-08 at 11:34 PM.
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Old 12-15-08, 11:10 PM
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Originally Posted by BikeDork02 View Post

Notice that many of the pros use a long stem on the smaller bike than you or I would use. The trick for us is to find the happy medium between comfort and performance.
i was on a ride with one of the healthnet guys, and damn, his stem looked like it was a 140 (probably only a 130, though). Really, really long looking as compared to my bike.

I ride a L giant, with a 90mm stem (flipped up) sitting on a stack of spacers, and I still have 4-6 inches of drop
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Old 12-16-08, 08:30 AM
  #13  
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As usual, a lot of misinformation had been dispensed. For one, changing only the stem length and nothing else has very little effect on weight balance. Anyone who really wants to see how weight balance is changed only needs to set a bike onto a trainer with a scale under the front wheel. If you only move your hands back, like a shorter stem would, there will be every little change to the weight on the front wheel.

The two things that have the greatest effect on weight balance are saddle fore/aft position and torso angle. With that scale under the front wheel, start with your hands in the hooks and upper back nearly horizontal and note the weight. Then slowly raise the torso and watch the weight drop.

Without some specific body dimensions from the OP, it would be difficult to make any recommendations, but I do have one test for adequate stem length that anyone can try. When riding in the hooks, with the fingers in reach of the brake levers and the upper back nearly hoizontal, any small amount of knee to arm clearance indicates adequate stem length. A lot of knee to arm interference means your stem is short. Of course you can always flare you elbows to eliminate the interference, but at least it tells you where you stand with regard to stem length. If you have a small amount of saddle to bar drop, then that low back position will require a lot of bend in elbows, that creates knee to arm interference. If you have an 8-12cm drop, then the arms require little to no bend and there's less chance of knee to arm interference.

I've got a short torso, at 5'-6" or 168cm tall with an 83cm cycling inseam and 73.5cm saddle height. One of the ways I manage to use a "normal" 110mm stem length is with the aid of short reach bars and Campy brake/shift levers. Using normal 85mm reach bars and Shimano brake/shift levers would require a 15-20mm shorter stem. It also helps to be flexible and have good core strength.

I suspect that part of the OP's problem is a lack of fitness that makes a low torso angle uncomfortable, but the problem can also be a saddle that is too far forward. With the proper weight balance, their will be very little weight on the hands and both more reach and drop can be tolerated.

A mistake often made when comparing frames is only looking at the TT length and ignoring the seat tube angle. Steeper STAs lenghten the frame reach, for a given saddle position relative to the center of the BB. The average amount is about 1cm per degree.

I would never make a huge change from a 110mm to a 70mm stem. Even a change to a 90mm is quite large. I'd check the saddle fore/aft position first. A saddle set to produce KOP is often too far forward.

With regard to the recommended frame size, keep in mind that the ST length has no effect on the fit. What you really need to look at is the head tube length, with the headset to determine the true vertical size of the frame. There are a lot of brands that have frames with extended head tubes for the more recreational rider. Those frames can help to produce a taller handelbar height, but if you want the bars only a few centimeters lower than the saddle, that almost always requires a high rise stem. A 73 degree stem, flipped to a 107 (+17) degree angle will raise the bars by about 6cm, but if will also result in a stem length that is about two sizes shorter (horizontally). Also looks goofy, but whatever it takes.

Last edited by DaveSSS; 12-16-08 at 11:35 AM.
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Old 12-16-08, 11:32 AM
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Purchase a comfort geometry one size smaller than you would normally ride. This provides a short top tube and taller head tube relative to traditional tt length. If you need a riser stem from there...that is OK for a recreational rider. I am not a proponent of custom frames unless you are over 6'5" in height. Most tall people have a std torso length and derive their height in their legs including me. Also seek a compact handlebar. The FSA Winged Compact in Al is hard to beat if you don't want to stretch out or go too low in the drops.
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Old 12-16-08, 12:06 PM
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Thanks, campag4life. Great advice. There are plenty of long legged riders and I was hoping to hear how they'd handle their fit problems. Our legs suggest one size and torsos another, and I was curious how they decided between the two. Most advice I see says to focus on the correct effective top tube length, which would be the smaller size. But that would lead to a disproportionate seat height compared to bar height for that size bike, and I wondered how folks were handling that (stem extender, angled stem, etc.). I'm due a new bike, and will try the smaller frame, but hope the shops can get it fit (changing stems, etc.) so I can test them without a buying commitment first. Of course, I'd also like to adjust the fit in my current 58 cm old-school geometry bike, too, and was wondering what a shorter stem would do to the handling.

Regarding DaveSSS's suggestion of lack of fitness and uncomfortable torso angles, I'm curious where you came up with that. I mentioned riding 3400 miles in the last 4+ months and didn't mention any comfort problems. Just a too long reach to the bars, as confirmed by local bike fitters. But hey, at 59, I'm 5'10", 150 lbs, riding a century a month, and over 180 miles/week, with a daily regimen of 45 pushups, 13 chinups, 22 dips, 300 crunches, and two 3-minute Pilates planks. You're suggesting I oughta hit the gym, eh? You're probably right...
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Old 12-16-08, 12:29 PM
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^^ where in KS?

I've got a lot of seattube showing (even for a compact frame)



13 pushups seems like an odd number
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Old 12-16-08, 12:50 PM
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"13 pushups seems like an odd number" Re-read the post above yours. ;-)

Wichita, where our "hills" blow! (Thanks for the pic, but I'll have to see it at home. It's blocked by a filter here at work/lunch.) Thanks!
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Old 12-16-08, 12:57 PM
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Originally Posted by akansaskid View Post
"13 pushups seems like an odd number" Re-read the post above yours. ;-)

Wichita, where our "hills" blow! (Thanks for the pic, but I'll have to see it at home. It's blocked by a filter here at work/lunch.) Thanks!
my reading comprehension skills = fail. Doesn't make 13 a less odd number.

Any good rides in wichita? I hate wind.
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Old 12-16-08, 01:11 PM
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If you can afford it, I suggest you investigate a custom fitted frame.

I have disproportionately long legs (37 inch cycling inseam) and "only" 6 ft 1/2 inch tall, so a very short torso. I have found that stock frames don't fit my funny body well, although "traditional" italian geometry comes closer than the ill-fitting stock frames that the bike shops sell.

You may wish to see a framebuilder with a reputation for fitting odd-shaped cyclists for an evaluation.
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Old 12-16-08, 03:14 PM
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kudude - I stop at 13 'cause I can't do 14. :-) As for Wichita, wind is inevitable, and if you leave from town, you're always near enough to town on day rides to have traffic issues. My biggest beef is that KDOT keeps "renewing" the shoulders around here with loose gravel poured on top of oil. Works OK for the main roadway after traffic smooths it out, but the shoudlers remain rough and loose for years. Each year there are fewer good shoulders to ride on.

I'm hoping to avoid a custom, but I agree with the posters who suggest that it is the best way to get something that fits. Surely most long-legged riders have found some compromise that works in a production frameset. I'm wondering which way is the more successful compromise. I THINK it's to go with a smaller frame and work out the stem rise and length issues. Of course over on the Touring forum, I read suggestions offered frequently to go with the larger one when in doubt. Not a lot of opportunity to test ride something around here that's both the right size and adjusted (stem) to your needs in a model/geometry you're considering. Wintertime in an area hit by the recession isn't a good time to find a lot of inventory...
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Old 12-16-08, 03:39 PM
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akansaskid,

You goal is choose a frame size\geometry that provides for optimal reach with a standard size stem that allows you to stay within your saddle to bar differential tolerance without having to resort to excessive steerer spacers and or super high rise stems. You need to understand the relationship between seat tube angle, top tube length, head tube length and to a lesser extent head tube angle. Once you understand how together they impact fit you will be able to read the specs of various framesets and hopefully find one that meets your needs. Look for frames that have proportionally longer head tubes. Using your present bike you should be able to experiment and detemine what combination of STA+ top tube + head tube length will work for you.
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Old 12-16-08, 05:18 PM
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Some of you guys have LONG legs. Goodness. My legs are not LONG really, but are longer in relation to my torso and arm-length than most people. My problem has not been with seat height (I just have to jack it up some, but no special seat posts needed), but with feeling all bunched up when I'm riding.

On a bike right off the showroom floor, my knees smack my wrists if my hands are on the top-bar, or my fore-arms to elbows if I'm on the hoods or down in the drops. I can get used to it pretty easily, but when I get tired or am not paying attention to my form, knocking one of my hands off of the handlebars with my knee can be pretty scary.

I used to get bikes that were a size too large for me (57-58, depending on manufacturer and style), and would swap out the standard stem for one with a shorter forward-reach that was set up a little bit higher. Over the years, my riding stance has gotten a little more aggressive, and I ended up switching to smaller-sized bikes (54-56, depending on manufacturer and style), where I swap out the stem for a REALLY LONG one that I set much lower than before. Stretching out keeps my knees from hitting my wrists and arms, and I just like how much more responsive the shorter frames feel in curves.

Getting a shorter bike can have its dangers, though. I test rode one bike that displayed a very serious wobble going down a big hill. It all depends on the overall geometry, and how you ride. I would try out some of the suggestions mentioned by others here, and see what feels right. Going custom would be nice, though. Get them to dial it in "just right". Mmmmmmm.




Last edited by Pinyon; 12-16-08 at 05:23 PM.
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Old 12-18-08, 09:38 AM
  #23  
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I am 6'1.5" with relatively long 35.5" inseam. I ride a '85 Trek 760 frame with 60cm st, 58cm tt, and a 90mm stem with about 3" of saddle to bar drop. I set it up according to the fit chapter in Greg Lemonds '86 book. My previous bike was a '72 58cmst/58cmtt Masi with a 110mm stem, 4" of drop and a much more relaxed seat tube angle. Both quill stems are at max extension. I ended up having a 3" shorter cockpit on my 60cm frame than the 58cm. I love the new bike as I can keep my elbows quite bent (30-60 degrees) in the drops to get low without any lower back strain. I can also run deeper drops so I have more variety between my hand positions. I shake my head when I pass folks riding such aggressive positions that they have to keep their elbows locked because they have so much weight on their hands from being too hunched over and stretched out. A fast position is a comfortable position.

So IMHO, go for a shorter top tube while maintaining a reasonable saddle to handlebar drop. That way you can have more choices in stem/handlebar combos. Also, check out frames with steeper seat tube angles so that you don't get ridiculously stretched out when you jack your seat up. Zero setback seatposts also help with this.
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Old 12-18-08, 09:47 AM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
Zero setback seatposts also help with this.
+1.
I can't believe it has taken this many posts before someone brought this up.
I have long legs and a short torso, and the *first* thing I do is put a zero-setback seatpost on a new frame, *then* I consider how long the stem should be.
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Old 12-18-08, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by akansaskid View Post
Regarding DaveSSS's suggestion of lack of fitness and uncomfortable torso angles, I'm curious where you came up with that. I mentioned riding 3400 miles in the last 4+ months and didn't mention any comfort problems. Just a too long reach to the bars, as confirmed by local bike fitters. But hey, at 59, I'm 5'10", 150 lbs, riding a century a month, and over 180 miles/week, with a daily regimen of 45 pushups, 13 chinups, 22 dips, 300 crunches, and two 3-minute Pilates planks. You're suggesting I oughta hit the gym, eh? You're probably right...
I assumed that reaching to the brake hoods caused discomfort, that's why you wanted a shorter reach. I don't think you've provided any specific dimensions of either your body or your bike's setup, so it's really hard to make meaningful comments. Dimensions like your actual saddle height, the setback of the saddle tip from the center of the BB, the drop from the saddle to the top of the bars and the distance from the saddle to to center of bars are all helpful.

I was just trying to make a few points. One is that a saddle set too far forward, either to achieve a knee over pedal situation, or to reduce reach, can produce a poor weight balance that may require a short reach and/or drop to be comfortable. It sounds like you't fit, but do you have good flexibility? I'm no youngster either at 55, but I can place my hands nearly flat on the floor in bare feet.

I have a pretty extreme ratio of height to inseam (168/83), but don't need a special frame to be comfortable. I do use short reach handlebars that decrease the reach by about 10mm, so I can use a 110mm stem, but that's it. I manage to tolerate a 12cm drop from the saddle to the bars, so I don't need a tall head tube or a high rise stem.

Another point I tried to make was that seat tube length does not affect the fit. With most frame these days having sloping TTs and shorter STs, you need to figure out the head tube length needed to produce a specific handlebar height, then see if you can get the TT length that you need. If you posted a specific handlebar height, measured from the floor to the top of the bars, I could tell you what head tube length to look for in a modern frame using an integrated headset.
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